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News of the Weird 6/19/14

by Chuck Shepherd

Too Cute! Marking Japan’s latest unfathomable social trend, two paperback photo books—both consisting only of portraits of the rear ends of hamsters—have experienced surprising and still-growing printing runs. Japanese society has long seemed easily captured by anything considered “kawaii” (or “cute”), according to a May Wall Street Journal dispatch, and a representative of one book’s publisher called his volume “delightfully cute.” “I can’t stop smiling,” he said, “when I see these butts.” The two books in print are “Hamuketsu” (hamster buttocks) and “Hamuketsu—So Cute You Could Faint.” A third, “The Original Hamuketsu,” was set to debut in June.

Recurring Themes Another driver died after being unable to dodge his own vehicle. A 58-year-old man was hit by his SUV in New York City in June after he double-parked and was opening the door on the passenger side and realized that the vehicle was still in reverse gear. He tried to jam one foot onto the brake but hit the gas instead, causing the car to jump backward, ejecting him, and pinning him between the SUV and a van parked alongside. The man suffered a heart attack and died as his vehicle broke free and drifted across the busy Manhattan intersection of Madison Avenue and East 49th Street.

• Dead or just in “deep meditation”? A renowned Hindu guru, Shri Ashutosh Maharaj, in his 70s, passed away in January (so concluded police in Jalandhar, India), but His Holiness’ disciples have refused to release the body, keeping it in a commercial freezer, contending that he has merely drifted into the deeper form of the meditation for which he is well-known—and will return to life when he is ready. (The guru’s religious order, not coincidentally, is a real estate powerhouse in the Punjab region and on nearly every continent, and the guru’s family is certain the “meditation” is a ruse to allow the Ashram’s continued control of the financial empire.)

• After the U.S. Postal Service finalizes its purchase of “small-arms ammunition,” it will become only the most recent federal agency to make a large purchase of bullets for its armed agents (who are perhaps more numerous than the public realizes). In the last year or so, reports have surfaced that the Social Security Administration ordered 174,000 hollow-point bullets, the Department of Agriculture 320,000 rounds, Homeland Security 450 million rounds (for its 135,000 armed agents), the FBI 100 million hollow-points, and even the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 46,000 rounds. (In May, the Department of Agriculture added an order of submachine guns and body armor.)

• Unclear on the Concept: Robert Kiefer, 25, was arrested in Akron, Ohio, in February after losing his composure over an expected check that had not yet arrived in the mail. Rather than complain to the check issuer, Kiefer did as several others have done in News of the Weird’s experience—attack the letter carrier. Kiefer pepper-sprayed the postman (with his own canister that he carries for protection), and in the ensuing struggle, bit the carrier on the leg.

•  Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, tracking down a call about a missing 3-year-old boy downtown, managed to locate him in the type of place where other toddlers have turned up after briefly escaping the sight of their parents: inside a toy vending machine. The boy had crawled up through the toy-release slot of the Bear Claw and was safely, joyously playing among the bin of colorful stuffed animals at Madsen’s Bowling & Billiards.

• In the second such incident reported here in four months, an overenthusiastic police officer handcuffed and detained a firefighter working a 9-1-1 call, ostensibly because the firefighter refused to stop work and go move his fire truck to the officer’s satisfaction. Like the earlier incident in California, the unequivocal state law in Louisiana makes it illegal for anyone to interfere with a firefighter on an emergency call, and the officer from the New Roads, La., Police Department in principle faces a stiff fine and possible jail sentence.

• Orthodox Judaism requires a divorcing spouse to obtain the permission of the other via a document called a “get,” leaving much power in the hands of the responding spouse—and leading to an occasional resort to trickery or violence to persuade an uncooperative spouse. In May, Lakewood, N.J., Rabbi Mendel Epstein, his son and three other men were indicted for scheming to use electric cattle prods on behalf of wives against recalcitrant husbands. (Four other men in the alleged scheme have already pleaded guilty.) According to prosecutors, Rabbi Epstein has been implicated in other over-the-top efforts to obtain gets, in 2009 and 2010, and the indictment charges the 2013 episode also involved kidnapping, surgical blades and a screwdriver.

• Emergency crews in the U.K. once again came under criticism in June when dozens of police and firefighters, in three trucks and using a cherry-picker, blocked off a busy street in Cheltenham for an hour so they could rescue and release a bird (a “rook”) caught in netting on top of a small apartment building. (Bonus irony: The building’s owner had installed the keepaway netting for the sole purpose of discouraging rooks from roosting and nesting, as they were soiling neighborhood rooftops.)