News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication


LEAD STORY -- Jails Need Locks Too?

"Fulton Jail Will Get Working Cell Locks," read the Dec. 19 Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline. The county commission serving Atlanta had finally voted to break a longstanding 3-3 tie that prevented buying new jailhouse locks -- even while knowing that inmates could jimmy the old ones at will and roam the facilities, threatening and assaulting suspects and guards. The three recalcitrant commissioners were being spiteful because a federal judge had ordered various improvements to the jail, costing $140 million so far, and the three vowed to spend no more. The 1,300 replacement locks will cost about $5 million -- but will not be installed right away. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12-19-2012]

The Entrepreneurial Spirit!

-- The Chinese fashion designer "Ms. Lv" told China Newsweek in November that her sales had "quintupled" since she began using her 72-year-old grandfather to model her clothing styles for girls. "(It's) helping my granddaughter," Liu Xianping said. "I'm very old," he said, and "I have nothing to lose." [China Newsweek via New York Daily News, 11-20-2012]

-- Challenging Business Plans: (1) British "medical illustrator" Emily Evans recently created eight pricy, bone china dinner plates emblazoned with the microscope images of tissue slides of the human liver, thyroid, esophagus and testicles ($60 per plate, $200 for a set of four). (2) In October, a shop in London's St. Bart's Pathology Museum ran a special sale of cupcakes as part of a sexually transmitted disease awareness campaign. Each pastry's icing was crafted to resemble the lesions, boils and warts of gonorrhea and other maladies. [Daily Mail (London), 12-13-2012] [The Sun (London), 10-22-2012]

-- Leading a "jerky renaissance" is Krave, a Sonoma, Calif., company creating nontraditional flavors such as turkey jerky and jerky flavored with basil citrus or lemon garlic. Actually, Krave points out, jerky is rich in protein, with low calories and fat (but with, admittedly, sky-high sodium) and could be reasonably pitched as a healthy snack. However, jerky's main obstacle (a Krave competitor's CEO told The Wall Street Journal in September) is "jerky shame," in which some male consumers remain mortified that their girlfriends might see them enjoying the snack. [Wall Street Journal, 9-26-2012]

Science on the Cutting Edge

-- Behold, the "McGyver" Spider: Biologist Phil Torres, working from the Tambopata national park in Peru, revealed in December that he had witnessed a tiny Cyclosa spider construct a replica of an eight-legged spider in a web made of leaves, debris and dead insects. Since the real spider was found nearby, Torres hypothesized that the wily arachnid had built a decoy to confuse predators. [ (Sydney, Australia), 12-19-2012]

-- Artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso, already known for her "circus" of performing fleas at Australia's Sydney Festival 10 years ago, has since become a legitimate academic expert on the sex organs of fleas and other insects. She debuted the Museum of Copulatory Organs last year near Sydney, teaching visitors such esoterica as: In many insect species, females are promiscuous; snails are hermaphrodites in which one shoots sperm "darts" that form rigid chastity-belt-like blockages on his mate; and a male flea copulates for eight hours straight (but only mates three times in his life). [Sydney Morning Herald, 4-21-2012]

Awe-Inspiring Animals

A team of French researchers writing recently in the journal PLOS ONE described a species of European catfish, growing to a length of five feet, that feeds itself pigeons by lunging out of the water ("cat"-like) and snatching them, even if the leap carries it to shore. Like Argentinian killer whales, the catfish are able to remain on land for a few seconds while wriggling back into the water where they can enjoy their meal. The lead researcher said he filmed 54 catfish attacks, of which 15 were successful. [, 12-5-2012]

Leading Economic Indicators

Another "Airline-Pricing" Model: The Jiangdu District kindergarten recognizes that providing a quality education requires supporting the child emotionally as well as helping develop reading and other skills, and toward that end, it now requires teachers to hug each pupil twice a day -- provided that the parent has paid the monthly "hugging fee" of the equivalent of about $12.80. An education agency investigation is under way, according to a December Shanghai Daily report, but one teacher defended the trial program as boosting a child's confidence and establishing a "good mood" for learning. [Shanghai Daily, 12-12-2012]


-- First-World Crisis (I): Tufts University opened America's first animal obesity clinic at its veterinary hospital in North Grafton, Mass., in September, to supply nutrition information and to help owners develop weight-loss regimens for their pets. Without treatment, veterinarians told the Tufts Daily newspaper, pet obesity can lead to pancreatitis, joint disorders and skin disease. One of its first clients was a golden retriever (a breed known for its desire to run but also known for its adaptability to non-running lifestyles), who now requires $90 prescription dog food -- though the owner reports that his best friend has lost eight pounds and is thus almost halfway to his goal of 87. [Tufts Daily, 9-21-2012]

-- First-World Crisis (II): Researchers writing in the December issue of the journal Urology reported a "five-fold increase" over 10 years in emergency room visits for accidents caused by pubic-hair "grooming." Unsurprisingly, 83 percent of all injuries appeared to be shaving accidents, but only 56 percent of the patients were women, according to a summary of the research on [, 12-17-2012]

Least Competent Criminals

-- Demarco Thomas, 30, was arrested in Tucson, Ariz., in November, as a drug courier for what the Arizona Daily Star called a "local cartel," after Thomas himself had called police the day before. Thomas feared being whacked by the cartel because he had come up $20,000 short in the latest delivery. According to police, Thomas brought money in suitcases from North Carolina to his Tucson contact -- except for a little bit that he had somehow "misplaced." A police search of Thomas revealed almost exactly $20,000 on his person, and Thomas, about to be arrested, allegedly asked officers if they would please write a note to the cartel informing them that police had merely seized the $20,000 -- and not that Thomas had tried to steal it. They declined. [Arizona Daily Star, 12-4-2012]

-- Prosecutor's Delight: (1) Police in Guntersville, Ala., suspected that Tara Hampton had resumed dealing drugs, in violation of a first-offender's program that had kept her out of jail, and they knocked on her door to ask about some evidence they had come across. According to the police report, when Hampton opened the door for them, she was absentmindedly holding a bag of crack in her hand. (2) William Cook Jr., 27, was arrested after a manager at a Wendy's restaurant in Rome, Ga., complained that Cook was acting strange and disturbing customers, and when police asked for his ID, he provided bogus information. In a search, officers found a note in his pocket, reading, "How Bill Cook intends to rob the Wendy's on Martha Berry and get away with it," followed by lists labeled "Plan A" and "Plan B." [WAFF-TV (Huntsville, Ala.), 12-10-2012] [Rome News-Tribune, 12-12-2012]

Readers' Choice

(1) Unlucky Gary Haines, 59, was arrested in December in Charlotte County, Fla., after he was spotted stealing a trailer by hitching it to his own truck and driving off with it. The "spotter" was the trailer's owner, David Zehntner, who was out flying in his private plane and happened to be passing over his property at the moment Haines was hitching up. He easily followed Haines from the air and called in Haines' destination to police. (2) Jason DeJesus, 36, and Chanelle Troedson, 33, who share an upscale 4,600 square-foot home (with pool and courts for playing tennis and beach volleyball) in Morgan Hill, Calif., were arrested in December and charged with luring a 50-year-old handyman to their home, forcibly detaining him, and requiring him to make various repairs for them over a six-hour period (before he managed to escape and notify police.) [WWSB-TV (Sarasota), 12-31-2012] [KPIX-TV (San Francisco), 12-5-2012]

Thanks This Week to Bill Bloxham, Bruce Hilpert, Michael Waugh, Tim Kirby, Grady Bautista, Cherie Marcus, Peter Smagorinsky, Beth Anne Wasdin, and Dick Sonier, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

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