news of the weird

by Chuck Shepherd

Belt-TighteningGreeks’ • In October,Greece’s largesthealth insurance providerannounced, ina letter to a diabetesfoundation, that itwould no longer payfor the special footwearthat diabeticsneed for reducing pain but suggested it wouldpay instead for amputation, which is lessexpensive. The decision, which the foundationsaid is not supported by international scientificliterature, was published in the prominentAthens newspaper To Vima (The Tribune) andreported by the US news site Entrepreneurial Spirit• Retail breakthroughs: (1) A shop in SantaCruz, Calif. opened in September sellingice cream infused with extract of marijuana.Customers with “medical marijuana” prescriptionscan buy Creme De Canna, BananabisFoster or Straw-Mari Cheesecake, at $15 ahalf-pint (with one bite supposedly equal tofive puffs of “really good” weed, accordingto the proprietor). (2) Spotted outside subwaystations in Nanjing, China in October: vendingmachines selling live Shanghai Hairy Crabs,in plastic containers chilled to 5 degrees C (41degrees F), for the equivalent of $1.50 to $7,depending on size.• Good news for frisky married Muslims:(1) Abdelaziz Aouragh’s recently openedinternet site sells Shariah-compliant aidsto promote the “sexual health” of marriedcouples, mostly lubricants, lotions and herbalpills, with lingerie coming soon (but no videosor toys). (All products have been cleared bySaudi religious scholars.) He says he aspires toopen actual storefronts soon. (2) Ms. KhadijaAhmed, attending to customers while dressedin flowing robe and head scarf, is alreadyopen for business in Manama, Bahrain, offering,since 2008, lingerie, orgasm-delayingcreams and even some sex toys. (“Vibrators”are “against Islam,” she said, because theyare intended as replications of a body part,but “vibration rings” are permitted.) Bahrain,obviously, is among the most liberal countriesin the Persian Gulf region, but Ahmed is consideringexpanding to Dubai and Lebanon.• Shareholder James Solakian filed a lawsuitin October against the board of directors, on the ground that the websiteaddress — a potential “goldmine,” he says —was not being properly exploited financially.Although the company’s business plan was,explicitly, to become “very, very profitable,” italso vowed, according to a Reuters report, tobe governed by “Christian business principles.”Surgery That Can’tPossibly Be True• Janis Ollson, 31, of Balmoral, Manitoba,is recovering nicely after being almostcompletely sawed in half in 2007 by MayoClinic surgeons, who concluded that theycould remove her bone cancer no other way.In experimental surgery that had been triedonly on cadavers, doctors split her pelvis inhalf, removed the left half, her left leg andher lower spine (and the tumor) in a 20-hour,12-specialist procedure. The real trick, though,was the eight-hour, 240-staple reconstructionin which her remaining leg was reconnectedto her spine with pins and screws, leaving herin an arrangement doctors likened to a “pogostick.” A September Winnipeg Free Pressstory noted that, except for the missing leg,she is enjoying a normal life with her husbandand two kids and enjoys snowmobiling.• Kyle Johnson shattered his skull so badlyin a high-speed longboard accident in Junethat ordinary “decompressive craniectomy”(temporarily removing half of the skull torelieve pressure) would be inadequate. Instead,doctors at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden,Utah removed both halves, leaving only athin strip of bone (after placing Johnson in adrug-induced coma) and kept the skull frozento prevent brittleness. After the swelling subsided,they reattached the skull to his head andwoke him up gradually over a week’s time.Johnson admits some memory problems andcognitive dysfunction, most notably his inabilityto focus on more than one concept at a time— even when they are part of the same scene,such as two crayons on a table. Johnson saidhe probably won’t go back to the longboardbut, curiously like Janis Ollson, looks forwardto snowmobiling.Cutting-Edge Sc ience• Obese patients with an array of symptomsknown as “prediabetes” have seen theirinsulin sensitivity improved dramatically via“fecal transplants,” i.e., receiving the stoolof a thin, healthy person into the bowel, accordingto researchers led by a University ofNorth Carolina professor. Researchers said thestrangers’ implants were significantly more effectivethan those of a control group, in whicha person’s own feces was implanted. (News of the Weird has previously reported on success in treating certain gastrointestinal infections by stool transplants that contain the bacteria Clostridium difficile.) • Two University of Sydney researchers reported recently that the food-acquisition “strategy” of the brainless, single-cell slime mold appeared to resemble one of the strategies familiar to us so-called brain-containing humans, specifically, making a selection only after comparing it to readily available alternatives. Furthermore, Japanese researchers who mapped the slime mold’s search for food found that its nuclei are arranged in a pattern that is seemingly just as logically helpful in food procurement as the service arrangements are in Tokyo’s acclaimed railway system. (In October, the Japanese researchers were awarded a satirical “Ig Nobel” prize by the Annals of Improbable Research.)

• In research results announced in June, a team led by a University of Oklahoma professor, studying Mexican molly fish, discovered that females evaluate potential mates on sight, based on the prominence of the moustachelike growths on males’ upper lips. More controversially, the researchers hypothesized that males further enhance their mating prowess by employing the “moustache” to tickle females’ genitals. (Catfish have similar “whiskers” and perhaps use them for similar purposes, said the researchers.)

Leading Economic Indicators

• In September, Russia’s finance minister publicly urged citizens to step up their smoking and drinking, in that the government’s new “sin” taxes mean more revenue: “If you smoke a pack of cigarettes,” he said, “that means you are giving more to help solve social problems.” (Alcohol abuse is already said to kill 500,000 Russians a year and to significantly lower life expectancy.)

• Executive Brigitte Stevens announced in September that her perpetually underappreciated advocacy institution, Wombat Awareness Organization, had just been pledged $8 million by a single donor. According to Stevens, the $1 million annually she will receive in each of the next eight years is about 13 times the previous annual budget for the Mannum, South Australia organization. The US donor, who demanded anonymity, became interested in 2008 when, on an onsite visit, he was enthralled with “southern hairy-nosed” wombats.


Signs of the times: (1) A 24-year-old Muslim woman was strangled in Newcastle, Australia in April when the bottom of her burqa became tangled in the wheels as she was driving playfully at a go-cart track. (2) A 45-year-old, out-of-town man was killed in a street robbery in Oakland, Calif. in July after he became distracted while typing a location into his cell phone’s map program to find his way to a job interview. The appointment was at Google Inc. (3) Horatio Toure, 31, was arrested in San Francisco in July after snatching an iPhone from a woman on the street and bicycling away. Unknown to him, the woman was conducting a real-time demonstration of global positioning software, and thus Toure’s exact movement was registering on her company’s computers. He was arrested within minutes.

A News of the Weird Classic (February 1992)

In September (1991), the Avon, Colo. town council resorted to a contest to name the new bridge over the Eagle River, linking Interstate 70 with US Highway 6. Sifting through 84 suggestions (such as “Eagle Crossing”), the council voted, 4-2, to give it the official name “Bob.” “Bob The Bridge” is, still, a theme for several local festivals.

‘© 2010 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate