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News of the Weird 

Lead story: Ultra-orthodox California Rabbi Nachum Shifren, 53, cuts a dashing figure on the beach at Malibu, where he is the legendary surfer "Shifty," easily distinguishable on 20-foot waves by his long beard, according to a September profile in the San Diego Union-Tribune. In his spare time (he says he is ready to ride 24/6, allowing for the Sabbath), he has conducted "Passover surfaris" and beach bar mitzvahs, and his lectures on Deuteronomy include the observation that "surf punks" paddled out into the Red Sea during the Jews' exodus from Egypt. "The whole religious experience," he told the reporter, "the outer body experience, is encompassed in the act of surfing."

Things people believe: The sheriff in Tucson, Ariz., warned the public in August of a gang of women who lure horny men via newspaper ads into believing that they can buy a starring role in an adult video, citing the recent case of a man who was enticed to send $1,100 to set up a video shoot, then $7,000 more, then $8,000 more, and then another $8,000; he quit only when he learned that the women had persuaded his parents to pay $20,000 more for their son's "acting" career.

Thinning the herd: A 25-year-old driver was killed in St-Joachim, Quebec, on Sept. 24, when another car veered into his lane and hit him; police said the deceased was within his own lane but was distracted, in that he was apparently engaged in sexual intercourse with a female passenger. (Having intercourse while driving, said a police spokesman, "makes driving that much more dangerous.")

Can't possibly be true: North Carolina state Sen. Sam Ellis' bill that would change a section of state law that gives an enormous right to rapists failed in committee this year, with the likely result that some rapists may go free. If a rape victim chooses to carry her baby, and then place it up for adoption, state law requires that both parents must agree to the adoption in writing, with no exception for babies conceived by rape. Thus, rapists might withhold their consent, thwarting the mother's wishes, unless she agrees not to press charges for the rape. According to a September Raleigh News & Observer story, at least three women have recently been in that situation.

Unclear on the concept: In September, a Roanoke (Va.) Times story documented the righteous complaint of Melissa Williamson, 35, that street construction noise outside her home in southeast Roanoke, especially by jackhammers, would have a harmful effect on her unborn child, then two months from term. The published Times story ignited a firestorm of reader mail because it was accompanied by a candid photo of Williamson in her front yard, looking annoyed at the construction mess, but puffing away on a cigarette.

Creme de la weird: David Roy Truscott, 35, pleaded guilty in Cornwall, England, in September to three arsons and a burglary of a farmhouse near Redruth, but the burglary was less significant than what he did when he got onto the property. Police said Truscott had submerged himself in a manure pit in order to masturbate. (Also, containers of liquid sludge were found at his home.) At the crime scene, two items of Truscott's were picked up but of questionable usefulness given the severity of his alleged behavior: tissues and rubber gloves.

Least competent criminals: Police in Edwardsville, Ill., charged David Wroten, 20, with fraud in September after, they say, he took out a membership in an online dating service by paying with a check drawn on the county jail, where he had been held earlier in the year for theft. Wroten, like all inmates, had been issued a check for the cash he had on him when he was booked, and he allegedly copied the check form. Police were confident that Wroten was their man because, naturally, he had posted a photograph of himself on the dating service site.

Recurring themes: In September, Floyd Edwards, 78, set out to drive his friend Ruth Stancil, 62, and Edwards' son Clifford from their home near Erwin, Tenn., to nearby North Carolina towns for shopping, as they routinely do once a month. The round trip is usually about 100 miles, but once again, a senior driver became confused, and Edwards lost track of time and distance, and was fearful of stopping. By the time the three returned, 60 hours later, they had traveled 1,600 miles, as far as an Atlanta suburb, where Edwards accidentally fell at a gas station and hit his head, necessitating a call to police, who were able to help the group turn around.

Readers' choice: In September, according to a report in Tehran's daily Mardomsalari newspaper, a local court ordered a husband to stop beating his wife. The Iranian woman, identified only as Maryam J, said, however, that she would have accepted an order that just limited the beatings to once a week. "Beating is part of his nature," she said, "and he cannot stop it." The disconsolate husband said, "If I do not beat her, she will not be scared enough to obey me."

(c) 2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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