First Amendment Blues In the public libraries of Seattle (as in most public libraries), patrons are not allowed to eat or sleep (or even appear to be sleeping) or be shirtless or barefoot or have bad body odor or talk too loudly—because other patrons might be disturbed. However, in Seattle, as the Post-Intelligencer reported in September, librarians do permit patrons to watch hard-core pornography on public computers, without apparent restriction, no matter who (adult or child) is walking by or sitting inches away at the next screen (although librarians politely ask porn-watchers to consider their neighbors). Said a library spokesperson: “(P)atrons have a right to view constitutionally protected material no matter where they are in the building, and the library does not censor.”
Cultural Diversity Japan and Korea seem to be the birthplaces in the quest for youthful and beautiful skin, with the latest “elixir” (as usual, based on traditional, centuries-old beliefs) being snail mucus—applied by specially bred live snails that slither across customers’ faces. The Clinical Salon in central Tokyo sells the 60-minute Celebrity Escargot Course session for the equivalent of about $250 and even convinced a London Daily Telegraph reporter to try one in July. (Previously, News of the Weird has informed readers of Asian nightingale-feces facials and live-fish pedicures.)
Latest Religious Messages Iran’s INSA news service reported in January that officials in Shiraz had acquired a finger-amputation machine to perhaps streamline the gruesome punishment often meted out to convicted thieves. (A masked enforcer turns a guillotine-like wheel to slice off the finger in the manner of a rotary saw.) Iran is already known for its reliance on extreme Islamic Sharia, which prescribes amputations, public lashings and death by stoning, and Middle East commentators believe the government will now step up its amputating of fingers, even for the crime of adultery.
• Smiting Skeptics: Measles, despite being highly contagious, was virtually eradicated in America until a small number of skeptics, using now-discredited “research,” tied childhood vaccinations with the rise of autism, and now the disease is returning. About half the members of the Eagle Mountain International Church near Dallas have declined to vaccinate their children, and as of late August, at least 20 church members have experienced the disease. The head pastor denied that he preaches against the immunizations (although he did tell NPR, cryptically, “(T)he (medical) facts are facts, but then we know the truth. That always overcomes facts.”).
• Outraged Jewish leaders complain periodically about Mormons who, in the name of their church, posthumously baptize deceased Jews (even Holocaust victims)—beneficently, of course, to help them qualify for heaven. Church officials promised to stop, but in 2012 reports still surfaced that not all Mormons got the memo. Thus inspired, a “religious” order called the Satanic Temple conducted a July “pink mass” over the Meridian, Miss., grave of the mother of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, Rev. Fred Phelps Jr.—posthumously “turning” her gay. (Westboro infamously stages small, hate-saturated demonstrations denouncing homosexuals and American tolerance.) Ten days later, Meridian prosecutors charged a Satanic Temple official with misdemeanor desecration of a grave.
Squirrels Gone Wild Smithsonian magazine detailed in August the exhaustive measures that military officials have taken to finally block relentless Richardson’s ground squirrels from tunneling underneath Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and interfering with the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles on 24/7 standby. For example, officials had to use trial-and-error to plant underground screens deeper into the ground than the squirrels cared to dig. A day after that report was published, a bus driver in Gothenburg, Sweden, crashed into a tree (with six passengers requiring hospital treatment) after swerving to avoid a squirrel in the road. On the same day, a New York Times reporter disclosed that his own news monitoring for 2013 revealed that squirrels have caused 50 power outages in 24 states in the U.S. since Memorial Day after invading electric company substations.
Progressive Governments In July, the Czech Republic approved Lukas Novy’s official government ID photo even though he was wearing a kitchen colander on his head. Novy had successfully explained that his religion required it since he is a “Pastafarian”—a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a prank religion pointing out that all deities’ power and wisdom comes from followers’ faith rather than from tangible proof of their existence).
• In August, a judge in Voronezh, Russia, accepted for trial Dmitry Argarkov’s lawsuit against Tinkoff Credit Systems for violating a credit-card contract. Tinkoff had mailed Argarkov its standard fine-print contract, but Argarkov computer-scanned it, changed pro-Tinkoff provisions into pro-Argarkov terms, and signed and returned it, and Tinkoff accepted it without re-reading. At least at this stage of the lawsuit, the judge appeared to say that Argarkov had bested Tinkoff at its own game of oppressive, fine-print mumbo-jumbo.