News of the Weird 

Sooty Santa helpers, men's bras and more

LEAD STORY: In several European countries, identifying the "naughty" kids at Christmastime is not Santa's job but is left to unsavory legendary icons who have endured for centuries (according to a December series of articles in Germany's Der Spiegel). In Italy, determinations are made by the extremely ugly witch La Befana, who has the ability to fly her broomstick through keyholes into bad kids' houses. In Austria, Krampus pays the naughty ones visits as a 7-foot-tall horned devil with a long tongue and a goat's head. And in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas' helper is Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete"), who, unlike Sinter, gets sooty when climbing down chimneys delivering twigs to the shoes of misbehavers. (However, the Netherlands pair has a big advantage over the North Pole-dwelling Santa, in that they reside in sunny Spain and arrive at Christmastime by steamship.)

Can't Possibly Be True: In a March change of regulations, the Pentagon began saving money by reducing "combat-injury" benefits for all except those wounded while actually fighting, explaining that combat-"related" injuries were simply not worthy of full compensation. Thus, in examples offered by the Washington Post in November, Marine Cpl. James Dixon and Army Sgt. Lori Meshell were not entitled to full combat-injury coverage for their Iraq wounds (Dixon from a roadside bomb and a land mine, and Meshell while diving for cover during a mortar attack) because neither was actually fighting at the time. (Dixon, initially denied about $16,000 by the classification, recently won a hard-fought reversal, but Meshell, drawing $1,200 less per month because of the change, is still appealing.)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reporting the latest of 10 lawsuits against dentist Thomas Laney, 55, found "flaws" in Washington state's medical disciplinary system, in that Laney was apparently doing "full-body cosmetic surgeries." Laney was being sued this time by a woman for allegedly botching her breast reduction. His attorney told a reporter that negative outcomes happen, but that Laney should not be held responsible unless the patient suffers deformities that are "terribly, terribly wrong." (When an earlier patient of his died after surgery, Laney was "disciplined" with a fine and an order to get additional training.)

Inexplicable: The Wishroom lingerie shop on Japan's Internet shopping mall Rakuten announced in November that it had already sold more than 300 of its new bras specially made for men (about $30 each) since the product launch earlier in the month. A Wishroom official told a Reuters reporter: "We've been getting feedback from customers saying, 'Wow, we'd been waiting for this for such a long time.'"

Twice recently (in November, off Atlantic Beach, N.C., and in October, off Amble, Northunderland, England), anglers encountered (and rescued) dogs that were swimming about a mile from land and headed toward the open sea. The pooches, a Labrador retriever and a cairn terrier, were both said to be disoriented and uncooperative with rescuers.

Unclear on the Concept: When Arien O'Connell posted the fastest time in October's Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco, she expected of course to be declared the winner, but the shoe company apparently had promised a group of elite runners (to attract them to enter the race) that one of them would be the "winner," and consequently, first place went to a woman who ran 11 minutes behind O'Connell. After a storm of complaints, Nike reluctantly settled on calling both women winners and said next year it would scrap the two-tier system.

In November, the Swedish national newspaper Expressen revealed a 30-person bestiality ring operating out of a farm in southern Sweden, but the 45-year-old man who allegedly headed the group said his members were always respectful of animals: "Any of the times I did anything with [the dog], she was the one who backed into me and provoked it. She was in heat and made herself available. ...

London's Daily Mail reported (after an investigation under Britain's freedom of information act) that more than half of the local government councils responding admitted that they were using anti-terror laws and surveillance equipment to monitor such mundane activities as whether residents put their garbage out at the proper times for pickup. Said one prominent critic, "We are no longer living in what most would recognize as a free society."

Modern Obsessions: Professionals at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told an annual meeting of radiologists in Chicago in December that they had discovered an alarming new teenage trend of self-mutilation: girls deliberately inserting objects into their arms, hands, feet, ankles and necks (including needles, staples, wood, stone, glass and a crayon). According to the Chicago Tribune, the hospital reported extracting 52 such objects from 10 girls in a three-year period and regarded the practice as an extension of the more common self-cutting.

Least Competent Criminals: Not Ready for Prime Time: William Jarrett, 38, was charged in Hempstead Village, N.Y., in November with swiping a necklace from a 32-year-old pregnant woman and running off. Despite her condition, the woman chased him, screaming, for six blocks and caught up with him just as a police officer was arriving on the scene.

Update: When News of the Weird last mentioned Andy Park, of Melksham, England, in 2002, he was in his eighth straight year of celebrating Christmas every single day of his life, with not only seasonal decorations and cards mailed to himself but a full holiday meal including turkey and champagne. However, as he told the Daily Mail in November, "The credit crunch is getting to me big time," and he has been forced to cut back a bit on the presents he gives himself. Nonetheless, every morning Park continues to arise and open his presents before starting on his full meal and mince pie. He also watches the queen's Christmas speech on video. Yes, he admits, "People do think I'm [nuts]."

© 2008 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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