Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009

News of the Weird

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Removing Toenails for Sport

“Ultrarunning,” a sport that features marathons of 50 miles, 100 miles or even longer, takes such a degree of commitment that an estimated 5% to 10% of participants have permanently removed their toenails in order to eliminate one of the potential sources of discomfort during a race. A sports podiatrist told The New York Times in October that many “ultras” consider their toenails “useless appendages, remnants of claws from evolutionary times long ago.” On the other hand, according to an author of a recent book on ultrarunning, "You know any sport has gone off the rails when you have to remove body parts to do it."

Questionable Judgments

The first line of "defense" at the 400 Iraqi police checkpoints in Baghdad consists of small wands with antennas that supposedly detect explosives, but which U.S. officials say are about as useful as Ouija boards. According to a November New York Times dispatch, the Iraqi official in charge, Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, is so enamored of the devices that when American experts repeatedly showed the rods’ failures in test after test, he blamed the results on testers’ lack of "training." The Iraqi government has purchased 1,500 of the wands, known as ADE 651s, from their manufacturer, ATSC Ltd. of the United Kingdom, at prices ranging from $16,000 to $60,000 each. The suicide bombers who killed 155 people in downtown Baghdad on Oct. 25 passed 2 tons of explosives through at least one ADE-651-equipped checkpoint.

Least Competent People

(1) Walking: Daredevil Scottish stunt bicyclist Danny MacAskill, whose electrifying feats have been featured on popular YouTube videos, suffered a broken collarbone in October when he tripped on a curb while out for a walk in downtown Edinburgh. (2) Truck-Driving: Phillip Mathews, 73, whose logging truck is equipped with a tall boom arm to facilitate loading, forgot to lower the arm after finishing a job in La Motte, Iowa, in October. When Mathews returned to the highway, the boom proceeded to snap lines on utility poles he passed for the next 12 miles until people finally got his attention.

Good News!

(1) The epic drought that hit central Texas this year, causing a 30-foot drop in the water level of Lake Travis near Austin, helped police solve three stolen-vehicle cases—in that three cars were exposed at the bottom of the lake. One of the cars exposed in July had been missing since 1988, and another, a 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, still had its key in the ignition. (2) Emergency-room doctors writing in the Archives of Surgery in September reported that light alcohol-drinkers survived brain injuries better than either non-drinkers or heavy drinkers.

Cultural Diversity

  • What a Difference a Day Makes: (1) Charles Wesley Mumbere, 56, was a longtime nurse's aide at a nursing home in Harrisburg, Pa. In July, however, the Ugandan government recognized the separatist Rwenzururu territory founded in 1962 by Mumbere’s late father. In October, Mumbere returned to his native country as king of the region's 300,000 subjects. (2) Jigme Wangchuk, 11, was a student at St. Peter's School in Boston when a Buddhist sect in India's Darjeeling district named him its high priest in November. The district covers a territory extending to neighboring Nepal and Bhutan. Wangchuk will live in seclusion in his monastery, except for Facebook contact with friends he made while in Boston.
  • An unprecedented toilet-building spree has taken hold in India over the last two years, spurred by a government campaign embraced by young women: "No Toilet, No Bride" (i.e., no marriage unless the male's dowry includes indoor plumbing). About 665 million people in India lack access to toilets, according to an October Washington Post dispatch.

Latest Religious Messages

  • "Bonnet books" are a "booming new subcategory of the romance genre," reported The Wall Street Journal in September, describing G-rated Amish love stories that sell well among outside readers but have also found an avid audience among Amish women themselves. The typical best seller is by a non-Amish writer, perhaps involving a woman inside the community who falls in love with an outsider. In one book described by the Journal, the lovers "actually kiss a couple of times in 326 pages."
  • In September, prominent Egyptian scholar Abdul Mouti Bayoumi of Al-Azhar University urged the death penalty for people selling virginity-faking devices that make women appear to bleed on their wedding nights. One such gadget, made in China, was reportedly for sale in Syria for the equivalent of about $15, according to a September BBC News report.

2009 Chuck Shepherd