News of the Weird

Week of November 24, 2002

LEAD STORIES

-- Even with a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez is having trouble attracting pancreatic-cancer patients for his Columbia University study (only 25 of 90 slots filled), perhaps because the treatment's most prominent component is twice-a-day coffee enemas. A Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center doctor called the regimen "ludicrous," but Gonzalez said the caffeine stimulates nerves in the bowel, helping the liver with detoxification, according to an October Wired magazine report. His initial pilot program reported significant benefits of the treatment but was regarded with skepticism in that it included only 11 patients.

-- The for-profit school administration company Edison Schools Inc., reportedly low on cash but with 20 particularly troublesome Philadelphia high schools to manage, tried to cut some corners in September until reined in by the school board. According to an October dispatch in Toronto's Globe and Mail, Edison ran low on cash and (1) had to send back newly ordered textbooks, computers, lab supplies and musical instruments; (2) tried to move its Philadelphia executives out of their downtown offices and into vacant school-system rooms to save on rent; and (3) suggested to the school board that students could acquire valuable experience if they were assigned various work projects (for free) for Edison. The latter two ideas were thwarted by the school board, but the students were still making do with old books and equipment.

Names in the News

Scheduled to marry in December in Flint, Mich.: Ms. Laura Kah and Mr. Scott Boom (although she plans be just plain Laura Boom). And in May, the prosecutor in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., charged four men with stealing tires: Edgar Spencer, his son Edgar Spencer (Jr.), the older man's brother Edgar (W.) Spencer, and his son, Edgar (W.) Spencer (Jr.) And the Santa Cruz (Calif.) Sentinel, in an August story on the town's shrinking 1960s-'70s hippie population, interviewed among others (legal names) Mr. Climbing Sun, Mr. Shalom Dreampeace Compost and Mr. (no last name) Chip; other recent residents such as Darting Hummingbird Over a Waterfall, Moonbeam Moonbeam and "XXXXXXXX X" were not available.

Government in Action

-- Several doctors of the government-funded British National Health Service plan to start prescribing personal vibrators for female sexual dysfunction, according to a September report in The Observer. A sex boutique operator welcomed the development, describing the previous devices "used for dilating vaginas" as "frightening" and crosses between "toilet brushes and medieval torture implements." (In October, the medical clinic at the private Cornell University was about to begin selling vibrators in its dispensary.)

-- In October, the State Department awarded a $15,000 "outstanding performance" bonus to the head of the office that permitted 13 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers to enter the country via expedited U.S. visas. Mary Ryan, who retired in September after a 36-year tenure (reportedly eased out after she defended her "visa express" program even after Sept. 11), received the award specifically for the 12-month period beginning April 2001. The express program, which was spearheaded by the U.S. Consul General in Riyadh, Thomas Furey (who also got a bonus), allowed Saudi nationals to apply over the Internet without ever being seen by a U.S. official.

Great Art!

-- A state humanities and arts panel named Amiri Baraka the poet laureate of New Jersey earlier this year, several months after he had written a poem suggesting that Jews, and President Bush, had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. Gov. James McGreevey, who announced the appointment in August 2002, now wants Baraka to resign, but Baraka has refused. In addition to the $10,000 the poet laureate receives from the state, Baraka has gotten several five-figure taxpayer grants for his poetry, favorite themes of which are attacks on religion, whites and Jews.

-- Sculptor-painter Antonio Becerra's government-funded "Oils on Dogs" exhibition opened in Santiago, Chile, in August, consisting of the artist's paintings (e.g., Pope John Paul and a cross, blue and orange butterflies) on the embalmed cadavers of a dozen roadkill dogs Becerra had found on the city's streets. Becerra called the work a reflection of society's violence and cruelty, but animal rights activists were appalled at his lack of respect for the dogs.

-- Retired graphics designer J. Jules Vitali has created more than 1,000 pieces of small art in his preferred medium, foam polystyrene (Styrofoam) cups (some with flourishes of acrylics or bronze), according to an October Boston Globe profile. He took up his craft with a carry-out coffee cup and a Craftsman knife 20 years ago, inspired, he said, by boredom. A display of his "Styrogami," with pieces priced at up to $800, is housed at the Freeport (Maine) Public Library.

People Different From Us

Recent Paraphilias: Ian Cheeseman, 34, already locked up in Ottawa, Ontario, was charged in September with having made about 250 collect calls from prison trying to trick young girls (by offering them Backstreet Boys concert tickets, among other things) into urinating into a cup near the phone. And a judge in Omaha, Neb., ruled in October that a confession made by former teacher Mike Florea, 35, was admissible in his sex-abuse trial; he had told police that he would pay boys $20 to $25 if they would ejaculate into small containers, which Florea then stored in his freezer.

Least Competent Criminals

Chattanooga, Tenn., police told the city's WTVC-TV in October that they had arrested Rudy Raines for possession of about a pound of marijuana, after Raines allegedly walked nonchalantly into a Fast Food and Fuel convenience store, past officer David Ashley, and uninhibitedly placed a stash of marijuana into the store's microwave oven because, he said, he needed to dry it out. Raines was arrested, along with another man sleeping in Raines' car in the parking lot.

Recurring Themes

-- More Flaming Pop Tarts: Deanna Robinson and her insurance company filed a lawsuit in Atlanta in August against Kellogg's, alleging that the poor design of Pop Tarts is the reason one burst into flames in her toaster two years ago, igniting a house fire that did more than $10,000 in damage. Kellogg's has had to defend Pop Tarts' flammability before, in New Jersey and Ohio lawsuits (which it settled) and against newspaper columnist Dave Barry, who wrote of his experience of inducing 30-inch-high flames from Pop Tarts in his own toaster.

-- The Food Chain Thwarted Again: A 55-year-old man was killed in October as he and a colleague were preparing to butcher a hog on a farm near Frazee, Minn. According to authorities, after one of them fired his .22-caliber rifle, hitting the hog, it at first fell back, then lurched forward against the rifle, causing it to discharge again, fatally hitting the other man.

Also, in the Last Month ...

James F. Welles, author of the book "Understanding Stupidity" and an authority on dumb decisions, was arrested for soliciting sex on the Internet from a "15-year-old girl" who was really a 40-year-old policeman (Lantana, Fla.) Mr. Besh Serdahely, 58, and his wife vacated the tree house on San Bruno Mountain (just south of San Francisco), which, for the last 12 years, they have called home (to the consternation of county officials). And health officials in Tororo, Uganda, warned prospective (but impoverished) brides that they are ruining their valuable, malaria-stopping white mosquito nets if they use them as bridal gowns. And a bold bank robber was arrested in Tehran, Iran, even though he thought he was invisible (thanks to a special piece of parchment he had bought from a man on the street for about $550).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Newsweird@aol.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)

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