News of the Weird August 27 2008

Metal-head monks, brothel specials and more

LEAD STORY: Brother Cesare Bonizzi, 62, of a Capuchin Friars monastery near Milan, Italy, is the lead singer in a heavy-metal band that recently released its second album, Misteri ("Mysteries"), following a successful performance at Italy's "Gods of Metal" festival (headlined by Iron Maiden and, ironically, Judas Priest). On stage, the white-flowing-bearded Brother Cesare booms out gritty but nonproselytizing lyrics while wearing his traditional brown robe. He told BBC News in July that his superiors have never interfered with his sideline and that he plans to send a copy of the new album to the pope. "He's a music lover, and metal is music."

The Entrepreneurial Spirit! High Point University (just south of Greensboro, N.C.) is not quite Club Med ("Club Ed," it was called by the Chronicle of Higher Education) but provides free ice cream for students, a hot tub in the middle of campus, wake-up calls and a concierge service, all run by a campus "director of WOW," whose job it is to thrill the "clients" and attract new ones. This is the strategy of President Nido Qubein, a motivational speaker and "customer comes first" businessman, and so far, enrollment is way up (even at higher tuition), new construction is transforming the campus, and $100 million is in the bank.

Challenging New Products: Stilettos for toddlers, from Bellevue, Wash., designer Britta Bacon, selling recently in Toronto for $39.95 (Cdn) a pair.

Leading Economic Indicators: The U.S. government's $100 billion stimulus distributed to taxpayers this spring achieved mixed results, according to economists, but at least the Internet pornography industry flourished (according to a July trade association spokesman). Adult Internet Market Research Co. reported that "20 to 30 percent" of "adult" websites reported that sales rose during the time checks were being issued. Nevada brothels were suffering, however, even though Hof's Bunny Ranch ran a stimulus-check special: Hand over your $600 check and get the usual $1,200 "party" ("three girls and a bottle of champagne").

A July Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that professional fundraisers keep so much of the money donated to charity by conscientious, generous-minded people that 430 different California charities over the last 10 years got not one penny of the contributions. In fact, in 337 cases, the charity paid an additional fee on top of getting nothing back (but did come away with the donors' names and addresses, for further solicitation). Philanthropy watchdogs say fundraisers should never keep more than 35 cents on the dollar, but the Times found the overall average was 54 cents, and for missing-children charities, fundraisers kept 86 cents. (Fundraisers for an organization called Citizens Against Government Waste kept 94 cents.)

Frontiers of Science: A 10-year-old British boy had such a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that he was overwrought with guilt that he had caused the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, in that he had not been able that day to make his ritual step upon a particular mark in the street. Writing in June in the journal Neurocase, psychologists at University College London said the boy recovered only when they convinced him that the attacks had already started by the time he would have made his usual step.

Many nations are exploring how to curb cattle's release of the greenhouse gas methane, including altering cows' diets to reduce flatulence (which requires monitoring the gas compositions from the old and new diets). To collect the gas for measurement (according to a July report in London's Daily Telegraph), researchers at Argentina's National Institute of Agricultural Technology rigged a large plastic tank to the cow's back, with a tube to the backside to directly capture each emission. (The alternative, researchers pointed out, would require a human to follow a cow around with plastic bags.)

News That Sounds Like a Joke: 1) After complaints by neighbors, police went to an apartment in Framingham, Mass., in July to quell a raucous screaming match between two women who, it turns out, are deaf. 2) In Crawley, England, in July, police were called to a supermarket to break up a fight between two grandmothers, who were ramming each other in their mobility scooters.