LEAD STORY: Lonely Japanese men (and a few women) with rich imaginations have created a thriving subculture (otaku) in which they have all-consuming relationships with figurines that are based on popular anime characters. "The less extreme," reported a New York Times writer in July, obsessively collect the dolls. The hardcore otaku "actually believes that a lumpy pillow with a drawing of a (teenage character) is his girlfriend," and takes her out in public on romantic dates. "She has really changed my life," said "Nisan," 37, referring to his gal, Nemutan. (The otaku dolls are not to be confused with the life-size, anatomically correct dolls that other lonely men use for sex.) One forlorn "2-D" (so named for preferring relationships with two-dimensionals) said he would like to marry a real, 3-D woman, "but look at me. How can someone who carries this [doll] around get married?"
CULTURAL DIVERSITY: Thousands of Koreans, and some tourists, uninhibitedly joined in the messy events of July's Boryeong City Mud Festival, which glorifies the joys of an activity usually limited to pigs. Mud wrestling, mud-sliding, a "mud prison" and colored mud baths dominated the week's activities, but so unfortunately did dermatological maladies, which hospitalized 200 celebrants. National Specialties: 1) In May, Singapore's Olympic Council, finding no athlete good enough, declined to name a national sportsman of the year. 2) A survey of industrialized nations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that Japanese and Koreans sleep the least, while the French spend the most time at both sleeping and eating. 3) A Tokyo rail passenger company, Keihin, installed a face-scanning machine recently so that employees, upon reporting for work, can tell whether they are smiling broadly enough to present a good impression.
LATEST RELIGIOUS MESSAGES: The director of a child advocacy group told the Associated Press in June that, since 1975, at least 274 children have died following the withholding of medical treatment based on religious doctrine. In one high-profile case this year, the father of a girl said turning her over to doctors would violate God's word (she died), but in another, a Minnesota family that had trusted their son's cancer to prayer, based on advice from something called the Nemenhah Band, changed course and allowed chemotherapy, which so far appears to have prolonged the boy's life. The Shinto temple Kanda Shrine, near Tokyo's version of Silicon Valley, does a brisk business blessing electronic gadgets, according to a July dispatch in Wired magazine. Lucky charms go for the equivalent of about $8.50, but for a personal session, the temple expects an offering of the equivalent of at least $50. The Wired writer, carrying a potentially balky cell phone, approached the shrine with a tree branch as instructed, turned it 180 degrees clockwise, and laid it on the altar. After bowing twice and clapping his hands twice, he left, looking forward to a glitch-free phone.
QUESTIONABLE JEDGEMETS: They Took It Too Far: 1) Maryland corrections officials, hoping to improve juvenile rehabilitation by a kinder, gentler approach to incarceration, opened its New Beginnings Youth Center in May. The lockdown facility had declined to use razor wire, instead merely landscaping its chain-link fences with thorny rose bushes. After one inmate easily escaped on the second day of operation, razor wire was installed. 2) Bride Lin Rong wed in August in China's eastern Jilin province, walking down the aisle in a dress that was more than 7,000 feet (1.3 miles) long. It was rolled up in a wagon behind her. Britain's National Health Service of Sheffield issued a "guidance" to schools this summer to encourage teaching students alternatives to premarital sex, including masturbation. According to the Daily Telegraph, the leaflet (titled "Pleasure") contains the slogan "An orgasm a day keeps the doctor away" and likens the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and exercising to the benefits of masturbating twice a week. Latest Questionable Grants: 1) Welsh artist Sue Williams was awarded the equivalent of about $33,000 in June, from the Arts Council of Wales, to explore cultural attitudes toward women's buttocks, especially "racial fetishism" in African and European culture. Williams said she will create a series of plaster casts of buttocks to work with, beginning with her own. 2) In July, the National Institutes of Health awarded $3 million to the University of Illinois at Chicago to identify the things that cause lesbians to drink alcohol. It will be important, said research director Tonda Hughes, to compare why lesbians drink with why heterosexual women drink. (This is a different NIH grant from the ones reported in News of the Weird in June, to study why gay men in Argentina drink and why prostitutes in China drink.)
ROCK PEOPLE: 1) Chicago police arrested motorist Daniel Phelan, 27, in August and charged him in connection with a three-week spree of drive-by rock-throwing at other cars. Officers discounted ordinary road rage as a cause, in that Phelan appeared to have been driving around during that time with an arsenal of rocks in the passenger seat. 2) A 22-year-old man was arrested in Kitsap, Wash., in August after tossing a barrage of rocks at people, leading some to chase him until police intervened. The man explained that he is preparing to enter Ultimate Fighting Championship contests but had never actually been in a fight and wanted experience at getting beaten up.
LEAST COMPETENT CRIMINALS: 1) The Supreme Court of Spain tossed out assault charges against Henry Osagiede in August because of unfairness by Madrid police. Osagiede, a black man, was convicted after the victim identified him as her attacker, in a lineup in which he was the only black man. 2) Six Ormond Beach, Fla., motorcycle officers, detailed to chaperone the body of prominent Harley-Davidson dealer Bruce Rossmeyer from the funeral home to the cemetery, accidentally collided with each other en route, sending all six riders and their bikes sprawling.
RECURRING THEMES: 1) "Spitting contests": A man was almost killed in Rodgau, Germany, in July when, attempting to show friends he could spit a cherry pit the farthest off of a balcony, made a running start but accidentally toppled over the railing. He was hospitalized with hip injuries. 2) "Assistance monkeys": Evidence of the dexterity and usefulness of monkeys (for fetching objects for disabled people) came from the Plants & Planters store in Richardson, Texas, in July. The store owner, seeking to combat recent burglaries, installed a surveillance camera, which revealed a monkey scaling the fence, scooping up plants, flowers and accessories, and handing them to an accomplice waiting on the other side.
UNDIGNIFIED DEATHS: 1) Two 22-year-old men were accidentally killed in Mattoon, Ill., in May during an outing in which an open-top double-decker bus was used to transport guests. Several people were standing in the top tier, but investigators said only the two tallest men were accidentally hit when the bus passed under Interstate 57. 2) A 23-year-old man drowned in Corpus Christi, Texas, in February, when he sought to back up his claim in front of "friends" that he could hold his breath underwater for a long period of time.
A NEWS OF THE WEIRD CLASSIC (JUNE 2003): In early 2003, several news organizations profiled 70-year-old Charlotte Chambers, who was a reserve defensive back for the Orlando Starz of the Independent Women's (tackle) Football League. Said the Starz chief executive, "Last year, I thought I should tell the other teams to go easy and not hit her too hard. But now I'm afraid she's going to hurt somebody." Said the 5-foot-4, 140-pound Chambers, "I say, 'You better hit me [first], because I'm laying you out.'"