Edible "dirt" has recently appeared on the menus of several of the world's most renowned restaurants (e.g., the top-rated Noma in Copenhagen, Shakuf in Tel Aviv, Gilt in New York City). "People are really wowed to see dirt on their plates," said Gilt's head chef. Actually, the "dirt" only looks and feels like dirt. Each chef creates signature tastes from dried or charred powders with the appearance and consistency of sand, soil or ash -- from a base of plants, vegetables or eggs, or even dried beer. Said a reviewer, "These chefs are reminding people where food actually comes from."
-- Until August, Nettleton Middle School near Tupelo, Miss., had a strict policy for election of class officers for 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders: Only white students could be president, and only black students could be vice president. (Other officers were segregated by race, as well.) Officials explained that it was one way to assure black representation even though three-fourths of the students are white. A school memo was leaked to The Smoking Gun website in August, and a day later the school district rescinded the policy.
-- After two Mexican fishermen were dragged from their boats and "chewed so badly that their bodies could not be identified by their own families," according to a Daily Express review of an August British TV documentary, warnings were issued along the Pacific coast about the northern migration of Humboldt squid. They grow to 8 feet long, weigh up to 100 pounds, travel up to 15 mph, have eight swim/hold tentacles -- and two "attack" tentacles that are studded with 40,000 or more razor-sharp "teeth"-like nubs that help each devour almost seven tons of fish a year. Furthermore, female Humboldts are capable of laying 30 million eggs.
-- Briton Tania Doherty believed in 2008 that she was finally rid of ex-boyfriend Kawa ali Azad, who had stalked and assaulted her (once beating her unconscious) after she ended their affair in 2006. Azad had been arrested and ordered deported to his native Iraq, but when Iraq refused to take him, he applied to stay in Britain and, pending an immigration decision, was released by a judge sensitive to the "human rights" of someone seeking international "asylum." Azad immediately resumed harassing Doherty (who was chagrined to learn of the breadth of her violator's "human rights").
-- Notorious killer Jon Venables, convicted in 1993 at age 11 of the torture-murder of a 2-year-old Merseyside boy, was held until age 18 and then released on conditions and with a new identity to protect him from harassment. In July 2010, after violating the conditions, Venables was sentenced to two years in jail for possessing and exchanging "violent" child pornography. According to a Daily Telegraph report, the Ministry of Justice has accepted that it will have to supply Venables yet another new identity upon his eventual release (with set-up likely to cost the equivalent of almost $400,000 and security to run the equivalent of an additional $1.6 million a year).
-- Police in New Albany, Ind., arrested two alleged counterfeiters in August but believed that a much bigger operation was in play. Subsequently, the Indiana State Police made a public plea for informants, focusing on the people most likely to be cheated by counterfeit money: local drug dealers. "What we are asking today," said ISP Sgt. Jerry Goodin, "is we want all the drug dealers to call us. We want to get all of your information and exactly what happened in (any of your dealings)." Goodin added, "Trust us."
-- In June, Raytown, Mo., farmer David Jungerman mounted a sign on a tractor-trailer denouncing "parasites" who "always have their hand out for whatever the government will give them." Following news reports about the sign, the Kansas City Star reported that Jungerman himself had received more than $1 million in federal crop subsidies since 1995. (He later explained that a "parasite" pays no taxes at all yet seeks handouts. By contrast, Jungerman said, he pays taxes.)
-- The administrative staff for Queen Elizabeth II, running a budget shortfall in 2004 (according to recently released documents), asked the governing Labour Party if the royal family's palaces could qualify for government home-heating subsidies. The documents, obtained by London's The Independent, indicated that the Labour Party was initially receptive but then rejected the idea.
-- Playboy magazine has long published an audio edition, and the Library of Congress produces a text edition in Braille. However, as a Houston Chronicle reporter learned in August, a Texas organization (Taping for the Blind) goes one step further, with volunteer reader Suzi Hanks actually describing the photographs -- even the Playmates and other nudes. "I'd say if she has large breasts or small breasts, piercings or tattoos," said Hanks. "I'll describe her genitalia. ... I take my time describing the girls. ... Hey, blind guys like pretty, naked girls, too!"
America's most prolific litigant (and News of the Weird mainstay) may finally have met his match. In September, federal prosecutors asked a judge in Kentucky to supervise Jonathan Lee Riches' future filings to eliminate the frivolous ones (which likely means all of them). Riches is serving 10 years in prison for stealing credit card numbers and has filed an estimated 3,800 lawsuits from behind bars (more than one for every day of incarceration), alleging wrongs done to him by such people as George W. Bush, Britney Spears, the philosopher Plato, the Dave Matthews Band, Tiger Woods (luggage theft), baseball player Barry Bonds (illegal moonshine), and football player Michael Vick (who allegedly stole Riches' pit bulls, sold them on eBay, and used the proceeds to buy missiles from Iran).
Mark Smith, 59, was arrested at a bank in Watsonville, Calif., in September after he had allegedly threatened a teller with a bomb (spelled "bom") and demanded $2,000. The teller, apparently skeptical of Smith's toughness, tried to convince him, instead, to borrow the money, and she had him wait while she retrieved an application (during which time she called 911). By the time police arrived, Smith was filling out the loan form.
Arrested recently and awaiting trial for murder: Larry Wayne Call, Faith, N.C. (September); Kenneth Wayne Carlson, Hines Creek, Alberta, Canada (August); Timothy Wayne Morgan, Eugene, Ore. (August); Julius Wayne Willis Jr., Minneapolis (July); Scott Wayne Eby, Wilmington, Ill. (May, charged in a 2004 murder); Douglas Wayne Jones, Oxford, Miss. (May); Kenneth Wayne Rogers, Dallas (April, charged in a 2008 murder). Indicted for murder recently and awaiting trial: Gary Wayne Pettigrew, Tarrant County, Texas (August, indicted in a 1983 murder). Pleaded guilty to murder: Edward Wayne Edwards, Akron, Ohio (August, involving a 1977 murder, not the ones News of the Weird listed him for in August 2009). Convicted of murder: David Wayne Alexander, Pittsburgh (July 2009).
Innumeracy: In July 2004, a federal appeals court ruled that the leak-safety standards for the long-awaited nuclear waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain were too weak, in that the Environmental Protection Agency could regard the facility as safe for "only" the next 10,000 years (100 centuries). One National Academy of Sciences panel had recommended against the site unless leak safety could be certified for at least 300,000 years. In August 2005, EPA issued a revised durability standard, claiming, somehow, that the site would be free of unsafe leaks for 1 million years. (Perspective: Everything we know about radiation has come in just the last 110 years. Now, imagine a radiation-safety "learning curve" expected to go flat for the next 10,000 -- or 300,000 -- or 1 million years.)