Rhymes with Sewage?

Dolphin Karaoke
by Cliff Walker

May, 1998

Dr. Hector Corona reports that dolphin, heroes of the New Age movement, sing along to popular songs on the radio.

By slowing down recordings of dolphin vocalizations to one-quarter speed, he discovered that their sounds seem similar to the popular hits of Mariah Carey and Bryan Adams. Corona thinks the dolphin pick up sound waves from radios on boats.

He offers no clue as to how they speed up the songs or why they don't do the hits of John Tesh, Yanni (pronounced yawn-ee) or other New Age artists.

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Buddhist Karaoke
by Chuck Shepherd

August, 1998

Buddhist monk Kong Bunchhoeun, 22, was expelled from his temple in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after he was charged with stabbing a student who had complained about his singing at a karaoke bar. (10/98)

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Patient-Victim Wakes Up
by Chuck Shepherd

August, 1998

Former Glen Ellyn, Illinois, multiple-personalities patient Patricia Burgus, who accepted the diagnosis of psychiatrist Bennett Braun (that her personalities included a cannibal and a satanic cult member) for years until it dawned on her that she wasn't crazy, told a Chicago Tribune reporter in August: "I began to add a few things up and realized there was no way I could come from a little town in Iowa, be eating 2,000 people a year, and nobody said anything about it."

Last year, Braun settled a $10.6 million lawsuit brought by Burgus and is this month facing revocation of his medical license. (10/98)

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Tangled Entanglement

Goblins vs. Aliens
by Cliff Walker

November, 1998

Officials in Belleville, Wisconsin, tried to postpone one religious festival in favor of its own brand of weirdness. The city failed in its attempt to delay Halloween by one day so it wouldn't conflict with the city's annual UFO Festival.

The UFO Festival has been held on a weekend near Halloween every year, to honor a string of alleged UFO sightings in January, 1986. Like many Halloween celebrations, the city's UFO Festival includes a parade and a costume contest.

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The Imitation Of Atheists

Laughing at Church
by Chuck Shepherd

October, 1998

News of the Weird reported in 1995 on the preferred expression of worship at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario: Falling to the floor in soothing laughter over the greatness of the Holy Spirit.

Worshipers come from around the world seeking the "Toronto Blessing" that is likened to the euphoria in other religions that causes adherents to speak in tongues.

Among the more successful programs in the U.S., according to recent reports in the Chicago Sun Times (August) and the Providence Journal-Bulletin (September), are the nondenominational Fun Church in Chicago that also attracts busloads of worshipers from Indiana, and the "Laughing Revival" of New Life Worship Center in Smithfield, Rhode Island, where parishioners remain on the floor for up to an hour, giggling.

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RLPA Dead -- For Now?
by Conrad Goeringer

September 24, 1998

The Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA) may languish in both the House and Senate until lawmakers return next year. With about three weeks to go in the current session, the RLPA -- based largely on the discredited Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- may be a victim of scheduling over budgetary matters.

The act could even be a casualty of the Clinton-Lewinsky flap, with Representatives and Senators arguing about censure or impeachment of the President.

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Decalogue Ploy: An Insult
To Our Intelligence
by Conrad Goeringer

September 24, 1998

Imagine a drawing of two stone tablets with the Roman numerals I through X. To a reasonable observer, this would likely represent the Ten Commandments.

Both icons are part of the official seal for Richmond County, Georgia. The ACLU of Georgia is challenging the legality of the seal, used for certifying official documents. The ACLU points out, "The reality is that it's the Ten Commandments," and thus "is an endorsement of a particular religion by a government entity and that violates the separation of church and state."

Incredibly, County Clerk Elaine Johnson has told reporters that "Somebody needs to prove to me that it is the Ten Commandments," and asserts that the drawing could instead be a depiction of the Bill of Rights.

However, the Bill of Rights was not chiseled onto stone tablets, but was put down on a paper stock.

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Godless because its
goddess is dead, right?

Lady in a Handbasket
by Cliff Walker

August, 1998

Lord Coggan, former Archbishop of Canterbury, declared that the national hysteria over the death of Princess Diana has "turned Britain into a godless nation." Diana is a "false goddess," he then says oxymoronically. She had "loose morals and certainly loose sexual morals."

