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News of the Weird 10/25/12

by Chuck Shepherd

Horse show jumping, minus the horse Horse show jumping is a longtime Olympics sport, but for the last 10 years, equestrians have been performing in “horseless” show jumping, in which horse courses are run by “riders” on foot (who, by the way, do not straddle broomsticks). According to an October report in The Wall Street Journal, an international association headed by retired pro equestrian Jessica Newman produces at least 15 shows a year, with between 40 to 130 competitors galloping over jumps that vary from two to four feet high (five feet in “Grand Prix” events), with the “riders” graded as if they were on horses (timed, with points off for contacting the rails). Explained Newman about the shows’ success: “It’s just fun to be a horse.”

Latest Religious Messages The CIA and the National Security Agency may play roles, but Kentucky’s homeland security law explicitly acknowledges “God” as the key to the war on terrorism. In August, the Kentucky Supreme Court declined to hear atheists’ challenges to the state’s 2002 “legislative finding” that the state’s “safety and security” cannot be achieved without God’s help. A lower court wrote that since the law did not “advance” religion but merely paid “lip service” to a belief in God, it did not violate the separation of church and state doctrine.

• Seventy people, including 20 children, were discovered in August in an eight-story-high, all-underground bunker in Kazan in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, and authorities said the quasi-religious sect had probably been there for nearly 10 years without heat or forced ventilation — or sunlight. The group is nominally Islamist, but according to a dispatch by London’s The Guardian, the sect is more likely under the individual control of 83-year-old, self-described prophet Fayzrahman Satarov.

• The Tax on Worship: When the Roman Catholic Church in Germany warned in September that too many Catholics were opting out of paying the country’s “religious tax,” many Americans got their first-ever notice that some European democracies actually tax worship. The Catholic Church made it official that anyone backing out of the income tax surcharge would be ineligible to receive Holy Communion or religious burial (although the tax avoider could still receive Last Rites). (Under the German constitution, a church can directly recoup its expenses from members or choose to allow the government to collect the levy on the church’s behalf, minus a collection fee. Two German states add 8 percent to whatever the church member’s tax bill is, and the other states add 9 percent.)

Perspective The Bronx, where nearly one-third of the population lives in poverty, is the poorest of the five New York City boroughs, with per-capita income 70 percent lower than neighboring Manhattan’s. Yet among the city’s most ambitious public works projects under construction is an 18-hole golf course in the Bronx’s Ferry Point Park, estimated to cost the city $97 million, according to a September New York Times report. Furthermore, golf may be losing popularity. The Times reported that rounds of golf in New York City have dwindled (from 880,000 on 12 municipal courses in 1966 to 561,000 on 13 courses in 2011). From the city’s standpoint, it gets a course to be operated by a Donald Trump company and is hoping to build a waterfront esplanade adjacent to the course.

Least Competent Criminals (1) Todd Kettler, 37, was arrested in October in Kalamazoo Township, Mich., and charged with robbing a Southfield, Mich., bank five days earlier. The manager of a strip club in the Township had noticed that Kettler was handing women money saturated with red dye, and called the police. (2) Two men, ages 45 and 42, were arrested in Toronto in September after they walked into a neighborhood money-transfer store with $520,250 in a duffel bag and attempted to wire that amount to an address in Los Angeles. Police charged them in connection with an ongoing money-laundering investigation.