The real birthers, soccer voodoo and more 

Among the promotions offered by New York City's upscale Marmara Manhattan hotel is a "birth tourism" package exploiting the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment. For about $35,000, a foreign expectant mother with a visa can spend her delivery week in luxury accommodations (including medical care) — and assure her baby automatic U.S. citizenship. (That child could then become an "anchor," subsequently making it easier for the parents to acquire "green cards.") Also, the Washington Post reported in July that three agencies in China, with U.S. affiliates, offer similar packages to their affluent citizens, whose primary concern seems to be providing their children access to a U.S. education as an alternative to China's expensive, competitive system. (Historians agree that the purpose of the "citizenship right" in the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, was to recognize former slaves as citizens.)

More Tales of the Miracle Drug: 1) A naked, 47-year-old man was taken to an El Paso, Texas, burn center in July after "friends" won a bet and got to set his prosthetic leg on fire, and it spread to his body. The man admitted to police that he had lost fair-and-square, by downing "only" six beers. He was treated for several days and released. 2) In June, two 34-year-old men in Horsham, Australia, underwent surgery as a result of a plan hatched during a drinking bout. They had both wondered if it hurt to get shot and thus obliged each other.

Cultural Diversity: Black magic failed to secure the World Cup for Africa this year, but on the other hand, the weak host team, South Africa, managed an opening round draw with Mexico and an upset victory over France. "Sangomas" (traditional "healers") spreading "muti" (powders, potions, animal bones, especially from speedsters like horses and ostriches) had been out in force. World Cup stadium security was tight, but in African league soccer games, it is not uncommon for sangomas, pre-game, to bury animal parts on the field, or to have players urinate on it to improve the karma.

British Safety Ninnies: 1) Britain's head constable told a police chiefs' meeting in June that they were being "buried" under a "telephone directory"-sized (6,497 pages) compilation of rules and regulations telling street bobbies in massive detail such things as how to apply handcuffs and ride bicycles. 2) The local government that runs the Ebdon Road Cemetery in Weston-super-Mare, England, ordered the removal of the small cross marking the grave of Rosemary Maggs, who died in May. The local council has prohibited crosses in the cemetery, citing safety.

Things You Didn't Think Happened: 1) Although 85 percent of Americans are covered by health insurance, the figure in Rwanda is 92 percent. In that country's 11-year-old system, everyone pays $2 a year — obviously just for basics. However, Rwandans' main problems are more easily treatable — infections, malnutrition, malaria, unsafe childbirth — and not expensive diabetes, obesity, cholesterol-clogged arteries. 2) In Israel's West Bank, Palestinians have a highly competitive race-car season, and one team on the rise this year is the sexism-fighting female squad led by driver Suna Aweida. "Driving is driving," she told BBC News in June.

In July, acknowledging pressure from local Asian activists, officials at the Exchange mall in Rochdale, England, said they would remove the toilets from two of the facility's restroom stalls and build "Nile pans," also known as "squat toilets" — also to Westerners referred to as "holes in the ground." The officials said they were trying to serve the many Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants living in Greater Manchester.

Latest Religious Messages: One of Britain's 200 or so "consecrated hermits" might soon be homeless as the owner of her cottage in rural Shropshire County has listed it for sale. Karen Markham, 44, lives by rules set down by St. Benedict, the founder of western monasticism, that require her to rise at 4 a.m., pray and chant for three hours, then contemplate in silence. For recreation, she weaves rugs using wool from local sheep, according to a May report in the Daily Telegraph.

American "Sangomas": 1) In July, a fifth-grade teacher at Jacox Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., resigned under pressure after administrators discovered she was rubbing "holy oil" on students and their desks during school. 2) Teachers Leslie Rainer and Djuna Robinson were removed from teaching duties at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla., in March after they were seen sprinkling "holy water" onto a colleague, a self-described atheist. Other witnesses disputed the details, but the two were charged under the school's "anti-bullying" policy for aggressiveness toward the other teacher.

Questionable Judgments: At press time, the city council of Barre, Vt., continues to debate extending its pet "leash" law to cats, following a woman's complaint that a neighbor's cat continues to foul her yard with droppings. In the few towns that try to enforce leash laws on cats, a main rationale has been to protect friendly birds. (The late U.S. statesman Adlai Stevenson, when he was governor of Illinois, once rejected such a law, terming leashing "against the nature of the cat.")

Hard Time, Hard Luck: Harry Jackson, 26, was in jail in Woodbine, Ga., in March, on several minor charges such as driving on a suspended license. However, acceding to pressure from fellow inmates, brought on by the jail's nonsmoking policy, Jackson agreed to break out, steal cigarettes at a nearby convenience store, and break back in, undetected. "[D]on't come back empty-handed," one inmate supposedly warned him. Jackson was apprehended climbing back in over a fence. In May, a judge sentenced him, for the earlier charges plus the escape and subsequent burglary, to 20 years.

The Weirdo-American Community: John Mark Karr burst onto the national scene in 2006 when he famously, falsely, confessed to murdering little JonBenet Ramsey 10 years earlier, but since then, his life has been even more bizarre. He has spun through a series of romances with JonBenet-like youngsters, the latest with Samantha Spiegel, who was 9 when they met and is now 19 and recently got a restraining order against him. Karr is currently known as "Alexis Reich" in preparation for his gender-reassignment surgery, which Spiegel says Karr wants only in order to make it easier to befriend, and seduce, younger and younger girls. According to another ex-girlfriend, Karr asked her to solicit little girls to join a cult he was starting called "The Immaculates," to fulfill fantasies including taking baths with young girls.

Redneck Chronicles: From Florida's Panhandle Region: 1) A 24-year-old man was arrested in Crestview, Fla., in April after he allegedly removed a window air-conditioner and crawled into a house in which his wife was staying. They had recently separated, and he told police that he had not "gotten any" in three weeks and was going to "get some." 2) In June in Okaloosa County, passenger Courtnea Bradley, 21, roughed up the driver while the car was moving, making it swerve wildly, thus allegedly endangering her baby in the back seat. At the subsequent traffic stop, a defiant Bradley allegedly told officers, "My [expletive] family is one of the richest around, and we will have y'all's [expletive] jobs."

A News of the Weird Classic (August 1991): In May (1991), 19 members of the Michigan House of Representatives (led by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee) introduced a resolution designed to deal with obnoxious social problems, but without creating expensive regulatory programs. The resolution would establish, at the State Archives, a "Registry of Bothersome Practices," on which people could contribute to an official list of complaints about such things as elevator music and magazine blow-in subscription cards.

© 2010 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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