News of the Weird June 25 2008

Camel beauty pageants, gender-switching kindergarteners and more

LEAD STORY: The Fates of Three Class of '08 Students in Durham, N.C.: Two men did not graduate from Duke University in May because they were two of the three lacrosse players accused of rape in March 2006 and were forced to suspend their academic pursuits to defend themselves against the charges that were later dismissed. Another '08 student did graduate in May in Durham, from North Carolina Central University: Crystal Mangum, the drug-abusing, part-time stripper who had relentlessly accused the three of raping her but whose story was later found to be completely unsupported. Mangum's degree is in police psychology.

Recurring Themes: Note: As evidence that the weird news keeps repeating itself, this week's collection consists of recent instances of people doing the same old things that we've seen before in News of the Weird. In what would be a new modern record for the lapse of time between a death and its notice, neighbors found the mummified body of a Croatian woman in her Zagreb apartment in May, and police said no one remembered seeing her alive after 1973. (A Croatian news organization said the last sighting was in 1967.) She missed no maintenance payments because her building, which was state-owned when she was last seen, has since become a cooperative, and aggregate charges were paid for collectively by the other residents.

News of the Weird informed you in 2007 of camel beauty pageants in Saudi Arabia, but the obsession with the animal runs deeper, based in part on nostalgia for the days when camels were important for transportation. Breeders cuddle and nuzzle them, and at the country's largest camel market near Riyadh in March 2008, they bought and sold based, one breeder told the New York Times, on the standards of "judging a beautiful girl. You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck." Said another, "See this one? She isn't married yet, this one. She's still a virgin. Look at the black eyes, the soft fur. ... Just like a girl going to a party." He added (after kissing the camel on the mouth), "My camels are like my children, my family." (In January, a prominent cleric issued a decree condemning the pride people take in their camels.)

March is the season for Shinto religious fertility festivals in Japan at which symbolic phalluses are offered to the gods for business fortune as well as good sexual and marital luck. In the small town of Komaki, a 2-meter-long phallus is carried through town every year and presented to the local temple. The best-known celebration is the Kanamara Matsuri ("Festival of the Iron Penis") in Kawasaki, where colorful phallus floats abound and delight the children of all ages who line the streets.

Because Japan's suicide rate is so high, there is sometimes collateral damage. In April 2007, News of the Weird reported yet another instance in which a despondent person leaped off of a building (a nine-story edifice in Tokyo), only to land on someone else (a 60-year-old man, who was only bruised). These days, chemical ingestion is the trendy method, and in May 2008, a despondent farmer drank a chlorine solution and was rushed to Kumamoto's Red Cross Hospital, but as doctors tried unsuccessfully to save him, he vomited, and the fumes sickened 54 workers, including 10 who had to be hospitalized.

With rising prices paid for scrap metal come the increased threat of theft, and metal dealers are on alert, as well as power companies, which use valuable copper wire. However, as the number of thieves increases, so does the number of clumsy ones who fail to respect that electrical substations are live. In May, at least three men were killed and three others badly injured in attempts to steal wire from substations in Lancaster County, Pa., Somerset County, Pa., Savannah, Ga., Chicago and Edmonton, Alberta.

In April in Marion, Ill., an alert newspaper carrier discovered an 84-year-old woman who was alive but had been pinned to the floor for four days without food or water because her much larger husband, 77, had died of a heart attack and fallen on top of her. (In a notorious 1984 incident at a strip club in San Francisco, a dancer had been pinned down overnight underneath the body of club manager Jimmy Ferrozzo, who had had a fatal heart attack while having sex with her. She could not move because they were lying on top of a stage piano that descended on a pulley, for the dancer's grand entrance, and Ferrozzo, in the throes of ecstasy, had accidentally tripped the switch sending it back up, where it jammed against the ceiling.)

There was yet another fight in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre this past Easter (celebrated in mid-April by Orthodox Christians). This time, Armenians (one of the six Christian branches that share management of the holy site) believed that a Greek Orthodox priest had encroached on their part of the church and tried to eject him, leading to a brawl in which some in attendance used Palm Sunday fronds as weapons. It usually falls on Jerusalem's Muslim police officers to restore order.

In 2006, News of the Weird featured the 5-year-old boy who was set to enter kindergarten as a 5-year-old girl after his parents agreed with therapists that 5 is not too young to be formally switching genders. In 2007, pediatric endocrinologist Norman Spack started a gender-identity clinic at Children's Hospital Boston, motivated by his observation that even preadolescents can be at risk to harm themselves if they are confused or angry about their sexual orientation. According to a March 2008 Boston Globe report, Spack first recommends drugs to delay puberty, to give the child more time, before moving on to the usually irreversible effect of gender-changing hormones.