News of the Weird February 18 2009

LEAD STORY: Saudi Arabia is host to several camel beauty pageants each year (condemned as religiously fatuous by Muslim clerics), but the country’s first goat beauty pageant was held in September in Riyadh, with the distinctive Najdi breed — featuring high nose bridges and silky, shaggy hair — taking top prizes. In fact, most of the goats in the competition had the same father, Burgan, whose progeny typically fetch the equivalent of $25,000 and up. Still, prize-winning show camels can bring 10 times that amount for the greater status they convey to their owners. Burgan himself did not appear at the pageant, according to a Reuters dispatch, because his owner feared that a jealous competitor would have an “evil eye” cast upon him.

Cultural Diversity: The Rental Society: Among the services available by the clock in Japan (according to a January BBC dispatch): 1) quality time with a pet (about $10 an hour at the Ja La La Cafe in Toyko, usually with dogs or cats but with rabbits, ferrets and beetles available); 2) no-sex quality time with a college co-ed (flattering conversation by the hour at the Campus Cafe, less expensive than the geisha-type houses); 3) and actors from the I Want to Cheer Up agency in Tokyo, to portray “relatives” for weddings and funerals when actual family members cannot attend, or to portray fathers to help single women with their parenting duties, or to portray husbands to help women practice for the routine of married life (except for sex).

In January, a federal judge dismissed the last lawsuit standing in the way of a new Indian casino for California’s Amador County, where the federally recognized Me-Wuk tribe of the Buena Vista Rancheria has its 67-acre reservation. The tribe consists of Rhonda Morningstar Pope and her five children, none of whom live on the tribal land.

Parental Responsibility: 1) A father took his 20-year-old son to an Islamic court in Bauchi, Nigeria, in October, demanding that he be jailed for idleness, which he said has shamed the family. (The court immediately sentenced the son to 30 lashes and six months in prison.) 2) In December, a court in Seoul, South Korea, fined the parents of a teenage rapist the equivalent of about $60,000 for their negligence in raising the boy badly. (The 18-year-old himself is serving a 10-year sentence for the crime.)

Twenty million Chinese have their residences in caves, but that is often not a bad deal, according to a December McClatchy Newspapers dispatch from Miaogou Village. In addition to the obvious advantages (e.g., no mortgage), some caves have been in the family for generations and have electrical wiring, plumbing and cable television, and some are part of communities of connected caves. Researchers said that earthen insulation keeps the inside temperature from dropping below about 55 degrees Fahrenheit even in the dead of winter.

Questionable Judgments: Political Correctness Update: 1) In November, the student association at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, voted to eliminate a cystic fibrosis organization from the list of charities it supports, explaining that since the condition almost exclusively afflicts white people, it was not “inclusive” enough to merit student funding. 2) In December, Britain’s Oxford University Press announced the latest changes in its highly selective Junior Dictionary, finding room to add dozens of words, including trapezium, alliteration and incisor but eliminating, for example, bishop, chapel, christen, minister, monk, nun, parish, psalm and saint. The publisher said the changes reflect Britain’s “multicultural, multifaith” society.

Photographer Yeon Lee’s exhibit in a London gallery in December featured a burqa-clad model, fully robed from head to toe except for a tiny opening, but that opening was not the typical one, for the woman’s eyes. Ms. Lee’s openings exposed only the model’s nipples, highlighting, she said, “the ways women are categorized in male-dominated societies.”

Family Knows Best: 1) Evelyn Poynter, 86, had refused for months to leave her apartment in Pittsburgh and move in with her sister, Laura Stewart, 72, who had offered to take care of her. In December, according to police, a fed-up Stewart forcibly wrapped Poynter’s arms, legs, neck and body in duct tape, tossed her in the backseat, and drove her home to Shaker Heights, Ohio. “There was nothing sinister,” said Stewart’s daughter, but still, Stewart was arrested. 2) In October, police in Elgin, Ill., said they were investigating an accusation that after a 13-year-old boy and girl broke off their relationship, the girl’s mother ordered the boy to reconcile with her daughter by threatening to release nude photos of him that her daughter had taken.

Creme de la Weird: Among the medical oddities mentioned in a December Wall Street Journal roundup was Jumping Frenchmen of Maine Disorder, in which a person, when startled, would “jump, twitch, flail their limbs and obey commands given suddenly, even if it means hurting themselves or a loved one.” It was first observed in 1878 among lumberjacks in Maine but has been reported also among factory workers in Malaysia and Siberia. It is believed to result from a genetic mutation that blocks the calming of the central nervous system (but could be psychological, from the stress of working in close quarters).

Least Competent Criminals: Not Ready for Prime Time: 1) In January, police in Cape Coral, Fla., were seeking LaKeitha Watson-Atkinson for shoplifting from a TJ Maxx. The thief escaped after running from store security, but not before she was knocked down twice by her getaway car. In the commotion, a check made out to Watson-Atkinson fell to the ground. 2) Luke Radick, 21, was charged with attempted robbery of the First National Bank of Palmerton in Sciota, Pa., in January. Bank employees refused to buzz Radick in because he stood at the door, holding a shotgun.

Recurring Themes: An exceptionally cold winter brings more instances of the annual tragedy of young boys (rarely, girls) who could not resist the age-old physics experiment to see what would happen if, in sub-zero temperatures, they tried to lick a metal pole. In fact, it happened on successive days: a 10-year-old in Hammond, Ind., on Jan. 14, and a 6-year-old in Omaha, Neb., on Jan. 15. Both episodes ended badly with traces of the boys’ tongues left on the poles.