Uzbekistan bans Santa Claus, hates Christmas

Plus Mike Tyson had a sex change and how to eat fugu

By Nicholas Nehamas

Ded Moroz (Father Frost), the Slavic equivalent of Sant Claus, greets people during a New Year’s parade in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Reuters)

You can’t make this stuff up, and you probably wouldn’t want to. Welcome to the Latitude News mishmash, where we pick three of the weirdest stories of the week for your amusement and reading pleasure.

Uzbekistan plays the Grinch

Another brilliant PR move from the Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov.

After crushing Valentine’s Day last winter, Uzbekistan’s government announced this week it would ban Ded Moroz (“Father Frost”), the Slavic equivalent of Santa Claus. In Orthodox cultures, Ded Moroz comes at New Year’s, not Christmas, but he still serves the same jolly, gift-giving function.

Also on the banned list are Ded Moroz’s young female assistant Snegurochka (I bet the American Santa would trade the elves for her any day) and the monstrous woods witch Baba Yaga (not so much).

Why in the world would Uzbekistan want to get rid of harmless holiday fun?

Well, as Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti, reports, Ded Moroz and his festive friends are all products of Russian folklore. And Russians are none too popular in Uzbekistan, where Islam and Turkic culture are dominant.

RIA Novosti writes:

Like all post-Soviet republics of Central Asia, Uzbekistan has in the past two decades seen an exodus of ethnic Russians, who were said to suffer discrimination at the hands of the Uzbek authorities . . . [an Uzbek news website] citing unidentified sources in the Uzbek media, blamed the Ded Moroz crackdown on a group of ultraconservative officials in the government who have allegedly pushed for patriotic-minded censorship before.

Latitude News could not reach Mr. Karimov for comment, but his press secretary did answer our call, screaming “Bah Humbug!” before slamming down the phone.

African paper says Mike Tyson had a sex change

After printing a story about the fearsome pugilist’s transformation into “Michelle” Tyson, the editors of Zimbabwe’s Standard have presumably gone into hiding in a secure bunker deep, deep underground.

The story, also picked up by the website SpyGhana, includes such memorable details as Tyson’s declaration that his first menstrual cycle would be “a dream come true.”

Oh, dear.

“But even at the height of my career, when pound for pound I was regarded as the best fighter in the world,” the former heavyweight champ supposedly continued, “I never lost touch with my feminine side and knew that one day I would grow breasts and have a vagina.”

The article also contained a reference to that memorable moment in Tyson’s infamous fight against Evander Holyfield, which was stopped by the referee not because Tyson bit off a chunk of Holyfield’s ear, but because he was lactating heavily from his hormone-induced left breast.

The Zimbabwe Mail has the full run-down on how the story – first published by the satirical British website NewsBiscuit – got into the pages of its biggest local rival.

Of course, it’s not the first time the foreign press has been fooled by western satire. Who could forget the time Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency published a story proclaiming that rural white voters preferred Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to Barack Obama?

How to eat a poisonous fish

Sushi rocks. So does living on the edge – but would you really want to combine them?

Every year, thousands of people eat the potentially poisonous delicacy known as fugu (blowfish). It’s most popular in Japan, where 3,800 restaurants offer it, but also served in South Korea and a few eateries in the U.S. If you are dying to eat the fish – and keep in mind that you might actually die from eating it – Australia’s Daily Telegraph has some tips to keep you safe.

For example, did you know the blowfish’s fatal poison, tetrododoxin, is found in the fish’s skin, skeleton and several internal organs? That’s right, if you find any fish ovaries or livers in your sashimi you better spit them out ASAP.

And what does fugu taste like anyway? According to the story, opinion is “mixed” about the fish’s flavor, which to some resembles chicken. Others describe the flesh as “delicate [and] gelatinous.”

Mmmmm, gelatinous!

And just who has the skill to prepare the fish? The Telegraph explains that chefs face an arduous process – and have to be damn sure they know how to do the job:

Preparation is strictly controlled by law [in Japan]; fugu chefs must go through rigorous training for years to gain the certification that allows them to prepare the fish for human consumption.  At the end of the training, there is a test in which the chef must prepare a fugu dish – and eat it!

If they make a mistake, of course, you’ll stay fully conscious while your central nervous system shuts down and you slowly asphyxiate. Some people even like to eat fugu prepared with just the slightest hint of toxin still in it. Why?  Because they just can’t get enough of that special “tingling in the lips” sensation that comes only from imbibing minute amounts of poison.

Well, dear readers, that just about wraps it up for this week’s mishmash. Farewell. I’m heading off to score me some delicious fugu for lunch.

See you Monday!

Or not.