News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



-- In December, according to New Scientist magazine, Swiss inventor Paolo Rais introduced his solution to the boring dinner party in which unfortunate guests, by the luck of the draw, are seated next to uninteresting people: a 12-to-24-seat dining table whose chairs keep moving so that one cannot spend more than 10 minutes trapped next to the same person. Chairs (and a wooden tray containing your food) move at 3 inches per minute. The models vary in price from about $29,000 to about $44,000.

-- Fourteen-year-old Christina Santhouse lives a normal teen-age life in Bristol, Pa., in almost every respect except for a partial paralysis of her left arm and leg, caused by the removal six years ago of half of her brain. According to an October Associated Press report, her surgery (to eliminate Rasmussen's encephalitis, which caused up to 100 brief seizures a day) has not penalized her compared to her supposedly full-brained classmates, in that she remains a straight-A student and loves 'N Sync.

-- Update: Transsexual Tammy Lynn Felbaum (formerly Tommy Wyda), 43, was found guilty in December of involuntary manslaughter and other charges in connection with the February death of her sixth husband, James Felbaum, from complications after his castration. Tammy at first said James castrated himself, then admitted she did it but at James' specific, written request. The Butler County, Pa., judge reached his verdict based on testimony from a jailer who said Tammy told her that castration was the only way she could see to rehabilitate the marriage after an alleged affair by James, and despite testimony from one of Tammy's earlier spouses, Lynn (formerly Tim) Barner, who let Tammy perform her castration because she was an expert. Said Barner, "She could castrate a dog in less than five minutes."

"Team Spirit"-Building Blues

In September, an executive of the Bolton English soccer team ate sheep's testicles, raw squid and snails to uphold his end of the deal after his players won an impressive victory (but they would have had to eat the meal if they had lost). And South Korean archers cleaned up sewage in Seoul and stared at dead bodies in a cemetery in mental preparation for the grueling September World Outdoor championships in Beijing (which the men won, despite losing four squad members because the training was too rigorous). And in Miami in October, a dozen Burger King marketing people (among 100 in a corporate team-building exercise) were treated for serious burns after they walked on hot coals (which a trainer had assured them would not be painful if they adopted the correct attitude).

Weird Science

-- A November report in the Northwestern University daily newspaper described Dr. Michael Bailey's research project (which had already been vetted by the school's ethics people) to determine sexual arousal rates of females by, respectively, heterosexual erotic images and lesbian erotic images. Coeds were recruited at $75 an hour (two to three times the going rate for campus research guinea pigs) to have the "vaginal photo-plethysmograph" inserted to measure moisture and swelling. Dr. Bailey's preliminary conclusion: Women (whether straight or gay) get aroused by either straight or lesbian scenes, whereas comparable research had shown that men were aroused only by images depicting their own sexual orientation.

-- In a December report in The Times of London, University of Nebraska geologist John Shroder (an Afghanistan specialist) said the Pentagon has a Remote-Sensing Gas-Detection Device that is so finely tuned that it can distinguish ethnic groups based on faint aromas of the foods that they eat.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

-- The hottest arcade game in Japan recently has been Boong-Ga Boong-Ga, in which a player virtually jabs an oversized finger up the clothed derriere of one of eight loathed targets (e.g., "ex-boyfriend," "golddigger," "con man"), with the more aggressive the jab, the more pained the expression on the target's face. Japanese consumers are said to be more comfortable with the anal theme than consumers in the United States.

-- The Braehead Shopping Centre in Glasgow, Scotland, announced in November that for the holiday buying season, it would offer the female shopper temporary boyfriends/husbands on loan so that she would have someone to browse with if her own mate tended to reject the shopping experience. Said the organizer: "The Shopping Boyfriend is the ultimate retail therapist: enthusiastic, attentive, admiring and complimentary" and will "even say her bum looks small."

-- China Youth Daily and other Chinese newspapers reported instances in November and December in which job-seekers in Shanghai and the northern city of Anshan were turned down solely because their blood type was other than the desired type O. One interviewer allegedly said that type B people "lack independent thought, discretion and ability," but a Shanghai interviewer said he rejects only types A and AB because their possessors are reserved and temperamental. An Anshan employer said he got the idea to screen by blood type by studying in Japan, where he said the practice is common.

People Different From Us

Dwight Pichette was serving 14 life terms (concurrently) on 58 convictions for robbery and related charges, yet his lawyer and others said he is one of the most intelligent and sensitive people they've ever met, and since he has been in prison (in Victoria, British Columbia), he has published three books, with a fourth having won a pre-publication arts award. In May, he received a supervised leave to attend a philosophy discussion downtown, gave his escort the slip, and tried two more bank robberies before being reapprehended. Pichette said that he was probably subconsciously sabotaging his future because, on that supervised leave, he realized how he'd tossed away his life. And the self-sabotage worked, because he now has 16 concurrent life terms.


Unlikely Model for al-Qaida: Twenty-one people who claim now that they speak for Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult (which killed 12 people and injured 5,000 in a 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack) said they have become a benign religious organization and changed their name to Aleph, and in November they started a computer business with the goal of earning enough money to compensate the cult's victims. So far, they have raised about $2.5 million. The most famous member, Shoko Asahara, remains in custody and on trial (trials are not constitutionally guaranteed "speedy" in Japan) for murder.

Thinning the Herd

A 38-year-old, alcohol-fueled man, taking up the challenge of a 50-year-old man that if the younger man could outswim him in San Francisco Bay, he'd give the younger man his car, drowned (Berkeley, July). A 45-year-old surfer from Denver, attempting to capitalize on the 10-foot waves of Hurricane Juliette at the southern tip of Baja California, drowned (Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; July). A 48-year-old man was killed while attempting to pass a car he had been expressing his displeasure with for traveling too slow; as he swerved his pickup truck right to gently nudge the car, he lost control and smashed into a light pole (Laval, Quebec; November).

Also, in the Last Month ...

According to a lawsuit, a Wal-Mart manager, informed that an employee had allegedly fondled a 10-year-old girl in the store, offered the girl's mother a $25 gift certificate to forget the whole thing (Columbia, S.C.). A 49-year-old man was arrested for DUI with a record-challenging blood-alcohol reading of .532 (Lorain, Ohio). Arizona Cardinals' placekicker Bill Gramatica made his 16th field goal of the year (in 20 tries), against the Giants, leaped into the air in celebration, and ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament as he landed, ending his season and jeopardizing his career. Towing company employee Joseph Thomas Johnson, 33, was arrested for joyriding in rap singer Missy Elliott's 2001 Lamborghini (price: $330,000), during which he hit a stop sign and crashed, inflicting $160,000 damage.

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