One of the world's best-known strategists on the game of checkers passed away in November. Richard Fortman was Illinois state champion six times, and in the 1970s and 1980s published a seven-volume handbook on rules and tactics. Many people now considering the game would be astonished to know that, as in chess, there are masters and grandmasters, and international rankings, that experts actually study historical opening moves and endgames, and that some play, move-by-move, via the U.S. Mail. A New York Times obituary noted that Fortman played as many as 100 games simultaneously, and won games blindfolded. Until the end, according to his daughter, Fortman spent "hours each day" playing checkers online.
-- Serbians, who have previously, bafflingly, constructed large, reverential public statues of martial-arts actor Bruce Lee and movie characters Tarzan and Rocky Balboa, built one of reggae musician Bob Marley in August in the village of Banatski Sokolac. Also planned was a statue of British singer Samantha Fox, but that project fell through. One Serbian artist who helped raise money for the Rocky statue told The New York Times, "My generation can't find role models (at home) so we have to look elsewhere."
-- The Gorani, a small group of Muslims scattered through the former Yugoslavia, lead mostly unremarkable lives, except for their singular distinction: Every five years, they gather in southern Kosovo for Sunet, a festival of mass-circumcision of toddlers, with a history tracing back centuries. Last year, 130 boys born since the previous Sunet were circumcised, without anesthetic, by Zylfikar Shishko, 70, for a small fee. Many Gorani are apprehensive about 2012, according to an October dispatch in Germany's Der Spiegel, because Shishko is 70 years old and the only skilled Gorani circumciser.
Latest Religious Messages
-- An administrative court in Sweden overruled a government agency in November, thus requiring that the Madonna of Orgasm Church founded by artist Carlos Bebeacua be registered as a legitimate religious community. "The orgasm is God," he said, and "should be worshipped" as a "metaphor of life." It should not be limited to ejaculation but can be taught "through art or by looking at a landscape and thinking, 'Wow!'" Bebeacua already claims "a few hundred" followers.
-- The streak for the longest continuous chanting (already noted twice in the Guinness Book of World Records) is still active, according to an August Indo-Asian News Service dispatch from Ahmedabad, India. Clerics at the Shri Bala Hanuman temple started intoning "Shri Ram Jay Ram Jay Jay Ram" on Aug. 1, 1964 (more than 23 million minutes ago).
-- "Intercessionary" prayer (having other people pray for you) is proliferating on the Internet, with the oldest such broker, Unity Church, now a Web presence (200,000 requests a year) after a century's operation by mail (500,000 last year) and telephone (another 1.3 million). Other Web sites also handle requests for life-saving miracles, inner peace and financial recovery (and one, on OurPrayer.org, quoted in a November New York Times report, asked for success on her financial accounting exam: "This is my third attempt on this paper, and I pray that the Lord will grant me wisdom and a clear mind").
-- It seemed like an obviously good decision by the Toronto Transit Commission in 2006 to curb counterfeiting of its aluminum coins and paper tickets by phasing in larger metal-alloy tokens as substitutes. By earlier this year, when the tokens had completely replaced the lighter coins and paper, the commission realized that its fare-sorting room was beginning to crack at the foundations because the tokens to be counted weigh about 60 tons more than pre-2006 aluminum and paper. A commission spokesman told the Toronto Sun in November that engineers were working on a solution.
-- In September, Atlanta-area educator Phillippia Faust, working on a $455,000 annual federal sex education grant, offered a $10,000 contest prize for an engaged local couple who had so far abstained from sex and would continue to do so until the wedding. (Any sex would be "risky behavior," said Faust, but worst of all would be living together before marriage, which is a "set up for the kill.") However, despite the large population of the area, she had no takers, and as the deadline approached, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she even considered opening the contest to engaged couples who had had sex but regretted it. Faust eventually had to scrap the contest altogether because of conflicting federal grant rules.
-- In November, a judge in Dublin, Ga., sentenced Rico Todriquez Wright, 25, to at least 20 years in prison for the 2006 shooting of Chad Blue, who had told police initially that he didn't know who had shot him. Blue later heard a thug-life song on CD, "Hitting Licks for a Living," in which rap singer Wright brags, "Chad Blue knows how I shoot" and realized Wright was the one who shot him that night.
People Different From Us
For 15 years, Eduardo Arrocha, 46, was different from us, as "Eak the Geek," the "Pain-Proof Man" at New York's Coney Island Sideshow, where he lay on nails, walked on glass, ate lightbulbs, and put his tongue in a mousetrap. However, in 2007, he traded everything in for a spot in the class at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., where he is in his second year ("from one freak show to another," he said, "it's the most bizarre thing I've ever done in my life"). Job interviews may be tough because a three-piece suit will hide only his chest-to-toe tattoos; recruiters can't miss the stars and planets that cover his face.
Least Competent Criminals
-- Embarrassing: (1) A 49-year-old Leavenworth, Kan., man was hospitalized in November after (according to police) using a front-end loader to pluck an ATM from the Frontier Credit Union. He was hurt when he drove to the edge of a 50-foot embankment and tried to drop the ATM, imagining that the fall would break it open, but instead, he, the loader, and the ATM all crashed to the bottom. (2) British Muslim convert Nicky Reilly, 22, pleaded guilty in October in Exeter, England, to attempted terrorism for detonating a homemade nail bomb in the Giraffe restaurant. The plan failed when Reilly triggered the bomb in the men's room, intending to take it into the dining area, but then could not unlock the men's room door to get out. (His lawyer called him perhaps the "least cunning" person ever to be charged with terrorism in Britain.)
As animal hoarding goes, the 30 seized from Darlene Gardner's double-wide trailer home in Kootenai County, Idaho, last year weren't particularly noteworthy, even though two of them, deer, were living inside, each in its own bedroom. Authorities released the deer and other healthy animals into the wild and euthanized the rest, and Gardner's husband pleaded guilty to one animal cruelty charge. However, in November, Darlene filed a $2 million federal lawsuit against the county's "jack-booted thugs" who, acting without a search warrant, she said, had "killed my babies," referring to the animals that "were my life and my family."
A News of the Weird Classic (June 1994)
In Toronto in March 1994, Sajid Rhatti, then 23, and his 20-year-old wife brawled over whether Katey Sagal, who plays Peg Bundy on the "Married with Children" TV show, is prettier than Christina Applegate, who plays her daughter. First, the wife slashed Rhatti in the groin with a wine bottle as they scuffled, but, remorseful, she dressed his wounds, and the couple sat down again to watch a second episode of the show. Moments later, the brawl erupted again, and Rhatti, who suffered a broken arm and shoulder, stabbed his wife in the chest, back, and legs before the couple begged neighbors to call an ambulance.
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