News of the Weird

Week of May 1, 2011

WEEK OF MAY 1, 2011

offensive to some readers.)


Businesses typically resist government regulation, but in March Florida's interior designers begged the state House of Representatives to continue controlling them, with a theatrically ham-handed lobbying campaign challenging a deregulation bill. Designers righteously insisted that only "licensed professionals" (with a minimum six years of college and experience) could prevent the nausea Floridians would suffer from inappropriate color schemes (affecting the "autonomic nervous system" and salivary glands). Also, poorly designed prison interiors could be turned into weapons by inmates. Furthermore, deregulation would contribute to "88,000 deaths" a year from flammable materials that would suddenly inundate the market in the absence of licensing. Said one designer, addressing House committee members, "You (here in this chamber) don't even have correct seating." (If deregulation is successful, competition will increase, and lower fees are expected.)

Cultural Diversity

-- The longstanding springtime culinary tradition of urine-soaked eggs endures, in Dongyang, China, according to a March CNN dispatch. Prepubescent boys contribute their urine (apparently without inhibition) by filling containers at schools, and the eggs are boiled according to recipe and sold for the equivalent of about 23 cents each. Many residents consider the tradition gross, but for devotees, it represents, as one said, "the (joyous) smell of spring."

-- The port town of Kumai, Borneo, consists of low-rise shops and houses serving a population of 20,000 but also many tall, windowless box buildings perforated with small holes. The structures are actually birdhouses, for the town's chief industry is harvesting the nests of the hummingbird-like swiftlet, constructed of its own saliva, which, properly processed, yields a sweet-tasting paste with alleged medicinal qualities and highly revered throughout Asia, according to a January BBC News report.

-- In January, while the Texas Legislature debated budget cuts that would almost certainly cost Allen High School (just north of Dallas) at least $18 million and require layoffs of teachers and other school personnel, construction was continuing on the school's new $60 million football stadium. Noted a New York Times report on the stadium (which 63 percent of voters approved in a 2009 bond referendum), "(O)nly football supersedes faith and family (among Texans)."

Latest Religous Messages

-- Former stripper Crystal Deans, who said she learned the trade at age 18 but later retired and turned to God for help through a rough patch of her life, now offers free pole-dancing classes in Spring, Texas, near Houston, expressly for Christian women. Her gyrations may be the same as when she was working, she said, but now everyone is clothed, and she dances only to "Christian music."

-- Youth pastor Brent Girouex, 31, was urged to confess by his minister in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in February to an apparently lengthy series of sexual experiences with boys and young men, which he initiated by suggesting that ejaculating would help the victims gain "sexual purity" by (as he explained to detectives) "getting rid of the evil thoughts in their mind." Eight victims reported multiple purification sessions, with one estimating as many as 100.

Questionable Judgments

-- For Career Day in April at Shady Grove Elementary School in Henrico, Va., kids heard a local plastic surgeon describe his specialty, but not until afterward did parents learn that the surgeon had brought along as props saline breast implants (which he passed around for the kids to handle). Many parents were outraged, and even one calmer parent commented, "Career Day sure isn't what it once was."

-- The End Is Near, But How Near? In March in Owensboro, Ky., James Birkhead, 52, was sentenced to 5 1/2 months in jail for making survivalist bombs to protect his family after he became alarmed by the movie "2012," which portrays the chaos expected next year when the world ends (as supposedly foretold by the Mayan calendar). By contrast, Edwin Ramos of Vineland, N.J., is busy traveling the East Coast in his RV trying to warn people that the end will not be in 2012 but actually this month -- May 21, 2011. (The discrepancy would not exist if there had been a biblical year "0" after B.C. and before A.D.) Ramos' father apparently does not share his son's view because he accepted ownership of Ramos' successful construction business as Ramos concluded that it had no future.

-- Marie Stopes International is a prominent London charity that robustly promotes a woman's right to choose abortion, but a whimsical public service campaign in January has created unusually savage criticism. The organization partnered with the British comedy music band The Midnight Beast to produce a video suggesting anal sex as a contraceptive of choice. Among the lyrics of one song, "One up the bum, and it's no harm done/One up the bum, and you won't be a mum."

Least Competent Criminals

-- A man stole Waltham, Mass., student Mark Bao's notebook computer in March, but Bao used his automatic online-backup service to access the hard drive while the thief was using it, to discover a performance video of a man (presumably the thief) dancing (lamely, thought Bao) to a pop song. Bao uploaded the video to YouTube -- where 700,000 viewers showed it the proper disrespect -- and also tracked down the thief's e-mail address and informed him of his new Internet "stardom." Shortly afterward, the still-unidentified thief turned in the notebook to Bentley University police with an apology to "Mark," begging him to take down the video.

Recurring Themes

-- Apple's iPad 2 is in short supply worldwide, and so, coincidentally, are paper models of the device demanded by those of Chinese heritage at the Qingming Festival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Confucian tradition promises good fortune to the dead if their relatives burn impressive-enough offerings at graveside during the festival (as News of the Weird mentioned in 2006). Though local vendors offer paper models of first-generation iPads to burn, and paper Samsung Galaxy Tabs, some families fear that misfortune will ensue if they fail to burn the most advanced version of the iPad. (Low-tech families burn paper copies of money or paper shirts or shoes.)

Names in the News

-- Arrested in Aurora, Colo., in January and charged with stalking his wife: Joseph Moron. Appointed to a senior executive position in January in the global communications firm Alcatel-Lucent: George Nazi. Arrested for dealing marijuana in March in Fairfax County, Va.: Kevin Lee Cokayne. Appointed as interim chief medical officer of Newhall Memorial Hospital in Santa Clarita, Calif., in March: Dr. Richard Frankenstein. Arrested for DUI in April by a California Highway Patrolman ("CHiP"): Eric Estrada (not the actor). Posthumously rejected as the namesake for the new government office center in Fort Wayne, Ind., in March: former Fort Wayne Mayor Harry Baals (pronounced "bales" by his descendants but always "balls" by Mr. Baals, himself).

A News of the Weird Classic (December 1994)

-- Among the Republicans swept into office in November (1994, a banner year for the GOP) was Steve Mansfield, elected to Texas' highest criminal-appeals court. Among Mansfield's campaign lies or exaggerations (freely admitted in a post-election interview in the publication Texas Lawyer) were his claims of vast criminal-court experience (he is an insurance and tax lawyer), that he was born in Texas (actually, Massachusetts), that he dated a woman "who died" (she is still alive), and that he had "appeared" in courts in Illinois (never) and Florida (advised a friend, but not as a lawyer). During the interview, Mansfield said that he lived in Houston as a kid, but when the reporter asked him if that was a lie, Mansfield reluctantly admitted it was. Mansfield said he planned to stop "exaggerate(ing)" now that he is one of the highest-ranking judges in Texas. (Update: He served one six-year term.)

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