News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JULY 31, 2005


Mark Nuckols, a business student at Dartmouth, has begun selling a tofu-like food, Hufu, that is flavored to resemble what he believes is the taste of human flesh. His target audience is those who already enjoy cooking with tofu, as well as any actual cannibals who might settle for artificiality in order to avoid legal problems and logistical hassles. Nuckols said he has never tasted human flesh but based his recipe on cannibals' reported descriptions of the flavor.

Expensive Decisions

(1) In April, according to a New York Times story, when a Japanese art collector sought to choose between Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses to handle a sale (which ultimately brought in $17.8 million) and quixotically asked the two houses to play rock-paper-scissors for the privilege, Sotheby's lost out on the eventual $2.3 million commission by choosing paper. (A Christie's executive quoted one of his 11-year-old daughters: "Everybody knows you always start with scissors.") (2) In July, Lindy Heaster of Woodbridge, Va., was assessed $21,290 for having bought two newspapers. (She was a juror, ordered by the judge in a murder trial to avoid all media coverage. The judge ultimately declared a mistrial over Heaster's gaffe, voiding the conviction of Gerardo Lara and forcing the prosecutor to start all over.)

Leading Economic Indicators

-- In June, Co-President Stephen S. Crawford of the financial giant Morgan Stanley (who was installed in the job in order to ensure management "stability" during the company's currently shaky status with investors) signed a two-year contract at $16 million a year which allowed him, if he changed his mind, to resign and promptly collect all $32 million. A few days later, he resigned. The "stability" was needed at faltering Morgan Stanley because longtime CEO Philip J. Purcell had just been eased out, but his contract called for $113 million in severance pay.

-- In the course of a rare crackdown on Nigerian "419"/"advance-fee" scams, a Nigerian court in July sentenced a woman to 30 months in jail, plus fines, in a case in which the victim was not a gullible, e-mail-reading American, but a bank. Brazil's Banco Noroeste S.A. was apparently suckered into advancing money for a nonexistent new airport in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, which ultimately cost it $242 million (much of which it later recovered).

-- The Massachusetts attorney general's office said in June that it was investigating whether longshoremen's unions (working the docks in Boston) have for years been putting some members' kids (as young as age 3) on their membership rolls so that they will accumulate seniority and thus be eligible for higher starting pay if and when they worked as longshoremen. (And in India, children as young as 5 are working for police departments, according to a June BBC dispatch, because among survivors' benefits for the family of a police employee killed on duty is that a family member is given a department job, with the workload tailored to his or her abilities.)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

-- British biochemist James Shippen and colleague Barbara May created the Indipod, supposedly the first portable toilet made for cars (4-wheel-drive vehicles) and tested it recently by traveling from Scotland to Italy without using any restrooms along the way. The Indipod, to be installed in the trunk, sells for the equivalent of $550.

-- Japanese customers who attempt to eat at one (unnamed) Western-style restaurant in Jilin, China (in the former Manchuria), will be turned away unless they first apologize for Japan's occupation of China during World War II. Japan's Kyodo news service, via a July Reuters dispatch, reported no apologies so far.

The Continuing Crisis

(1) Researchers from Technische University in Munich, Germany, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May, found that patients with migraine headaches were helped just as much by acupuncture needles stuck randomly into their bodies as by needles at the precisely prescribed pressure points. (2) A University of Birmingham (England) professor, working from a third-century Greek text of the New Testament's Book of Revelation, found that the number representing the Antichrist is probably not 666, but 616 (in that 616 referred to the Emperor Caligula). (A Church of Satan official in New York had no comment except to say that his church will use whatever number Christians fear.)


(1) Lisa G. Berzins, a nationally known psychologist and expert on eating disorders, was arrested in a West Hartford, Conn., convenience store in July after, according to police, passing out from inhaling the aerosol from three cans of whipped cream. (2) The Virginia Employment Agency, which handles unemployment compensation, announced layoffs of 400 employees in June for lack of work because unemployment is so low in the state. (3) Todd Christian, 26, who flies 40 feet through the air as "Todd the Human Cannonball" for Britain's Cottle and Austin Circus, was fired in June because he refused a training assignment in Brazil, protesting that he doesn't like long airplane flights.

Least Competent Criminals

(1) Thomas E. Mason was charged with robbing the Fortress Bank in Winona, Minn., in June; he was arrested nearby and identified by bank employees, but the main evidence against him was the threatening holdup note, which began, cheerfully, "Hi, I'm Thomas Mason." (2) Henrick Alemba Kutwa, 29, was arrested in Durham, N.C., in June and charged with numerous counts of using stolen credit cards; he was caught when he used one card at a local motel and signed the receipt with his own name.

Least Competent Police

In April, off-duty San Antonio, Texas, police officer Craig Clancy went into a public men's room stall to answer a call of nature. As he lowered his trousers, his pistol dropped from his waistband onto the floor, firing, twice, with one bullet nicking the leg of a man washing his hands nearby.

Smoking Is Bad for You

Smoke started rising from Israel's finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he was sitting for a radio interview in Jerusalem; he had stuffed his lighted cigar inside a pocket to comply with the room's no-smoking policy (May). In Foreman, Ark., Jeff Foran, 38, suffered facial injuries when he leaped from a fast-moving car to retrieve his cigarette, which had blown out of a window (According to a state trooper, alcohol was involved in Foran's decision.) (May). In New York City, a 28-year-old man fell to his death from a ninth-floor window sill, and police believe a gust of wind might have dislodged him while he was taking a cigarette break from an otherwise smoke-free apartment (March).

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has reported several cases of sexual assault that turned on whether a victim's identification of a suspect could be sustained by a description of the assailant's penis. In May 2005, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, physician Anthony DeLuco attempted to defend himself at a disciplinary hearing by proving, via an erection-inducing injection, that his penis was not, as a patient had charged, "crooked." The result was inconclusive, in that his erection curved upward, although not "crooked" to the left or right. (The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons was, at press time, still deliberating his case.)

CORRECTION: Two weeks ago, I confused the size of the base of a statue of Canadian historical figure Alexander Wood with the size of a plaque on the base that featured him "inspecting" a partially naked man. Actually, the base of the statue is about 5 feet high, and the plaque is smaller.

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