Belt-Tightening Greeks: In October, Greece's largest health insurance provider announced, in a letter to a diabetes foundation, that it would no longer pay for the special footwear that diabetics need for reducing pain but suggested it would pay instead for amputation, which is less expensive. The decision, which the foundation said is not supported by international scientific literature, was published in the prominent Athens newspaper To Vima (The Tribune) and reported by the U.S. news site DailyCaller.com.
-- Retail Breakthroughs: (1) A shop in Santa Cruz, Calif., opened in September selling ice cream infused with extract of marijuana. Customers with "medical marijuana" prescriptions can buy Creme De Canna, Bananabis Foster or Straw-Mari Cheesecake, at $15 a half-pint (with one bite supposedly equal to five puffs of "really good" weed, according to the proprietor). (2) Spotted outside subway stations in Nanjing, China, in October: vending machines selling live Shanghai Hairy Crabs, in plastic containers chilled to 5 degrees C (41 degrees F), for the equivalent of $1.50 to $7, depending on size.
-- Good News for Frisky Married Muslims: (1) Abdelaziz Aouragh's recently opened Internet site sells Shariah-compliant aids to promote the "sexual health" of married couples, mostly lubricants, lotions and herbal pills, with lingerie coming soon (but no videos or toys). (All products have been cleared by Saudi religious scholars.) He says he aspires to open actual storefronts soon. (2) Ms. Khadija Ahmed, attending to customers while dressed in flowing robe and head scarf, is already open for business in Manama, Bahrain, offering, since 2008, lingerie, orgasm-delaying creams and even some sex toys. ("Vibrators" are "against Islam," she said, because they are intended as replications of a body part, but "vibration rings" are permitted.) Bahrain, obviously, is among the most liberal countries in the Persian Gulf region, but Ahmed is considering expanding to Dubai and Lebanon.
-- Shareholder James Solakian filed a lawsuit in October against the board of directors of Bible.com, on the ground that the website address -- a potential "goldmine," he says -- was not being properly exploited financially. Although the company's business plan was, explicitly, to become "very, very profitable," it also vowed, according to a Reuters report, to be governed by "Christian business principles."
-- Janis Ollson, 31, of Balmoral, Manitoba, is recovering nicely after being almost completely sawed in half in 2007 by Mayo Clinic surgeons, who concluded that they could remove her bone cancer no other way. In experimental surgery that had been tried only on cadavers, doctors split her pelvis in half, removed the left half, her left leg and her lower spine (and the tumor) in a 20-hour, 12-specialist procedure. The real trick, though, was the eight-hour, 240-staple reconstruction in which her remaining leg was reconnected to her spine with pins and screws, leaving her in an arrangement doctors likened to a "pogo stick." A September Winnipeg Free Press story noted that, except for the missing leg, she is enjoying a normal life with her husband and two kids and enjoys snowmobiling.
-- Kyle Johnson shattered his skull so badly in a high-speed longboard accident in June that ordinary "decompressive craniectomy" (temporarily removing half of the skull to relieve pressure) would be inadequate. Instead, doctors at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah, removed both halves, leaving only a thin strip of bone (after placing Johnson in a drug-induced coma) and kept the skull frozen to prevent brittleness. After the swelling subsided, they reattached the skull to his head and woke him up gradually over a week's time. Johnson admits some memory problems and cognitive dysfunction, most notably his inability to focus on more than one concept at a time -- even when they are part of the same scene, such as two crayons on a table. Johnson said he probably won't go back to the longboard but, curiously like Janis Ollson, looks forward to snowmobiling.
-- Obese patients with an array of symptoms known as "prediabetes" have seen their insulin sensitivity improved dramatically via "fecal transplants," i.e., receiving the stool of a thin, healthy person into the bowel, according to researchers led by a University of North Carolina professor. Researchers said the strangers' implants were significantly more effective than those of a control group, in which a person's own feces was implanted. (News of the Weird has previously reported on success in treating certain gastrointestinal infections by stool transplants that contain the bacteria Clostridium difficile.)
-- Two University of Sydney researchers reported recently that the food-acquisition "strategy" of the brainless, single-cell slime mold appeared to resemble one of the strategies familiar to us so-called brain-containing humans, specifically, making a selection only after comparing it to readily available alternatives. Furthermore, Japanese researchers who mapped the slime mold's search for food found that its nuclei are arranged in a pattern that is seemingly just as logically helpful in food procurement as the service arrangements are in Tokyo's acclaimed railway system. (In October, the Japanese researchers were awarded a satirical "Ig Nobel" prize by the Annals of Improbable Research.)
-- In research results announced in June, a team led by a University of Oklahoma professor, studying Mexican molly fish, discovered that females evaluate potential mates on sight, based on the prominence of the moustache-like growths on males' upper lips. More controversially, the researchers hypothesized that males further enhance their mating prowess by employing the "moustache" to tickle females' genitals. (Catfish have similar "whiskers" and perhaps use them for similar purposes, said the researchers.)
-- In September, Russia's finance minister publicly urged citizens to step up their smoking and drinking, in that the government's new "sin" taxes mean more revenue: "If you smoke a pack of cigarettes," he said, "that means you are giving more to help solve social problems." (Alcohol abuse is already said to kill 500,000 Russians a year and to significantly lower life expectancy.)
-- Executive Brigitte Stevens announced in September that her perpetually underappreciated advocacy institution, Wombat Awareness Organization, had just been pledged $8 million by a single donor. According to Stevens, the $1 million annually she will receive in each of the next eight years is about 13 times the previous annual budget for the Mannum, South Australia, organization. The U.S. donor, who demanded anonymity, became interested in 2008 when, on an onsite visit, he was enthralled with "southern hairy-nosed" wombats.
Signs of the Times: (1) A 24-year-old Muslim woman was strangled in Newcastle, Australia, in April when the bottom of her burqa became tangled in the wheels as she was driving playfully at a go-cart track. (2) A 45-year-old, out-of-town man was killed in a street robbery in Oakland, Calif., in July after he became distracted while typing a location into his cell phone's map program to find his way to a job interview. The appointment was at Google Inc. (3) Horatio Toure, 31, was arrested in San Francisco in July after snatching an iPhone from a woman on the street and bicycling away. Unknown to him, the woman was conducting a real-time demonstration of global positioning software, and thus Toure's exact movement was registering on her company's computers. He was arrested within minutes.
In September (1991), the Avon, Colo., town council resorted to a contest to name the new bridge over the Eagle River, linking Interstate 70 with U.S. Highway 6. Sifting through 84 suggestions (such as "Eagle Crossing"), the council voted, 4-2, to give it the official name "Bob." "Bob The Bridge" is, still, a theme for several local festivals.