News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication


LEAD STORY -- Innate opera

Researchers Having Fun: Scientists from the Primate Research Institute at Japan's Kyoto University reported in an August journal article that they had given helium gas to apes (gibbons), which, predictably, made their voices goofily high-pitched. However, it was not a fraternity prank or lab assistant's initiation, but a way for the scientists to determine whether the famously sonorous gibbons could yell just as loudly at a higher-than-natural pitch. The gibbons succeeded, showing a rare talent similar to that of the world's greatest human sopranos, who maintain their booming amplitude by altering the shape of their vocal tract, including their mouth and tongue. [Reuters via Christian Science Monitor, 8-23-2012]

Cultural Diversity

-- The seaside city of Qingdao, China, is (as described in August by NPR) "not a vacation community for superheroes" even though many beachcombers wear masks while lounging and sunbathing. The garments are "face-kinis," or light cloth coverings that protect against the "terror of tanning." While Western cultures celebrate skin-darkening, many Chinese associate it with lower-status, outdoor occupations, and a pale skin suggests having lived a pampered life. [NPR, 8-20-2012]

-- Fine Points of the Law: (1) Italy's highest court ruled in July that one man's telling another, in front of others, that he has "no balls" can be criminal conduct that warrants payment of damages. Said Judge Maurizio Fumo, such a comment places at issue male virility as well as competence and character. (2) In August, after an eight-day trial, a court in Hamburg, Germany, awarded money damages to a man who called another an "asshole" ("arschloch") in a parking-space dispute and fixed the payment at the equivalent of about $75,000. (Courts in Germany can base the amount of damages on the transgressor's income.) [ANSA (Rome) via Daily Telegraph (London), 8-1-2012] [The Local (Berlin), 8-23-2012]

-- A Saudi Arabian agency is raising the equivalent of about $130 million to break ground in 2013 on an entire city to be managed and staffed by female employees, with three more such cities being contemplated. Raising women's employment rate is a goal of the kingdom, where until last year, nearly all jobs were held by foreigners and Saudi males, including jobs as sales clerks in women's lingerie shops. [The Guardian (London), 8-12-2012]

-- A centuries-old practice of China's upper crust continues today, reported in August, except with a bit more circumspection. Rich and/or powerful people on trial or convicted can still get away with hiring replacements to serve their sentences -- but because of ubiquitous Internet videos, only if the replacements facially resemble the perps. Since the rich person winds up paying for his conviction (though a relatively small price), Slate called the practice ("ding zui") sort of a "cap-and-trade" policy for crime. [, 8-2-2012]

Latest Religious Messages

-- Prayer failed for Leslie Burton, 26, and Terrell Williams, 22, in St. Paul, Minn., in July. As they sat in the back seat of a police car while officers searched their own car, the pair, touching hands (according to the cruiser's video camera), quietly begged divine intervention that the guns in their car not be found. However, not only were the guns spotted, but a subsequent strip search revealed a baggie of suspected Ecstasy pills in Williams' rectum. [Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 7-6-2012]

-- In August, an abbot at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Thailand, reported that Steve Jobs is doing well now as a "mid-level angel." He was reincarnated as "a half-Witthayathorn, half-Yak," which the Bangkok Post took to mean that Jobs continues to be a "giant" and a seeker of scientific knowledge and apparently resides in a "parallel universe" near his former office in Cupertino, Calif. [Bangkok Post via CNBC, 8-24-2012]

Questionable Judgments

-- The mayor of Triberg, Germany, touted his town's new public parking area in July by noting that 12 of the spaces were wider, and well-lit, compared to the others, and would be reserved for female drivers. The harder-to-access "men's spaces" required maneuvering at an angle around concrete pillars. "(M)en are, as a rule, a little better at such challenges," the mayor said, predicting that the men's spots would become a visitors' "attraction" for the town. [The Local (Berlin), 7-12-2012]

