The Odd Truth, April 4, 2003

SUV hero
The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Welcome To Bagdad, U.S.A.

BAGDAD, Calif. - The railroad depot and air strip are gone. The Bagdad Cafe has crumbled. The motel has been obliterated.

This is Bagdad - the California version.

The now-abandoned highway stop deep in the Mojave desert is one of at least 10 American Bagdads that existed in relative obscurity until Iraq's capital once again became a target for U.S. bombs.

"We are getting a lot of notoriety right now," said Bill Tucker, 58, who manages Bagdad Roller Mills, a feed store in Bagdad, Ky.

None of the Bagdads are spelled the same as Iraq's, and only a few share the climate. Some, including those in Arizona, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, trace their name to a story of a father and son. The tale goes that a son would be working, filling bags with ore, salt or feed, and yell to his father: "bag, dad."

Not That Kim Jong Il, The Other One

SEOUL, South Korea - Kim Jong Il used to be so ashamed of his name that he changed the spelling on his high-school name badge. Another South Korean with the same name said waiters glance at him and grin when he signs a restaurant bill.

"People make fun of my name," said yet another Kim Jong Il, a 34-year-old office worker in Seoul. "When we go out for drinks, friends call me 'Our Dear Leader' - and ask me to pick up the tab."

Hundreds of South Koreans have the same name as one of the world's most vilified men, Kim Jong Il, the totalitarian leader of North Korea.

It's a difficult time for his long-suffering namesakes.

"My name is a politically sensitive one," said a 46-year-old writing coach in Seoul. "The name's popularity fluctuates with the falls and rises in relations between South and North Korea."

Kim Jong Il the North Korean, 61, rules his hunger-stricken country with the help of a personality cult. North Koreans refer to him as "Dear Leader," "Great Leader" or "Chairman" of the National Defense Commission, which oversees the North's 1.1 million-strong military, the linchpin of his Stalinist grip on power.

The South's anti-communist leaders demonized the father and son. In classroom drawings, children depicted the Kims as humans with wolf heads.

"During army reserve training, we did a bayonet drill and with each stab, we were instructed to shout in unison, 'Let's beat Kim Jong Il to death!"' said a 60-year-old leather dealer in Seoul. "It's quite an experience - all your colleagues brandishing bayonets and vowing to stab you to death."

For 20 years, the man says he used an alias.

Pro-Dixie Chick Resolution Proposed In Madison

MADISON, Wis. - The Dixie Chicks might not be welcome in some parts of the country, but a Wisconsin politician wants the country music trio to know they have a home in Madison.

Alderman Ken Golden this week proposed a resolution that calls for the City Council to play a Dixie Chicks CD during meeting breaks and directs the mayor to present the Chicks with keys to the city, French wine and a suitable welcome should they ever visit.

The Dixie Chicks became the target of boycotts and bans after lead singer Natalie Maines made critical comments about President Bush last month in London, including a remark that "we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

Maines later apologized, but some radio stations have banned the Texas group's music and some people have destroyed the band's CDs.

The resolution also says the Chicks can become the city's adopted country music group and encourages the band to change their name to the "Heartland Chicks" or "Dairyland Chicks."

Brothel Offered Student Discount

SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. - Now, you can add a massage parlor to businesses offering student discounts. Authorities in Spotsylvania, Virginia, say hookers were giving a price break to high school students at a massage parlor busted this week. A Washington TV station (WRC) reports two women were arrested for prostitution and crimes against nature. Detectives say the discount was well known among the students at local high schools.

Gasoline Marinade

OSLO, Norway - Kyrre Olaf Johansen doesn't bother with drive-thru restaurants. He does his own cooking beneath the hood of his Volvo XC70.

"A 60-mile drive is long enough to cook up lamb chops, but for the shorter trips, I can cook hot dogs for the kids," he said in an interview Friday.

Johansen, 40, who has cooked appetizers and entrees using his car for the past decade, said whatever he cooks comes out tender and full of flavor. He avoids the smell of exhaust and gas by wrapping his cuisine in tinfoil before it's put on the exhaust manifold, or valve cover.

"If you're making steak, you have to cut the meat in small strips," he said. "But fish and hot dogs are easier."

A favorite is high-octane crawfish tail, with creme fraiche, mayonnaise, garlic and a hefty dash of Tabasco sauce.

Volvo said the automaker doesn't offer guidelines for using its cars as rolling ovens.

"I heard that the latest in cooking is using low temperatures for a long period of time," said Volvo spokesman Bo Larsen. "But I've never heard of anyone who cooks on the engine before."

Man Robs Parking Meter With Vacuum

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - There was plenty of change jingling in one Swedish man's pockets - but unfortunately for him, police saw him vacuum it out of a parking meter.

Mikael Persson, 44, has been charged with theft for sucking coins out of city-owned meters Feb. 17 in the southern city of Goteborg using a vacuum cleaner, according to court documents seen Friday.

Police said Persson used a pilfered set of keys to open the fronts of two meters, which take 1-, 5- and 10-kronor coins (10 cents to $1). Then, because the area holding the coins couldn't be cleaned out by hand, he plugged his vacuum cleaner into electrical sockets that, conveniently enough, are provided on Sweden's electronic parking meters.

He had emptied one meter and had started on a second when police saw him. In his pockets, they found coins worth more than $260.

Presidential Fraud

BOMBAY, India - Police have arrested a college dropout who obtained money from businessmen by sending e-mails saying he was India's president and soliciting funds for the work of a young scientist — himself.

Police said Friday they arrested 24-year-old Prasanjit Kamble last month and charged him with cheating, forgery and impersonation. If convicted, he faces a prison term of seven years.

Police said he sent e-mails to businessmen in India and abroad, saying he was President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam — one of the founders of India's missile and rocket program — and recommending that they aid an "upcoming scientist," who happened to be Kamble.

Kalam, an advocate of scientific education for the poor and young, is famous for his informal nature, so businessmen may not have found it odd to receive such an e-mail from the president. Also, many people are not fully aware of how easy it is to send false information over the Internet.

It's A Small World After All

BANGOR, Maine - You never know who'll be getting together in a war zone. Army Specialist Brad Davis was standing in a chow line in Kuwait, when he spotted a Marine officer with a name patch that read "Caldwell." On a hunch, Davis asked if he was John Caldwell. He was. The two men are cousins who haven't seen each other in about ten years. Davis and his unit have since been sent to Iraq, but the cousins' families are glad they had some time together. Davis is from Maine and Caldwell now lives in Tennessee. Caldwell's mother, Elizabeth says, "When you're that far from home, it's good to see someone you know."