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News of the Weird
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Extreme Jewelry

Salt Lake City fashion designer Jared Gold recently began offering jeweled brooches featuring brightly colored Swarovski crystals affixed to a live, 3-inch-long Madagascar hissing cockroach that a woman can allow to roam a short distance around her dress or jacket via a silver chain affixed to the roach’s back. The brooch sells for $80 at Gold’s Web site. An April New York Post story quoted an animal-rights spokesman as calling the bauble "just the gift" for the "person who doesn’t mind a small animal excreting on them throughout the day."

Can’t Possibly Be True

Teachers at several nursery schools in Oxfordshire, England, have been encouraging kids to learn the verse "Baa, baa, black sheep/Have you any wool?" without the word "black," but in its place a variety of emotions (e.g., "Baa, baa, sad sheep") or colors (including "Baa, baa, rainbow sheep") because they believe that kids with black skin might feel disrespected. According to a March Cox News Service dispatch from London, the campaign seems of a piece with a UK media flurry in 2003 suggesting changing the ending to Humpty Dumpty so that he receives merely a mild bump instead of shattering.

China’s Xinhua news agency reported in March that the police department in Nanjing has gone beyond fingerprints and now has a data bank of smells taken from criminals and crime scenes to aid police dogs in investigations. Officials say that storing the scents at minus-18 degrees Celsius retards degradation for at least three years, and already, they say, the bank of 500 odors has led to the identification of 23 suspects.

In March, on state highway 2 near Papamoa, New Zealand, police stopped a 32-year-old man driving 121 km/hr (75 mph), with no license and also no arms, having kept relatively good control with one foot on the gas and the other on the steering wheel. He told officers he had been driving that way for years without incident, a fact that amazed police and an amputee interviewed by the New Zealand Herald. The man still got a NZ$170 (US$106) ticket.

Unclear on the Concept

(1) The Nigerian Football Association advised its referees in March that they could accept money from teams (since "bribery" is considered part of the way of life in Nigeria), but that they should only pretend to agree to treat the briber favorably because they have a duty to call a game fairly. (2) Joshua Abeyta was charged with arson in Thornton, Colo., in February after he allegedly set fire to the Grand Auto Pontiac dealership, doing $300,000 damage; according to police, Abeyta had no connection to the company except that he was angry with his mother, who drives a Pontiac.

A Philadelphia woman who identified herself to reporters as "M. Smith" and who contracted AIDS and cancer more than 15 years ago, said recently that the company Life Partners has been threatening to back out of its contract to pay her health and life insurance premiums. She entered into a "viatical" contract in 1994, signing over her insurance death benefit to Life Partners in exchange for its promise to pay all premiums for her then-expectedly-short life. However, a new generation of drugs has kept her alive, rendering Life Partners quite unhappy with the deal it made. Although the company has not yet reneged on the contract, M. Smith reports that it constantly pressures her to begin paying the increasingly steep premiums herself.

Advances in Textiles

An Arizona company told the technology Web site in April that it has created a polyester fabric that neutralizes shots from a Taser gun, basically forming an electric loop on the cloth and sending the charge back into the gun. G2 Consulting Co.’s Thor Shield is now marketed only to law enforcement and military agencies, for their own personnel to wear. (2) Professor Greg Sotzing of the University of Connecticut at Storrs is developing clothing with electromagnetic polymers that can be manipulated to change colors while being worn, allowing the user to style himself depending on mood or whimsy (according to an April report in New Scientist).

Creme de la Weird

Chiropractor James Burda of Athens, Ohio, advertises a miraculous cure in which he sends patients, via telepathy, back to the origin of an injury so they can understand the pain and make adjustments. Dr. Burda says he need not meet the patient, nor even talk by phone, because e-mail works perfectly well, even for people who want chiropractic treatment for their pet. According to his Web site, he discovered his skill by accident, while driving around one day. Not surprisingly, the Ohio State Chiropractic Board announced in April that it would hold a hearing to review Burda’s work.

Long Island, N.Y., bus driver Michael Cianci, 38, was charged in April with child-endangerment for allegedly setting up a hierarchical social structure to enforce discipline among the Tottenville sixth-graders who rode what he called his "Death Cheese Bus." Cianci, who was the "Emperor," had a 12-tiered ranking system, from "Lord" to the low-end "Speds" ("special education" students). Police said Cianci permitted his high-ranking enforcers to rough up misbehaving kids.

Least Competent Surgeons

(1) Children’s Hospital of Orange County (Calif.) announced new rules to guard against wrong-site surgery after a January incident in which doctors opened up the wrong side of a child’s skull to remove a brain tumor, only to realize, after finding no such tumor, that it was on the other side. (According to the surgeons, they merely sewed up the first site and proceeded to the correct side, without complication.) (2) Dr. Mary Ellen Beatty was suspended and fined $20,000 by the Florida Board of Medicine in April for a wrong-finger surgery, her third wrong-site error in five years.

Recurring Themes

Latest serendipitous injuries: In March, Donald Batsch, 54, was shot in the abdomen during a robbery in Bakersfield, Calif., but during surgery, doctors discovered a tumor that surely would not have been identified until much later. And in Southampton, England, in March, college professor Ronald Mann had a heart attack while driving, and his car smashed into a tree, but his body’s banging against the steering wheel acted like a defibrillator and restarted his heart. (Doctors said that if the car had had an airbag, Mann would be dead.) And in February in Altamonte Springs, Fla., Ms. Arnie Fairclaw fell, broke her leg, and was taken to a hospital; later that night, a drunk driver lost control of his truck, which rammed her house and smashed into the bed where she would have been sound asleep.

Thinning the Herd

People Who Shouldn’t Have Played with Matches: (1) An unnamed man in his 80s, whom neighbors said "hated everybody," was killed in Downey, Calif., in January after attempting revenge by putting an explosive in a neighbor’s home but accidentally setting his arm on fire, which then set off his bomb. (2) A 49-year-old woman died in a fire in Milwaukee in January when, trying to get her boyfriend’s attention, she stood angrily beside his bed and flicked lit matches onto his sheet-clad body, until a fire started. She was eventually overcome with smoke, but the boyfriend and the five others in the house survived.