News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



Even with the nation at war and casualties mounting, some Pentagon officials evidently believe that one way to reduce military families' stress is to teach them to laugh. Its "laughter instructor," retired Army Col. James Scott, holds therapeutic sessions around the country with National Guard families that feature walking like a penguin and blurting "ha ha hee hee and ho ho," according to a January USA Today story. Said Scott, "The guiding principle is to laugh for no reason (which is) one of the reasons it works so well for military families."

Compelling Explanations

-- After her 11-year-old son was suspended for twice bringing a loaded handgun to school, Linnea C. Holdren, 43, said the matter was pretty much beyond her control. "I can't lock up his guns," she told police. "They belong to him, and he has a right to use them whenever he wants to use them." (The boy was expelled in January, and Holdren, who is a teacher at her son's Shickshinny, Pa., elementary school, has been charged with felony endangerment.)

-- Denmark's government ruled in 2001 that institutionalized citizens have the right to have sex and that caregivers must even take them to visit prostitutes. (Prostitution is legal in Denmark.) According to a January dispatch from Aarhus, Denmark, in London's Observer, Mr. Torben Vegener Hansen, 59, who has cerebral palsy and lives at home on government assistance, is challenging the government also to pay for prostitutes to make house calls, claiming that he is unable to have sex manually because of his illness and must be accorded this "human right" by a service similar to the government's meals-on-wheels program.

-- Scotland Yard agreed in January to pay the equivalent of about $52,000 to London police Sgt. Leslie Turner to settle Turner's claim that the reason he failed in a 2004 assignment was that he had been "overpromoted" to the job because he is black. Turner said he had been given a job as a guard for Prince Charles, and then for Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, without adequate training and, as a result, made mistakes that caused him to be reassigned.

Science on the Cutting Edge

-- Two physicians, in a December note in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, wrote glowingly of the ability of the Super Soaker Max-D 5000 squirt weapon to quickly and safely loosen severely impacted ear wax (knowledge learned from an emergency use when no standard ear-syringing equipment was available). In fact, they wrote, since the Super Soaker holds much more water than the standard equipment, using it would actually shorten patients' office visits. (However, the Super Soaker was obviously not anticipated for medical use; its awkward design assured that patient and doctor would be drenched by excess spray.)

-- "The Island of Dr. Moreau" Comes to Life: (1) Recently opened archives in Moscow show that in the 1920s, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered his top animal breeding scientist to create interspecies "super warriors." Stalin's half-men, half-apes would be "invincible," "insensitive to pain" and "indifferent about the quality of food they eat." (2) The Associated Press reported in October that Japan's Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp., in the course of video-game research, is developing a joystick-controlled headset that disorients humans and makes them move in certain ways (a benign "virtual dance experience," according to one researcher, with potential uses such as keeping the elderly from falling).

-- Researchers for Finland's Helsinki University of Technology's Air Guitar Project recently demonstrated software that allows a player's finger movements along the imaginary instrument to be set to music from a library of guitar sounds. According to a November New Scientist report, the virtual guitar hero wears special gloves, allowing his gestures to be tracked by camera. Researcher Aki Kanerva expects players even to develop a distinct air guitar style.

Editors Buried the Lede

Researcher Jean-Louis Martin of the Universite Claude Bernard in Lyon, France, found (for a December British Medical Journal article) that consuming cannabis (marijuana) doubled motorists' likelihood of a fatal auto collision, and alarming news headlines about the report followed. Less prominently noted in the article, and consequently in news reports, was that drivers impaired by alcohol were six times more likely than an unimpaired driver to have a fatal collision, thus suggesting that the generally illegal drug, cannabis, is only one-third as dangerous for drivers as the legal drug, alcohol.

People With Issues

In January, a parrot named Greeny inherited a half-million-dollar property in Boulder County, Colo., through an elaborate trust fund after its owners, Patricia Borosik, 49, and (a man with essentially four first names) Paul James Stewart Scott, 54, committed suicide. If Scott had lived a few more days, he would have had to report to court to be sentenced for offering $13,000 to two underage girls to have sex with him and then to asphyxiate him with a pillow.

Least Competent Criminals

Not Cut Out for a Life of Crime: (1) Three men who police say stole a car in San Jose, Calif., in October and drove it to Chico, Calif., were arrested in Chico when police caught them trying to break into that same car because they had locked the keys inside (or thought they had, since Chico Officer Jose Lara said he found the keys in one of the men's pockets, after all). (2) Adam Ruiz, 29, was arrested in Buffalo, N.Y., in January after he showed up at work as a trainee at the same Burger King he had allegedly robbed the week before (strengthening the conclusion that crime certainly does not pay if it pays less well than burger-flipping.)

Recurring Themes

More Courtroom Defendants Employing Ridiculous Legal Theories: Gregory Ignatius Armstrong, 42, was indicted for bankruptcy fraud in Greenbelt, Md., in December for claiming in all seriousness that he is a sovereign nation with unlimited contract powers and is thus owed $500,000 in copyright royalties by anyone who uses his name (in one case, by his Postal Service supervisor who wrote him concerning absences from work). And Oliver Clifton Hudson and Gregory Banks refused to attend their federal drug-conspiracy trial in Baltimore in November because they deny that the government has jurisdiction over their "flesh and blood." Hudson, for example, said the indictment against him was void because it listed his name in all capital letters, when the correct designation is "Oliver Clifton: Hudson."

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (75) People who are so enticed by the money they can make selling scrap-metal copper that they break into electrical substations to steal wire, at night, and touch the wrong thing, as the man did in Bellmead, Texas, two days before Christmas. (He "never even knew what hit him," said a utility employee.) (76) And animals in mating season (especially deer) that crash into homes and storefronts in their crazed search for sex, as did deer that appeared in January in an Evansville, Ind., video store and an Arkansas City, Kan., elementary school.

Even a Broken Clock Is Right Twice a Day

A Saratoga Springs, N.Y., telemarketer perhaps saved the life of an 85-year-old man in Ridott, Ill., in December when she happened to dial his number. The man had fallen the night before and spent the night outside freezing. Suffering from hypothermia, he had struggled to crawl back inside, and, although still unable to make an outgoing call, he managed to pick up the ringing phone and ask for help.

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