In the northern Albanian countryside, about 40 women still practice an ancient tradition as "sworn virgins," who are young females who renounce sex forever in exchange for being treated as men, according to an August Washington Post interview of Elvira Dones, an Albanian native who recently completed a documentary on the subject. The oath is usually taken in front of a town's elders, and the likeliest candidates come from homes in need of a male head of household (because of death or abandonment). Even in such a male-dominated society, according to Dones, men seem to accept the "sworn virgins" as equals.
-- This past summer, two capital-murder inmates (who might have been executed, regardless) were put to death after curious court policies failed them. Luther Williams' execution was carried out in Alabama in August after the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to stop it, despite his plea that the state's lethal injection procedure was unconstitutional. However, one month later, the court voted to accept for consideration another case questioning the constitutionality of the injection. (Court policy is that four votes are needed to accept a case, but five are required to stay an execution.) In September, just minutes after the court's lethal-injection case was accepted, lawyers for Michael Richard, who was scheduled to die that evening, rushed to file a stay with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal and promised delivery by 5:20 p.m. The court clerk responded, "We close at 5"; the petition didn't make it, and Richard was executed at 8:23.
-- Spaniard Manuel Gozalo organizes bus trips of women from Madrid to isolated rural villages, which most of the native females have long since abandoned for cities, leaving lonely single men. His "caravanas de amor" (caravans of love) have made 32 day-trips since 1995, promising the ladies some fun and dancing (and possible romance) and the men perhaps a last chance at finding a companion (and Gozalo told London's Independent in July that his caravans have produced at least 40 marriages).
-- A particularly environmentally conscious Catholic priest in Suffolk, England, set up a confessional in August at a Greenpeace festival to permit parishioners to relieve their guilt over despoiling the Earth, according to a report in The Times of London. At the festival, however, the priest, Dom Anthony Sutch, also had to deal with the August announcement that the Vatican would begin transporting 150,000 pilgrims a year on chartered, high-carbon-footprint airliners.
-- Hindu officials persuaded the Indian government in September to withdraw a report on a construction project because it treated a prominent bridge as a natural stone formation instead of (as Hindus say) a bridge created by the god Ram and his army of monkeys. In another victory for Hindu sensibility, the government cracked down on the rustling of "sacred" cattle in August by issuing ID cards with photos of individual cows, to help guards at the Bangladesh border halt the illegal trade.
-- God's Will Be Done: (1) In August in Atlanta, televangelist Thomas Weeks was arrested for allegedly beating up and threatening to kill his estranged wife, televangelist Juanita Bynum, in a hotel parking lot before a bellman rescued her. (Weeks blamed Satan for the incident.) (2) Pastor Walter Steen pleaded guilty in Detroit in August to tax fraud and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. He had started the God Will Provide Tax Service in 2005, but prosecutors said 1,573 out of the 1,578 returns he prepared for clients claimed tax refunds.
-- Shoe designer Marc Jacobs recently crossed a frontier in fashion by introducing women's high-heeled shoes with the "heel" in the front. Wrote London's Daily Mail: "A chunky, 4-inch heel nestles horizontally just under the ball of the foot. Where you'd expect a heel, there is nothing but fresh air." Models of the shoe are priced in the $500 to $700 range.
-- Questionable Menus: (1) Puzzlingly, young adults in Japan seem particularly drawn toward mayonnaise, and thus Koji Nakamura might have a shot at success with his Mayonnaise Kitchen restaurant in a Tokyo suburb, according to an August Reuters story. Included in his fare are several mayonnaise-flavored cocktails, including the "Mayogarita." (2) Health officials in Rockland County, N.Y., issued two complaints against the Great China Buffet restaurant in September after an employee was seen preparing the day's garlic in back of the building by stomping a large bowl of it with his boots on.
-- Maritza Tamayo, principal of New York City's Unity Center for Urban Technologies high school, was fired in August following revelations that she was so concerned about the unruly behavior of some students that she brought in a Santeria priestess in December 2006 to cleanse the building of evil spirits. The students were on holiday break, but workers found chicken blood sprinkled around the building, and Tamayo and two other women in white dresses were seen, chanting, with one balancing a silver tray on her head, holding 40 lit candles.
Officials of the Miss Ventura County (Calif.) pageant said in September that they are tired of waiting (now, two years) and would seek police help in getting the disqualified 2005 winner Hilary Gushwa to return her crown to them. Gushwa was ousted for being secretly married at the time, a violation of pageant rules. She responded at first that she did not recall her wedding, in Las Vegas, because she was on medication, but subsequent evidence showed her actively planning the ceremony and reception.
People who decide to urinate in public continue to find the practice dangerous, as News of the Weird has documented many times. A 40-year-old man, somewhat inebriated, attempting to urinate into the River Bulbourne in Hemel Hempstead, England, fell in and drowned (April). A 58-year-old man stood up in his boat to urinate while fishing and fell into a lake near Farmington, N.M., and drowned (August). A train driver in Berlin, Germany, apparently attempting to urinate out of a door at 70 mph, fell to his death (May).
(1) A 19-year-old man was arrested in Darwin, Australia, in August after he shoplifted a pornographic magazine and retreated to a public restroom in the Karama Shopping Centre. A security guard trailed him, joined by a police officer, but they decided to wait until he was finished before apprehending him. (2) A 26-year-old man was convicted in September of masturbating in a University of Manitoba library in Winnipeg. He explained, "I was just sitting at a computer, downloading a few things, and I got a little horny. ... I do it all the time." (According to the Winnipeg Sun, one of the conditions of his six-months' probation is that he not masturbate "in a library or anywhere else.")
(1) A 27-year-old woman was killed in Melvindale, Mich., while setting off Fourth of July fireworks when she failed to move her head out of the way after launching a 3-inch mortar bomb. (2) A 55-year-old man in Fall River County, S.D., was killed in August when he accidentally shot himself in the stomach. According to police, he was attempting to show friends that a key point in a recent CSI television show was wrong (that is, according to the script, a victim could not physically have managed to shoot herself in the stomach).
(CORRECTION: A News of the Weird story three weeks ago (based on a report in London's Daily Telegraph) declared that a top-of-the-line Oral-B toothbrush employed "navigation technology" to allow the user to guide the brush usefully through the mouth. Contrary to the Daily Telegraph story, no such technology is in use, and the standard digital readout on the toothbrush merely coaxes the user to move from one part of the mouth to another at suggested intervals.) (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.)