News of the Weird

* Joe Firmage, 28, multimillionaire founder of the high-profile Internet consulting firm USWeb, resigned in January out of fear that the company's reputation was being hurt by his public views that extraterrestrials are responsible for many high- tech inventions, such as semiconductors and lasers. According to his autobiography (posted on the Internet), Firmage was visited by an extraterrestrial in his bedroom in 1997, an experience that has caused him to reaccept Jesus Christ after a childhood falling-out with the Mormon Church.

* According to a January Boston Globe feature, Mr. Wai Y. Tye, 82, who retired a while back after 32 years' service with Raytheon Corp., has lived without complaint in the same 200-square-foot room in the downtown Boston YMCA continuously since 1949. "When you're busy working and playing tennis," he told a reporter, "when you come home, you don't have much time to take care of an apartment." The bathroom is down the hall to the left, and he said he does not mind the exposed pipes, the linoleum floor and having to use a hot plate.

* Faced with many retirements and a precipitous drop in new blood, U.S. Catholic officials have stepped up priest-recruiting to include irreverent advertisements to appeal to Generation X men, according to a December Washington Post report. The Providence, R.I., diocese, for example, recently ran an ad campaign on MTV. And in January, a group of British churches, led by the Church of England, began a campaign to draw young parishioners by displaying Jesus Christ as the late Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. Said one priest associated with the campaign, "We want to get away from the wimpy Nordic figure in a white nightie."

* Radio Television Russia was flooded with protest letters and demonstrations in December when it was forced to drop the U.S. soap opera Santa Barbara, which had built a large following. A batch of 65 episodes had been held up at the border because RTR had no money to pay the import fees. One suggestion for Russia's problems was advanced in the December-released book ABCs of Sex by nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who wrote that exporting virgin Russian women to men in other countries could somehow raise $750 million a year and that promoting sex for tourists (for example, having hotel minibars stocked with sex toys) would bring in much more.

* A side effect of the international economic embargo of Iraq is the transfer of much of its supply of medical care from physicians to parapsychologists, who "heal" with electromagnetic therapy at half the price that doctors charge (even so, about 80 cents per visit, which is about one-fourth the monthly salary of a government clerk). According to one healer interviewed by the Associated Press, "extensive reading" was all the training he needed to find "gaps" in a patient's magnetic halo so that he could focus energy to that spot, a process that he said cured the gangrene of his first patient (his uncle).

* Last year, the state historian of Florida kicked off a millennial project to name the 2,000 all-time greatest Floridians, with the deadline for nominations Dec. 31, 1998. She recently announced a four-month extension, however, because nominators had been able to come up with only several hundred great Floridians.

* In January, the Saguaro High School (Scottsdale, Ariz.) newspaper editor, Sam Claiborn, wrote an editorial critical of the culture of violence of football heroes, who he said often turn out to be drunks and spouse-abusers. An unnamed member of the school's football team took offense and beat Claiborn up, for which he was suspended.

* Brad Davis, 25, of Milledgeville, Ga., was hospitalized in December after a hunting accident. He had chased a raccoon into a tree for his companion to shoot, but when hit, the 15-pound animal fell about 60 feet directly on top of Davis, knocking him out cold and breaking three vertebrae.

* A 72-year-old man was killed in a robbery attempt in Jonesboro, Ga., in December, and after giving a false cover story, his 76-year-old wife finally admitted how it happened: The couple apparently had a habit of picking up men on the highway and bringing them home for sex with the wife so the husband could watch, but this particular guest wanted money more than he wanted sex. (A suspect is in custody.)

* In rural Australia south of Brisbane, near the coastal resort of Byron Bay, reside wild white bushmen known locally as "ferals," who closely resemble the savages from the movie Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. The men reek of stale body odor and "bush herbs," and some of them carry pet rats in their severely matted hair. Though the ferals' occasional forays annoy residents and tourists, other locals are thankful for them for environmental reasons, according to a report in the Times of London in October. Said one local, "Americans come out here and go, 'Yuck, everyone's so dirty (so let's not even think of developing this place).' The ferals have saved a lot of forest."

* Latest Punishments in Afghanistan: On Jan. 15, six Taliban government soldiers had their right hands and left feet amputated for robbery, and a 60-year-old man had a 15-foot wall knocked over on top of him by a tank, in a death sentence for sexually molesting a boy. (The man was knocked unconscious but came to, and because he survived, in accordance with Taliban law he was set free.) In November, a man was allowed by a judge to lawfully slit the throat of the man who killed his son, even though Taliban officials had recommended mercy.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or [email protected].