LEAD STORY: Scientology trains its leaders a good deal more aggressively than other religions do, judging by the revelations by four former church officials to the St. Petersburg Times in June. In an exercise concocted by founder L. Ron Hubbard, leaders who screw up are taken out to sea and forced off a gangplank with the admonition, "We commit your sins and errors to the deep and trust you will rise a better Thetan [immortal spiritual being]." The rituals can also take place in a cold swimming pool, with the transgressors in business suits. Also, to test leaders' commitment, the head Scientologist, with a boombox, conducts games of musical chairs to reward the last man sitting (using the music of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody": "Is this the real life? / Is this just fantasy? / Caught in a landslide / No escape from reality").
CULTURAL DIVERSITY: The nomadic Vadi tribe, in the Indian state of Gujarat, continues to be adept at flouting the country's 18-year-old ban on snake-charming. Historically, the Vadi have taught their children, beginning at age 2, to be at peace with cobras through affection and respect. According to a June dispatch in London's Daily Telegraph, male children practice the iconic flute routines, and females provide hands-on care and feeding. The cobras are not defanged (which would be disrespectful), but each is fed an herbal solution that supposedly neutralizes the venom and is released back into the wild after a few months' service.
QUESTIONABLE JUDGEMENTS: A June Government Accountability Office report revealed that people on the U.S.'s suspected-terrorist list tried to buy guns or explosives on at least 1,000 occasions in the last five years and were successful 90 percent of the time. One suspect managed to buy 50 pounds of explosives. Federal law treats the suspected-terrorist list as "no-fly" and "no-visa" but not "no-gun."
"Pop" is a 2 1/2-year-old Swedish kid whose "gender" is unknown to everyone, including Pop. "It" will be counseled that people do not have identical apparatus between their legs, but Pop's folks told the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in June that they intend to ignore all cultural characteristics of "boys" and "girls" in raising Pop. To the parents, gender is a social construct, and Pop will someday decide which roles seem appropriate.
The normal way that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons transfers "low-risk" inmates between institutions is to buy them bus tickets and release them unescorted with an arrival deadline. In the last three years, reported the Las Vegas Sun in May, 90,000 inmates were transferred this way, and only about 180 absconded. Though supposedly carefully pre-screened for risk, one man still on the loose is Dwayne Fitzen, a gang member/biker who was halfway through a 24-year sentence for cocaine-dealing. (Since the traveling inmates are never identified as prisoners, Greyhound is especially alarmed at the policy.)
LATEST RELIGIOUS MESSAGES: The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Prayer order in La Crosse, Wis., is now in its 131st consecutive year of around-the-clock prayer, in shifts, at its Adoration Chapel. The Sisters' ritual is based on an 1865 promise by the order's superior that if God graced their ministries with success, they would build a chapel and pray nonstop.
Ms. Dyker Neyland is one of the few parents who have successfully challenged a school board's restrictive student dress code for adolescents. Neyland persuaded the board in Irving, Texas, this spring that devout religious modesty (as prescribed in the Bible by 1 Timothy 2:9) should take precedence over the district's no-untucked-shirttails rule, in that the extended shirttail provides additional cover for her 7-year-old daughter's backside.
SMOOTH REACTIONS: Crisis Intervention: A certain bridge in Guangzhou, China, has become popular for suicide (12 attempts in a 45-day period in April and May), and with each incident, traffic is slowed or halted for hours while crews attempt to talk the distraught person down or perform rescues. Mr. "Chen" was on the ledge in May, according to an Agence France-Presse dispatch, but he couldn't make up his mind about jumping. One frustrated motorist, Lai Jiansheng, ended the suspense by walking up to Chen and pushing him off. Chen survived, and Lai was arrested.
NEWS THAT SOUNDS LIKE A JOKE: 1) In May, police in Winder, Ga. (pop. 10,200), arrested a marijuana seller with quite a low-tech delivery system. A wireless doorbell was hidden on a tree in woods alongside a house, and when the buzzer sounded, a bucket was lowered from a second-story window. The buyer put money in, the bucket was raised, and the dope would be sent back down. 2) A former Australian state deputy premier revealed in June that the federal government had so far paid out 67,000 compensation claims regarding the February brush fires, though only 2,000 homes were damaged.
PEOPLE WITH ISSUES: Lawyer Larry Wilder, who works part-time as city attorney for Jeffersonville, Ind., was found by police in the early morning hours of June 3, sleeping off an apparently heavy night of drinking. He was discovered in a neighbor's yard, his head and torso inside a garbage can that was tipped over on its side, with his legs sticking out. He had recently represented the city in a high-profile case in the Indiana Court of Appeals.
LEAST COMPETENT CRIMINALS: 1) Kendrick Pitts, 20, and his brother Marquise, 19, were arrested in May in the ladies' room of a small office building in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they were hiding in stalls after being chased by police investigating a stolen truck. Their ruse failed when they tried, using falsetto voices, to persuade the cops that the only people present were women. 2) WCBS-TV (New York City) reported (illustrated with the store's surveillance video) the unsuccessful robbery of Mohammed Sohail's deli in Shirley, N.Y., in June, in which Sohail surprised the perp with a shotgun. Suddenly, as Sohail recounted, the robber dropped to his knees, crying and begging. When the robber spontaneously even offered to convert to Islam on the spot, Sohail tossed $40 at him and sent him on his way.
RECURRING THEMES: 1) In June in Xianyang, in China's Shaanxi province, a family hired a service for the equivalent of $4,400 to dig up a female corpse for their recently deceased son to "marry." It's the latest incidence of trying to overcome a centuries-old curse that forecasts a bad afterlife for men who die unmarried. 2) In shootings in May (in Rodeo del Medio, Argentina) and April (Salvador, Brazil), victims of chest wounds survived when robbers' bullets were partially deflected. According to Agence France-Presse dispatches, the Argentine man was an evangelical pastor who was holding a psalm book to his chest, and the Brazilian woman was protected by a wad of cash stuffed in her bra.
A NEWS OF THE WEIRD CLASSIC (January 2002): Transsexual Tammy Lynn Felbaum (formerly Tommy Wyda), 43, was found guilty in December 2001 of manslaughter in the February death of her sixth husband, James Felbaum, from a botched castration. Tammy initially said James castrated himself, then admitted she did it but only at James' written request. The Butler County, Pa., judge reached his decision based on evidence that Tammy had pressured James into the removal as punishment for James' recent affair, and on testimony from one of Tammy's earlier spouses, Lynn (formerly Tim) Barner, who let Tammy castrate her (formerly him) because she was an "expert." Said Barner, "[Tammy] could castrate a dog in less than five minutes." Tammy was also known in the community for her career as a stripper, specializing in crushing soda cans between her breasts.
© 2009 CHUCK SHEPHERD
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