News of the Weird 

Campaign Roundup

(1) In her joyful 2004 autobiography, Sandy Sullivan, 65, the Republican candidate for secretary of state in Wisconsin, recalls her friskier days as a 1960s Green Bay Packers fan, including interludes with Hall of Fame running back Paul Hornung. (2) Donovan Brown, the Democratic nominee for a Florida state House seat, resumed campaigning in October after a two-week involuntary stay at a mental health facility after his mother took him in for evaluation. (3) Palm Beach County, Fla., whose Democratic voters’ confusion over the “butterfly ballot” may have cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000, will now see if its Republicans will be confused by a state law that requires them to vote for their recently resigned congressman, Mark Foley, if they want to register votes for his Republican replacement.  

Cultural Diversity

Vying to become the national sport of Venezuela is coleo, less bloody than bullfighting and “truly Venezuelan,” a spokesman for the national coleo organization told The New York Times in September. Four men on horses chase a bull in a large pen, competing to see who can tip it over the most times by yanking on its tail. If the bull hasn’t broken any legs when it falls, the men must get it back on its feet quickly by further twisting (or biting) the tail or by electric prod, so that the game can continue.

In a remote region of China, relatives shower graves with objects that supposedly make the deceased’s afterlife more pleasant, and some families of dead bachelors even buy corpses of unmarried females and bury them with their sons in posthumous “weddings.” Ironically, according to a September New York Times dispatch from Chenjiayuan, since men outnumber women in the region (in part due to abortions of girl fetuses), families of these dead women are able to command high “dowries.”

More Spirits: The grave of Pol Pot (one of the 20th century’s most prodigious mass murderers) near Anlong Veng, Cambodia, is revered by local villagers who believe his ghost protects them and also provides winning lottery numbers, according to an August International Herald Tribune report. In fact, the government is building a casino nearby to serve those who feel lucky.

Questionable Judgments

Dutch transportation planner Hans Monderman has been pushing his innovative plans for improving traffic, and several towns in the Netherlands and Germany have already signed on, according to an August report by the German news organization Deutsche Welle. His proposals include eliminating traffic signs and street markings, which he believes will force drivers to be careful as they hunt for their destinations, and building children’s playgrounds in median strips of roads, figuring that drivers would surely slow down.

Injudicious: In August, Lowell, Mass., judge James McGuinness Jr. quixotically relieved Ms. Grimary DeJesus of all responsibility for failure to pay earlier court fees (which followed four arrests in eight years), provided that she recite the Pledge of Allegiance. She was only 12 words into it before she faltered, but McGuinness said, “Congratulations, ma’am, never heard it said better,” and released her anyway.

The latest version of China’s periodic Animal Olympic Games, with 300 hardly voluntary participants, was held at the Shanghai Wildlife Park in September, to the consternation of animal-rights activists around the world. London’s Daily Mail reported that chimpanzees played basketball and lifted weights, a bear in a tutu navigated an obstacle course, sea lions high-jumped, and an elephant took on spectators in tug-of-war. Photographs of a kangaroo boxing a garishly-dressed man were posted on the Web sites of China Daily and CBS News.

Latest Religious Messages

At least three Christian wrestling associations are active in the southern United States, staging matches using traditional pro-wrestling gimmicks (angelic “babyfaces” vs. creepy “heels”; the “injured” star who gamely takes a mauling but wins through sheer determination). In one pointed adaptation, the bad guys strap “Wrestling for Jesus” star Chase Cliett onto a large cross in the ring and beat him bloody, but he is resurrected after a good-guys’ “run-in” from the dressing room. Wrestling for Jesus and Ultimate Christian Wrestling (both based in Georgia), and Texas’ Christian Wrestling Federation, set aside some time each show for their muscular roughnecks to evangelize among their rowdy fans, according to an Associated Press report.

New York filmmaker Andy Deemer, impressed by reports that 40 to 45 new religions emerge every year in America, offered a $5,000 fee earlier this year for a wannabe messiah to start one and let Deemer chronicle the formation step-by-step, from creation of the philosophy to the soliciting of disciples. Of 300 applicants, Deemer chose 35-year-old musician Joshua Boden, based on Boden’s God-optional, feel-good narrative that he called “the Church of Now,” based a bit on Buddhism and Taoism (according to an August New York Times profile). Among the prophets that Deemer passed by was Damian Phoenix, whose religion centers around an insect-like creature, “Arkon,” and a world of alien parasites that negatively influence people (that is, until Phoenix heals them).

Fetishes on Parade

In September, police in the Georgia towns of Perry and Americus were investigating incidents probably involving the same unnamed man, who provided an additional dimension to the typical foot-fetishist: religion. An 80-year-old Wal-Mart shopper in Perry reported that the man was sitting on the floor of an aisle and asked her for help with his “religious” ritual. The lady accommodated him by stepping on his hands and then spitting on him, but when he began to lick her feet, she called for help.

Least Competent People

(1) Least Competent Anti-Abortion Activist: David Robert McMenemy, 45, was arrested in Davenport, Iowa, in September after he drove his car into a women’s clinic and then set it on fire to protest abortions. He was then informed that it is just a medical clinic, providing neither abortions nor abortion referrals. (2) Least Competent Drug Agents: Just after federal and local narcotics agents cut down and bundled for destruction massive quantities of marijuana plants at a site in California’s Marin County in September, officials reported that, despite security, 1,200 of the plants had been stolen before they could be taken away.

Recurring Themes

The Latest News From Places That Lack Sunshine: According to a September Reuters report, four gang-member inmates at the maximum-security Zacatecoluca lockup in El Salvador were caught with “cell phones, a phone charger and spare chips” in their rectums, “far enough (in) to reach their intestines,” according to prison official Ramon Arevalo. And in September, arrestee Melissa Roberge, 25, allegedly set fire to the mattress and blanket in her jail cell in Conway, N.H. She had earlier been frisked, but after the fire, a full-body search revealed a cigarette lighter in an unspecified “body cavity.”

Picking on the Victim

LaToya Joplin was arrested in July in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., and charged with killing her daughter, Kayla, 3, despite her statements to a sheriff’s detective (read in court in an August hearing) that she, and not Kayla, was the real victim. The detective said Joplin told him “she was the one who was abused when she disciplined Kayla, because she would strike her to the point that her hand was throbbing.” She was forced to keep hitting her, she said, because Kayla never said “ouch.”ƒnƒç



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Chuck Shepherd

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