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News of the Weird


• Civilization in Decline: “Tom Tom,” a 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier, was laid to rest at the Oakland Cemetery in Monticello, Ark., in March, even though he was in good health. His owner, Donald Ellis, had just passed away but had left explicit instructions that he wanted Tom Tom buried along with him, and not later on, because he felt that no one could love Tom Tom as much as he did. Ellis’ reluctant family finally took Tom Tom to a veterinarian, who tried to change their minds but ultimately acquiesced and euthanized the dog out of fear that they would put him down anyway, less humanely.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit!

• Unlikely Successes: (1) In July, the world’s largest four-day rodeo, the Pendleton Round-Up, released a signature-brand men’s cologne, Let’er Buck, to mark the company’s 100th anniversary. A spokesman claimed that the $69-a-bottle product has the fragrance of “sensuous musk and warm sandalwood.” (2) Thai Airways announced in June that it would begin selling seven curry sauces directly from its airline food menu in take-out shops in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai.

• Shaking Up the Condom Market: (1) The Swiss government announced in March that it would help bring to market “extra”-small condoms for boys as young as 12. (The decrease in circumference from a “standard” condom would be about 5/16th of an inch.) (2) The Washington Post reported in May that high school and college-age adults had complained that condoms given away by the District of Columbia’s HIV-prevention program were of too-low quality and that the city should spring for deluxe Trojan Magnums (in gold-colored packaging, giving them, said a city official, “a little bit of the bling quality”).

• In July, the prominent BrewDog brewery in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, began producing the world’s strongest (and most expensive) beer, called The End of History, which is 55 percent alcohol and sells for 500 pounds ($780) a bottle. As if to enrage both anti-alcohol and animal-welfare activists, BrewDog released the first 12 bottles taxidermally inserted inside the carcasses of roadkill (seven ermines, four squirrels and a rabbit). Said company founder James Watt, BrewDog aims to “elevate the status of beer in our culture.”

• At least two employees at the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, Calif., were accused in May of carrying on a makeshift “beauty salon” inside the facility’s Neonatal Intensive Care unit. Allegedly, eyebrow waxes and manicures were given near sensitive equipment used to combat infant infections and respiratory disorders. An investigation is continuing, but a hospital official said the notion of a “salon” was overblown and that perhaps a few nail treatments were involved. (Simultaneously, the facility is being investigated for taking kickbacks from nursing homes for placing discharged Medicare or Medicaid patients into those homes.)

Weird Science

• On an August ABC-TV “Nightline,” professor Matt Frerking of Oregon Health and Science University allowed cameras to record his narcolepsy-like “cataplexy,” which causes temporary muscle paralysis each time he contemplates romantic love (hugging or holding hands with his wife, viewing wedding pictures, witnessing affectionate couples). He noted that he can often fend off an impending attack by concentrating on his own lab work in neuroscience.

• Breakthroughs: (1) When Ron Sveden’s left lung collapsed in May, doctors initially diagnosed a tumor, but on closer inspection learned that Sveden, of Brewster, Mass., had ingested a plant seed that had somehow migrated to his lung and sprouted open. He is recovering. (2) A Pomeranian puppy recently found wandering in San Bernardino, Calif., was diagnosed with reproductive-organ complications that destined him to be put down, but a woman volunteered $1,165 for “transgender” surgery. “Red” is now happy and ready for adoption (and of course neutered).

Leading Economic Indicators

• To most, the toilet is a functional appliance, but to thoughtful people, it can be an instrument upon which creativity blossoms. Thus, the price tags were high this summer when commodes belonging to two literary giants of the 20th century went on sale. In August, a gaudily designed toilet from John Lennon’s 1969-71 residence in Berkshire, England, fetched 9,500 pounds (about $14,740) at a Liverpool auction, and a North Carolina collectibles dealer opened bids on the toilet that long served reclusive author J.D. Salinger at his home in Cornish, N.H. The dealer’s initial price was $1 million because, “Who knows how many of Salinger’s stories were thought up and written while (he) sat on this throne!”

• Blairsville, Ga., advertising agency owner Mike Patterson introduced the “first ever patriotic home-based business opportunity” recently, and, though it resembles a traditional “pyramid” scheme, Patterson termed it “network marketing” and an important way to fight government “tyranny.” For joining up at $12, $24 or $50 a year and enlisting others, Patterson promises recruiters “up to $50,000” (actually, up to $283,000 by securing $50 memberships). On spelling-and grammar-challenged Web pages, Patterson laid out salesmanship “levels” and “matrix” patterns that promise a member 60 cents per $24 recruit—leaving $12 for patriotic programs and $11.40 for Patterson. (For some reason, after rounding up 29,523 members—Level 9—the recruiter payout drops to 15 cents each.)

• In September, the Romanian Senate rejected a proposal by two legislators to regulate, and tax, fortune-tellers and “witches,” even though the government is otherwise desperately seeking new sources of revenue. A prominent witch had complained about potential record-keeping burdens on the “profession,” but one of the bill’s sponsors told the Associated Press he thinks opposition came from lawmakers who were frightened of having spells and curses placed on them.


• Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood continues in the thrall of what forensic experts everywhere discredit as pseudo-science (everywhere except Mississippi, that is). Hence, death-row inmate Eddie Lee Howard’s date with destiny approaches. Although only scant physical evidence was presented at his murder trial, the jury famously heard from local dentist Michael West, who, using fancy equipment, somehow identified scratches on the victim’s body as “bite marks” unique to Howard’s teeth. (In 2008, News of the Weird mentioned the DNA-inspired release of two accused Mississippi rapists who had served 12 years in prison—having also been positively identified by West on the basis of bite marks. Between then and now, West’s theories have been nationally, resoundingly rebuked, but the attorney general has chosen to defend Howard’s original, West-based conviction rather than look anew at the case, and Howard remains marked for execution.)

Questionable Judgments

• Disrespecting Electricity: (1) New Hampshire teenager Kyle Dubois was critically injured in March when, during an electrical trades class, he and fellow students attached clamps to his nipples and plugged in an electrical cord. Dubois suffered permanent brain damage, and in August his parents sued the school district and the teacher. (2) As an alternative to the surgical scalpel, zapping a penis with electricity can produce a cleaner cut and with much less blood, according to a team of doctors from the Institute of Biomedical Engineering in Taiwan. Best of all, their July report noted, since the experiments were too risky for ordinary test volunteers, they performed all procedures on themselves.

A News of the Weird Classic (January 2003)

• In 2001, a woman filed a federal lawsuit in Minnesota (Engleson vs. Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce), seeking to recover for injuries she suffered when she tripped over an orange traffic cone. The lawsuit was dismissed in November 2002 by Judge Donovan Frank, who said that since the very purpose of the bright orange traffic cone is to warn of imminent risk, citizens should not need to be warned that they are approaching bright orange traffic cones.

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