News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication


Latest Step in Male Obsolescence: In September, Dr. Paul De Sousa and a research team at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, told a professional audience that they had just created human embryos from female eggs without using sperm. De Sousa's team employed electrical shocks to "trick" 300 eggs into dividing as if fertilized and was successful six times, creating 50-cell "blastocysts" that could eventually produce stem cells. De Sousa denied that his embryos would be implanted into wombs to create female fetuses (and said his government license does not authorize that), but could grow replacement tissue for a faulty organ of the egg's donor.

Government in Action

-- For 25 years, Multnomah County, Ore., has set aside 1 percent of public building construction money for art, meaning almost $600,000 worth for its new $58 million jailhouse. Critics of the program say that art won't do much to battle crime in Multnomah, but on the other hand, so far, neither has the $58 million. The jail has been finished for a year, but as of September, it's still empty because county officials have not found a way to pay the operating expenses. If they ever do, inmates and visitors will be treated to such works as Thomas Sayre's concrete shipwreck sculpture.

-- City Officials Who Know How to Make News of the Weird: Mayor Felipe Santolia of Espertantina, Brazil, declared last May 9 as "Orgasm Day," pointing out that orgasms seem to make people happier and more productive. And Mayor Gabor Mitynan of a municipal district in Budapest, Hungary, declared in August that female workers should not wear revealing skirts to work unless they have "completely perfect legs," nor crop tops unless they have "well-trained bellies."

-- Government Service Is Tougher Than You Think: City council member Yvonne Lamanna, 58, filed a worker compensation claim earlier this year against the city of Penn Hills, Pa., when she suffered a severe back injury as she took her seat at the Feb. 7 council meeting. And the chief minister of the Malaysian state of Kedah ordered all members of the legislature from his party to learn how to catch snakes so they will be ready to help people in distress. "Otherwise," he said in June, "they will be standing there watching helplessly as victims cry (out)."

Are We Safe?

In July, the Transportation Security Agency fired Houston airport baggage handler Bassam Khalaf when it discovered that he is, off-duty, the "Arabic Assassin," a rap singer whose lyrics, according to TSA, glorify the 9-11 hijackers and threaten similar mayhem on the United States in the future. (Khalaf said his lyrics were an innocent effort to gain notoriety as a performer.)

Might Have Gone Too Far

In July, envelope-pushing strip club owner Howard White changed the main sign for his joint on Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport from "Live Nude Nude Nudes" to "Vaginas R Us." Neighboring merchants immediately complained, but city officials said that "vagina" is simply not an obscene word. However, the city did cite White's sign for being made of illegal combustible vinyl. At press time, opponents of the sign were trying to encourage the Toys R Us company to force White to abandon the name as too similar to its own protected trademark.

Super-Clumsy People

-- Evelyn Davison, 74, of Austin, Texas, filed a lawsuit in June against a neighbor who had failed to bring in her empty garbage can after a pickup. Davison discovered it in her driveway, and, attempting to move it by herself, she said she was seriously injured when she accidentally fell into it. And the Minnesota Court of Appeals sent a case back to trial in May, ruling that Jenell Casarez could indeed sue Amy and David Klema for injuries suffered as a guest in their home. According to the lawsuit, Casarez needed to use the bathroom, which was occupied by David, and so with Amy's acquiescence, went to the basement and attempted to relieve herself in a concrete laundry tub, but when she climbed on top, it tipped over and crushed her fingertips. (Alcohol was involved, according to the trial court.)

-- Clumsiest Surviving Artist-Bombmaker: Chris Hackett, 33, built a small functional bomb that he was set to exhibit in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in New York City around the time of the Sept. 11 remembrances, but tried to assure worried exhibitors that it was only an art project and would not explode. Hackett is the artist who in January 2004 blew up part of his face when a propane tank exploded as he was hooking it up to fire a confetti cannon.

Least Competent Criminals

(1) Amir Husain, 17, and Anthony Nauman, 18, who allegedly burglarized a home in Mundelein, Ill., in August, were easily tracked down by police after the pair decided to build a Web site and post photos of their loot for sale, along with their contact information. (2) In the early morning hours of a July day on the Eastern Freeway in Doncaster, Australia, when a driver on a restricted permit was stopped for speeding (at the equivalent of more than 120 mph), he told the officer in apparent seriousness that he didn't realize the police worked that late. (We're a "24-hour organization," said a police spokesman.)

Recurring Themes

British insurance companies occasionally write policies on unconventional risks, as News of the Weird reported in 1996, when Goodfellow Rebecca Ingrams Pearson wrote a $160,000-equivalent policy covering alien abduction (including pregnancies resulting from the abduction, even if it is a male who gets pregnant, in the event that the aliens have such extraordinary powers that they can impregnate males). In July 2005, sponsors of the Visit Scotland Adventure Triathlon in Loch Ness announced they had purchased insurance from the company NIG to pay up to the equivalent of $1.8 million in case any of the competitors are attacked by the Loch Ness monster.

Fine Points of the Law

(1) Judge Jeffrey K. Sprecher of Berks County, Pa., dismissed charges against a man in August for buying beer for his underage neighbor, ruling that the prosecutor hadn't proved all of the elements of the crime. Specifically, said Sprecher, there was no evidence offered that Miller Genuine Draft is "beer." (Prosecutors usually submit a government-created listing of beers as proof but failed to do that.) (2) In August, police in London, Ontario, informed the mother of a college student murdered in 1990 that they had recently solved the case and were certain that the perp was a man on parole at the time and who died in 1994. However, said police, they cannot reveal his name because of "privacy laws."

Cliches Come to Life

(1) Rumors of dead people registered to vote in Venezuela are plentiful, but according to a Financial Times dispatch from Caracas, among the names (with ID numbers) appearing on the rolls in July was that of Henri Charriere, the reputedly awesome escapee-criminal known as Papillon, who died in 1973. (2) A truck hauling 8,000 live chickens overturned after being forced off the road near St. John's, Newfoundland, in July when, on a two-lane highway, a car veered into the wrong lane and headed for the truck. (Thus, the car driver might be said to have won the inadvertent game of "chicken" with the chicken-truck driver.)

The Continuing Crisis

From a Legal Notice of a Name Change in the Honolulu Advertiser, Aug. 24: from "Waiaulia Alohi anail ke alaamek kawaipi olanihenoheno Kam Paghmani" to "Waiaulia Alohi anail ke alaamek kawaipi olanihenoheno Kam."

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