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News of the Weird

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Extreme sports: Time magazine's Asian edition reported in June on the pastime of yak skiing, practiced in the Indian resort of Manali. The skier, standing at the bottom of a snowy hill, is connected via rope and pulley to a yak standing at the top. When the skier shakes a bucket of feed, the yak charges downhill to get to it, yanking the skier upward. And in July the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported on a modern revival of the ancient Hawaiian sport of he'e holua, or lava sledding, in which the participant slides headfirst down a course of lava rocks and grass on a low wooden sled at speeds up to 70 miles per hour.

Mothers Looking Out for Number One

On an 88-degree day in July, Susan Guita Silverstein of Stamford, Connecticut, told emergency workers not to break the window of her Audi A4 to rescue her 23-month-old son, whom she'd accidentally locked inside along with the keys. Despite their warning her that it was dangerous for her child to remain in the hot car as long as he had, Silverstein insisted they wait while she got a spare key from home. After she'd gone, firefighters smashed the window and removed the boy, who was described as "nonresponsive"; police arrested the mother for reckless endangerment on her return.

In August a missing 14-year-old girl from Brookfield, Wisconsin, was found safe in Baytown, Texas, with a 37-year-old man she'd met online. The girl's mother had reported her daughter missing 12 days earlier, then left for a vacation with her boyfriend in Lake Tahoe; she explained to police that the plane tickets were nonrefundable.

Questionable Judgments

In Edinburg, Texas, in June, district judge Rose Guerra Reyna accepted a deal in which Robert W. Thompson, 46, pleaded no contest to the aggravated sexual assault of a seven-year-old girl and was sentenced to 320 hours of community service in the form of knitting lap blankets for people confined to wheelchairs. (Apparently the prosecutor feared the case wasn't strong enough for a trial, and Thompson's history of heart trouble made more strenuous work a liability risk.)

Low Probability of Rehab

Glenn Alvin Reed, 31, testified (against his lawyers' advice) at his trial in Waco, Texas, for stealing a cell phone and hitting its owner, telling the jury: "There's things I choose to do, like, if I go in a store and choose to take a Snickers bar. If you catch me, you catch me. If not, I'm going to go home and eat it up and go on about my business, dog." (Reed, who turned down an offer of 15 years' jail time, was convicted as a habitual offender and sentenced to 99 years.)

Lena Driskell, 78, was indicted for murder in August after the fatal shooting, apparently in a jealous rage, of her 85-year-old former boyfriend at their Atlanta senior citizens' home; upon her arrest she allegedly told police, "I did it, and I'd do it again."

Cultural Diversity

Recurring themes: News of the Weird reported in July on the female driver who'd recently won Iran's national auto racing championship. According to a New York Times dispatch from Tehran the same month, the trend in Iran toward less bulky clothing for women has resulted in a recent sharp rise in the number of female golfers. The city's lone course, once part of the Imperial Country Club, has only 12 holes, as the Revolutionary Guards confiscated the other six in the late 80s.

Reuters reported in May that newlyweds Yu Haitao and Fang Shuling had filed a complaint against their honeymoon hotel in Shanghai; they claim that during the traditional postnuptial ceremony in which family and friends engage in pranks and heckling with the couple in their bedroom, Yu stood up on the allegedly unstable bed, fell off, and broke his arm, requiring surgery.

The London Times reported from Tokyo in May on the ongoing friction between traditional Japanese notions of decorum and the less inhibited, often Western-influenced behavior of young people. The city's government has assembled an investigatory body, whose name translates as "the study group relating to the prevention of behavior that causes discomfort among numerous people in public places"; the group will look into practices as varied as putting on makeup in public, sitting on the floor, reading pornography on crowded trains, and using an umbrella to work on one's golf swing.

Oops!

Superforgetful people: In August, authorities investigated a claim by the director of the Canadian Landmine Detection Dogs Society that on a recent trip back from training dogs in Sri Lanka his luggage had contained some TNT that he'd forgotten all about. (Security at three airports missed it.) And a 24-year-old man was arrested in August at the Oklahoma City airport for having a homemade pipe bomb in his luggage; he said he builds bombs recreationally and had just forgotten about this one. And when a 36-year-old woman was arrested for bigamy in Hordaland County, Norway, in June, she explained to officers that when she got married in August 2004, she'd forgotten she was already married.

Least Competent Criminals

In Durham, North Carolina, in July, 45-year-old Otis Wilkins was released from the hospital and charged with the attempted murder of his ex-girlfriend and three of her relatives. Allegedly Wilkins had tried to toss a plastic bottle filled with gunpowder into their car, but the bottle bounced back to him, igniting his shorts; according to police he "fled the scene on foot, on fire."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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