by Chuck Shepherd

• For some consumers, good environmentalcitizenship is importanteven when choosing amongsex accessories. No longer willthey tolerate plastic personal vibratorsmade with the softeners calledphthalates; or body lubricants thatcontain toxic chemicals typicallyfound in, say, antifreeze; or leatherrestraints from slaughtered cattle.In an October issue, Time magazinedescribed a market of organiclubricants, biodegradable whipsand handcuffs, vegan condoms,and glass or mahogany vibrators(even hand-crankable models, eliminatingthe need for batteries). Some CatholicChurch officials have also embraced theconcept to further denounce chemical andlatex birth controls, re-characterizing thetraditional “rhythm” family planning asthe back-to-nature detection of ovulationvia body signals.The entrepreneurial spirit• The British retailer Debenhamsannounced in September that it wouldbegin selling men’s briefs whose openingis more accessible from the left side, forleft-handers who have been forced for decadesto manipulate a right-side opening.Previously, said a Debenhams executive,“[L]eft-handed men have to reach muchfurther into their pants, performing a Zshapedmaneuver through two 180-degreeangles before achieving the result thatright-handed men perform with ease.”• Troubling products: (1) Mattel isaccepting pre-orders for the April 2010release of the newest doll in the Barbie/Ken line, the spiffily dressed Palm BeachSugar Daddy Ken (apparently to be showcasedwith a much younger, trophy-typeBarbie). (2) Even more troubling (but sofar only a prototype) is Alex Green’s “PlacentaTeddy Bear,” exhibited in Londonin September and Newcastle, England inOctober at the “(re)design” showcase of“sustainable toys” with children’s themes.After the placenta is cured and dried, itis treated with an emulsifier to render itpliable and cut into strips with which tostitch Teddy together, thus “unify[ing]”mother and baby.Animal weird news• CNN, reporting from the London Zooin August, described the excitement surroundingnews that the zoo would soonacquire a 12-year-old male gorilla froma preserve in France. Zoo officials werepleased, but its three older female gorillaswere almost ecstatic. Shown postersof “Yeboah,” the male, female “Zaire”“shrieked in delight”;“Effie” wedged theposter into a tree andstared at it; and “Mjukuu”held the photoclose to her chest,“then ate it.”• Gay vulturetricks: The birthsof two chicks onthe same day at theJerusalem BiblicalZoo in April wasunusual enough butespecially noteworthybecause of the birds’ lineage. Theirfathers were a gay vulture couple about10 years ago, according to a report in theIsraeli daily Haaretz, and zoo caretakersprovided them an artificial egg to“incubate” until they could replace theegg with a just-hatched vulture, as if themale-male couple had birthed it. In “aninsane coincidence,” said a zoo official,the two males eventually separated andpaired with females, and those femaleshatched eggs on the same day last April.Two weeks ago, according to Haaretz, thetwo chicks achieved independence on thesame day and were moved to the zoo’saviary.• Among the species discoveredrecently in Papua New Guinea were tinybear-like creatures, frogs with fangs, fishthat grunt, kangaroos that live in treesand what is probably the world’s largestrat (with no fear of humans). Scientistsfrom Britain, the United States and PapuaNew Guinea announced the findings inSeptember, among more than 40 newspecies from a jungle habitat a half-miledeep inside the centuries-dormant MountBosavi volcano crater.Leading economic indicators• People with too much money: Ayoung, media-shy Chinese woman,identified only as “Mrs. Wang” and photographedin jeans, a T-shirt and baseballcap, purchased an 18-month-old Tibetanmastiff in September for a reported 4 millionyuan (about $585,000). She ordereda motorcade of 30 luxury cars to meether and the dog on their arrival in Xi’an,in Shaanxi province. The price is almostfour times the previous reported high forthe purchase of a dog (a cloned Labrador,by a Florida family).• Circular reasoning: Surprisingly, therecession otherwise felt in the Phoenixarea this year has largely spared one “profession”:psychics. An October ArizonaRepublic report found that while longtimeclients tended to reduce their use ofastrology and related fields, their businesswas replaced by a new class of customersdesperate to know the future — thosefacing financial ruin because of bad homemortgages. (Few, wrote the reporter,seemed to sense the irony of purchasingquestionable psychic services to overcomethe consequences of questionablemortgage decisions.)Hyperactive seniors• Not too old to do her own hit: ElsaSeman, 71, was shot and killed in NorthVersailles, Pa. in September, when shewas mistaken for a prowler. According topolice, Seman had gone to the home ofher ex-boyfriend at night and, dressed inblack, commando-style, was lying in waitin his yard with a pistol, intending to killhim. A neighbor called in the report of aprowler, and a police officer arriving atthe scene fatally shot Seman.• Not too sickly for a career in bankrobbery: Police in Southern Californiaknow what the man looks like (fromsurveillance video) but have not yet apprehendedthe well-dressed, 70ish manwho has robbed four banks since August,with the latest being a Bank of Americain Rancho Santa Fe in October. The manhas shown special dexterity to pull off therobberies, since he is on oxygen and hasto carry around his own tank.Fine points of British law• (1) A September inquest into the 2007suicide of a 26-year-old woman foundthat doctors at Norfolk and NorwichHospital could have saved her, but thatbecause she had executed a living willordering no treatment, they rebuffedthe pleas of family members to treat herbecause, they said, they feared the womanwould sue them if she recovered. (2) Anemployment judge ruled in Septemberthat Tim Nicholson could use the “religion”claim for employment discriminationto sue the firm Grainger PLC, inNewcastle, even though the disputes hehad with management were ostensiblyjust political — about his fear of globalclimate change. Judge David Sneath saidhe found Nicholson’s ecology convictionsso sincere and all-encompassing that theyamounted to religious beliefs.Recurring themes• Drug-runners who needed to keep alower profile: (1) Michael Dennis, 22, ofMahoning Township, Pa. dared to speedin May, police said, even though he had100 packets of heroin in the back seat. (2)Mark Smith of Winslow, Ariz. dared torun a stop sign in Philadelphia in September,police said, even though he was carrying11 pounds of heroin in the back ofhis SUV. (3) The driver of an 18-wheelerdared to make an illegal lane change onInterstate 15 in Riverside County, August, deputies said, even though hewas hauling 14 tons of marijuana. Allwere arrested, and all drugs seized.A News of the Weird classic(October 2002)• Performance-enhancing substances:University of Wisconsin-Madison veterinarianssaid in September 2002 that theynow have the technology to detect thefraudulent use of three udder-beautifyingschemes employed on show cows at dairyexhibits. Forty percent of a cow’s gradeis on how full, symmetrical and smoothher udders are (but unlike in, say, humanbeauty contests, cow udders are importantonly for their milk-producing potential).Tests of the milk can detect whethersaline was injected into the udder, andultrasound can reveal whether the udderhas received isobutane gas “foamies” or aliquid silver protein that does for the udderwhat Botox does for human wrinkles.Copyright 2009 Chuck ShepherdDistributed by Universal PressSyndicate !