* In February, North Korean Woo Yong Gak, 69, was released from prison in South Korea, where he had been detained since 1958 and was the world's longest-held political prisoner. Still 38 years short of that record, in a jail in Bradenton, Fla., Palestinian researcher Mazen Al-Najjar just completed his second year of confinement without being told of the evidence against him. Al-Najjar, a U.S. resident for 15 years with three American-born children, faces deportation for some sort of association with a terrorist group, the nature of which the U.S. Justice Department has repeatedly refused to disclose, citing national security.
* In March, for the first time, not only was the Miss Thailand beauty contest televised nationally, so was the Miss Tiffany Universe contest, which is the equivalent for Thailand's male-to-female transsexuals. An April Associated Press report from Bangkok concluded, after polling many viewers, that at least one of the Tiffany Universe finalists made Miss Thailand look "positively mousy" and that the Tiffany Universe winner was "every bit as feminine" as Miss Thailand.
* In February, Kahr Arms of Worcester, Mass., a gun manufacturer under the umbrella of the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon (who insists he's doing the work of Jesus), announced it had purchased AutoOrdinance Corp., manufacturer of the Thompson machine gun ("tommy gun"). Kahr (run by Rev. Moon's son) was already prominent for its high-quality line of small, potent handguns. "What's the message?" asked one critic, interviewed by the Washington Post: "Turn the other cheek, or lock and load?"
* In February in New Westminster, British Columbia, a court acquitted three of the four Sikhs arrested in a 1997 brawl at a local temple that began when newer members started sitting in chairs at tables in the dining hall while traditional members insisted on the holiness of sitting on the floor. (In September, in Broward County, Fla., a traditionalist, no-furniture Sikh opened fire in a local temple, killing one man.)
* Recent apparitions: Yuba City, Calif., January: the image of Mary appeared in a knothole in a tree; Wareham, Mass., February: the image of Jesus appeared in the wood grain of a door in an Episcopalian church; Union City, Calif., March: the image of Jesus appeared in an unfinished concrete wall at the Buddhist Purple Lotus University.
* March, Walter Gene Grassie, 49, a former Protestant minister whose eight-year affair with a married Mormon woman had recently ended, was convicted of vandalism at several Mormon churches in New Mexico, causing $2.5 million in damage, apparently because he thought the woman's religion was the only thing preventing her from divorcing her husband and marrying Grassie. Prosecutors said he also wrote graffiti calling the woman a "(Mormon) whore." The two had fallen in love shortly after forming a touring musical act, the Pecos Valley Yodelers.
* Ten days apart in April, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority and the official newspaper of the Catholic archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, issued rulings that miracle and prayer advertisements were deceptive and could no longer be published under their auspices. The British organization spokesman said a church advertising miracles would have to provide proof "just like a company that makes washing powder," and the Cincinnati newspaper banned ads thanking particular saints for answering their prayers.
* In April, several fire trucks speeding down the Massachusetts Turnpike with sirens blaring and lights flashing, en route to help battle a brushfire around the town of Westfield, were delayed a few minutes when a toll-taker insisted on charging each driver. A turnpike spokesman said the toll-taker had been counseled. Similarly, in February, an ambulance rushing a severely burned man from Gibraltar to Seville, Spain, could not escape the $4 toll.
* Firefighters in Kawasaki, Japan, freed a 5-month-old girl from a coin-operated, 13-by-13-by-24-inch locker in April after her parents had deposited her there while they had dinner at a nearby restaurant. The parents were reprimanded but not arrested.
* Edmonton, Alberta, pizza-delivery driver Thomasz Leszczewski, 26, was arrested in April and charged with a hit-and-run fatality. According to police, Leszczewski hit a 43-year-old pedestrian while out on a delivery but merely proceeded with his rounds, and police caught up to him dropping off a pizza a few minutes later.
* Richmond, Calif., March: The father of a fourth-grader stabbed a teacher in a disagreement over the girl's progress. Danville, Ky., February: The grandmother of amiddle-school student smashed the teacher in the head with the nameplate on his desk in a disagreement about the student's progress. Boston, March: The father of a high-school student who got a D-minus in conduct, which the father was disputing, punched the teacher in the face, breaking his jaw. (The father is also an associate minister of the Greater Love Tabernacle.)
* In Lubbock, Texas, in March, a bomb being made by Robert Keith Hill, 24, intended for an abortion clinic, exploded in his lap, killing him. And in Tampa, Fla., in April, a 28-year-old man in the passenger seat of a pickup truck was killed after he decided to open the door and climb to the back of the truck at 55 mph; he fell and was crushed under the rear wheel. And a 15-year-old boy at prestigious Eton College in London (attended by Princes William and Harry) was killed in February while playing the "fainting game" between supper and prayer time; the object is for kids to put a cord around another kid's neck and tighten it slowly until he faints.
* After news of the March birth in Los Angeles of a baby who was conceived with sperm that had been retrieved hours after his father's death, Pam Reno of Cold Springs, Nev., told reporters that she hopes soon to find a surrogate mother to have her grandchild, using frozen sperm that was retrieved from her son, who died in September. (The procedure is awaiting an ethics-panel decision by the Northern Nevada Fertility Center.) However, the genes Reno will be perpetuating (her son's) will be those of a 20-year-old who died playing Russian roulette with his friends.
Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or Weird@compuserve.com.
1999 Universal Press Syndicate