News of the Weird

Odd Files, Feb. 4, 2011

Lead story
Those Ingenious Western Spies! In January, Saudi officials detained a vulture from Tel Aviv University (part of endangered-species research), calling it a spy and alarming its Israeli handlers that the bird might face a gruesome execution as an espionage agent. Then, a day later, Iran reportedly detained an Arab-American woman crossing its border from Armenia — after discovering a “spy microphone” in her teeth. (A week later, she was allowed to travel to Turkey.) In December, after an Egyptian woman was killed by a shark at a Red Sea resort, the local governor in Egypt accused Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, of releasing “attack sharks” in order to stifle tourism.
Cultural Diversity
• A supposedly centuries-old Korean health treatment — the vaginal steam bath — has become a popular fad recently in Southern California, according to a December Los Angeles Times report. As the client squats on an open-seated stool, vapors of herbs such as wormwood supposedly fight stress, infections, hemorrhoids, infertility and irregular menstrual periods. Thirty minutes’ treatment runs $20 to $50, and according to a prominent Beverly Hills gynecologist, the procedure actually could be beneficial.
• Among the don’t-miss tourist attractions in Thailand, according to author Jim Algie’s recent guide (“Bizarre Thailand”): the monkey hospital in Lopbun, where terminal patients are treated with utmost respect (pending, of course, their imminent reincarnation); “Tortoise Town” in Khon Kaen province, where those critters outnumber humans by 4-to-1 and dominate the streets with shell-butting mating-rights competitions; and the Buffalo Head Temple near Bangkok, where the abbot’s pagoda, for some reason, is made of 6,000 water buffalo skulls.
• China’s dynamic economy has created Western-style insecurities, including young women’s anxieties about beauty and self-improvement as they search for employment. Consequently, China has become the world’s third-largest consumer of plastic surgery services — with demand that perhaps challenges the supply of skilled surgeons. Women typically want wider eyes, “sliced” eyelids, narrower noses and jaws, and smaller chins, and both men and women seek height by attempting the painful (and usually unsuccessful) “heel implant” procedure. (A currently popular, less invasive remedy for immediate body streamlining — as when preparing for a job interview — involves ingesting eggs of the ringworm, so that the worm devours food before the stomach can digest it.)
• Every Dec. 24 in Sweden, at 3 p.m., a third to a half of all Swedes sit down to watch the same traditional television program that has marked Christmas for the last 50 years: a lineup of historic Donald Duck cartoons. According to a December report on, the show is insinuated in the national psyche because it was the first big holiday program when Swedes began to acquire television sets in 1959. Entire families still watch together, repeating their favorite lines.
Latest Religious Messages
The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) announced in December that it issued 350,000 “fatwas” in 2010 — not the “death to” fatwas, but rather, Quranic interpretations governing everyday life. (The Authority ruled last year, for example, that car raffles are bad; that vuvuzelas are acceptable if kept under 100 decibels; that afternoon naps are prohibited because time should be better spent; and that half-sisters may shake hands with their brothers, even if their mother is Christian.)
Latest Cutting-Edge Research
(1) Georgia Tech scientists tested (for an October publication) the “oscillatory shaking” they witnessed by wet mice and various-sized wet dogs as they shook water off — finding an inverse ratio between size and speed, from 27 cycles per second by a mouse to 5.8 by a mid-sized dog. Their original hypothesis was that speed would decrease according to “torso radius,” but they forgot to factor in the length of the animals’ fur. (2) Israeli researchers, writing in the journal Fertility and Sterility, found that women undergoing in-vitro fertilization were almost twice as likely to conceive if they had been made to laugh by a hospital “clown” entertaining them as soon as their embryos were implanted.
News That Sounds Like a Joke
(1) When longtime Orange County, Calif., inmate Malcolm King demanded kosher meals and double helpings, jailers resisted, and King went to court. Judge Derek Johnson asked King if his demands were religion-based, and King said yes — citing “Festivus” (a joke religion popularized on the “Seinfeld” TV show). According to a December Orange County Register report, Judge Johnson approved King’s demands. (2) A 2010 Chicago Tribune public-records examination of suburban Chicago traffic-stop drug searches found that sniffer dogs are usually wrong — that 56 percent of all “positive” signals by dogs yielded no contraband (73 percent failure if the driver was Hispanic).
Least Competent Criminals
A perp wanted on an arrest warrant has a powerful incentive to lie about his ID if subsequently stopped by police, and sometimes bluffing with a bogus name works. However, twice in January, in Dallas and in Great Falls, Mont., perps gave other names, only to learn that people with those names were in as much trouble as they were. Mario Miramontes, 22, wanted for parole violation, told an officer in Dallas that he was his cousin, without knowing that the cousin was wanted for sex abuse of a minor. Jonothan Gonsalez told police in Great Falls that he was really Timothy Koop Jr., but Koop was also a wanted man.
Recurring Themes
(1) Which Branch Is Best? Dustin Jakes, 27, an Army soldier, was arrested for shooting drinking buddy David Provost, 24, a Navy sailor, in Florence, Ariz., on Christmas Day. They argued over which service was better (and since Jakes had the gun, the answer was “Army”). (2) Mark Richardson, 21, of Oklahoma City is the most recent con man to seek caregivers to attend to him intimately as he dresses in a diaper, feigns autism and claims to require constant care. Richardson’s mother admitted to The Oklahoman newspaper that her son is “not your average, everyday, walking-the-street citizen.”
Rape Victims Re-Victimized
• “Ashley,” attacked at age 15 by a counselor in a New York City lockup, finally received justice in September when the counselor pleaded guilty to that assault and two others. (Ashley had been in the lockup for lying on a police report and served one year in juvenile detention.) The counselor’s guilty pleas came in a deal with the prosecutor, for which he was “punished” by a probation-only sentence, according to an October New York Daily News story. Thus, Ashley was locked up after the rape; the rapist remains forever free.
• “H.S.,” a high school cheerleader in Silsbee, Texas, claimed sexual assault in October 2008 by a classmate-athlete, who a year later was indicted (and pleaded guilty to simple assault, receiving a suspended sentence). In February 2009, while the attacker was still denying culpability, H.S., though cheering for the team at a basketball game, refused to specifically cheer for her attacker and was kicked off the squad. A federal judge and appeals court subsequently ruled that H.S. had no right to withhold her cheering (though the attacker’s right to falsely claim innocence remained inviolate).
An Odd Files Classic (February 1994)
The epicenter of California’s January (1994) “Northridge” earthquake was five miles from the United States’s then-largest egg farm, where hens had produced their usual 1 million eggs in the hours before the quake hit. The damage to the farm was a snapped water line, toppled empty egg pallets and a total of one broken egg. Said manager Robert Wagner to his employees, “We had a 6.6 earthquake that broke less eggs than you guys do when we’re working.”