News of the Weird August 15 2007

Horse sushi, symbolic breastfeeding and more

Lead Story: Some parents feel “unprecedented levels of angst” to pick cool enough names for their kids, with some even hiring consultants, according to a June Wall Street Journal report. Baby-book authors charge clients $50 for a list of “special” names, and half-hour phone consultations go for $95. Another adviser charges $350 for three calls plus a comprehensive linguistic history of the selected name, and one California mother paid $475 to a numerologist to “test” the name Leah Marie for “positive associations.” The Journal blames the problem on too much information about names (from the Internet), as well as parents’ fear of dooming their child for life by insufficiently distinguishing their kid from others.

Cultural Diversity: Violent demonstrations in northwestern India in May left at least 18 dead, as members of the lower Gujjar caste demanded that the government put them into an even lower class, at the bottom of the social ladder (so they would be eligible for more government benefits). The Gujjars say that being one of the government’s “Other Backwards Classes” is unsatisfactory and that they deserve worse.

International restrictions on tuna fishing have created a shortage in Japan’s sushi restaurants so dire that chefs are considering substitutes such as sushi prepared with raw horse or deer meat. While that would outrage many Japanese diners, some restaurateurs believe the plan feasible, according to a June New York Times dispatch from Tokyo. Said one: “We tasted it, and horse sushi was pretty good. It was soft, easy to bite off, had no smell.”

Latest Religious Messages: Egypt’s Muslims are growing weary of the number of specific religious edicts (“fatwas”) issued by the country’s clerics, including two recent, highly controversial ones, according to a June New York Times dispatch from Cairo. Ezzat Atiya, a lecturer at the prestigious al-Azhar Islamic University, had declared that men can be permitted to see unrelated women without their head scarves (which is ordinarily prohibited) by the symbolic act of the woman’s breastfeeding the man five times, which in theory places the woman on similar footing to the man’s mother. A second challenging fatwa declared that drinking the urine of the Prophet Muhammad would be holy. (Atiya has been suspended.)

New Frontiers in Science: Scientists at Italy’s La Sapienza University announced in May that they had, for apparently the first time, surgically grafted a vagina (built with stem cells) onto a woman who had been born without one due to a rare condition.

Questionable Judgments: Probation-Happy Judges: 1) Judge Angelo DiCamillo of Camden, N.J., thought probation (and $750 restitution) was enough for six teenagers in June, even though they had wrecked a family’s home during a party ($18,000 damages), urinated and defecated on the furniture and (except for one boy) declined to apologize. 2) Also in June, Judge Harold Kahn of San Francisco thought probation was enough for a woman who had claimed the identity of another (through stolen credit cards) and run up six months of bills and bad credit, even though the thief was already on probation. (Bonus fact: The victim had collared the perp herself, following a chance meeting, and handed her to police.)

Obsessions: John Moore, 67, golfs nearly every day and has for about 20 years, according to a July St. Petersburg Times report. The golf he plays, though, consists of hitting 35 long-iron shots (five shots with each of the seven balls he owns) on a grassy median strip along Interstate 275 in downtown Tampa. “You can’t play this game one day, two days in a week,” he said. “You have to play it all the time if you want to do something with it.” What Moore wants to do with it, he told the Times, is to someday soon make his first-ever appearance on an actual golf course.

Least Competent People: In July 2007, four would-be suicide bombers were convicted in London of a botched terrorist act that came two years after their more successful colleagues attacked trains and a bus in that city. The second attack failed because the leader, Muktah Said Ibrahim (who was said to have flunked math in school) miscalculated the amount of ingredients, rendering the bombs useless. However, terror fighters make mistakes, too, as the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed in July. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission had recently granted a license for handling radioactive materials (enough for a so-called “dirty bomb”) to a fake company set up by the GAO, consisting of nothing more than a telephone and commercial mailbox in West Virginia.

Recurring Themes: Smoking Kills: David Pawlik called the fire department in Cleburne, Texas, in July to ask if the “blue flames” he and his wife were seeing every time she lit a cigarette were dangerous, and an inspector said he would be right over and for Mrs. Pawlik not to light another cigarette. However, anxious about the imminent inspection, she lit up and was killed in the subsequent explosion. (The home was all-electric, but there had been a natural gas leak underneath the yard.)

Cutting-Edge Research: Dr. Brady Barr, a reptile specialist with the National Geographic TV channel, needed to get close enough to Nile crocodiles in Tanzania (length: up to 20 feet) to attach data monitors to their tails and decided to dress up as a croc and crawl to them. With a crocodile suit, a prosthetic head and a metal cage (and hippopotamus dung to mask his human scent), he was able to apply tags, with video to prove it (according to a June report in London’s Daily Mail), with the scariest moment coming not from crocodiles but when a hippo wandered by, attracted by the dung scent.