News of the Weird


For the birds
“My ultimate dream is to be buried in a deep ocean close to where penguins live,” explained the former Alfred David, 79, otherwise known in his native Belgium as “Monsieur Pingouin” (Mr. Penguin), so named because a 1968 auto accident left him with a waddle in his walk that he decided to embrace with gusto. (His wife abandoned the marriage when he made the name change official; evidently, being “Mrs. Penguin” was not what she had signed up for.) Mr. Pingouin started a penguin-item museum that ultimately totaled 3,500 items, and he created a hooded, full-body black-and-white penguin outfit that, according to a September Reuters dispatch, he wears daily in his waddles around his Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek.
Inscrutable Asians
• Though South Korean children score among the highest in the world on standardized reading and math tests, their success comes at a price, according to an October Time magazine dispatch. They supposedly suffer “educational masochism” — punishing themselves by overstudy, especially in high school preparing for university admissions tests (a process so competitive that even test-coaching schools are picky about accepting students). Earlier this year, to curb the “masochism,” the government began enforcing a 10 p.m. curfew on coaching-school activities, and in Seoul, a six-man team conducts nightly after-hours raids on classes that run late-night sessions behind shuttered windows. (Ironically, Time acknowledged, American educational reformers want U.S. students to study harder, like Asians do, but Asian reformers want their students to relax, like American students.)
• In America, the quest for perfectly straight teeth can lead to orthodontia bills of thousands of dollars, but in Japan, a dental “defect” — slightly crooked canine teeth — makes young women more fetching, even “adorable,” say many men. Women with the “yaeba” look have canines pushed slightly forward by the molars behind them so that the canines develop a fang-like appearance. One dental salon, the Plaisir, in Tokyo, recently began offering non-permanent fixtures that replicate the look among straight-toothed women.
Latest Religious Messages
• Polls report that as many as 57 percent of Russians “notice” signs of a “cult” surrounding Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, according to a September Spiegel Online dispatch, and a chief cult leader is “Mother Fotina,” 62, who has a following of thousands among Russian Orthodox practitioners and believes herself to be the reincarnation of Joan of Arc and Putin to be St. Paul. “God,” she said, “has appointed Putin to Russia to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ.” Mother Fotina was a convicted embezzler in the 1990s, and critics suspect her devotion to Putin is a ruse to deflect law-enforcement attention.
• Sheriff’s deputies in Bergholz, Ohio, arrested three Amish men in October and charged them in incidents in which other Amish men and women had their homes invaded and their hair (and men’s beards) cut off — supposedly grave insults. The three are part of an 18-family breakaway sect of Amish who were said to be exacting revenge upon mainstream Amish for insufficiently pious behavior. The “bishop” of the breakaways, Sam Mullet, 65, denied the arrestees were acting under his authority.
Questionable Judgments
• “Snakeman” Raymond Hoser, of Park Orchards, Australia, was about to be fined in August for violating his Commercial Wildlife Demonstrator License — by failing to keep at least three meters’ distance between his venomous snakes and the public — when he hit upon a defense: He would prove that he had de-venomized the deadly taipan and death adder snakes by allowing them to bite his 10-year-old daughter on the arm. (Though both bites drew blood, the girl was otherwise unhurt. Said Hoser, “(I)f they’d been venomous, she’d have been dead in two minutes.”)
Fine Points of the Law
• A judge in Nice, France, ruled in September that Article 215 of the French civil code (defining marriage as a “shared communal life”) in fact requires that husband and wife have sex. A husband identified only as Jean-Louis B. had evidently lost interest years earlier, and his wife was granted a divorce. Apparently emboldened by her victory, she then filed a monetary claim against the husband for the 21-year-long lack of sex, and the judge awarded her 10,000 euros (about $13,710).
• It might well be “excessive force” if a sheriff’s deputy beats and pepper-sprays a black motorist who had been stopped only because the deputy saw the motorist without a fastened seatbelt. A district court judge had concluded that the force was surely justified, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said in August that excessiveness of force was for a jury to evaluate. (The deputy’s explanation: The motorist, waiting for the deputy to finish his report, was sitting on a curb eating a bowl of broccoli, and the deputy had to beat him down, he said, out of fear that the motorist would throw the broccoli at him and then attack him.)
People Different from Us
• “Urban farming” is growing more popular among city-dwelling progressives committed to eating local foods, but that usually involves gardens in backyards. For Robert McMinn and Jules Corkery, it means raising two chickens in their one-bedroom apartment in New York City — just to have a supply of fresh eggs. “I don’t think it’s the ideal situation,” McMinn told the New York Daily News in October. However, he said, the hens are “cute. They’re fun to (watch) run around. They’re excited when we come home.”
Least Competent Criminals
• Bank Robbers Not Ready for Prime Time: (1) Thomas Love, 40, was arrested in New Castle County, Del., in October after he had walked out of a WSFS Bank empty-handed. According to police, Love had presented a demand note to a teller, who couldn’t make out the writing and handed it back, provoking Love to flee. (2) Henry Elmer, 56, was arrested in Yuma, Ariz., in October where he had just sat down to enjoy a beer at the Village Inn Pizza Parlor. Police identified Elmer as the man who just moments earlier had robbed the Wells Fargo bank in the same block and “fled” the few steps to the Village Inn (which is also just across the street from the Yuma Police Station).
Recurring Themes
• Soon, it might be absolutely impossible to get hurt in Britain — because of stringent health and safety rules. St. Mary’s Church in Cottingham announced it would go without an overhead light because government rules require that it rig scaffolding to change the light bulb in its 30-foot-high ceiling. (Using a ladder would be unsafe.) And following the August riots in London, hundreds of volunteers took to the streets to speed the cleanup process, but at several junctures, police turned them away, fearful that the civic-minded workers lacked the sense to avoid cutting themselves on the broken glass and debris.