News of the Weird

Week of July 28, 2013

LEAD STORY -- Annals of Invention

Although Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the alleged 9/11 mastermind) was waterboarded 183 times among several extreme interrogation techniques, he and his CIA captors eventually reached a moderated state. In 2003, though still housed in a "black site" in Romania, "KSM" asked permission to design a household vacuum cleaner, and the highest echelons of the agency co-operated, according to a former senior CIA analyst, speaking to the Associated Press in July. In reality, when a detainee exhausts his intelligence value, the agency's main mission is to keep him "sane," in case he is later put on trial, and the vacuum cleaner project was thought likely to engage KSM, who, 15 years before the murders of nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, had earned a mechanical engineering degree from North Carolina A&T State University. [Associated Press, 7-11-2013]

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

-- The gourmet lollipop company Lollyphile announced its latest flavor in June: Breast Milk Lollipops (four for $10). Owner Jason Darling said it "slowly dawned on" him that his friends were "producing milk so delicious it could turn a screaming, furious child into a docile, contented one. I knew I had to capture that flavor." [Lollyphile press release, 6-4-2013]

-- Marketing Challenges: (1) The Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop franchisers, already with a lineup of sometimes-unappreciated flavors such as buffalo chicken wing soda, briefly experimented in June with "ranch dressing" soda, a mistaken adventure that co-founder Rob Powells jokingly blamed on his business partner. (2) Brewmaster John Maier of Rogue Ales in Newport, Ore., pointed out that "wild yeasts" have been used in beer for centuries and thus (according to a June report on his company's Beard Beer (from yeast of beards, including at one time, his own) should be regarded as a traditional brew. [Huffington Post, 6-14-2013] [Food Beast, 6-5-2013]

Science on the Cutting Edge

-- Carnivorous Vegetation: It was a special occasion in Surrey, England, in June as a rare plant prepared to bloom. The 3-foot-tall Puya chilensis, native to Chile, features neon-bright greenish-yellow flowers with blooms large enough to yield drinkable nectar, but its most startling distinction is its ability to nourish itself by trapping small animals in its razor-sharp spines, leaving them to decay. (At Britain's Wisley Garden, it is fed with ordinary fertilizer rather than animals.) [The Independent (London), 6-17-2013]

-- Too Much Information: During a June debate in a House Rules Committee hearing on abortion legislation, U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas, himself an obstetrician/gynecologist, criticized a proposal to outlaw abortion at the 20-week limit (where a fetus is said to begin to feel pain), insisting on an earlier ban, at 15 or 16 weeks. "Watch a sonogram of a 15-week-old baby," said Burgess, "and they have movements that are purposeful. ... If they're a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs." Thus, "If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?" [, 6-17-2013]

-- Physicians at Kwong Wah Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, publishing in the Hong Kong Medical Journal recently, described a 66-year-old man seeking relief from a swelling in his abdomen (after having had a sparse history with doctors). They concluded that the man was basically a woman and that the cause of the swelling was an ovarian cyst. The patient had both Turner syndrome, which causes women to lack some female features, and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which boosts male hormones. (While females have two X chromosomes, and males an X and a Y, Turner syndrome patients have one X and no Y.) [South China Morning Post, 6-4-2013]

Animals in the News

-- Alarming Headlines: (1) "Koala Chlamydia: The STD Threatening an Australian Icon" (BBC News). (2) "Super-Sized Crabs and Oysters With Herpes" (Field & Stream). (3) "Far-Right Extremists Chased Through London by Women Dressed as Badgers" (International Business Times, reporting June rallies of two British nationalist parties and their opposition occurring at the same time and place as a better-attended demonstration against the government's cull on badgers). [BBC News, 4-24-2013] [Field & Stream, 4-10-2013] [International Business Times, 6-1-2013]

-- Horse Bullies: In June, Barbour County, W.Va., firefighters, called to a farm in Belington, rescued the horse "Rowdy," whose entire body was somehow trapped inside an industrial-sized tire. Rowdy's owner said she believes Rowdy had an altercation with some of the other horses. [The Inter-Mountain (Elkins, W.Va.), 6-19-2013]


A staff report by Democrats on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce released in June and using data from Wisconsin (because of the state's comprehensive record-keeping) found that taxpayers wind up paying out at least $75 million a year in "safety net" assistance to the state's Wal-Mart workers (food stamps, Medicaid, school lunches, earned-income tax credits, etc.) allegedly because the company's wages and benefits are so meager. The report, an update on 2004 numbers that were less than half those found this time around, estimated that Wal-Mart families accounted for more than 9,000 Wisconsin Medicaid enrollees. The $75 million, covering 75 stores, represents a low-end estimate with the high end about $130 million. [The Capital Times (Madison), 6-7-2013; Los Angeles Times, 6-7-2013]

People Different From Us

Melanie Typaldos, 57, and her husband, Richard Loveman, 54, in Buda, Texas, are supposedly part of a growing trend of people keeping pet capybaras (giant, semi-aquatic guinea pigs that are the world's largest rodents, at more than 100 pounds). "Gary" sometimes lounges on the couple's marital bed and frolics in the above-ground pool the couple installed for him. Although Melanie and Richard keep other, more traditional, animals at their home (they told London's Daily Mail in June), Gary is, of course, the only one as large as a human but with the distinctive body and head of a rat. [Daily Mail, 6-21-2013]

Least Competent People

(1) Apprentice Brooklyn, N.Y., tree-trimmer David Fleischer, 21 (and son of the company owner), had to be rescued by firefighters in July after he apparently violated the cardinal rule in the business by cutting lower branches first -- until he was stranded at the top of the tree. "He is a good boy," said "Izzy" Fleischer, "but he is learning." (2) Emergency crews in Fort Worth, Texas, responded to a Quik Trip gas station in June when an unidentified man got his finger caught in his car's gas cap after he poured in some additive. Rescuers had to use a hammer and screwdriver to break the plastic around the cap and finally freed the man's hand, unscathed, after a 20-minute struggle. [New York Post, 7-6-2013] [KRLD-TV (Dallas-Fort Worth), 6-18-2013]


"Breatharianism" Revisited: Kirby de Lanerolle of Sri Lanka appeared on National Geographic television in June to claim that he had lived without food for five years -- on nourishment only from the sun, wind and the "vibrations of God." But his story provoked the same skepticism faced by other breatharians -- that who can know if he cheated? In May, Ms. Naveena Shine, a breatharian in Seattle, attempted to head off that criticism by installing 24-hour cameras throughout her home for her upcoming four-to-six-month regimen consuming only air and sunlight. However, she called off her project after 47 allegedly pure days (and a 33-pound weight loss) because, she said, she was out of money and because people seemed no less skeptical that she was somehow cheating. (De Lanerolle, interrogated on the TV show, actually confessed to minor cheating but insisted that science's two-month maximum for surviving foodlessly is wrong.) [The Sun (London), 6-27-2013] [Seattle Times, 6-17-2013]

A News of the Weird Classic (October 2009)

What is believed to be the world's only commercial lounge openly serving cocaine operates in La Paz, Bolivia, though the owners of "Route 36" have to change locations from time to time, depending on the moods of the bribed authorities. An August (2009) dispatch in London's The Guardian reported that a nearly pure gram costs the equivalent of about $14 ($22 for "premium"), served by waiters in an empty CD case, with straws, but bar drinks are also available. Route 36 is well-known to backpacking tourists. Recalled one waiter, "We had some Australians; they stayed here for four days. (T)he only time they left was to go to the ATM." [The Guardian, 8-19-09]

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