by Chuck Shepherd
Those Ingenious Western Spies! In January, Saudi officials detained a vulture from Tel Aviv University (part of endangered-species research), calling it a spy and alarming its Israeli handlers that the bird might face a gruesome execution as an espionage agent. Then, a day later, Iran reportedly detained an Arab-American woman crossing its border from Armenia—after discovering a “spy microphone” in her teeth. (A week later, she was allowed to travel to Turkey.) In December, after an Egyptian woman was killed by a shark at a Red Sea resort, the local governor in Egypt accused Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, of releasing “attack sharks” in order to stifle tourism.
Cultural Diversity A supposedly centuries-old Korean health treatment —the vaginal steam bath—has become a popular fad recently in Southern California, according to a December Los Angeles Times report. As the client squats on an open-seated stool, vapors of herbs such as wormwood supposedly fight stress, infections, hemorrhoids, infertility and irregular menstrual periods. Thirty minutes’ treatment runs $20 to $50, and according to a prominent Beverly Hills gynecologist, the procedure actually could be beneficial.
• Among the don’t-miss tourist attractions in Thailand, according to author Jim Algie’s recent guide (“Bizarre Thailand”): the monkey hospital in Lopbun, where terminal patients are treated with utmost respect (pending, of course, their imminent reincarnation); “Tortoise Town” in Khon Kaen province, where those critters outnumber humans by 4-to-1 and dominate the streets with shell-butting mating-rights competitions; and the Buffalo Head Temple near Bangkok, where the abbot’s pagoda, for some reason, is made of 6,000 water buffalo skulls.
• China’s dynamic economy has created Western-style insecurities, including young women’s anxieties about beauty and self-improvement as they search for employment. Consequently, China has become the world’s third-largest consumer of plastic surgery services — with demand that perhaps challenges the supply of skilled surgeons. Women typically want wider eyes, “sliced” eyelids, narrower noses and jaws, and smaller chins, and both men and women seek height by attempting the painful (and usually unsuccessful) “heel implant” procedure. (A currently popular, less invasive remedy for immediate body streamlining—as when preparing for a job interview—involves ingesting eggs of the ringworm, so that the worm devours food before the stomach can digest it.)
Latest Religious Messages The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) announced in December that it issued 350,000 “fatwas” in 2010—not the “death to” fatwas, but rather, Quranic interpretations governing everyday life. (The Authority ruled last year, for example, that car raffles are bad; that vuvuzelas are acceptable if kept under 100 decibels; that afternoon naps are prohibited because time should be better spent; and that half-sisters may shake hands with their brothers, even if their mother is Christian.)
News That Sounds Like a Joke (1) When longtime Orange County, Calif., inmate Malcolm King demanded kosher meals and double helpings, jailers resisted, and King went to court. Judge Derek Johnson asked King if his demands were religion-based, and King said yes—citing “Festivus” (a joke religion popularized on the “Seinfeld” TV show). According to a December Orange County Register report, Judge Johnson approved King’s demands. (2) A 2010 Chicago Tribune public-records examination of suburban Chicago traffic-stop drug searches found that sniffer dogs are usually wrong—that 56 percent of all “positive” signals by dogs yielded no contraband (73 percent failure if the driver was Hispanic).
Least Competent Criminals A perp wanted on an arrest warrant has a powerful incentive to lie about his ID if subsequently stopped by police, and sometimes bluffing with a bogus name works. However, twice in January, in Dallas and in Great Falls, Mont., perps gave other names, only to learn that people with those names were in as much trouble as they were. Mario Miramontes, 22, wanted for parole violation, told an officer in Dallas that he was his cousin, without knowing that the cousin was wanted for sex abuse of a minor. Jonothan Gonsalez told police in Great Falls that he was really Timothy Koop Jr., but Koop was also a wanted man.
Which Branch Is Best? (1) Dustin Jakes, 27, an Army soldier, was arrested for shooting drinking buddy David Provost, 24, a Navy sailor, in Florence, Ariz., on Christmas Day. They argued over which service was better (and since Jakes had the gun, the answer was “Army”). (2) Mark Richardson, 21, of Oklahoma City is the most recent con man to seek caregivers to attend to him intimately as he dresses in a diaper, feigns autism and claims to require constant care. Richardson’s mother admitted to The Oklahoman newspaper that her son is “not your average, everyday, walking-the-street citizen.”