Meanwhile, some parents angrily removed their children from the Bethany Christian Fellowship Sunday school in Walsall, West Midlands, England. Children were taught that Diana was sent to Hell because, as teacher Jeffrey Jones puts it, "the princess's lifestyle was, on the evidence, immoral, anti-biblical and not one of Christian principles or one that a believer in Jesus Christ would live."

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Student Fails Test
Of Religious Theory
by Chuck Shepherd

July, 1998

Kenneth E. Kartman Jr., 39, was charged with attempted murder of his father in Menomonie, Wisconsin, after he allegedly viciously swung a hatchet at his head twice, connecting once.

According to court records, the younger Kartman had just spent four days with little sleep while working on a graduate school thesis, and police said that his work included a technology-religion theory that a person could kill another and be reunited with him and that Kartman apparently set out to prove it.

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Student Completes Test
Of Religious Theory
by Cliff Walker

July, 1998

Cairo, Egypt -- A German tourist hurled himself to death from a Cairo tower after reportedly telling a friend that he expected to be resurrected, police said. Adam Gotz, 34, a student of ancient Egyptian history, jumped from the observation deck of the 613-foot Cairo Tower.

Gotz was demonstrating to a friend his Pharaonic belief that the dead are resurrected. In recent years, a growing number of foreigners have been visiting Egypt's numerous Pharaonic sites in the belief that they hold mystical powers.

This tower, however, was no Pharaonic site at all. The ungainly Cairo Tower was built in 1961 by then President Gamel Abdel Nasser, as a symbol of defiance against the United States after the CIA gave funds to try to coopt the socialist leader.

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Holy Child Taken
To Foster Home
by Chuck Shepherd

May, 1998

A Plainfield, Connecticut, religious sect called God's House filed a $200,000 lawsuit against the state Department of Children and Families for sending to foster care the young daughter of sect leader Sister Rachael.

According to the leader, the little girl is very important to the sect in that she is the result of Rachael's impregnation by God.

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Unclear On The Concept
by Chuck Shepherd

December, 1997

In a 32-part series ending in December, the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin chronicled Wendy Moricas' pregnancy in which she received the sperm of her sister's husband Joe and bore the couple a child that would have many of the couple's genes.

Said sister Kathy, after having given Wendy a syringe containing Joe's sperm, "This is God's will."

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Inventor: "Yeehaw!"

Prairie Dog Vacuum
Inspired by God in a Dream
by Julia Prodis
(NOTE: This article was pulled from the AP wire shortly after it appeared.)

September 8, 1996

Denver -- Like a doctor feeling for a pulse, Dave Honaker lays his hands on the wide, plastic hose. It begins to vibrate as pebbles and dirt rush through. It shudders a bit, then is still.

Honaker smiles. The furry body of a prairie dog, still in its subterranean hole, is plugging the end of the hose. It's only a matter of time now.

"You can feel when he's fighting back," Honaker yells over the roar of the powerful suction. "He's got a good hold, and then he loses it."

Just then, the hose jolts, and with a rumbling whoosh, the rodent shoots up the hose.

"One!" Honaker mouths, his eyes gleaming with excitement.

A moment later, another whoosh. "Two!"

"It's like playing the violin," Honaker says modestly. "After five years, you get a little better."

Honaker is a master of the latest in rodent-control technology -- the prairie dog vacuum. Aptly named Dog-Gone, it was invented by Honaker's partner, Gay Balfour, who literally dreamed up this Rube Goldberg-like contraption.

It came to him one night five years ago in his Cortez, Colo., home. Balfour, a 50-year-old machine shop owner, was down on his luck and nearly bankrupt after building a marina that was riddled with delays and cost overruns.

"The bank stepped in and took everything -- my machine shop, marina, everything went down the tubes," Balfour said. "One night, my wife said, 'Why don't you ask the Lord to help us?' The next week, I had this dream to catch prairie dogs with a huge vacuum."

In his dream, he saw an enormous yellow truck with a green hose sticking out of it, sucking prairie dogs out of the ground. The dream was so vivid that he still remembered the size of the hose and where it was attached the next morning.

He shrugged it off and went to work as usual. But over the next few days, a serendipitous chain of events unfolded that was anything but usual.

