by Chuck Shepherd

Lonely Japanese men (and a fewwomen) with rich imaginationshave created a thriving subculture(“otaku”) in which they haveall-consuming relationships withfigurines that are based on popularanime characters. “The less extreme,”reported a New York Times writer inJuly, obsessively collect the dolls. Thehardcore otaku “actually believes thata lumpy pillow with a drawing of a(teenage character) is his girlfriend,”and takes her out in public on romanticdates. “She has really changed mylife,” said “Nisan,” 37, referring to hisgal, Nemutan. (The otaku dolls are not to beconfused with the life-size, anatomically-correctdolls that other lonely men use for sex.)One forlorn “2-D” (so named for preferringrelationships with two-dimensionals) said hewould like to marry a real, 3-D woman, “(b)ut look at me. How can someone who carriesthis (doll) around get married?”Cultural diversity• Thousands of Koreans, and some tourists,uninhibitedly joined in the messy eventsof July’s Byryeong City Mud Festival,which glorifies the joys of an activity usuallylimited to pigs. Mud wrestling, mud-sliding,a “mud prison” and colored mud bathsdominated the week’s activities, but sounfortunately did dermatological maladies,which hospitalized 200 celebrants.• National Specialties:(1) In May,Singapore’s Olympic Council, finding noathlete good enough, declined to name anational Sportsman of the Year. (2) A surveyof industrialized nations by the Organizationfor Economic Cooperation and Developmentrevealed that Japanese and Koreanssleep the least, while the French spend themost time at both sleeping and eating. (3)A Tokyo rail passenger company, Keihin,installed a face-scanning machine recently sothat employees, upon reporting for work, cantell whether they are smiling broadly enoughto present a good impression.Latest religious messages• The director of a child advocacygroup told the Associated Press in Junethat, since 1975, at least 274 children havedied following the withholding of medicaltreatment based on religious doctrine. Inone high-profile case this year, the fatherof a girl said turning her over to doctorswould violate God’s word (she died), but inanother, a Minnesota family that had trustedtheir son’s cancer to prayer, based on advicefrom something called the Nemenhah Band,changed course and allowed chemotherapy,which so far appearsto have prolonged theboy’s life.• The Shinto templeKanda Shrine, nearTokyo’s version ofSilicon Valley, does abrisk business blessingelectronic gadgets,according to a July dispatchin Wired magazine.Lucky charmsgo for the equivalentof about $8.50, but fora personal session, thetemple expects an offering of the equivalentof at least $50. The Wired writer, carryinga potentially balky cell phone, approachedthe shrine with a tree branch as instructed,turned it 180 degrees clockwise, and laid iton the altar. After bowing twice and clappinghis hands twice, he left, looking forward to aglitch-free phone.Questionable judgments• They took it too far: (1) Maryland correctionsofficials, hoping to improve juvenilerehabilitation by a kinder, gentler approachto incarceration, opened its New BeginningsYouth Center in May. The lockdown facilityhad declined to use razor wire, insteadmerely landscaping its chain-link fences withthorny rose bushes. After one inmate easilyescaped on the second day of operation,razor wire was installed. (2) Bride Lin Rongwed in August in China’s eastern Jilin province,walking down the aisle in a dress thatwas more than 7,000 feet (1.3 miles) long(rolled up in a wagon behind her).• Britain’s National Health Service ofSheffield issued a “guidance” to schoolsthis summer to encourage teaching studentsalternatives to premarital sex, including masturbation.According to the Daily Telegraph,the leaflet (titled “Pleasure”) contains theslogan “(A)n orgasm a day keeps the doctoraway” and likens the health benefits of eatingfruits and vegetables, and exercising, to thebenefits of masturbating twice a week.’ • Latest questionable grants:’ (1) Welsh artistSue Williams was awarded the equivalentof about $33,000 in June, from the ArtsCouncil of Wales, to explore cultural attitudestoward women’s buttocks, especially“racial fetishism” in African and Europeanculture. Williams said she will create a seriesof plaster casts of buttocks to work with,beginning with her own.’ (2) In July, theNational Institutes of Health awarded $3million to the University of Illinois Chicagoto identify the things that cause lesbians todrink alcohol. It will be very important, saidresearch director Tonda Hughes, to comparewhy lesbians drink with why heterosexualwomen drink. (This is a different NIH grantfrom the ones reported in News of the Weirdin June, to study why gay men in Argentinadrink and why prostitutes in China drink.)Rock people• (1) Chicago police arrested motoristDaniel Phelan, 27, in August and chargedhim in connection with a three-week spreeof drive-by rock-throwing at other cars.Officers discounted ordinary road rage asa cause, in that Phelan appeared to havebeen driving around during that time withan arsenal of rocks in the passenger seat. (2)A 22-year-old man was arrested in Kitsap,Wash., in August after tossing a barrage ofrocks at people, leading some to chase himuntil police intervened. The man explainedthat he is preparing to enter Ultimate FightingChampionship contests but had neveractually been in a fight and wanted experienceat getting beaten up.Least competent cops• (1) The Supreme Court of Spain tossedout assault charges against Henry Osagiedein August because of unfairness by Madridpolice. Osagiede, a black man, was convictedafter the victim identified him as herattacker, in a lineup in which he was the onlyblack man. (2) Six Ormond Beach, Fla., motorcycleofficers, detailed to chaperone thebody of prominent Harley-Davidson dealerBruce Rossmeyer from the funeral home tothe cemetery, accidentally collided with eachother en route, sending all six riders and theirbikes sprawling.
Recurring themes• (1) “Spitting contests”: A man wasalmost killed in Rodgau, Germany, in Julywhen, attempting to show friends he couldspit a cherry pit the farthest off of a balcony,made a running start but accidentally toppledover the railing. He was hospitalized withhip injuries. (2) “Assistance monkeys”:Evidence of the dexterity and usefulness ofmonkeys (for fetching objects for disabledpeople) came from the Plants & Plantersstore in Richardson, Texas, in July. The storeowner, seeking to combat recent burglaries,installed a surveillance camera, whichrevealed a monkey scaling the fence, scoopingup plants, flowers and accessories, andhanding them to an accomplice waiting onthe other side.Undignified deaths• (1) Two 22-year-old men were accidentallykilled in Mattoon, Ill., in May during anouting in which an open-top double-deckerbus was used to transport guests. Severalpeople were standing in the top tier, butinvestigators said only the two tallest menwere accidentally hit when the bus passedunder Interstate 57. (2) A 23-year-old mandrowned in Corpus Christi, Texas, in February,when he sought to back up his claimin front of “friends” that he could hold hisbreath underwater for a long period of time.A News of the Weird classic(June 2003)’ In early 2003, several news organizationsprofiled 70-year-old Charlotte Chambers,who was a reserve defensive back for theOrlando Starz of the Independent Women’s(tackle) Football League. Said the Starz chiefexecutive, “Last year, I thought I should tellthe other teams to go easy and not hit her toohard. But now I’m afraid she’s going to hurtsomebody.” Said the 5-foot-4, 140-poundChambers, “I say, ‘You better hit me (first),because I’m laying you out.’”
Copyright 2009 Chuck ShepherdDistributed by Universal Press Syndicate!