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What's my religion?
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Apparently believing that religious competition in the Middle East is not exciting enough already, the television station Kanal T in Istanbul, Turkey, is preparing a reality game show for September release in which 10 certified atheists try to resist conversion by a priest, a rabbi, a Muslim imam and a Buddhist monk. The exact rules have not been disclosed, but the "winning" convert will receive an expense-paid trip to the holy land of the most persuasive religion (the Vatican, Jerusalem, Mecca or Tibet). According to a July Reuters report, Turkey’s Islamic Religious Affairs Directorate, not surprisingly, had vowed never to co-operate.

Bright Ideas

-- By early July, Jonathan Baltesz and his wife and kids were desperate to find their 10-year-old black Labrador mix, Simon, who had run away. They had one more plan, however. The family members urinated into containers and sprinkled the contents at various locales around their town (Bristol, England), laid out so that Simon could follow a trail home. (Results were unavailable at press time.)

-- The British charter airline Thomas Cook announced at the gate in the resort island of Mallorca in June that, regardless of seat assignments on a departing flight, passengers should sit toward the rear of the aircraft in order to balance the load (since it was already front-heavy with cargo and therefore harder on the pilot). Not surprisingly, 71 apprehensive passengers refused to board. (Also, some incoming passengers on that same aircraft, which experienced a similar balance problem, had dramatically dropped to their knees in the terminal, kissing the ground, calling the flight their worst ever.)

The Continuing Crisis

The New Age movement might be growing too inclusive, according to a July report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (published in a city where the concept of "New Age" is already highly nuanced). "(P)agans feel jilted," wrote the reporter. "Chiropractors want out (of consideration)," "channelers wonder if they belong," and "organic farmers don’t want to be near pet psychics." Said one St. Paul merchant, "I have customers who completely believe in fairies and will laugh at you if you believe in Bigfoot." But, said one New Age magazine editor, the movement should "encompass anything on a spiritual path -- Bigfoot, Jesus, Buddha. Even worshipping a frog is sort of OK."

-- Some parents of students at the Al-Islah Muslim girls’ school in Blackburn, England, discovered that a staff secretary, Shifa Patel, 28, had a Facebook page, featuring innocuous photos of herself but dressed in other than her full-body robe and headscarf, which are her everyday school attire. The photos also reveal that she has close-cropped hair. One assumption led to another, and soon Patel was accused of being a man who dresses as a woman in order to mingle with females. Patel went to the trouble of getting a doctor’s certificate of her gender, but the parents refused to accept it, and in June, Patel (and the school’s headmistress) resigned in despair.

-- A young copperhead snake trespassed into a building near Poolesville, Md., in June and delivered several venomous nips to the hand of Sam Pettengill. Often snakes do not survive such encounters because the victim’s first impulse is to kill the attacker. Fortunately for this snake, it had wandered into a Buddhist temple, and Pettengill had an obligation, according to a Washington Post report. Before he set out for the hospital for treatment (which turned out to be four antivenin cycles), Pettengill took the snake in his throbbing, increasingly pain-wracked hand, circled a prayer room three times to bless it, and released it back into the woods.

-- World’s Toughest Job: Farah Ahmed Omar was appointed recently as chief of Somalia’s navy, which ordinarily would be on the front lines against the throng of pirates operating off the country’s coast. Omar’s job is difficult, though, because the Somalian navy has not a single boat nor a single sailor, and Omar himself has not been to sea in 23 years. However, he told a reporter he was optimistic that the piracy could be stopped.

Fine Points of the Law

-- An 18-year-old, severely mentally challenged, Paris, Texas, man was sentenced in February to 100 years in prison for a single act of what might amount to the childhood sex game of "doctor" with a 6-year-old neighbor. The man has an IQ of 47, and no coercion or violence was involved, but the jury was not given the option to send the man to a care facility in lieu of prison. In fact, his original lawyer failed even to argue his client’s incompetency as a defense because, he said, he thought the man obviously would get probation. In a final touch, Lamar County judge Eric Clifford, able to punish the man on just one count with four other counts running concurrently, instead chose to stack the five counts to total 100 years, and in April, after listening to a parade of witnesses beg him to reconsider the sentence, he refused.

-- It’s the Shoes: Palm Beach County, Fla., defense lawyer Michael Robb resisted a courtroom motion in June to force him to discard his well-worn Cole Haan loafers and go buy a new pair. The plaintiff’s lawyer Bill Bone had complained that jurors would see the holes in the bottoms of Robb’s shoes and be unfairly sympathetic to Robb’s clients as humble and frugal and therefore more deserving to win. The motion was denied. According to a Palm Beach Post story, Robb said later that he has a renewed enthusiasm for the shoes.

People With Issues

(1) Todd Hall, 36, was sentenced to a year in prison after his conviction in Bentonville, Ark., in June for habitually biting the toes of his son, which Hall said he did up to age 6 as routine discipline. (He had earlier been on probation for the disciplinary biting of his 10-month-old daughter.) (2) In June in Muncie, Ind., in his second such conviction in seven months, Robert Stahl, 64, was found guilty of resolving disputes with men in their 50s by reaching into their mouths and yanking out their dentures.

Least Competent Criminals

(1) A Polynesian man in his 20s was being sought as the robber of the Black Diamond Equipment store in Salt Lake City in June. He made off with some gear from the ski and climbing accessory store, but had originally demanded jewelry, as he apparently thought he was knocking off a "diamond" store. (2) Motorist Zackary Johnson was arrested in Athens, Ga., in June after pulling over a passing police car to inquire whether he had any warrants outstanding against him. No, answered the officer after a computer check, but he noted that Johnson’s driver’s license is under suspension, and he was arrested.