No, these pictures don't show Sasquatches. They show people participating in the Bulgarian Kukeri ritual, meant to scare evil spirits away from villages. Though if I saw someone dressed up like this wandering through a forest, I might think it was Sasquatch.
Young people (traditionally only men, but now of both sexes) dress up in elaborate, animalistic and celebratory costumes, usually made of goat skin in some way representing the goat. At the culmination of the festival, a kukeri is strapped to a plough, 'dies', and then sprinkled with seeds and is 'reborn'. His goatskin costume is then buried in seven different fields.
While it might be fairly common for couples to get a divorce in the United States these days, it's certainly not easy. There are questions of support, custody issues if there are children involved, and bitter arguments over who gets to keep what; all of which can drag a divorce into months of stress. But what is it like in other cultures and in other times? In centuries past, in China, a divorce could be granted for any number of reasons, so long as the bride's family agreed to take her back. Aborigine women in Australia can convince their husbands to grant a divorce but if that's not working, then all they need to do is elope with someone else. The ancient Athenians and modern-day Eskimos share an extremely simple divorce process - live separately as though they were never married. In the UK, a man tired of his wife could slip a halter around her neck, lead her into town to the cattle market, and sell her to the highest bidder. Japan had a much more advanced view, however. Marriage was not sacred and divorce was not immoral - it was merely a mismatch between families. Women's dowrys were returned in the hopes of encouraging re-marriage. You can read more on Purple Slinky, and on Hope's Blog, and in this review.
First up, apologies if this post contains more typos than usual, I'm sending it from my new ultra-small netbook and I'm still getting used to its itty-bitty keyboard. Which brings me nicely to my first story. That according to a survey for satellite channel SKY-HD, British consumers waste £52 billion a year on hi-tech features they don't use. For example, half of the people polled did not know their high definition television also required a hi-def signal source such as a blu-ray player or HD satellite receiver – like the ones sold by SKY-HD perhaps (Telegraph).
And it's not just the the British, military officials in Russia recently discovered 100 front-line battletanks parked and forgotten by the side of the road near Yekaterinburg in the Urals. Locals say the tanks, which were unguarded and unlocked, have been there for several months and lack only ammunition and the all important starter keys (Reuters).
Someone who might have had a use for those tanks were guests at a wedding in New Delhi in India recently. The Hindu ceremony was somewhat marred when an elephant hired for the event went on a rampage after becoming aroused by the smell of a nearby female in heat. The amorous pachyderm then proceeded to crush 20 limousines, smash through a nearby mall and mount a truck before it could be tranquilised (Orange).
Also losing it this week was the man on the RyanAir flight who found he had won 10,000 euros on a scratchcard he bought on the budget flight from Poland to the UK. Furious that the airline had not seen fit to equip all their planes with the requisite amount of cash onboard, hence he could not be given his prize there and then as he demanded, the unnamed passenger ate the winning card rather than wait to claim it at his destination (BBC News).
First up, a UK judge has spoken out to say children should be allowed to take knives to school. Not all children mind you, just Sikh children. Justice Mota Singh, a Sikh himself, is talking about the kirpan, a ceremonial three-inch knife worn as a show of faith by devout Sikhs, the wearing of which by one boy was banned by a North London school earlier this year. Singh later supported the boy's family's decision to withdraw him rather than accept their compromise offer that he carry a 'disabled' equivalent claiming the school's refusal was discriminatory (BBC News).
Meanwhile another UK court last week ruled that particularly pious Hindu Davender Kumar Ghai can have the open-air cremation he fervently desires. It's been a long battle for Ghai, who found his proposal to site traditional funeral pyres on land outside Newcastle blocked by the city council in a decision later upheld by England's High Court. Now the UK Court of Appeal has said that the open-air ceremonies can go ahead, and that the requirement that all cremations occur 'within a building' could be met by any reasonable structure and did not dictate that structure have walls or a roof. Davenda Kumar Ghai, who is 76 and in poor health, can now go ahead and build his roofless crematorium, once he gets planning permission to do so, from Newcastle City Council (Times).
And in yet another landmark decision, the councillors in Reading, England have given the local Muslim community permission to carry out their own burials in the borough's cemeteries at weekends, which council gravediggers do not work. Many Islamic traditions favour burial very soon after death, and the delays caused by the weekend closures was cited as a significant cause of stress for relatives. In response, the council have agreed to dig some graves beforehand for later use in a pilot scheme expected to last one year, or until the first Saturday night drunk falls in one and sues (GetReading).
