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News of the weird
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Horse show jumping is a longtime Olympics sport, but for the last 10 years, equestrians have been performing in “horseless” show jumping, in which horse courses are run by “riders” on foot (who, by the way, do not straddle broomsticks). According to an October report in The Wall Street Journal, an international association headed by retired pro equestrian Jessica Newman produces at least 15 shows a year, with between 40 to 130 competitors galloping over jumps that vary from two to four feet high (five feet in “Grand Prix” events), with the “riders” graded as if they were on horses (timed, with points off for contacting the rails). Explained Newman about the shows’ success: “It’s just fun to be a horse.” [The Wall Street Journal, 10-8-2012]

Cultural Diversity
Official Gaydar: Malaysia’s Education Ministry has held at least 10 seminars recently to teach parents and teachers how to head off the pesky homosexuality that their kids may be in “danger” of developing. According to officials, sure signs are when boys wear “V-neck” or sleeveless shirts or carry big handbags. For girls, the most obvious sign is “having no affection for boys.” Last year, according to a September Reuters report, the government set up camps specifically to teach “masculine behavior” to “effeminate” boys. [Reuters via Washington Post, 9-14-2012]

Championship eaters gobble down hot dogs on New York’s Coney Island, but in August, when a Filipino restaurant in Brooklyn wanted a more ethnic contest, it offered plates of “baluts” -- the Philippine delicacy of duck fetuses. Wayne Algenio won, stuffing 18 down his throat in five minutes. Typically, the baluts have barely begun to develop, sometimes allowing a “lucky” diner to sense in his mouth the crackle of a beak or the tickle of a feather. Since baluts are exotic, they are considered to be (as is often the case in Asia) aphrodisiacs. [Huffington Post, 8-27-2012]

Surviving a cobra bite in Nepal is simple, some natives believe. If the victim bites the snake right back, to its death, the venom is rendered harmless. One confident farmer bitten in August in Biratnagar told BBC News that he went about his business normally after fatally biting his attacker and survived only after his family convinced him that perhaps the custom was ridiculous and hauled him to a hospital. [BBC News, 8-13-2012]

A September religious festival in Nanchang, China, is a favorite of beggars, as visitors are in a generous mood, but officials expressed concern this year about the increasing hordes of panhandlers harassing the pilgrims. Thus, town officials ordered all festival beggars to be locked up in small cages (too tiny to allow standing) to minimize the hustling. Beggars are free to leave, but then must stay away permanently. Most beggars chose to stay since they still earned more in festival cages than they would have on the street. [Daily Mail, 9-19-2012]

Whale Discharges in the News
In August, schoolboy Charlie Naysmith of Christchurch, England, taking a nature walk near Hengistbury Head beach, came upon a rocklike substance that turned out to be petrified whale vomit -- which, to his surprise, proved worth the equivalent of from $16,000 to $64,000. “Ambergris,” a waxy buildup from the intestines of a sperm whale, produces a foul odor but is valuable commercially for prolonging the scent of a perfume. (Actually, after floating in the sun, on salt water, for decades, the ambergris on the beach was smooth and sweet-smelling.) [Daily Echo (Bournemouth), 8-25-2012]

Tucker, an 8-year-old black Labrador mix, is the only dog in the world trained to detect the faint whiff of the tiniest specks of whale feces in the open ocean water (and from as far as a mile away!). A September New York Times dispatch from coastal Washington state noted that the 85 or so orcas that populate the area have been identified and tracked for decades, but locating them at any given time was always a problem until Tucker came along. One of his trainers explained that the dog’s directional signals are accurate but often subtle (such as by a twitch of the ear). [New York Times, 9-1-2012]

Latest Religious Messages
The CIA and the National Security Agency may play roles, but Kentucky’s homeland security law explicitly acknowledges “God” as the key to the war on terrorism. In August, the Kentucky Supreme Court declined to hear atheists’ challenges to the state’s 2002 “legislative finding” that the state’s “safety and security” cannot be achieved without God’s help. A lower court wrote that since the law did not “advance” religion but merely paid “lip service” to a belief in God, it did not violate the separation of church and state doctrine. [Louisville Courier-Journal, 8-19-2012]

Seventy people, including 20 children, were discovered in August in an eight-story-high, all-underground bunker in Kazan in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, and authorities said the quasi-religious sect had probably been there for nearly 10 years without heat or forced ventilation -- or sunlight. The group is nominally Islamist, but according to a dispatch by London’s The Guardian, the sect is more likely under the individual control of 83-year-old, self-described prophet Fayzrahman Satarov. [The Guardian, 8-9-2012]

The Tax on Worship: When the Roman Catholic Church in Germany warned in September that too many Catholics were opting out of paying the country’s “religious tax,” many Americans got their first-ever notice that some European democracies actually tax worship. The Catholic Church made it official that anyone backing out of the income tax surcharge would be ineligible to receive Holy Communion or religious burial (although the tax avoider could still receive Last Rites). (Under the German constitution, a church can directly recoup its expenses from members or choose to allow the government to collect the levy on the church’s behalf, minus a collection fee. Two German states add 8 percent to whatever the church member’s tax bill is, and the other states add 9 percent.) [BBC News, 9-24-2012]

The Bronx, where nearly one-third of the population lives in poverty, is the poorest of the five New York City boroughs, with per-capita income 70 percent lower than neighboring Manhattan’s. Yet among the city’s most ambitious public works projects under construction is an 18-hole golf course in the Bronx’s Ferry Point Park, estimated to cost the city $97 million, according to a September New York Times report. Furthermore, golf may be losing popularity. The Times reported that rounds of golf in New York City have dwindled (from 880,000 on 12 municipal courses in 1966 to 561,000 on 13 courses in 2011). From the city’s standpoint, it gets a course to be operated by a Donald Trump company and is hoping to build a waterfront esplanade adjacent to the course. [New York Times, 9-29-2012]

Questionable Judgments
Update: As News of the Weird mentioned in July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found 11 instances since 2000 in which ultra-Orthodox circumcision priests (mohelim) had passed along the herpes simplex virus from their saliva when they used the ancient method of blood-removal from the wound by sucking it clean. Responding in September, New York City’s Health Department ordered the mohelim to warn parents of the danger and to require written consent for the ritual, but in October, three rabbis and three Jewish organizations challenged the order in federal court, arguing that Jewish law “requires” that particular method of blood removal. (According to the CDC, in 10 of the 11 cases, hospitalization was required, and two boys died.) [Associated Press via Knoxville News-Sentinel, 10-11-2012]

Least Competent Criminals
(1) Todd Kettler, 37, was arrested in October in Kalamazoo Township, Mich., and charged with robbing a Southfield, Mich., bank five days earlier. The manager of a strip club in the Township had noticed that Kettler was handing women money saturated with red dye, and called the police. (2) Two men, ages 45 and 42, were arrested in Toronto in September after they walked into a neighborhood money-transfer store with $520,250 in a duffel bag and attempted to wire that amount to an address in Los Angeles. Police charged them in connection with an ongoing money-laundering investigation. [WDIV-TV (Detroit), 10-9-2012] [Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News, 9-24-2012]