-- Scientists at the University of Southern California will soon begin testing an artificial brain prosthesis (a silicon chip that mimics the hippocampus), which, if successful, can help people who cannot store future and recent memories of their experiences. One problem with the project (according to a March story in New Scientist): Subjects might not remember anything about the research or consenting to participate in it. (Another problem: Nearly everyone is glad not to be able to recall some negative experiences.)
-- The small Jewish Skver sect of Hasidim (New Square, N.Y.) was energized in March when a fishcutter in the sect (along with his Christian co-worker) swore they heard a 20-pound carp shout apocalyptic warnings in Hebrew. The co-worker thought the carp was merely Satanic, but Zalmen Rosen, 57, said the fish's soul was cautioning that the end is near, perhaps because of war in Iraq. Although the news spread throughout the community (aided by a feature in The New York Times), the carp itself met an inglorious end when the co-worker butchered it and sold it for gefilte fish.
In March, former Northwest Airlines flight attendant Daniel Reed Cunningham was charged with slyly drugging the apple juice of a severely rambunctious 19-month-old baby during a 2002 flight. The mother became suspicious after tasting the juice and so slipped some into a container for later testing (which revealed Xanax).
Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (61) Parent(s) who leave young children home alone for days at a time, certain that they can care for themselves, while they frolic, as a 31-year-old Placentia, Calif., woman did in December, leaving her kids, ages 7 and 4, for three weeks to go see a North Carolina man she had met on the Internet. (62) And men who steal industrial (slow-moving) vehicles and apparently try to outrun pursuing police cars, as a 29-year-old man did in February with a farm tractor (towing an 18-foot-wide chisel plow), piddling along for 20 miles from near Wheaton, Minn., into South Dakota, "chased" by sheriff's deputies until he finally crashed.
-- Israeli Aircraft Industries Ltd. is now testing an "airplane" the size of a credit card (flight time: 20 minutes), containing cameras and transmitters to relay intelligence from battlefields, or from the insides of buildings by going through open windows. And the company TrapTec (Escondido, Calif.) is now in the final testing of "anti-graffiti" sensors that are so responsive that they can identify taggers who use spray paint just by the distinctive hissing sound of the aerosol can (and automatically tell police the taggers' location, via global positioning system technology).
-- According to a January Los Angeles Times profile, biologist Gerry Kuzyk recently came upon, in a remote area of the Yukon, an 8-foot-high, half-mile swath of what he learned was caribou droppings; since no caribou had been sighted in the area for over 100 years, Kuzyk concluded that it was a massive, centuries-old accumulation that had been frozen but recently melted. And the Reuters news service reported in February that Antarctica's oldest building has become largely unvisitable because it is being blocked in by droppings from the area's 100,000 Adelie penguins.
-- In a three-hour operation in February at the Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College Hospital in Calcutta, India, doctors performed what they claimed was the world's first penis transplant. Dr. Ashok Ray, lead surgeon, had been in the process of removing a troublesome second penis on a 1-year-old boy when someone elsewhere in the hospital informed him that a baby boy had just been born without one.
-- New Concierge Services: In Melbourne, Australia, in March, John Stark, 60, and his wife and son pleaded guilty to running a scheme in which the Starks "ordered" large quantities of upscale goods, which two shoplifter-associates would then go "acquire" for them so that the Starks could resell them in the family's Shopaholic discount stores. And a burglary ring in New York City was even more specific: According to March indictments, they stole only items specifically requested by individual patrons who had heard by word of mouth that they could drop off a wish list and then buy the items at a deep discount when the goods "came in."
-- New Frontiers in Advertising: In February, a British ad agency began paying college students about $20 for each three-hour stint in which they walk around in public with a company's logo semipermanently tattooed on their foreheads. And in December, another British agency signed up Sony Ericsson to pay for draping its advertising messages over large dogs (St. Bernards, Great Danes) whose owners accepted free dog-walking service in public parks in exchange for allowing the "moving billboards."
Recent Obsessions in the News: Stanley Jollymore, 90, was written up in Toronto's National Post for the "ball" he made out of 139,620 metallic wrappers from cigarette packages from his 70 years of smoking (February). And Gary Duschi, 52, was written up in the Virginian-Pilot (Hampton Roads, Va.) for his 8-mile-long chain of chewing gum wrappers (38-year habit, a million wrappers) (March). And Carl Masthay, 62, was written up in Riverfront Times (St. Louis) for compiling (over the last 12 years), and self- publishing, an exhaustive, 757-page dictionary for translating between French and the Illinois Indian Kaskaskian dialect (a language no one has spoken for hundreds of years).
Burglars broke into a county Humane Society office and stole about $1,800; they apparently entered by squeezing through a dog door (Pittsburgh, January). And Macy Panel Products was fined by an industrial tribunal after machine operator Keith Sanderson accidentally chopped off the tip of his thumb and then, showing bosses how the accident happened, accidentally chopped off his entire index finger (Newcastle, England, March).
A 23-year-old professional snowboarder (in Nagano, Japan, for a competition) fell about 50 feet to his death while playfully sliding down the handrail of a staircase at the Panorama Land Kijimadaira hotel (February). A 13-year-old boy drowned while trying to swim with a heavy tow chain around his waist (inspired by a scene in the movie "Blue Crush," where a surfer trains by swimming while towing a large rock) (Port Salerno, Fla., February). A 28-year-old student actor accidentally hanged himself while rehearsing, alone, a scene in which his character survives a hanging (Baton Rouge, La., December).
News of the Weird from time to time reports on the vile, anti-homosexuality crusades of the indefatigable Rev. Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kan.) and his extended family. The latest: The clan plans to be in Pittsburgh on April 13 to picket several organizations that had been associated with the late Fred Rogers, whom the Phelpses believe led kids in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" to feel that being gay was acceptable. Said one of Phelps' daughters (a Westboro attorney): "This country has forgotten God and effectively flipped Him off, and Fred Rogers is in part responsible." (At a November demonstration at the University of Maryland, the Phelpses carried the sign, "Thank God for Sept. 11," an event which they view as proof of God's wrath.)
New Salem Missionary Baptist Church members voted 67-10 to fire pastor Stanley Hall, who had refused to reschedule his consecration service even though it conflicted with the telecast of the Super Bowl (Birmingham, Ala.). A 19-year-old woman learning to drive took a turn too fast and mowed down her two kids, her sister and her niece (all survived) (Santa Ana, Calif.). A 39-year-old driver, celebrating his car's 100,000th mile with a bottle of champagne, accidentally smashed into a tree (Boulder, Colo.).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)