Not only has professional fishing grown so spectacularly that last year's leading money winner earned $547,000, but popular "fantasy fishing" leagues, resembling fantasy baseball and football, employ elaborate statistical breakdowns of fishing tournaments to help players pick winners, according to a July Wall Street Journal report. "Average weight per fish (caught) over careers," "margin of victory (in pounds)," and other data points are plotted by players, along with weather reports, depth and temperature of tournament lakes, and intangibles such as "home-lake curse." The organization FLW Outdoors estimates 40,000 fantasy players, many of whom have never actually fished.
-- Despite education campaigns by women's groups, about one-fourth of girls in Cameroon still undergo ritual "breast-ironing" at puberty as their families attempt to squash their developing bosoms to make them sexually unattractive to boys and reduce their temptation to marry. The most popular "ironing" instrument is a heated wooden pestle, mashed painfully against the chest. Some girls are supportive, however, like the one who told BBC News in June that she just "wanted to (stay in) school like other girls who had no breasts."
-- The streets of the town of Yap (in the Federated States of Micronesia) feature large stone coins (up to 12 feet in diameter) that historically have served as money, even though they are rarely moved around. Yap is a former U.S. territory that, according to a June Los Angeles Times dispatch, has been very slow to modernize, retaining a caste system, various discriminations against women, and certain society-wide, no-shirt rules for men and women. U.S. currency is used for smaller transactions, but several thousand stationary coins (some worth thousands of dollars) are still in use.
-- In June, after the roof of the just-built Cedar Grove Methodist Church near Thorsby, Ala., collapsed (with no one inside), church officials revealed that they had never sought building permits, based on Pastor Jeff Carroll's assumption that "separation of church and state" meant that his church was none of the government's business. Carroll, whose day job is as a home builder, said volunteers designed and then built the church, but agreed to get a permit for the re-building.
-- In June, the leading Hindu cleric in the Kashmir area of Pakistan demanded a judicial investigation as to why the holy, phallus-shaped object (a "lingam") in the Amarnath shrine appeared not to be of naturally formed ice but of imported soft snow. The annual pilgrimage to worship it (the fertility deity Shiva) depends, the cleric said, on ice formations from inside Amarnath, and some leaders are upset that Shiva this year just doesn't look right.
-- God's Will: Clara Jean Brown, 65, praying for her absent family during a thunderstorm, had just said "Amen" when a lightning bolt hit across the street, ran through a water pipe and exploded into her kitchen, knocking her down (Daphne, Ala., May). And a 34-year-old woman, fasting to re-create Christ's 40-day, 40-night starvation in the wilderness, passed away of probable dehydration after 23 days (London, England, May). And Father Claudio Rossi, 61, a Jesuit priest praying for his mother's health, plunged to his death when the poorly supported floor of the chapel gave way (Palestrina, near Rome, June).
-- In June, the school board in Waterbury, Conn., responding to a crisis in student absenteeism, proposed to make almost all absences unexcused and subject to a $25 parental fine, even including medical absences unless a student is hospitalized or a physician attests that the illness was "serious and chronic." It wound up dropping the fine and settling on the wording to "serious or chronic." Nonetheless, in July, officials decided to promote 500 of the 685 students who had 19 or more absences during the year.
-- The tattoo-removal business is booming, according to a May Fox News report that highlights dissatisfaction with formerly trendy Chinese-language tats that were often either mistranslated as nonsense ("blood and guts" translated as "blood and intestines") or were actually jokes pulled on people too cool for their own good (such as Chinese words for "gullible white boy"). A removal service in Beverly Hills, Calif., said it takes off at least seven Asian tattoos a week.
(1) "Eyebrow Wax Herpes Lawsuit to Proceed" (a June Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y., story of a lawsuit against a nail salon). (2) "Port to Get Nuclear Detectors That Won't Be Set Off by Cat Litter" (a July Press of Atlantic City story about technology to reduce false positives from cargo with slight naturally occurring radiation). (3) "Man Once Convicted for Child Molestation Could Go Free Because Judge Accepted a Doughnut" (a July story on Northwest Cable News, Seattle, about a new trial ordered for a sex offender because the judge was too chummy with one juror).
(1) On July 18 (five days after Israel began its retaliatory assault on Hezbollah), swimmer Hilary Bramwill, 30, was picked up by rescuers a mile off a New York beach, despite her insistence that she needed to get to Israel. (2) A veteran Scotland Yard anti-terror detective was arrested in Trafalgar Square in London in July, where he said he was videoing al-Qaida suspects, but according to police, he was merely shooting "upskirt" video of women.
People Who Believe Marijuana Is Odorless: Two men were arrested at the drive-thru window at a KFC restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y., in June by narcotics officers who were eating inside; one of the men had what an officer said was "the biggest marijuana cigar you ever saw," which was making so much smoke that it was wafting into the restaurant. And in Tucson, Ariz., in June, after police were called to one home, they noticed an overpowering marijuana smell coming from a neighbor's house; Jose Ortega Mendez, 35, was arrested when 220 bales of marijuana, totaling two tons, were found inside.
(1) A 17-year-old apprentice was fatally crushed in the bread-drying machine at Karl's Good Stuff Bakery in Australia's Queensland state (July). (2) A woman barely survived after being inadvertently pulled into spinning brush machinery at Soapy's Car Wash in Ocala, Fla. (July). (3) In separate incidents, men drowned when the vehicles they were driving fell into liquid pits and landed on top of them. (A man in Newburgh, N.Y., couldn't escape the lawnmower that pinned him down in June, and a dairy owner in Fresno County, Calif., was pinned by his tractor in a manure pit in July.)
Eighty such themes have occurred so frequently that they have been "retired from circulation" since News of the Weird began publishing in 1988, and for the next few weeks, they'll be reviewed here. Among the first group were stories of mix-ups between phone-sex hotlines and churches, charities, etc.; suspicious packages that bring an office or a city block to a standstill but turn out not to be bombs (and the more harmless the contents really are, like a buzzing personal vibrator, the better); robbers on getaway who hail the first passing car, which turns out to be an unmarked police car (or, in one case, a marked police car); and the political candidate who wins the election even though he died well before election day. They certainly used to be weird, but no longer.
CLARIFICATION: In a column three weeks ago, I noted that a Baptist church in Manchester, England, had staged a fund-raising car wash using water that a church spokesman had called "blessed" (according to a BBC News report, whose headline writer referred to the water as "holy"). However, the church, in its members' bulletin, and contrary to the BBC News report, had written that the runoff baptismal water was specifically not "blessed." Had I known of the church bulletin, I would not have regarded the story as worthy of News of the Weird.
(Visit Chuck Shepherd daily at http://NewsoftheWeird.blogspot.com or www.NewsoftheWeird.com. Send your Weird News to WeirdNewsTips@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, FL 33679.)