News of the Weird December 19 2007

Designer diapers, Christmas ‘mumming’ and more

Lead Story: The Modern Mother: Style- and environment-conscious Canadian mothers insist on cloth diapers, especially designer labels of flannel, fleece or wool-knit, according to a November report in Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Handmade embroidered diapers (perhaps in tie-dye or camouflage) are priced at up to $80 each (and some babies get to wear them only just after taking care of business in an ordinary diaper). And, in London, mothers can take babies for workouts, as several gyms recently reacted to warnings about childhood obesity by creating programs to shape up kids as young as 10 months (teaching galloping, “monkey jumps” and forward rolls), and in February, one gym will begin accepting 4-month-olds.

Cultural Diversity: In October, Italy’s economic minister, noting that a third of all men over 30 still live with their parents and that rental housing markets are depressed, proposed a tax break worth the equivalent of about $1,400 for each man in his 20s who will finally leave Momma’s house. (A week earlier in Sicily, one mother publicly turned her adult son over to the police for staying out too late, and also took away his house keys and cut off his allowance. The son, who immediately complained that the allowance was too small, anyway, is 61 years old.)

Residents of small fishing villages in northern Newfoundland have for centuries been “mumming” at Christmastime, in rituals described in an October academic-journal article by University of Missouri-Columbia researchers. People disguise themselves, go to neighbors’ houses and threaten violence, at which point the neighbor must guess the visitor’s identity, and, if all goes well, refuse to be scared. Supposedly, the ritual induces trust by both parties, as the visitors show their good hearts by failing to actually beat anyone up, and the host shows trust by his courage and passivity. Mumming, the researchers conclude, continues today only on a “small scale.”

Latest Religious Messages: “This is a college education that I can use,” said sophomore Emily Felts, 19, as she praised the homemaking curriculum of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (which leads to a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities). Men and women may be equal, the school says, but they have different roles, and for women, that includes “how to set tables, sew buttons and sustain lively dinnertime conversation,” or how to use the Internet to track grocery coupons, according to an October dispatch in the Los Angeles Times. Felts said she enjoys the work (except vacuuming), but it “doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what the Bible says.”

Questionable Judgments: In October, Patty Cooper, 50, accused her landlord (the Central Vermont Community Land Trust) of failing to “accommodate” her disability under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act when it barred her “service horse” from living in her apartment. Cooper uses a wheelchair because of a brittle-bones disorder and says the miniature horse (100 pounds, 32 inches tall) not only pulls the chair but cheers her up. A trust spokesman said keeping rats out of the hay bales would be difficult enough, but he doubted Cooper’s assurance that the horse could be easily housebroken.

Strange Days: Several men were arrested recently and charged with sex “crimes” involving inanimate objects. In Ayr, Scotland, Robert Stewart was convicted of sexually aggravated breach of the peace (and officially labeled a sex offender) after being caught alone and pantsless in his hostel bedroom thrusting against a bicycle. Craig McCullough, 47, was arrested in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in October after allegedly being caught “in a compromising position” with an inflatable toy doll, in an otherwise-empty public restroom. Steven Marshall, 18, was arrested in Galashiels, Scotland, in November (and officially labeled a sex offender) after being caught simulating sexual intercourse against the pavement of a city street.

Least Competent Criminals: In Monticello, N.Y., Steven King, 40, was indicted in October as a result of a traffic stop, for allegedly doing nearly every single thing wrong: intoxicated, driving in oncoming-traffic lanes, with an open beer container, not wearing a seat belt, driving an uninsured car, with expired safety inspection sticker, with license plates belonging to another car, and with his 2-year-old daughter neither in a car seat nor belted in.