The day after his dream, he had a job at the Ute Mountain Indian reservation, repairing the farm's irrigation system. The land was being overrun by prairie dogs that were digging up the corn seed. The holes were like land mines to farm equipment.

The tribe had been pouring poison down the holes to get rid of them, but the varmints kept coming back.

"I didn't say I had a dream last night," Balfour told the ranch manager, "but I said I was working on a project. He said, 'When can you put something together?' "

Balfour first needed a truck. On the way home, he stopped by his local sewer district office and was astonished to learn a truck used for cleaning out sewer lines and manholes was for sale. It was yellow.

Next, he went to the industrial supply store and there, hanging on the wall, were four-inch hoses. They were green.

"I don't know what you believe in," Balfour said, "but I believe it's supposed to happen that way."

He modified the truck, attached the hose and, within three days, was back at the Indian reservation sucking up prairie dogs.

At 300 mph, the critters hurtled through a four-inch plastic hose. Like cannonballs, they shot out the end into a big tank on the back of the truck, first slamming into a wall of thick foam rubber, then toppling onto a foam and dirt-covered floor.

It all made for a wild ride for the squirrel-like rodents. And, for the most part, they fared well -- a little dazed and confused at first, but scampering around almost immediately.

In the first 45 minutes, Balfour caught 23 prairie dogs. The tribe was so impressed, it gave him a $6,000 contract. He caught 1,000 prairie dogs. Balfour was in business.

Since then, he and Honaker have been traveling to prairie dog towns across the Southwest. Balfour drives the yellow truck, and Honaker tows an old trailer they live in at job sites.

Depending on the job, they either relocate, exterminate or sell the prairie dogs for pets or meat.

Earlier this summer, Balfour was hired by an exotic pets dealer to clear a prairie dog town in Amarillo, Texas, and sell the young ones as pets. They can sell for as much as $145 a piece in the States -- and $350 in Japan. Balfour was paid $25 a pup.

He also has sold them as meat to federal breeding programs of endangered species, such as captive black-footed ferrets that prey on prairie dogs for food.

Animal rights activists are ambivalent about Dog-Gone. They are pleased Balfour's method can save prairie dogs rather than kill them, but wish he never resorted to extermination. Plus, while most of the critters that sail through his vacuum appear healthy afterward, some have died.

Balfour says they die either of heat stroke after being outside their cool, subterranean burrows for too long, or they might hit a rock in their tunnels before they're sucked up.

"We're not archenemies, but we're completely opposed to making them pets," said Paula Martin, a member of Prairie Ecosystem Conservation Alliance, a group of volunteers that rescues prairie dogs and relocates them to a 4,000-acre sanctuary southeast of Denver. "He's in it for the money."

And she's not so sure that sucking up the animals at 300 mph is all that humane.

But Balfour defends his system.

"This little ride up the hose is nothing compared to what they do to some of them," he said of some landowners who routinely use them as target practice.

At Balfour's job in Denver on this hot summer day, he and Honaker are vacuuming prairie dogs from an open field next to a Kaiser Permanente medical center, where the little creatures are eating through the sprinkler system.

Last year, PECA tried to rid the same field of the critters, coaxing them out by flushing the holes with soapy water. Dangling their arms down the holes, the volunteers grabbed the dogs as they scurried up for dry ground. But they didn't get them all, so this year Kaiser Permanente called Dog-Gone to suck them out and PECA to relocate them.

At first, the Dog-Gone concept struck Kaiser's Tom Currigan as funny, but he had a serious problem and hoped the two-man operation could solve it.

"We didn't want to exterminate, we wanted to relocate," said Currigan, in charge of Kaiser's community affairs. "We wanted to be more humane."

Out in the field, Balfour and Honaker, wearing matching Dog-Gone T-shirts and yellow ball caps, go about their work.

Peering through the binoculars he keeps on his front seat, next to the bug spray and a golf ball sucked up on a previous job site, Balfour spots two prairie dogs. They're standing on their hind legs, watching the big yellow truck ramble closer.

In an instant, they dart through the buffalo grass and chickweed, then dive into a cone-shaped mound of earth.

"Let's go doggin'!" Balfour says, accelerating. "Yeehaw!"

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