In January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers confiscated a live, jeweled beetle that a woman was wearing as an "accessory" on her sweater as she crossed into Brownsville, Texas, from Mexico. Blue jewels were glued onto the beetle's back, which had been painted gold, and the mobile brooch was tethered by a gold chain attached to a safety pin. Even though the woman orally "declared" the animal, the beetle was confiscated because she had not completed the bureau's PPQ Form 526, which is necessary to bring insects into the country. Reportedly, such jewelry is not that rare in Mexico. A spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was, of course, appalled.
-- Economic Recovery in Denver: As of early January, at least 390 new Denver businesses had applied for sales-tax licenses as dispensaries for legal (medicinal) marijuana. By comparison, Starbucks coffee shops number 208 in the entire state of Colorado. Among the first cannabis-centered businesses to open, in December, was the Ganja Gourmet on South Broadway, featuring lasagna, pizza, jambalaya, paella, flavored cheesecakes and other delicacies, all "spiced" appropriately for customers with doctors' prescriptions.
-- Jeweler Colin Burn, of Broome, Australia, announced in October at the Asia Adult Expo in Macau that he will make the world's most expensive "personal vibrator," in 10 limited editions, out of smooth platinum, each with 1,500 white diamonds. He said he planned to shoot for a price of $1 million (U.S.) and noted that he currently offers a similar sex toy with only 450 diamonds (but with a handle made of rare conkerberry wood) that he sells for $38,000.
-- Professor Yevgeny Moskalev of Russia's St. Petersburg Technological University announced in November that he had perfected a somewhat-useful powdered version of Russia's favorite drink (vodka). However, after much experimentation, he had found that the only way to preserve the alcohol was by mixing the liquid vodka into a special wax and letting it harden. According to a November report in the English language version of Pravda, the resulting shaved chips could then be flavored to counteract the wax's insipidness, and might be used for cooking or medicine. "Instant vodka" mix for straight drinking does not appear to be in professor Moskalev's plans.
-- In 2008, Sweden, one of only seven countries with embassies in North Korea, began trying to coax that country into the global economy by encouraging the manufacture of jeans, which Sweden in turn would arrange for sale in high-end stores. After a series of awkward missteps (e.g., a textile manufacturer, unfamiliar with the concept of "jeans," said no, but the director of a mining company decided to accept the project), 1,100 pairs were finally shipped and priced at the equivalent of about $215 a pair, according to a December Reuters dispatch from Stockholm. (The "NoKo" jeans were initially given shelf space in at least one store, but now are offered only on the store's Web site.)
-- After the New York Post reported in December on the 175-square-foot Manhattan apartment recently purchased by Christopher Prokop and his wife (for $150,000, with $800 monthly in maintenance fees), residents of even smaller Manhattan digs told the Post they were unimpressed. For instance, Felice Cohen, 39, rents a 90-square-foot apartment ($700) with a loft bed, but admits that she must sit sideways on the toilet. Freelance event-planner Eddie Rabon rents a 55-square-foot palace for $800 a month (closer to midtown than Cohen's). He can almost touch both side walls simultaneously and cannot easily turn around while showering. Commented the residents, respectively: "We love it," "I love it," and "It's fantastic."
-- He's a man of distinction, but that is of little comfort in the tight economy. Actor Jonah Falcon, 39, is out of work and living once again with his parents in New York City, according to a January report on AOL News. A 1999 HBO documentary touted Falcon as possessor of the world's longest penis (13 1/2 inches, aroused). He has appeared in mainstream film and TV roles ("Law and Order," "Melrose Place," "The Sopranos"), but has refused to do pornography. "If I did porn, nobody would take me seriously." However, he added, "I wouldn't be opposed to doing a nude scene (in a mainstream film) if I got the right part."
-- The recent Christmas bonus season was rough at the RF Brookes pizza-ingredient factory in Wigston, England. Workers received only gift containers of pudding ("plum duffs") with a use-by date of March 2009, but accompanied by a letter from management assuring them that food technicians had certified the product as safe to eat in January 2010. (After numerous employee complaints, the company apologized and offered fresh plum duffs.)
A team of researchers led by a University of Connecticut professor, writing recently in the ornithology journal The Auk, declared the local saltmarsh sparrow to be America's most promiscuous bird, in that 95 percent of the females hook up with more than one male during a mating season. The likelihood that any two chicks in a nest had the same father was only 23 percent, and in one-third of the nests, all chicks had different fathers. The researchers hypothesized that the frequent flooding of Connecticut's marshes destroys so many nests that non-choosy females have gained evolutionary advantage. (A wren in Australia and a parrot in Madagascar are said to be comparably promiscuous.)
A seven-point buck was found dead in Viroqua, Wis., in November, apparently after losing a head-butting contest with a cement-statue buck. Ramming contests are common during mating season, and the cement buck was about the same size as the dead one (but weighs about three times as much).
-- Two partners in crime were sentenced to four years in jail between them by England's Manchester Crown Court in December. Ali Abdullah, 28, and Muqtar Nuren, 22, had offered to take driver's license tests for people (both driving test and written test), but on contingency payment only for passing. Between them, they had 35 clients, took 43 tests and failed 33 (passing only seven driving tests and three written). Although they did not charge for their failures, it is of course illegal to take a driver's license test for another person.
-- Recurring Themes: (1) Brandon Stepp, 27, and two companions were arrested in Parkersburg, W.Va., in December after they became the most recent alleged drug runners to hide their marijuana unsuccessfully in their car's engine compartment. (The engine got hot; the dope caught fire.) (2) A man fled without money from a Taco Bell in Haverstraw, N.Y., in October after being the most recent robber to conduct his transactions out of order. He first announced the robbery, but before the cashier could gather money for him, he asked the store manager for a job application. When the manager refused, the man walked out, empty-handed.
The French performance artist Orlan made News of the Weird in 1993 when she underwent surgery in a New York City art gallery as part of a multiple-surgery transformation of her face according to five icons of Renaissance and post-Renaissance beauty (at that time, implanting small horns to simulate the bumpy forehead of Mona Lisa). During a Chicago show in December 1998, Orlan raised money for further operations by selling posters and videos of her surgeries and digitally enhanced portraits of her face incorporating features that ancient Mayans had found attractive but which are ugly in this society (huge noses, crossed-eyes). She also sold souvenir tubes of her liposuctioned fat.