News of the Weird

Week of October 23, 2011

LEAD STORY

London Fashion Week usually brings forth a shock or two from cutting-edge designers, but a September creation by Rachel Freire might have raised the bar: a floor-length dress made from 3,000 cow nipples (designed to resemble roses). Initial disgust for the garment centered on implied animal abuse, but Freire deflected that issue by pointing out that the nipples had been discarded by a tannery and that her use amounted to "recycling." The 32-year-old Freire, who has worked with mainstream entertainers such as Christina Aguilera, was kept so busy with the animal-abuse angle that she was largely spared having to explain another issue -- why anyone would want to wear a dress made with cow nipples.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit!

-- Death is big business in Japan, with 1.2 million people a year passing away and overtaxing the country's cemeteries and crematoriums. With the average wait for disposal at least several days, and space running short in funeral homes, "corpse hotels" have opened in many cities, with climate-controlled "guest rooms" renting for the equivalent of about $155 a night, with viewing rooms where relatives can visit the bodies daily until cremation is available.

-- The world's real economy may be flagging, but not necessarily the make-believe economy of online multiplayer games, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal (July) and the website Singularity Hub (August). For example, entrepreneur Ailin Graef's Anshe Chung Studios is worth "millions" of real U.S. dollars, earned mostly by managing rentals of make-believe real estate and brokering make-believe money transactions in the game Second Life. Graef also commands top (real) dollar for her designs of make-believe fashions for players' game characters (avatars). Two other companies are suing each other in federal court in San Francisco over the copyright to their lucrative business models of creating make-believe animals (horses, rabbits) that sell very well to players who take them on as game pets for their characters or breed them to make other make-believe animals.

-- No sooner had Anthony Sowell been convicted in August of murdering 11 women in Cleveland and burying their remains around his property than entrepreneur Eric Gein of Florida had hired someone to fill sandwich bags of soil from Sowell's property so that he could sell the souvenir dirt for $25 a gram on the Internet. (Gein follows well-publicized salesmen who have famously collected the pubic hair of New York prostitute-killer Arthur Shawcross, the crawlspace dirt from the house of John Wayne Gacy, and the "fried hair" of Ted Bundy -- that fell on the floor as he was executed.)

Weird Science

-- In July, a surgeon from Britain's Oxford Radcliffe Hospital announced a cure for a 57-year-old man with a rare condition that made, in his mind, audible and ever-louder sounds whenever his eyeballs moved. "Superior canal dehiscence syndrome" elevates the interior sounds of the body (such as heartbeat and the "friction" of muscles moving against muscles) to disturbing levels.

-- Artificial meat (grown in a test tube from animal stem cells) has been theoretically planned for about 10 years, but a European Science Foundation audience in September heard predictions that lab-grown sausage might be available as soon as next year. The meat is produced in sheets ("shmeat") and would be prohibitively expensive at first, in that the largest specimen produced so far measures only about one inch long and a third of an inch wide. The biggest drawback facing artificial muscle tissue: that even lab-grown muscles require exercise to prevent atrophy.

-- Recent Alarming Headlines: (1) "Miami Invaded by Giant, House-Eating Snails" (up-to-10-inch-long snails that attach to, and slowly gnaw on, stucco walls). (2) "Scientists Develop Blood Swimming 'Microspiders' to Heal Injuries, Deliver Drugs" (spider-like "machines," made of gold and silica, smaller than a red blood cell yet which can travel through veins carrying drugs and be directionally controlled by researchers).

-- In an art-science collaboration in August, Dutch artist Jalila Essaidi and Utah State researcher Randy Lewis produced a prototype bulletproof skin -- or at least skin that would limit a .22-caliber bullet to only about 2 inches' penetration into a simulated human body. Genetically engineered spider silk (reputed to be five times stronger than steel) was grafted between layers of dermis and epidermis. Mused Essaidi, we "in the near future ... (may) no longer need to descend from a godly bloodline in order to have traits like invulnerability...."

Leading Economic Indicators

Turned down once before, liquor manufacturer EFAG convinced Germany's Federal Patent Court in September to award trademark protection to its schnapps with the brand name Ficken, which in German translates directly into what in English is known as the F word. The court acknowledged that the name is unquestionably in poor taste but is not "sexually discriminatory" and does not violate public morals. In fact, the court noted, the word is widely used in Germany. (In March 2010, the European Union trademarks authority granted a German brewery the right to call its beer "Fucking Hell" -- the first word of which is the actual name of an Austrian village and the second a German word referring to light ale.)

DMV Is a Dangerous Place

(1) The Department of Motor Vehicles office in Roseville, Calif., was closed for a week in July after a driving school student crashed into the building and left a five-foot hole in the wall. (2) A young man taking a test at the drivers' center in Brisbane, Australia, in August lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a bench outside the building, hitting his mother, who was waiting for him. (3) A 56-year-old DMV driving tester was killed in July when the woman she was evaluating ran off the road in Williamsburg, Va., and struck a tree.

People With Issues

In October, a court in Ottawa, Ontario, sentenced pornography collector Richard Osborn, 46, to a year in jail on several charges, but dismissed the more serious child porn counts. Judge Robert Fournier ruled that Osborn's hard-core images of Bart and Lisa Simpson, and Milhouse, were not illegal, on the grounds that he could not be sure of the characters' ages. (Baby Maggie Simpson was depicted, but she was not involved in sex.) Judge Fournier was clearly exasperated at Osborn's perversions, among them his homemade video of swimsuit-clad youngsters, interspersed with shots of Osborn himself masturbating, aided by a Cabbage Patch doll whose mouth had been cut open. At one point, a disgusted Judge Fournier cut off the presentation of evidence. "Enough," he said. "We are not paid by the taxpayers to sit here and torture ourselves."

Least Competent Criminals

One would think the robber of a gas station would consider filling the tank before fleeing. However, Moses Gift, 47, was arrested in September in Winston-Salem, N.C., and charged with robbing the Huff Shell station -- shortly before running out of gas a short distance away. And in Winder, Ga., Micah Mitchell was arrested in October shortly after, according to police, he crashed through the front door of a BP station to steal merchandise. He was arrested minutes later a few miles from the station, where he had run out of gas.

A News of the Weird Classic (January 1995)

In April (1994), defendant Arthur Hollingsworth, despite previous recalcitrance, for some reason agreed, reluctantly, to waive his constitutional right of silence and to testify on his own behalf in his trial for armed robbery of a Houston convenience store. Prosecutor Jay Hileman first got Hollingsworth to admit that he was in the store at the time it was robbed and that he was armed. Then Hileman asked, "Mr. Hollingsworth, you're guilty, aren't you?" Hollingsworth replied, "No." Hileman repeated the question: "Mr. Hollingsworth, you're guilty, aren't you?" Hollingsworth: "Yeah." Hileman said he had no further questions.

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