Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Catholic Church Down on Saunas

Apparently Vienna's archdiocese has a problem with saunas - at least if they are made from secondhand confessionals.

Bidding on eBay on a confessional at a church undergoing renovation – described on the site as ideal for conversion into a one-person sauna or a small bar or a children's playhouse – was stopped when the archdiocese stepped in.

Spokesman Erich Leitenberger said that auctioning 'objects that were used for dispensing the sacraments is not acceptable.'

Confessionals 'should not be converted into saunas or bars,' he was quoted Tuesday as saying.

It strikes me as kind of silly to impose these sorts of restrictions especially at a time when the Church could use the money. What are they supposed to do with old sacramental items? Dump them? Burn them? Warehouse them somewhere to rot until the end of time? None of that seems particularly respectful.

I mean, Jesus didn't say one single bad word about sitting in a box full of steam or drinking. In fact, given the nature of the eucharist it seems to me that he must have been a fan of good wine.

Here's some advice from a magician - the clergy should perform a ritual to remove any lingering spiritual power that has accumulated in the object. Then they can do whatever they like with it, including selling it raise needed funds.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Octopus Beats Vulture Brains

With the World Cup over, it looks like the vulture brains were completely unnecessary. As it turned out all that gamblers really needed to do was listen to Paul, Germany's psychic octopus.

The eight-legged oracle has become a FIFA World Cup sensation by correctly forecasting all seven Germany games in South Africa and he finished the tournament in style by predicting a Spanish victory in the Soccer City sign-off.

As Paul foretold last week, Spain won their first world title after Andres Iniesta's 116th-minute strike broke the Netherlands' hearts. The tentacled tipster also correctly predicted Germany would beat Uruguay in Saturday's third place play-off.

In the now familiar routine, two boxes were lowered into his tank last week, each containing a mussel and the flags of the two opposing teams. Paul went straight to the correct box both times, wrenched open the lid and gobbled the tasty morsel.

So how does he do it? Luck or paranormal powers? Octopi are highly intelligent, so I don't find it impossible that one could have some sort of low-level psychic ability. When I first heard about this I wondered if it had something to do with the colors on the flags of the various countries since octopi also have highly developed color vision, but what are the odds that in every match the team with the flag that looked most aesthetically pleasing to an octopus would win?

It could just be chance, remarkable as that may seem. In fact, it sounds like a lot of folks were using animals to predict the World Cup and if there are enough of them out there at least one was bound to guess all the matches correctly. For example, a man in Singapore claimed that his psychic parakeet had also racked up an impressive record of predictions and picked the Netherlands to win the final, whereas Paul picked Spain. Paul proved right, but no matter what the outcome was one of the two was going to be correct.

Some fans seemed to believe that the octopus was influencing the games in some way.

But the art of football predicting has become a dangerous job for the English-born clairvoyant. He fell offside with bitter German fans who threatened to turn him into sushi after he predicted a semi-final defeat for the Mannschaft against Spain.

Paul's home, an aquarium in western Germany, has received death-threat emails saying "we want Paul for the pan," said entertainment supervisor Daniel Fey. No less an authority than Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero has called for octopus bodyguards. Spanish Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian has called for the creature to be given an "immediate" free transfer to Spain to "ensure his protection."

Stung by Paul's "treachery" at picking Spain over Germany in last Wednesday's semi-final, some sections of the 350,000-strong crowd watching the game on giant screens in Berlin sang anti-octopus songs.

While I doubt the cephalopod is sitting in its tank casting spells, fans might have a point. Professional sports is played by athletes who are so good that there's barely any difference in ability between them. In that world an elite player is only a tiny fraction of a percent better than a mediocre one. With the amount of media attention Paul got as his predictions proved correct there's no way that the players wouldn't have heard of his picks. If that undermined the confidence of the team picked to lose by even a minuscule amount it may have been enough to change the outcome of at least some of the matches.

A better method for testing the octopus' psychic powers would have been to set up some sort of double-blind test where the prediction was made but not announced until after the match was played. But unfortunately with the short lifespan of an octopus Paul won't get that chance, at least not at next year's World Cup.

His prediction of a Spanish victory is expected to be the last for Paul, who in octopus terms is a pensioner, at the grand old age of two-and-a-half. Octopuses generally live three years at the latest.

Maybe next year scientists could try testing that parakeet from Singapore. Birds live a lot longer.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Zimbabwe Goblin Attacks

In the comments on the Colorado leprechaun incident reader Giania brought this article to my attention. It seems that rural Zimbabwe has been hit by a rash of goblin attacks!

Villagers said the goblins attacks came at a time when nurses were busy with a malaria programme aimed at reducing malaria related deaths, which are prevalent in the area.

Villager Edmore Mukapa of Kadziro area said, "we were not expecting goblins to attack nurses who are trying hard to reduce malaria outbreak here. It’s unfortunate for us."

