-- Researchers from Duke's medical school and the University of Texas' Southwestern Medical Center announced in April that they have identified an enzyme that can be stimulated to mimic the effects of exercise on muscles (albeit in mice, not humans). Team leader R. Sanders Williams said it is quite possible that eventually humans could build muscles by taking the enzyme (calmodulin-dependent protein kinase) in a pill.
-- According to an April New York Times analysis, Verizon Communications executives, faced with a $1.4 billion loss last year (a situation which would have denied them performance bonuses), created a $389 million profit merely by deciding to value the company's pension fund "income" at $1.8 billion even though the pension fund was actually "swimming in red ink." Securities regulations apparently permit such quixotic valuations provided that they are explained to shareholders (which the executives did in a footnote in the firm's annual report). Thus, though having underperformed on the actual delivery of communications services (according to investors), Verizon executives nevertheless got their performance bonuses.
Cadavers Don't Get No Respect
Widower Jeffrey Post filed a lawsuit against Lynn University (Boca Raton, Fla.), whose mortuary science program allegedly used bodies from a local funeral home for embalming practice without permission of the deceaseds' families (March). And Lake Elsinore, Calif., funeral home owner Michael Francis Brown, 42, was arrested and charged with illegally selling cadaver parts to several major university research institutes (February). And following an internal audit, Greenlane Hospital, New Zealand's premier heart facility, revealed that in the last 50 years, it had taken, for research and without permission of the families, the hearts from at least 1,350 babies who had died on the premises (but offered to return all those hearts it still had on hand) (February).
Can't Possibly Be True
-- Once again, in March, the annual South Korean justice ministry test (required of those vying for appointment as judges) was administered in Seoul in a three-hour session during which, to prevent cheating, restroom breaks were not permitted. As in previous years, for those who absolutely must answer nature's call, the justice ministry provided plastic bags for men and skirt-like covers with plastic pots for women, for use in the back of the exam room.
-- In April, the U.S. Patent Office awarded patent number 6,368,227 to Steven Olson, age 7, of St. Paul, Minn., whose father had filed to help him protect a method of swinging on a swing. The Olsons' discovery: While seated, if you pull alternately on one side's chain/rope and then on the other side's, while gradually introducing a forward-backward thrust, you can swing in an oval-shaped arc, as long as the side-to-side motion is greater than the forward-backward motion. According to the Patent Office, licenses to use the patented method are available from the inventor.
-- Among those whose public displays recently either garnered Guinness Book of Records recognition or are being considered: Wang Chuntai, 49, who pulled a sedan 47 feet with cables attached only to his eyelids (Yaan, Sichuan, China); Monte Pierce, who propelled a coin more than 10 feet by using his elastic-like earlobe as a rubber band; and B.D. Tyagi, who was certified to have the longest ear hair in the world (4 inches) (Bhopal, India).
-- Police in Plymouth, Conn., arrested lawyer Christopher W. Boylan in March and charged him with defrauding a client who had paid him $2,500 to get his money back on the purchase of a defective car. According to police, Boylan's crime was that he told the client falsely that he had won the case (and drew up a bogus judicial order certifying that) and that the client should expect a settlement of $733,000 soon. So far, no explanation has emerged of how Boylan thought he would get away with the crime (in view of the fact that the order was so transparently fraudulent and that the client would eventually start to hang around Boylan's office and hound him about the money).
-- In Ottawa, Ontario, Christopher Laurin, 15, was suspended from school for two days in March and ordered to drug counseling when a police dog perked up while sniffing Laurin's locker, even though no traces of drugs of any kind were found in any of Laurin's belongings. The police claim that its dogs can detect lingering smells on clothing, but Laurin's parents were incredulous that their son could be disciplined for having something that didn't exist (and merely on the "say-so" of a dog).
People Different From Us
Derrick A. Cobb, 25, was charged with tricking teen-age girls into removing their shoes and socks so he could run off with them (Upper Marlboro, Md., March); David William Christensen, 40, was charged with harassing three women by leaving them Keds shoes with sexually explicit messages on them (Denver, April); Donald J. Ruther, 33, was charged with stealing girls' shoes because, he said, sniffing them relaxed him (Medina, Ohio, February).
News of the Weird reported in 1999 on an annual Hindu festival in Singapore in which worshipers of Lord Murugan reaffirmed their faith by sticking skewers through their skin, with the amount of pain endured taken as the gauge of devotion. Apparently, similar celebrations continue in other countries (though India has banned them as too barbaric). In January 2002, Murugan worshipers in Malaysia celebrated at the annual Thaipusam festival at the Batu Caves, eight miles outside Kuala Lumpur, by hooking and kebobbing their skin to the accompaniment of hypnotic, deafening music that helped create pain-softening trances.
Least Competent People
Juanita Konold-McIntosh, 55, testifying on behalf of her "husband" of 15 years, Eduardo G. McIntosh, who was on trial for fraud in Boston in January, said she is still devoted to him and hopes they can turn their lives around together. Konold-McIntosh had just heard the government introduce solid envidence that McIntosh (to her surprise) is not an Air Force general; that he is not legally married to her (because of a still-valid earlier marriage); that the reason he had spent only one night a week with her during their marriage was not because he was on secret intelligence missions; that the reasons for thousands of dollars in and out of her bank account during their "marriage" was to serve his real family and various scams; and that the reason she had not heard from him during a four-month period in 1994 was because he was in prison.
Our Civilization in Decline
A state legislative committee in Victoria, Australia, recommended that habitually glue-sniffing children as young as 7 be placed in special homes where they could be tutored on less-lethal sniffing practices (January). The British high-end apparel shop Argos started selling padded bras and g-string underwear for girls as young as 9 in its "Babies and Kids" section (April). An Associated Press investigation found that more than 100 physicians are currently working at federal facilities (such as Veterans Administration hospitals) despite having been convicted of crimes or disciplined by state medical boards, including one woman who was convicted in Switzerland of aiding a terrorist organization (April).
Also, in the Last Month ...
The British firm Drinks Merchants said the government had finally issued it a permit to import a Czech Republic vodka that contains cannabis seeds (Nottingham). A judge ordered a man to tear down his brand-new $300,000 (U.S.) home because it was 14 feet too close to a park boundary, a fact the owner's lawyer failed to notice (Ottawa, Ontario). A psychiatrist was acquitted of sex abuse when a jury apparently believed him when he said that his multiple-personality accuser must have planted his DNA by breaking into his house and stealing his dirty underwear (DeLand, Fla.). In an online auction, two fans bid $525 and $600 to acquire a piece of bubble gum once briefly chewed by Arizona Diamondbacks baseball star Luis Gonzalez.
(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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