Mind you, even once you're in the ground you're not always safe. A row over the siting of a new museum on a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalen has boiled over this week with families who claim to have relatives buried there petitioning the UN. The cemetery, which dates back several hundred years, is due to be excavated to make was for a new “Center for Human Dignity – Museum of Tolerance” being built by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who dispute the families' claims. “The Museum of Tolerance project is not being built on the Mamilla Cemetery. It is being built on Jerusalem’s former municipal car park, where every day for nearly half a century, thousands of Muslims, Christians and Jews parked their cars without any protest whatsoever from the Muslim community,” said founder Rabbi Marvin Hier (Telegraph).
When I think of the Olympics, I rarely consider that each event has both a mens and a womens division. I tend to focus more on the sport itself regardless of who is competing. After all, the Olympics is supposed to encourage the spirit of friendly competition, and not highlight major flaws, such as gender bias. Unfortunately this year's winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, is doing just that. Women ski jumpers have petitioned to join every Winter Olympics since Nagano in 1998, and each time they have been denied by the International Olympics Committee (IOC). So what's the deal? Well, the IOC is sidestepping the issue. They've issued a written statement that reads "Women's Ski Jumping does not reach the necessary technical criteria and as such does not yet warrant a place alongside other Olympic events." Yet female ski jumpers argue the point (read about it here). Lindsey Van, current world record holder for the longest jump, is quick to point out that they meet the necessary criteria. But it may be a long time before we see women flying off the end of a ski jump in front of Olympic judges. IOC member Dick Pound is quoted as saying "If in the meantime you're making all kinds of allegations about the IOC and how it's discriminating on the basis of gender," he warned, "the IOC may say, 'Oh yeah, I remember them. They're the ones that embarrassed us and caused us a lot of trouble in Vancouver, maybe they should wait another four years or eight years.'" Yes, you read that right. He is publicly threatening female ski jumpers to keep them out of the Olympics for years if they persist. So much for the spirit of friendly competition.
They say news travels fast, but in the speed stakes it can’t hold a candle to dumb. Circling the blogosphere like an angry Superman is news that security guard Jason Cooke has managed to sight the Loch Ness monster on Google Earth. The object, which Cooke claims exactly matches the descriptions of Nessie, is clearly visible as a quadrupedal, long-necked plesiosaur-like creature, and in no way could be the wake behind a boat or anything mundane like that. This latest find comes as a relief to many cryptozoologists, who had expressed concerns that the dearth of recent sightings might mean Nessie had fallen victim to Global Warming (Telegraph).
Or perhaps this is simply proof that Scottish universities have got the jump on their transatlantic counterparts? In a move nearly, but not quite, totally unlike Jurassic Park, Professor Hans Larsson of McGill University in Montreal has announced that he hopes to de-evolve chickens back into their dinosaur ancestors. Larsson stressed that he is not aiming to recreate whole dinosaurs at this time, but by switching on or off certain genes in chick embryos he hopes to induce atavistic dinosaur anatomy in the full grown animals (AFP).
In Saudi Arabia it is the groom who traditionally bears the cost of the marriage, and often men will put off the event to save for a bigger ceremony. So the prize of an all-expenses-paid wedding by a Saudi charity is quite an offer, even when it does come with a catch. To enter the draw you have to give up smoking. The charity "Purity", who is behind the campaign, will award the grand prize plus 20 runners-up prizes of free furniture in August, with all the winners being drawn from those men who complete a seven-day course on quitting. Hundreds of men have entered, including one who admitted taking up smoking just so he could enter by quitting (BBC News).
Mind you, it might be as well to get as healthy as possible before the big day, because according to recent research, marriage puts pounds on you. Lona Sandon, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, claims that newlyweds commonly gain up to 10 pounds in the months following the wedding. But before anyone assumes this is scientific proof that your partner has let himself/herself go, be advised that most often both partners gain weight together (Examiner).
Meanwhile, in Japan, most of the weight gain is starting to happen before the ceremony, as it is becoming increasingly common for the bride to be "eating for two". What was a shameful thing in Japan less than a generation ago is now being increasingly celebrated as a dekichatta kon or "double joy" wedding. According to Chika Hirotani of Watabe Wedding as many as 20% of weddings they supply are so blessed (Telegraph).
Another sort of double joy wedding also took place in Russia this week, when twin brothers married twin sisters in a twin ceremony. Alexei and Dimitry Semyonov finally tied the knot with their sweethearts Lilia and Liana after the four of them met at a dance party a year ago (MOS News). A video of the ceremony is also available (if you sit through the advertisement).
Muslims in western India have been dropping babies off the roof of a fifteen-meter-high temple for five-hundred years, and none of the babies have been hurt yet, though they look a bit dazed after landing. So the organizers of the event figure, why stop now? In fact, they claim that dropping the babies off the temple helps the kids grow up strong. Reuters has more details.