News of the Weird

Week of March 11,2012

The royal family of Qatar, apparently striving for art-world credibility, purchased a Paul Cezanne painting ("The Card Players") last year for the equivalent of about $250 million, which is twice as much as the previous most-expensive painting sold for. (Qatar is vying with the United Arab Emirates to become the Middle East's major intellectual hub.) At the same time that Qatar's purchase was made public in February, artwork of the probable value of about $200 million became news in reports of the imminent Facebook initial public offering. Graffiti artist ("muralist") David Choe stood to make about that amount because he took stock instead of money to paint the lewd themes on the walls of Facebook's first offices. Even though Choe was quoted as saying, originally, that he found the whole idea of Facebook "ridiculous and pointless," his shares today are reportedly worth up to one quarter of 1 percent of the company. [Vanity Fair, 2-2-2012] [New York Times, 2-2-2012; Washington Post, 2-4-2012]

-- Last year, the Cape Town, South Africa, "gentlemen's club" Mavericks began selling an Alibi line of fragrances designed for men who need excuses for coming home late. For example, as men come through the door, they could splash on "I Was Working Late" (to reek of coffee and cigarettes) or "My Car Broke Down" (evoking fuel, burned rubber and grease). [The Times (Johannesburg), 1-19-2012]

-- Bipartisanship: White supremacist Richard Treis, 38, was arrested in February in St. Louis, along with his alleged partner, black gang member Robert "Biz" Swinney, 22, and charged with running a huge methamphetamine operation. The two, who had met at a prison halfway house, had allegedly meshed their unique talents -- Treis as a meth cook and Swinney as a skilled street seller who recruited people to buy restricted pseudoephedrine products from pharmacies. Said a deputy, "They put away their differences to get the job done." [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2-17-2012]

-- Can't Possibly Be True: "(A) growing number of scientists" are at work on biocomputer models based on movements of slime to solve complex-systems problems, according to a December report in London's Daily Telegraph. Though slime molds are single-cell organisms lacking a "brain," said professor Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Japan's Future University Hakodate, they somehow can "organize" themselves to create the most direct route through mazes in order to find food. Said professor Atsushi Tero, of Kyushu University, ordinary computers are "not so good" at finding such ideal routes because of the quantity of calculations required, but slime molds seem to flow "in an impromptu manner" and gradually find the best routes. [Daily Telegraph, 12-29-2011]

-- Medical Marvels: (1) Claire Osborn, 37, of Coventry, England, was diagnosed in October with an aggressive, inoperable throat-mouth cancer and given a 50 percent chance of survival. However, less than a month later, during a severe coughing spell, she actually coughed out the entire tumor in two pieces. Subsequent tests revealed no trace of cancer in her body. (Doctors hypothesized that, fortuitously, the tumor was growing on a weak stalk that was overcome by the force of the cough.) (2) In January, doctors at North Carolina State University performed knee-replacement surgery on a cancer-stricken house cat. Such surgery on dogs has been done, but because of cats' smaller bones and joints, doctors had to use micro techniques usually employed on humans. [Daily Mail (London), 1-11-2012] [Associated Press via Yahoo News, 1-27-2012]

The Houston Funding debt collection company in Houston, Texas, had fired receptionist Donnicia Venters shortly after she returned from maternity leave when she announced that she intended to breastfeed her child and needed space in the office to pump her breast milk. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Houston Funding for illegal discrimination based on "pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions," but in February, federal judge Lynn Hughes (Mr. Lynn Hughes) rejected the EEOC's reasoning. The law does not, he wrote, cover "lactation" discrimination. [Houston Press, 2-8-2012]

-- In an incident reported in February by the Indo-Asian News Service, a Pakistan International Airlines captain made a revenue-enhancing decision for his full flight PK 303 from Lahore to Karachi. Two overbooked passengers would not have to make alternative arrangements if they accepted seats for the 640-mile flight in the plane's restrooms. [IANS News Service via The Times of India, 2-16-2012]

-- Real estate reassessments hit Pittsburgh like a bombshell in December when county officials announced enhanced estimates of property value in order to raise needed tax revenue. In the first wave of assessments (which engendered criticism countywide, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story), a real estate attorney who lives in the Mount Washington neighborhood was stunned to find his condominium apartment had jumped $55,000 in value, now "worth" $228,700 and, worse, his private parking space on the ground floor of the building, previously valued at $5,000, now "worth" $287,800. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12-30-2011]

-- In December, National Geographic lamented that the number of South Africa's rhinoceroses killed by poaching increased by a third in 2011, to 443, as a response to the booming street price of rhino horns. MSNBC reported that the horns' market price "soared to about $65,000 a kilogram, making (them) more expensive than gold, platinum, and in many cases, cocaine." The reason for the price is an escalating, though science-free, belief in Asia that rhino horn powder can cure cancer. [MSNBC, 12-30-2011]

In February, a jury in Thousand Oaks, Calif., acquitted Charles Hersel, 41, of molesting children. Though Hersel admitted through his lawyer that he paid high school students to spit in his face and yell profanities at him, and had offered to pay them money to urinate and defecate on him, jurors found that he must have done those things for reasons other than "sexual gratification" and therefore, technically, did not violate the statute under which he was charged. [KTLA-TV (Los Angeles, 2-21-2012]

According to prosecutors in Camden, S.C., in November, Christopher Hutto, 30, needed money badly to buy crack cocaine, but the best plan he could devise was getting a friend to telephone Hutto's mother and demand a ransom. Though Hutto, according to the phone call, supposedly had been beaten up by kidnappers and dumped in a secret location and was "near death," the "kidnapper" asked only for $100. The un-eager mother dawdled a bit until she and the caller had negotiated the ransom down to $60. (The money drop was made, and sheriff's deputies arrested Hutto running from the site with the booty.) [McClatchy Newspapers via Sacramento Bee, 11-18-2011]

Airbags Save Lives: News of the Weird has previously chronicled the breast-obsessive Sheyla Hershey, the Guinness Book record-holder for largest artificially enhanced bosom (size 38MMM). (To recap, the Brazil-born, Houston-area woman had her implants removed two years ago for health reasons but then, after depression set in over her "loss," she wanted them back, but no U.S. surgeon would meet her requirement of 85 fluid ounces of silicone per breast. Finally, she found a surgeon in Cancun, Mexico, and received slightly smaller implants -- 38KKK.) Hershey, 32, was charged with DUI as she drove home after a Super Bowl party in February. Her car spun around and hit a tree, and according to Hershey, who was not wearing a seat belt, it was likely that her breasts saved her from injury by cushioning her as she was thrust against the steering wheel. [Daily Mail, 2-9-2012; Huffington Post, 2-17-2012, 2-20-2012]

Like many cities, Taipei, Taiwan, has a dog-litter problem that has proved unsolvable, as citizens continue to ignore pleas to pick up after their dogs and keep sidewalks clean. Finally, city officials designed a successful program (announced in December): a dog-poop lottery. Anyone handing in a bag of dog litter would get a ticket (one ticket per bag) to a drawing with prizes ranging up to pieces of gold worth the equivalent of about $2,000. (Citizens would be on the honor system as to whether the "litter" in the bag came from a dog or from another source.) [Agence France-Presse via Google News, 12-7-2011]

Thanks This Week to Charles Nicholson and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

(And for the accomplished and joyous cynic, try News of the Weird Pro Edition, at http://NewsoftheWeird.blogspot.com.)

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