Pirate investors, religious showdowns and more 

LEAD STORY: In Somalia, which is without a central government and where little functions beyond an Islamic resistance and individual warlords' fiefdoms, a robust "stock market" has emerged in the city of Haradheere for "investors" in the seagoing pirate "industry," to raise money and supplies for kidnappers in exchange for a share of the bounty once a ransom is paid. According to a December Reuters dispatch, 72 "companies" are listed on the exchange, enabling "venture capital" to fund greater piracy traffic and more sophisticated looting. There even seems to be a financial "bubble" at work, in that since the "exchange" opened, pirates' ransoms have doubled to about $4 million per ship.

Cultural Diversity: Afghanistan's national game, buzkashi, is attempting a marketing transformation inspired by pro football's and basketball's growth in the United States over the last several decades, according to a November USA Today dispatch. The main hindrance is that buzkashi is often little more than violent anarchy. A team of 12 men on horseback tries to carry a goat carcass the length of a field, around a goal and back, through an opposing team "defense" that includes almost any tactic short of murder. Spectators are often trampled by riders disregarding boundaries, and horses have dropped dead on the field from abuse or fatigue. The head of the Buzkashi Federation said he aims to present the game for consideration to the International Olympic Committee.

Latest Religious Messages: Carried Away: 1) Atlanta municipal bus driver Leroy Matthews was suspended in November for a recent incident in which he suddenly stopped the bus and refused to open the doors until the alighting passenger joined hands with him in prayer. 2) Martina Rabess, 52, was sanctioned by Britain's Sevenoaks Magistrates Court in October after neighbors complained about her loud, continuous recitations of the Lord's Prayer in early morning hours around her apartment house. 3) Since March 2008, the Cathedral of Christ the King in Phoenix has been ringing its bells every half hour, 24 hours a day, enraging neighbors, and a showdown with city officials was looming at press time, according to ABC News.

The Scranton (Pa.) Diocese, Needing Confession: Father Edward Lyman of the diocese was removed as a parish administrator in November after he inadvertently (using his personal computer during early Mass) clicked on photos of four bare-chested young men in provocative poses. Also in November, the diocese disavowed Father Virgil Tetherow's behavior for offering Mass at a breakaway church in York, Pa., and too aggressively protesting at a Planned Parenthood clinic (incidents on top of Tetherow's 2005 conviction on a charge that was originally child porn possession but downgraded in a plea agreement). And yet another diocese priest, Father Robert Timchak, waived a preliminary hearing in November on charges of having child porn on his computer.

Aggressive Christianity: 1) The Rev. Marc Grizzard, pastor of the Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, N.C., staged an October book-burning of "Satan's" literature, including works by Mother Teresa and the Rev. Billy Graham and any Bible besides the original King James version. 2) In October, Mikey Weinstein, a former military lawyer who served in the Reagan White House, filed a lawsuit against Gordon Klingenschmitt, head of a Dallas chaplains' association, to stop Klingenschmitt from publicly reciting Bible verses implying a smiting of Weinstein, along with Weinstein's family and descendants for 10 generations. Said Klingenschmitt: "I never prayed for anyone's death. All I did was quote the Scriptures."

Karma: 1) Shannon Broome, 15, of Jacksonville, Fla., with her leg in a cast and still laid up from a June rollover accident in an SUV, was hit again in December when another out-of-control SUV came through her bedroom wall and re-broke the leg (among other injuries inflicted). 2) Recently, at the Abergele Hospital in North Wales, Geraint Woolford, 52, was moved into a room to await a partial knee replacement and discovered that his roommate was Geraint Woolford, 77, who was awaiting a hip replacement. According to a December report in the Daily Mail, they are not related, but both are retired police officers.

The Simplest Musical Instrument: Rajeev Kumar of Calcutta, India, is well-known locally for playing the harmonica, specifically, using only his right nostril. For added show, Kumar plays two harmonicas simultaneously, with nostril and mouth. A BBC News reporter watching him (for a December dispatch) said Kumar's strain was obvious. The "veins running through his nose and neck bulge, his eyes pop out, and his face looks red and stretched." And at Britain's West Midland Safari Park, the African elephant "Five" spends portions of almost every day puffing away at a harmonica she found in her enclosure. Said a park spokesperson, "Five was making tunes within a few weeks." (The talented Five also paints on canvas.)

Questionable Judgments: Michael Sampson, who was in court in Salina, Kan., in November merely on charges of littering and driving with a suspended license, was arrested after a judge spotted him at the defense table, making threatening gestures to witnesses. Sampson was seen holding his thumb and fingers in the shape of a gun, "firing" at a witness, and making a slashing motion across his neck.

In November, Father Joe Vetter, head of Duke University's Catholic Center, criticized a research team seeking student volunteers on female attitudes toward sex toys and paraphernalia. Vetter said the project would affect students "in this development phase [of their lives], and I don't think it's a good developmental practice to just tell somebody to just sit around and masturbate."

People With Issues: Sara Foss, 39, the mother of 13 in Derby, England, who is scheduled to deliver No. 14 in March, told the Daily Mail in November of her vow to continue getting pregnant until she fulfills her desire to have twins. Her longtime, live-in boyfriend works as a boat-builder, but their main income is government benefits worth the equivalent of about $80,000 annually. (Foss, apparently also a fan of literature and movies, has kids named Artemus, Morpheus, Voorhees, Baudelaire, Blackbird, Echo, Malachai and Frodo.)

Least Competent Criminals: Not Ready for Prime Time: 1) Andre Stoltzfus, 17, was arrested in Saugerties, N.Y., in October after he allegedly counterfeited a $1 bill that a family member later used toward the purchase of a pack of cigarettes. 2) Bandanna-clad Jason Zacchi, 27, was arrested in Dearborn Heights, Mich., in November after, according to police, pointing a shotgun at a Wendy's employee at the drive-thru window and demanding money. Moments later, the shift manager angrily approached the window and yelled at Zacchi, "What the hell are you doing?" (The manager had recognized Zacchi through his bandanna. Zacchi is her son.)

Update: Ragnar Bengtsson, 26, the male Swedish student who vowed in September to pump milk from his nipples every three hours for 90 days, drop by drop, to show that it could be done, quit in November, concluding that it can't. Said a TV producer following Bengtsson around, "All he got was sore breasts."

A News of the Weird Classic (May 2002): In April 2002, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded patent number 6,368,227 to Steven Olson, age 7, of St. Paul, Minn., whose father had filed to help him protect a method of swinging on a swing. The Olsons' discovery: While seated, if you pull alternately on one side's chain/rope and then on the other side's, while gradually introducing a forward-backward thrust, you can swing in an oval-shaped arc, as long as the side-to-side motion is greater than the forward-backward motion. According to the Patent Office, licenses to use the patented method are available from the inventor.

CLARIFICATION: Five weeks ago, News of the Weird reported that HoneyBaked Ham had fired Richard Huether, manager of its Cary, N.C., store, while he was still recuperating from being shot in a robbery of the store. The report noted that among the hardships of now being unemployed, his health insurance premium (under COBRA) would thus become steeply expensive. However, following the publication of the WRAL-TV story on which the News of the Weird report was based, HoneyBaked decided to prepay Huether's COBRA expenses for the next 18 months.

© 2010 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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