News of the Weird

  • Article by: CHUCK SHEPHERD
  • November 2, 2012 - 2:10 PM

Horse show jumping is a longtime Olympics sport, but for the past 10 years, equestrians have been performing in "horseless" show jumping, in which horse courses are run by "riders" on foot. 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 and 130 competitors galloping over jumps that vary from 2 to 4 feet high (5 feet in "Grand Prix" events), with the "riders" graded as if they were on horses. They are also timed, and points are taken off for making contact with the rails. Explained Newman about the shows' success: "It's just fun to be a horse."

Festival curiosity

A September religious festival in Nanchang, China, is a favorite of beggars, as visitors are in a generous mood, but officials expressed concern this year about hordes of panhandlers harassing the pilgrims. Thus, town officials ordered all festival beggars to be locked up in small cages (too tiny to allow standing) to minimize the hustling. Beggars are free to leave, but then must stay away permanently. Most beggars chose to stay since they still earned more in festival cages than they would have on the street.

Valuable find

In August, schoolboy Charlie Naysmith of Christchurch, England, taking a nature walk near Hengistbury Head beach, came upon a rocklike substance that turned out to be petrified whale vomit -- which, to his surprise, proved worth the equivalent of from $16,000 to $64,000. What's called ambergris produces a foul odor but is valuable commercially for prolonging the scent of a perfume.

Bunker sect

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.

Tax on worship

The Roman Catholic Church in Germany warned in September that too many Catholics were opting out of paying the country's "religious tax." The 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.)

Not too bright

Two men, ages 42 and 45, 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 a continuing money-laundering investigation.

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