News of the Weird November 07 2007

Lead Story: In the northern Albanian countryside, about 40 women still practice an ancient tradition as "sworn virgins," who are young females who renounce sex forever in exchange for being treated as men, according to an August Washington Post interview of Elvira Dones, an Albanian native who recently completed a documentary on the subject. The oath is usually taken in front of a town's elders, and the likeliest candidates come from homes in need of a male head of household (because of death or abandonment). Even in such a male-dominated society, according to Dones, men seem to accept the "sworn virgins" as equals.

The Continuing Crisis: This past summer, two capital-murder inmates (who might have been executed, regardless) were put to death after curious court policies failed them. Luther Williams' execution was carried out in Alabama in August after the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to stop it, despite his plea that the state's lethal-injection procedure was unconstitutional. However, one month later, the court voted to accept for consideration another case questioning the constitutionality of the injection. (Court policy is that four votes are needed to accept a case, but five are required to stay an execution.) In September, just minutes after the court's lethal-injection case was accepted, lawyers for Michael Richard, who was scheduled to die that evening, rushed to file a stay with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal and promised delivery by 5:20 p.m. The court clerk responded, "We close at 5"; the petition didn't make it, and Richard was executed at 8:23.

Latest Religious Messages: Hindu officials persuaded the Indian government in September to withdraw a report on a construction project because it treated a prominent bridge as a natural stone formation instead of (as Hindus say) a bridge created by the god Ram and his army of monkeys. In another victory for Hindu sensibility, the government cracked down on the rustling of "sacred" cattle in August by issuing ID cards with photos of individual cows, to help guards at the Bangladesh border halt the illegal trade.

God's Will Be Done: In August in Atlanta, televangelist Thomas Weeks was arrested for allegedly beating up and threatening to kill his estranged wife, televangelist Juanita Bynum, in a hotel parking lot before a bellman rescued her. (Weeks blamed Satan for the incident.)

Questionable Judgments: Shoe designer Marc Jacobs recently crossed a frontier in fashion by introducing women's high-heeled shoes with the "heel" in the front. Wrote London's Daily Mail: "A chunky, 4-inch heel nestles horizontally just under the ball of the foot. Where you'd expect a heel, there is nothing but fresh air." Models of the shoe are priced in the $500 to $700 range.

Questionable Menus: Puzzlingly, young adults in Japan seem particularly drawn toward mayonnaise, and thus Koji Nakamura might have a shot at success with his Mayonnaise Kitchen restaurant in a Tokyo suburb, according to an August Reuters story. Included in his fare are several mayonnaise-flavored cocktails, including the "Mayogarita."

Recurring Themes: People who decide to urinate in public continue to find the practice dangerous, as News of the Weird has documented many times. A 40-year-old man, somewhat inebriated, attempting to urinate into the River Bulbourne in Hemel Hempstead, England, fell in and drowned (April). A train driver in Berlin, Germany, apparently attempting to urinate out of a door at 70 mph, fell to his death (May).

Undignified Deaths: A 55-year-old man in Fall River County, S.D., was killed in August when he accidentally shot himself in the stomach. According to police, he was attempting to show friends that a key point in a recent "CSI" television show was wrong (that is, according to the script, a victim could not physically have managed to shoot herself in the stomach).

CORRECTION: A News of the Weird story three weeks ago (based on a report in London's Daily Telegraph) declared that a top-of-the-line Oral-B toothbrush employed "navigation technology" to allow the user to guide the brush usefully through the mouth. Contrary to the Daily Telegraph story, no such technology is in use, and the standard digital readout on the toothbrush merely coaxes the user to move from one part of the mouth to another at suggested intervals.