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News of the Weird

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In June controversy erupted at Amarnath Cave, a Hindu shrine in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir where a naturally occurring ice formation is venerated each summer as a Shiva lingam, or phallic symbol associated with the god Shiva. According to the Chandigarh Tribune, the ice lingam failed to attain its usual height or girth this year, and many pilgrims were offended to find that for the first time someone (the shrine board launched an inquiry to find out who) had constructed in its place a crudely formed backup lingam out of snow, which temple attendants had to repeatedly pat back into shape.

Cultural Diversity

BBC News reported in June that more than a quarter of girls in Cameroon are subjected at puberty to "breast ironing," a practice in which mothers use a heated instrument--often a wooden pestle--to try to pound their daughters' developing breasts flat in hopes of making the girls less desirable to sexual predators. One woman told the reporter that she had ironed her own breasts as a girl to avoid being forced into an early marriage: "I wanted to go to school like other girls who had no breasts."

A Los Angeles Times correspondent reported in June from Yap, a group of islands in the Federated States of Micronesia that's familiar to Guinness Book readers as the home of the world's largest currency: immense stone coins called rai, the largest of which are nearly 12 feet across and are rarely moved but simply transferred to new owners in business transactions and legal settlements. Other, less quaint aspects of traditional Yap culture that persist today include a rigid caste system, widespread domestic violence against women, and a ban on wearing a shirt during certain holidays. Though some Yapese have apparently begun to reject such customs, Chief Andrew Ruepong took a hard line: "If they don't want to be topless, they can live in Guam."

Least Competent People

After an 80-foot span of roof fell in at the brand-new Cedar Grove Methodist Church, near Thorsby, Alabama, in June, the Birmingham News reported that the congregation had gone ahead and built the church without bothering to file plans with or obtain permits from any government authority. Congregation members, apparently with no architectural training, designed the building themselves, and Pastor Jeff Carroll, a home builder by trade, oversaw the construction. Carroll contended that how a church is built should be none of the government's business: "If the state and the church are separate, I don't understand why they think they've got jurisdiction."

God's Will

On Memorial Day 65-year-old Clara Jean Brown of Daphne, Alabama, was at home praying for the safety of her family, who she feared had been caught at the beach in a thunderstorm, when she was knocked down by a lightning bolt that apparently struck across the street and traveled via a water line into her kitchen. Also in May, 61-year-old Jesuit priest Claudio Rossi was praying for his mother's health at a country chapel outside Rome when the floor gave way (it had been built, it turned out, over a previously undiscovered ancient well) and he plunged 100 feet to his death.

Obsessions

In July 30-year-old Hilary Bramwill was pulled out of the ocean by police about a mile off the south shore of Long Island; though she'd been in the water for two hours she repeatedly attempted to evade her rescuers, insisting she needed to get to Israel and was a strong enough swimmer to make it. Also in July, the Daily Mirror reported that a Scotland Yard antiterror surveillance officer was arrested by plainclothes detectives in London's Trafalgar Square; he claimed he was working undercover, using a hidden camera to film Al Qaeda suspects, but authorities said he was mostly shooting upskirt footage.

Rise of the Machines

In July a 17-year-old apprentice baker was trapped and fatally crushed in a bread-drying machine at Karl's Good Stuff Bakery in Carrara, Australia. Also in July, an employee at Soapy's Car Wash in Ocala, Florida, was pulled into the works; she was listed in critical condition after a 45-minute rescue. In Newburgh, New York, in June a 25-year-old man drowned after the lawn mower he was riding rolled over into a pond and pinned him in two feet of water. And a 65-year-old farm owner in Reedley, California, was killed in July when his tractor sank and trapped him in a five-foot-deep manure pit.

Least Competent Criminals

People who believe marijuana is odorless: In June narcotics officers were eating at a KFC in Buffalo when they smelled pot smoke; following the smell, they discovered two men in a car, ages 23 and 26, ordering from the drive-through window and allegedly smoking what one officer called "the biggest marijuana cigar you ever saw." Also in June, Tucson police on a domestic-disturbance call noticed an overpowering smell of raw marijuana in the air; they soon traced it to a nearby house, where they found 35-year-old Jose Ortega Mendez and, allegedly, 220 bales of marijuana, weighing about two tons.

No Longer Weird: A Look Back

Continuing a review of frequently recurring stories that have been retired from circulation: The first story declared No Longer Weird was the one in which a church or charity discovers, after a series of unexpected calls, that its new phone number used to belong to a phone-sex service. Other early retirees: suspicious package brings office building, city block, etc, to standstill but turns out to be harmless (in one case, a vibrator that had switched on in transit); robber fleeing scene unwittingly flags down unmarked police car; violence breaks out at peace conference; and political candidate dies during campaign but wins anyway.

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

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