News of the Weird March 12 2008

Lead Story: Several Duke University campus organizations, including the Women’s Center, the Student Health Center and the Women’s Studies Department, sponsored a “Sex Workers Art Show” Feb. 3, at which nearly nude “artists” danced for students and others while vulgarly criticizing America via acts such as a woman’s pretending to eat excreted dollar bills and a man’s kneeling with an American flag inserted in his rear end. Two years ago, Duke’s men’s lacrosse team was vilified by the Duke administration and faculty merely for hiring two female strippers for a party (from which emanated false charges of rape and the eventual disbarment of the local district attorney). A university spokesman explained to a National Journal reporter that the recent show was acceptable because it was “art” and “social commentary,” rather than male-bonding entertainment.

Cultural Diversity: Brand-new Japanese parents receiving a gift are then customarily obligated to give a lesser one in return, and the Yoshimiya rice shop in Fukuoka recently created the ideal return: small bags of rice of the exact weight of the newborn, printed with its face and name, so that original gift givers (relatives, friends) can experience cuddling “the baby.” Then, of course, according to Yoshimiya’s owner, they can break open the bag and eat the rice, though he admitted some people have a problem with that.

“We sleep with the snakes meaning cobras, we eat with the snakes, we live with the snakes but we are not scared,” said a 14-year-old girl in a village near Calcutta, India, to a Wall Street Journal reporter in November. Said a village leader, “Whenever I lie down in my bed, a cobra will just slide on top of me, without hurting me.” In fact, more than 3,000 cobras live in one hamlet, mostly in peace, with few bite victims (though a cobra bite is often fatal because villagers initially trust the gods and spirit doctors to treat them). Cobras are so revered in the village that cobra bites are usually described as attacks by vipers or by “nonresident” cobras, based on a belief that local cobras are incapable of evil.

Latest Religious Messages: Lord Balaji was a locally popular Hindu god in Hyderabad, India, until a few years ago when a priest noticed more of his worshippers were complaining that valuable U.S. professional “H-1B” visas were harder to get. Overnight, Balaji was transformed from a purveyor of general prosperity to the “visa god,” specializing in lucky H-1Bs, and the temple now draws 100,000 visitors a week. Said one, to a Wall Street Journal reporter in December, “I’ve never heard of anyone who’s gone to the temple whose visa application got rejected” (even though typical advice from priest C.S. Gopala Krishna is simply to walk around the temple “11 times”).

Questionable Judgments: In December, even after the widely reported tiger attack on a visitor at the San Francisco Zoo, the Houston Zoo was still allowing its visitors to play “tug of war” with its own lions and tigers. A 20-pound slab of meat, attached to a long rope, is tossed into the enclosure, and visitors are encouraged to toy with the cats by yanking on it as the animal lunges for it. Said a Houston zookeeper, the game keeps the animals from getting bored. Besides, a zoo official said, “The lion or tiger kind of lets us know when he wants to play, and we go along with that.”

Family Values: 1) Geraldine Magda, 44, was arrested in Austin, Minn., in January, following a nursing-home visit to hold the hand of her dying sister in her final hours. Magda was charged with stealing the wedding ring from her sister’s finger during the hand holding. 2) A Chicago man traveled to Sheboygan, Wis., in December to finally meet the 18-year-old woman who was his biological daughter, but during the same visit, he was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting her while she was sleeping.

The Weirdo-American Community: In December, street performer John Domingue said the Huntington Beach, Calif., police have finally stopped hassling him for soliciting tips at the city’s famous Pier Plaza when he demonstrates his skill at hammering nails into his nose without serious injury. (Some bleeding results, which is why police said they stopped him in the first place.) The American Civil Liberties Union said it is watching the case, citing Domingues’ constitutional right to perform his nose-nailing, sword-swallowing and fire-eating acts for donations.

Recurring Themes: Awesome Capacities: Jason Panchalk, 36, was admitted to the Pima County (Arizona) jail in December, facing a charge of trafficking in stolen property, but he arrived prepared. According to a jailer, Panchalk was carrying “some syringes, matches, lighter, heroin, marijuana, and an assortment of pills,” all inside his rectum.

Least Justifiable Homicides: David Thomson, 49, was convicted in Edinburgh, Scotland, of smothering his mom to death after she had taunted him for his inept suicide attempt several weeks before (October). In Sydney, Australia, a man was charged with beating a neighbor to death because the neighbor was watering his lawn in violation of the city’s water restrictions (October). The boss of a factory in North Korea was executed by firing squad before 150,000 people in a South Pyongan province stadium after he was convicted of the crime of making out-of-country telephone calls (November).