A teacher at Makande primary school said school children were also causalities of attacks daily.

This seems to be a valid question - why would goblins bother attacking nurses working to reduce malaria? Is it because there's some connection between the two? Maybe the goblin eat mosquitoes and don't want their numbers reduced or something. The villagers seem to believe that the attacks are part of some sort of complicated extortion scam.

"Attacking nurses with goblins leave us vulnerable. Goblins owners do not accept payments to their demands. You can not force them to accept the payments because of the Witch-craft Suppression Act. It’s a complicated issue," said a teacher who refused to be named for fear of victimisation.

Currently the Witchcraft Suppression Act makes it criminal to label anyone a witch or wizard.

What the article fails to mention is anything about the demands of the "goblin owners." Apparently they don't want money if they aren't accepting payments, or they want more than the villagers are willing to offer. Whatever their demands are, Chief Musampakara has reportedly hired his own magicians (tsikumatandas) to drive out the goblins.

Villagers hailed the move to hire tsikamutandas to "clean up witchcraft" although Chief Musampakaruma was not available for comment.

Nyaminyami council chief executive officer Isaac Mackenzie confirmed that traditional leaders hired tsikamutandas following complaints by victims of the attacks.

Although tsikamutandas are accused of sowing divisions among families and villagers, in Makande rural their presence is a reprieve.

"The attacks on nurses was unwarranted. Nurses are the last line of duty to combat malaria which is common here. Traditional leaders believe hiring of tsikamutandas will clean the area." said Mackenzie.

Maybe this is the scam right here. If a tsikamutanda happens to own some goblins, he can set them loose and then offer to come in for a fee and exorcise them. It's kind of like the protection rackets run by organized crime, but using obnoxious fortean creatures rather than big guys with baseball bats.

Let me suggest a better business model - sell the goblins! Can they be shipped overseas? I know that I'd be interested in ordering some and I'll bet I could find plenty of other magicians who would love to assemble their own infernal legions of the night. Since Zimbabwe's economy is such a train wreck at this point I know that American currency is especially valuable, probably much more so than anything that could be extorted from a village clinic.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

First Vampires, Now Leprechauns?

Something funny is going on in the state of Colorado. Only days after the roadway vampire incident police are looking for a leprechaun that was spotted harassing customers outside a supermarket in Boulder.

Either Colorado is now home to a crack in the universe that amplifies paranormal phenomena or there's a guy out there with more than one costume.

Police in Colorado are looking for a man dressed as a leprechaun who was seen jumping around a car park pretending to shoot people with his fingers.

Police in the city of Boulder were called after the man was spotted in the parking lot of a local supermarket, jumping out from behind cars, doing gun-fingers at shoppers, and reportedly making obscene gestures.

Sergeant Fred Gerhardt of the Boulder police told local newspaper the Daily Camera: 'I think that's why they called us. He was acting bizarre.'

Well, that, and it's not every day you see a leprechaun in a parking lot, making obscene gestures or not. True to form, though, the creature vanished before law enforcement could arrive and steal its pot of gold.

Officers who arrived on the scene were, unfortunately, unable to locate the leprechaun, who remains at large.

According to Gerhardt, this is the first time Boulder police have had to deal with a complaint about a leprechaun.

So far there is no word on whether or not alcohol or drugs were involved this time around. In related news, a photographer in Finland has finally succeeded in finding the end of the rainbow. Perhaps this discovery prompted the leprechaun's appearance, though why it showed up in Colorado instead of Finland remains a mystery.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Colorado's Roadway Vampire

Could the undead be on the prowl in Colorado? At least one woman thinks so.

She claims to have been startled by a vampire standing in the center of the road, prompting her to drive her SUV into a canal.

The woman said that she was driving her SUV along a dirt road in Colorado's Grand Valley region on Sunday night when she saw a vampire standing in the middle of the track.

Startled by the appearance of the undead fiend, the immediately put the SUV into reverse, with the result that she drove straight into the canal.

Oddly enough the vampire did not feed upon the poor woman, which makes one wonder what the point of standing in the middle of the road really was. All things considered standing in the road is a pretty good strategy to make motorists stop or crash, especially if you happen to be undead and don't run the risk of normal injuries should someone decide that they would rather just hit you. But running off as soon as you've disabled someone's car kind of defeats the vampire's usual purpose of hunting for fresh mortal blood.

The woman was not injured in the accident, or subsequently ravaged by the vampire, and her husband arrived to take her home.

There were no other witnesses who reported seeing the alleged bloodsucker. Troopers who arrived at the scene found the woman's vehicle in the canal, but were unable to track down the vampire.

One thing I will say is that of all the claims made in the article this one is the hardest for me to believe:

Police say they do not believe drugs or alcohol played any part in the vampire incident.

So far the Vampyre Nation has released no comment regarding the accident.