-- Bright Ideas: New signs were posted on doors of single-use restrooms in two medical clinics in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in July and immediately confused a transgender activist interviewed by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News. Three silhouette figures appear on the door: a man, a woman, and what is supposedly a gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender (which is a half-man, half-woman with the right-hand side of the figure wearing a dress and with sloping shoulders and the left-hand side with the thicker pant legs of a man). Said the activist, "I understand they were trying to ... make people feel included, but..." [CBC News, 7-13-2012]

Fine Points of the Law

Finally responding to defense lawyers, the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged that it has been trying to keep certain North Carolina inmates locked up even though judges had declared them legally innocent. About 60 prisoners, according to a June USA Today investigation, were victims of an incorrect interpretation of federal gun-possession law supposedly rectified by a May 2011 U.S. Court of Appeals decision, but the Justice Department had continued to demand holds, for 12 months, arguing that somehow it still needed time to consider the men's records. (Some of the inmates are serving time for multiple counts and would only be eligible for sentence reductions.) In August, the department, sportingly, said it would stop opposing release of the men who had been ruled innocent more than a year earlier. [USA Today, 8-14-2012, 6-14-2012]

Least Competent People

Not Into Politics: Lowell Turpin, 40, was arrested in Anderson County, Tenn., in July after he became jealously enraged at a stranger's photo on his live-in girlfriend's Facebook page and, demanding to know who the man is, allegedly punched her in the face and smashed her computer. According to the police report, it was a campaign photo of Mitt Romney. [Knoxville News Sentinel, 7-30-2012]

The Weirdo-American Community

People Who Are a Mess: (1) St. Paul, Minn., police arrested Brian Wutschke, 45, in August after a female pedestrian said she saw him stop his truck beside her and perform oral sex on a dildo. Officers who patted Wutschke down at the scene noted a "vibrating sex toy" that Wutschke had inserted in a bodily orifice but declined to disturb it while it was still running. Wutschke was cited for indecent conduct. (2) Lab technician Coley Mitchell was arrested in a locker room at Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta in August, intoxicated, with his pants down with two lab monkeys nearby that had been released from their cages. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 8-23-2012] [Augusta Chronicle, 8-17-2012]

Armed and Clumsy (all-new!)

Men Who Accidentally Shot Themselves Recently: A man in Wawa, Ontario, in July, clubbing a mouse with the butt end of a rifle. The 56-year-old man in Sparks, Nev., who brought his handgun with him to "The Bourne Legacy" after the Colorado massacre and was shot in the buttocks when it fell to the floor. Two men who shot themselves in the genitals (a 45-year-old in Birmingham, Mich., in June and 36-year-old Tavares Colbert in Oklahoma City in July). Tough guys like the 18-year-old in Philadelphian who fired the unloaded (he thought!) gun at his own head after his "manhood" was challenged, and the 17-year-old in Largo, Fla., in June who lost in the first round at Russian roulette. Two people didn't even need a gun to shoot themselves: a Modesto, Calif., weightlifter whose dumbbell slipped to the floor in April and landed on a bullet, and a 56-year-old woman in Montoursville, Pa., who apparently carries bullets in her purse, and somehow had one explode, wounding her. [Wawa: [Toronto Sun, 7-21-2012] Sparks: [Associated Press via, 8-15-2012] Birmingham: [Detroit Free Press, 6-15-2012] Oklahoma City: [KWTV (Oklahoma City), 7-16-2012] Philadelphia: [Philadelphia Daily News, 6-7-2012] Largo: [Tampa Bay Times, 7-1-2012] Modesto: [Associated Press via WMBF-TV (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), 4-13-2012] Montoursville: [Williamsport (Pa.) Sun-Gazette, 6-11-2012]

Thanks This Week to Corby Kistler, Joe Guidali, Steve Dunn, Peter Smagorinsky, John McGaw, Ken Wilder, Gerald Sacks, Josh Levin, Bruce Leiserowitz, Eddie Earles, David Oldridge, Scott Huber, Hal Dunham, and Sandy Pearlman, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

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