News of the Weird

Week of August 7, 2011



A More Reputable Career: Thomas Heathfield was a well-paid banking consultant with a promising career in Maidenhead, England, but gave it up this year to move to South Africa and endure rigorous training as a "sangoma" ("witch doctor"). After five months of studying siSwati language, sleeping in the bush, hunting for animal parts, vomiting up goats' blood and learning native dances, Heathfield, 32, was given a new name, Gogo Mndawe, and is now qualified to read bones and prescribe herbal cures (among the skills expected of sangomas by the roughly 50 percent of South Africa's population that reveres them). He admitted concern about his acceptance as a white man calling out African spirits, "but when (the people) see (me) dance, perhaps those questions go away."

Cultural Diversity

-- "Hundreds" of blondes paraded through Riga, Latvia, on May 28 at the third annual "March of the Blondes" festival designed to lift the country's spirits following a rough stretch for the economy. More than 500 blondes registered, including 15 from New Zealand, seven from Finland and 32 from Lithuania, according to a woman who told Agence France-Presse that she was the head of the Latvian Association of Blondes. Money collected during the event goes to local charities.

-- Snakes on a Train! A clumsy smuggler (who managed to get away) failed to contain the dozens of king cobras and other snakes he was transporting from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Hanoi (probably to be sold illegally to restaurants). After panic broke out on the train and police were called, the snakes were collected and turned over to a sanctuary. (Upscale restaurants can charge as much as the equivalent of $500 for a meal of king cobra, beginning with the selection of the snake, and having it killed at tableside, on to a serving of a snake's-blood appetizer. In one survey, 84 percent of Hanoi's restaurants were serving illegal wild animals of some sort, including weasel, monitor lizard and porcupine.)

Latest Religious Messages

-- The Envy of U.S. Televangelists: In July, after India's Supreme Court ordered an inventory, a Hindu temple in Trivandrum was found to contain at least $22 billion worth of gold, diamonds and jeweled statues given as offerings to the deity by worshippers over several centuries. The wealth was until now believed to be the property of India's royal family, but the Supreme Court ruling turns it over to India's people. Authorities believe the "$22 billion" figure is conservative.

-- The notorious Santa Croce monastery in Rome was closed in May (and converted to an ordinary church) on orders from the Vatican following reports about Sister Anna Nobili, a former lap-dancer who taught other nuns her skills and who was once seen lying spread-eagled before an altar clutching a crucifix. Santa Croce was also an embarrassment for its luxury hotel, which had become a mecca for celebrities visiting Rome.

Questionable Judgments

-- The Talented Mr. Zhou: Zhou Xin, 68, failed to get a callback from the judges for the "China's Got Talent" TV reality show in June, according to a CNN report (after judge Annie Yi screamed in horror at his act). Zhou is a practitioner of one of the "72 Shaolin skills," namely "iron crotch gong," and for his "talent," he stoically whacked himself in the testicles with a weight and then with a hammer.

-- The elegant, expansive, gleaming new glass-and-concrete indoor stairway at the Common Pleas Courthouse in Columbus, Ohio, opened recently, to mostly rave reviews for its sense of space and light, creating the feeling of walking suspended on air. However, as Judge Julie Lynch and other women soon discovered, the glass partitions at each step make it easy for perverts to gawk from underneath at dress-wearing women using the stairs. "(Y)ou're on notice," Judge Lynch warned her sister dress-wearers, "that you might want to take the elevator."

-- Pablo Borgen has apparently been living without neighbors' complaints in Lakeland, Fla., despite general knowledge that he is, according to sheriff's officials, one of the area's major heroin traffickers, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars a month. Following a drug sting in June, however, neighbors discovered another fact about Borgen: that he and some of his gang were each drawing $900 a month in food stamps. Formerly indifferent neighbors were outraged by Borgen's abuse of benefits, according to WTSP-TV. "Hang him by his toes," said one. "I've been out of work since February (2008). I lived for a year on nothing but ... food stamps."

-- Roy Miracle, 80, of Newark, Ohio, passed away in July, and his family honored him and his years of service as a prankster and superfan of the Ohio State Buckeyes with a commemorative photo of three of Miracle's fellow obsessives making contorted-body representations of "O," "H" and "O" for their traditional visual cheer. In the photo, Miracle assumed his usual position as the "I" -- or, rather, his corpse did. (Despite some criticism, most family and friends thought Miracle was properly honored.)

Cutting-Edge Research

It's good to be an Arizona State University student, where those 21 and older can earn $60 a night by getting drunk. Psychology professor Will Corbin, operating with National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grants, conducts studies of drunk students' memories, response times and decision-making processes through extensive questioning -- after he has raised their blood-alcohol level to precisely 0.08 percent (which Arizona regards as presumed-impaired for drivers). Students are served one type of vodka cocktail, three drinks' worth, in a bar-like room on campus, and after 15 minutes to let the alcohol be absorbed, the questioning and testing begin. (At the end of the night, taxis are called for the students.)

Least Competent Criminals

Not Ready For Prime Time: Ryan Letchford, 21, and Jeffrey Olson, 22, were arrested in Radnor, Pa., in July after they had broken into a police van for the purpose of taking gag photos of themselves as if they were under arrest. However, the men somehow locked themselves inside the van, and neither they nor a friend they had called to come help could figure out how to open the doors. Finally, they were forced to call 9-1-1. Police arrived, unlocked the van, arrested the men, and locked them back up -- inside a cell.

Recurring Themes

In June, Eric Carrier, 23, of Hooksett, N.H., became the most recent person arrested for running a scam on a home-healthcare worker by pretending to be disabled and in need of someone to change his adult diapers. Carrier first told the woman that he was the father of a man disabled by a brain injury, but when she reported for work, it was Carrier himself wearing the diaper and who demanded changing and who allegedly indecently exposed himself.

A News of the Weird Classic (February 2000)

Two undercover policewomen running a prostitution sting in Dothan, Ala., in October (1999) declined to arrest a pickup-truck-driving john, around age 70, despite his three attempts to procure their services. He first offered the women the three squirrels he had just shot, but they ignored him (too much trouble to log in and store the evidence). A few minutes later, he sweetened the offer with the used refrigerator in the back of his truck, but the officers again declined (same reason). On the third trip, he finally offered cash: $6 (but no squirrels or refrigerator). The officers again declined. They later said they had resolved to arrest him if he returned, but he did not.

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