[NEWS OF THE WEIRD]
Low fashion meets Islam on Turkish TV: Five self-proclaimed devout, conservative Muslim women host the TV series “Building Bridges” on channel A9, presenting the seemingly contradictory case against both the female headscarf and Turkey’s turn to secularism. A report on Slate. com in May noted that the five are “mostly bottle blonds… [with] neon lipstick” wearing “brightly colored satin pantsuits and T-shirts with designer brand names that stretched over their chests.”
“Building Bridges” in principle supports interfaith dialogue, but guests (noted Slate) “often appear… with their eyebrows arched in the manner of a serious person certain he is the victim of a practical joke.”
• Creative Smuggling: Abdullah Riyaz, 50, was arrested at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, India in April after he appeared to be uncomfortable sitting in the waiting area. Officials found four “biscuits” of solid gold in his socks but obviously thought there might be more, and after nature took its course, found Riyaz to be one of those rare humans with the ability to brag that he once excreted gold (eight more “biscuits”).
• A report circulated in April that an apparently Orthodox Jewish man (likely a “Kohen”) had tied himself up, head to toe, in a plastic bag while seated on an airline flight — likely because his teachings told him that flying over a cemetery would yield “impurities.” News of the Weird mentioned a similar report in 2001. Airlines have made accommodations in the past, even in the face of criticism that a man in a plastic bag is a safety hazard. (Exceptions to the Kohen belief: Accidental tears in the bag are excused, but pre-punched air holes not; Kohenim unaware of the cemetery overflight in advance do not need protection; and deceased family members yield no impurities.)
• Accountability: The chairman of the National Showcaves Center in a Welsh national park, aiming to halt a recent downturn in tourism business, threatened in April to sue the UK National Weather Service for its “all too [frequent]… gloom and doom reports.” The NWS had called for snow and cold weather over Easter weekend, but no snow fell, and the cold weather was tempered by sun and blue skies. (He also suggested adding “health”-type warnings to forecasts, e.g., beware that weather reports might be wrong.)
• In New Haven, Conn. in March, police had trapped two car-theft suspects in a multifamily building whose occupants were hiding from the suspects, thus necessitating urgency in ending the siege. Officers ordered a K-9 unit but were told it would be delayed. In a tactic departments occasionally employ, officers still threatened to release the dogs immediately, and to make the threat credible, available officers began barking. The suspects quickly surrendered rather than face the vicious canines.
• Herbert and Catherine Schaible, members of the First Century Gospel Church in Philadelphia and believers in faith-healing rather than medical care, were convicted in 2011 in the bacterial-pneumonia death of their 2-year-old son, Kent. As a condition of probation, they promised medical care for their remaining eight children, but in April 2013, their youngest son, Brandon, died after severe diarrhea and pneumonia, again treated only by prayer, and they were arrested — and the other children removed from the home. The medical examiner called Brandon’s death a homicide, and the couple also face five to 10 years in prison for violating probation.
• Detectives’ new best friend (Facebook): Christopher Robinson, 23, became just one of many recent suspects whose addiction to Facebook did him in. Robinson had never made a single child support payment in the three years since a court order was issued in Milwaukee, Wis., and the case had languished over how to prove that he was hiding money. Using other evidence for probable cause, the prosecutor got a warrant to search Robinson’s private Facebook information and discovered a candid photograph of him, laughing over a pile of cash.
• The annual Chinese “tomb sweeping” celebration has been mentioned several times in News of the Weird, but has experienced a resurgence since 2008 when the government reinstated it as an official holiday. The theory is that people bring valuable items (such as jewelry) to ancestors’ gravesites and bury them with the body, which will upgrade the relative’s afterlife. Now, however, practitioners seem convinced that paper images of items are sufficient (and, of course, less expensive). Many simply leave signed (and generous!) checks for the dead, according to an April New York Times dispatch, and others bury representations of “mistresses” to accompany presumably frisky corpses.
• News of the Weird first learned of kopi luwak in 1993 — coffee beans sold as gourmet because they had been swallowed by certain Asian civet cats and recovered from feces and washed. Since then, as internet news of kopi luwak has spread, it has become no longer obscure, and in April, the environmental-activist website MongaBay.com warned that, based on increased demand, civet “farms” had sprung up in Indonesia and that civets were being caged for their entire lives solely for access to their poop. While none of the main kopi luwak civet species is formally “endangered,” activists warned that populations are dwindling for, said one, “the most ridiculous threat… to any wildlife I have seen yet.”
• In one of the more prominent recent “that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it” cases, Vicky Pryce, 60, finally gave up in March and admitted to a judge that her husband, not she, was driving their speeding car in 2003. She was married at the time to high-ranking British government official Chris Huhne, whose license would have been suspended had he been driving — and thus, she volunteered. The couple’s 10-year ruse had inspired two trials ending without decision. (Huhne “rewarded” Pryce for her loyalty in 2010 by having an affair. The couple are divorced and will be imprisoned separately for perverting justice.)
• “Recovered memory” was a popular psychotherapy diagnosis in the 1980s, ultimately responsible for jail sentences for priests, parents and school officials after patients suddenly somehow “remembered” long-suppressed bizarre and vicious (and sometimes “satanic”) sex crimes that never actually happened. Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, of the University of California, Irvine and other skeptics have since proven that false memories can be created and are now concentrating on fashioning them for beneficial purposes — to lose weight, to stop smoking, to curb drinking. An April report in Time magazine noted that “up to 40 percent” of people could be convinced that they had had bad experiences with a certain behavior and that, properly identified, those people could be taught to avoid it. Said Dr. Loftus, “We do have a malleable memory.”
• Briton James McCormick caused the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis after convincing a Baghdad police official that his “electronic” wands could detect bombs at 400 security checkpoints (in spite of US officials’ many warnings that they were useless). (In October 2009, for example, suicide bombers walked past two wand-equipped checkpoints into a neighborhood and killed 155.) McCormick, who sold 6,000 of the devices to Iraq and the country of Georgia at prices of up to $40,000 each, was convicted of fraud in April. According to London prosecutors, he also claimed that his wands were programmable to ferret out drugs and paper money and to detect them from high above or up to a kilometer underground.
• Catholic nun Megan Rice, 83, and two other peace activists were convicted in May of breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. last year — with “intent to harm national security.” Sympathizers lauded the activists’ motives and asked whether national security was actually “harmed,” but somehow the intruders’ stealth “attack” was treated seriously. That is, three amateurs cut through numerous fences undetected, then bypassed several sensors and alarms (either malfunctioning or unmonitored) before being stopped by a lone guard. (While Israel currently frets over Iran’s accumulation of up to 500 pounds of highly enriched uranium for building one bomb, Y-12 houses an estimated 400 tons.)
© 2012 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate.