News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF APRIL 17, 2005

Lead Story

The New Zealand agricultural company Summit-Quinphos revealed in March that it has a working model of an automated nitrogen-inhibiting sprayer that fits under a cow's tail, and that it has a government grant to develop the device. A company spokesman said nitrogen from cow urine, concentrated in small patches in a field, currently must be neutralized by expensively treating the entire field. However, the company's "tail-activated" gizmo immediately fires a blast of inhibiting chemical at the ground directly below every time the cow lifts her tail for a call of nature. (A New Zealand Herald reporter made Summit-Quinphos scientist Jamie Blennerhasset solemnly swear that the announcement was not an April Fool's joke.)

Least Competent Person

In March, an Iowa administrative law judge denied Barbara J. Dutton unemployment benefits, ruling that her firing as supply clerk at a 12-person Des Moines company was justified by her incompetence. According to records cited by the judge, Dutton had earnestly ordered office supplies during an 18-month period totaling about $230,000, including 16,000 Bic pens and nearly $15,000 worth of Scotch tape. Since there was no evidence of dishonesty, the company was left with the conclusion that she was simply overmatched in her job. Said she, "I didn't realize that I was not needing (everything)."

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

-- Communiques to Nowhere: TalkToAliens.com began taking orders in March, recording people's messages at $3.99 per minute and beaming them into space, aimed toward the Milky Way by a huge parabolic dish antenna in Connecticut on a relatively accessible FM frequency. And in December, German inventor Juergen Broether introduced his "telephonic angel" system (at about US$2,000), which is a battery-operated, underground loudspeaker that, buried at a gravesite, allows someone to speak into a microphone and have the messages amplified through the dirt to the departed for up to a year on a single battery charge.

-- A February Atlanta Journal-Constitution dispatch from El Alberto, Mexico (near Mexico City), profiled a theme park in which potential and wannabe emigrants to the United States can test their survival skills in an obstacle course that touches on the rigors migrants endure sneaking across the border. The cost of this rehearsal for a better life is an admission fee of the equivalent of US$13.

-- In November, Yeslam Bin Laden, one of 53 siblings and half-siblings of Osama, announced in Paris that he would soon bring to market upscale floral fragrances for men and women at about $30 an ounce, though the products will bear his first name rather than his last, for obvious reasons. (However, in February, the trademark authority in Switzerland, where Yeslam lives, resolved in his favor his long-held-up application to use the "Bin Laden" name commercially, in case he decides to.) Yeslam said he hasn't seen Osama in 17 years and is appalled by his Al-Qaeda activities.

Science on the Cutting Edge

-- Bureaucrats in North Korea's Communist Party, summarizing their understanding of the way the brain works, announced in January that, henceforth, all men would be expected to wear their hair short (2 inches, maximum) in that longer hair impairs function by taking oxygen away from the nerves in the head. (Balding men would be allowed another inch for comb-overs, and hair length of women was not addressed.)

-- In studies reported recently by mainstream researchers: (1) DNA-damaging cancers caused by heterocyclic amines were found reduced in rats that drank nonalcoholic beer instead of water (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry). (2) Tobacco-smoking apparently provides some protection against the onset of Parkinson's disease (Karolinska Institute of Sweden). (3) Overweight patients tend to survive better than nonoverweight patients the rigors of a certain cardiac-bypass procedure (coronary artery bypass grafting) (American Journal of Cardiology).

Scenes of the Surreal

Heidi Erickson of Boston, one of America's more aggressive cat-hoarding women, made News of the Weird in 2003 when she raucously challenged her evictions from two homes where she allegedly was attempting to breed the "imperfections" out of Persian cats. Subsequently, she moved into the Plympton, Mass., home of Patricia Pima, a black hermaphrodite who raises champion horses. The friendship ended in February when passenger Erickson yelled at Pima for reading the Bible while driving on Interstate 495, resulting in Pima's ordering Erickson out of the car, which led to Erickson's filing a complaint with local authorities that Pima's home reeks so bad that it is a public health hazard.

The Sacred Institution of Marriage

(1) In six weddings this year in India, two boys and four girls were married in tribal-custom ceremonies to dogs, which is believed to bring better luck to children who have been cursed by teething first from the upper jaw ("dog teeth"). (Agence France-Presse reported that the four February marriages in Jharkhand state involved, thank goodness, dogs of the opposite gender from the spouse.) (2) In February, a Pakistani tribal council in Kacha Chohan (Punjab state) ordered a 2-year-old girl to marry a man, age 42, to punish the girl's uncle for having sex with that man's current wife (although the marriage will not be official until the girl turns 18).

The Shame of the Clumsy Gunman (all new)

The following people accidentally shot themselves recently: Off-duty sheriff's deputy Melissa Baird (while loading her gun to check out a noise in her yard) (Brandon, Fla., March). Accused home invader Paul K. Hardy, 40 (while unloading his gun as a goodwill gesture after he warmed up to his victims) (Martinsburg, W.Va., December). The one-legged Keith Caldwell, 32 (after grabbing his gun to investigate a noise, but deciding to hop around unsteadily rather than put on his prosthesis) (Tuscaloosa, Ala., January). Santiago Preciado-Alvarez, 54 (a typical waistband-for-a-holster accident while trying to scare off coyotes) (Rock County, Wis., February). Adrian White-Wolff, 20 (fooling around with his pistol in a car with friends) (Tucson, Ariz., March).

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has reported on how single acts of sexual intercourse wound up costing men (e.g., tennis star Boris Becker) staggering amounts of money. In March, Harry C. Stonecipher resigned under pressure as CEO of Boeing for having an affair with a Boeing lobbyist, and the New York Post, examining regulatory filings, concluded that Stonecipher had thus forfeited bonuses and incentives that could have been worth about $38 million. While more than one act may have been involved, the pair were stationed in different cities, and published reports indicated that the affair had only recently begun.

Readers' Choice

In March, the Oregon board that enforces teachers' standards and practices charged Salem high school football and track coach (and science teacher) Scott Reed with gross neglect of duty after investigating parents' complaints that he routinely licked the bleeding wounds of his players to help them recover. In addition to knowledge he acquired as a teacher of science, Reed had also earlier taken the standard teachers' seminar on bodily fluid contact (which he was ordered by the board to retake).

Ironies

The Maryland schoolteachers' union was found by the National Labor Relations Board to have violated labor law by obstructing two of its own staff members' challenges to working conditions (March). And a 59-year-old man drowned in a quarry near Hillsville, Pa., while testing his new water depth-finder (March). And two days before Easter, the city council in Mission Viejo, Calif., exasperated by the destruction of plants and shrubbery, authorized residents to shoot on sight the animals suspected of causing the damage: rabbits.

(CORRECTION: In the column released for March 20 publication, I reported that the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh had plagiarized some of the Web site text it posted to help writers on the subject of plagiarism. Actually, the plagiarized text concerned a different topic of help for writers. I apologize for the error.)

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)

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