News of the Weird

Week of June 14, 1998

-- In Milwaukee, Wis., in May, house painter David Maas, 31, was arrested and charged with the theft of 11 statues and figurines from several churches and is suspected of taking 18 others. According to police, he said he wanted to furnish a new version of Noah's Ark that he planned to construct; the Ark would house the newly saved Christians between now and March 1999, when, according to Maas, either communists will destroy all Catholic churches or a giant asteroid will wipe out much of Earth.

-- The Department of Energy announced in May, after reviewing project records from the 1950s, that some inspectors at a uranium processing plant near Cincinnati used the somewhat-unscientific method of measuring the substance's metallic strength by sprinkling some on their tongues to see if it tasted right. The inspectors feared that if they did not submit high-enough-grade samples, the government would regard their uranium as useless and shut down the plant.

-- In a May report, The New York Times revealed that the town of Aspen, Colo., apparently desperate for people other than millionaires to live there, offers public housing assistance even to those whose income is as much as $115,000 a year.

Jewish Husbands in Peril

In Brooklyn, N.Y., in March, four Orthodox Jewish men charged that several local rabbis had arranged for them to be beaten up as threats to get them to agree to religious annulments of their marriages. According to the charges, which were being investigated by the district attorney, the rabbis collected fees from the men's ex-wives, who, though they are divorced under state law, still cannot remarry within the faith unless their ex-husbands agree to a "get," which is a religious divorce. (Some Orthodox Jewish men refuse to grant the "get" in order to obtain leverage in child custody disputes.)

Ways to Beat the Breathalyzer

Robert A. Milefski, 58, who was driving a car that killed a woman in 1996, avoided a DUI charge that day by smearing excrement all over himself before the Breathalyzer test. (He was immediately hospitalized for psychiatric observation, and the records surrounding his tests were not released until April 1998.) And in Lincoln, Neb., in March, James B. Johnson, 34, about to be breath-tested at the police station on suspicion of DUI, avoided the test when he emerged from the men's room with blue foam oozing from his mouth as a result of sucking on the sanitizer disc in the urinal. Johnson was later charged with DUI anyway, based on a blood test.

Those Sensitive Germans

New York Supreme Court Justice Herman Cahn ruled in May that calling a woman a bitch is not necessarily defamatory. The term, Cahn wrote, is "too imprecise and open to speculation" to allow the plaintiff to win her slander lawsuit. But in January, a court in Cologne, Germany, imposed a four-month license suspension and an 1,800-mark fine on a 22-year-old man because, during a traffic altercation, he had insulted a 36-year-old female driver by yelling, "Typical woman!"

Principles Are Fine, but Sometimes It's the Money

A few years ago, car rental firms violated Texas law in selling traditional collision damage coverage to rental customers, and the state recently ordered $13 million in refunds. In 1996, one customer, Alan Siebenmorgan, decided not to wait for the state to negotiate the refunds and did not even bother to ask Hertz to refund his $17.90 for one day's illegal insurance; he just filed a lawsuit and in the ensuing months, also declined to settle out of court. His case finally came to trial in February in Houston, and the jury agreed that the $17.90 was illegally collected. However, probably reacting to Siebenmorgan's litigiousness, the jury awarded him a refund of zero, punitive damages of zero, and compensation for his already-incurred legal fees ($450,000) of zero.

Weird Science

-- Scientific American magazine reported in March that a team of researchers at a U.S. Department of Agriculture lab is making great strides in manufacturing human growth hormone (HGH) by harvesting it in the urine of rats. Apparently, "uroplakin" genes, which are ideal for growing other genes, are produced only in bladders, and in fact the bladder may be the only place genes for HGH can be placed without causing the rat to grow very large. Previously, some mammals' milk has been used for harvesting, but urine is much more plentiful.

-- Apparently, Crabs Are Like Guys: Researchers at the University of Wales, Cardiff told the Times of London in February that, using the right sexual scent, they had induced a male crab to attempt to mate not only with a female crab but with a stone and a tennis ball. Researchers said also that crabs have well-developed vision but still approached the three bogus targets with great vigor.

-- Cliches Come to Life: According to a doctor's experience reported in the December 1997 journal Biological Therapies in Psychiatry, a 35-year-old female patient receiving a traditional anti-depressant was switched to bupropion, supposedly just as effective but without the traditional drug's side effect of inhibiting orgasm. "Within one week, her ability to achieve orgasm and her enjoyment of sex had returned to normal," the doctor wrote. "After six weeks, however, she experienced (spontaneously, without physical stimulation) a three-hour orgasm while shopping."

-- Psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp of Ohio's Bowling Green State University told the Associated Press in May that rats are among the most playful of animals and love to be tickled. Panksepp measures rats' joy by instruments that detect their high-pitched sounds that humans cannot hear and by the thousands of small nips they take at his fingers as he coochy-coos the napes of their necks.

-- In April, renowned Israeli surgeon Jacob Lavee said he would soon attempt the world's first heart transplant in which a human receives a pig's heart. Lavee said he was confident of overcoming the two big obstacles: (1) Though his likely heart recipient would be Jewish, several leading authorities said the ban on eating pig meat should not stop the use of a pig's heart to save a human life, and (2) the British firm Imutran has created a breed of genetically engineered pigs whose hearts can more easily adapt to the body of a human.

Bottom of the Gene Pool

Tim Ekelman, 33, was hospitalized in Hamilton, Ontario, in March with a collapsed lung, a sliced throat and voice-box damage after he attempted to swallow a friend's 40-inch-long sword. (A professional sword swallower interviewed by the Hamilton Spectator said he would never stick a sword down his throat without first dulling the edges.) Said Ekelman's girlfriend, "I love him with all my heart, but what a jerk."

Recurring Themes

In 1993 News of the Weird reported on the French performance artist Orlan, who had just completed her fifth episode of plastic surgery, out of seven scheduled, in her attempt at art by personal body transformation. She was changing parts of her face and body to conform to Renaissance ideals of beauty. In February 1998, Baltimore artist and breast cancer survivor Laure Drogoul announced that she had begun soliciting other artists' suggestions for surgical and tattoo replacements for her areolae and nipples, which were lost to a double mastectomy (one suggestion: a tattoo of a faucet). After the transformation, she plans public shows of the art.

They Didn't Read the Curse

In March, three men, who for almost a year had been tunneling into a mountain, allegedly for the purpose of finding and stealing from an ancient Han Dynasty tomb in Shandong province, China, were killed by the tomb's noxious fumes.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or Weird@compuserve.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)

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