News of the Weird 

Lead Stories

Air New Zealand announced in June that in an effort to end "unofficial and uncontrolled" snoozing it will permit cockpit crews on international flights to nap during periods of low activity--as long as one person remains awake. The airline also issued instructions on how to awaken a pilot, saying it should be done "in a normal tone of voice. An attempt should be made not to startle the waking flight crew member."

On the California ballot this year is the question of whether marijuana may be prescribed as a pain reliever. The ballot initiative is a product of San Francisco's Cannabis Buyers' Club, a three-year-old salon run by Dennis Peron, who currently sells marijuana to people suffering from painful illnesses. Peron also conducts a 12-step program for those wanting to get off heroin and cocaine and get on marijuana.

News From the Job Market

An article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science in November described a unique role for an assistant researcher. A research director wanted to learn whether small bones found at a dig were from an animal that died there or were simply the stomach contents of an animal that died there. An assistant was fed a boiled shrew and had his bowel movements inspected for three days. Because the shrew bones were mashed up in the assistant's stool, the director concluded that the bones from the dig had to belong to the animal that died there.

In June Canadian health minister David Dingwall announced a ban on the sale of human sperm. The ban is not expected to affect the practice of paying "expenses" to donors, currently $40 to $100 per visit--with industrious blond, blue-eyed, type-O donors able to earn more than $12,000 a year because some sperm banks require only 24 hours' "abstinence" before donations versus the industry standard of 72 hours.

After ten years at the Ontario weekly Dundas Review editor Martha Jette was eased out of her job in June following a dispute with the publisher. Jette had run a story accepting the claim of local singer "Danny Boy" that he was the reincarnation of Jesse Garon Presley, Elvis's stillborn twin, and that he was given life in order to continue Elvis's gospel work. Said Jette, "Who can ignore a miracle?"

Oops!

According to the San Jose Mercury-News, the only person injured in the May 21 Calaveras, California, earthquake (magnitude 4.7) was 21-year-old Edvardo Meneses. Meneses thought the quake was a break-in, grabbed his gun, ran up the stairs to protect his mother, and accidentally shot himself in the leg.

In December employees of the Advanced Medical Imaging clinic in Newburgh, New York, forgot that Brenda Revella, 42, was in the MRI machine when they locked up for the night. (The patient lies in a tube 27 inches wide with the top of the tube only four inches from her face.) Revella managed to wiggle out three hours later.

In June in Vacaville, California, after his brother had finished fixing a broken piggy bank, seven-year-old Joshua Bernardo stepped into some spilled glue barefoot and became stuck to the floor for several hours. Firefighters freed him by loosening the glue with vegetable oil.

Latest highway truck spills: 500 gallons of hydrochloric acid onto Interstate 10 near Lake Charles, Louisiana, in June; 300 gallons of chicken fat on U.S. 41 near Robards, Kentucky, in May; a ton and a half of chicken guts in Dobson, North Carolina, in May; several barrels of flea powder in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, in April; 6,000 pounds of margarine on Interstate 35 in Oklahoma City in May (as the Daily Oklahoman reported, "Margarine Clogs Major Artery"); and a load of toilets near Silverthorne, Colorado, in June.

Weird Science

In June the Tampa Tribune reported that University of South Florida neuroscientist Paul Sanberg found that Sertoli cells from testicles might be able to improve body movements when injected into the brain. Sanberg's work is part of a series of studies intended to combat Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases and damage from strokes.

Penn State College of Medicine professor Siegfried Streufert, studying 21 business managers and professionals, reported in June that having a hangover doesn't seem to impair managerial skills. Said Streufert: "These people did feel miserable. Yet their decision-making performance was not affected."

In the January issue of Nature a Cornell University biologist described the long-term perspective of the male Australian redback spider, a species whose males are consumed by the females after mating. The researcher found that as many as six males will vie for the favor of a single female. Though the female eats only the male that's most satisfied her, the favored male's sex act lasts an average of 25 minutes--versus 11 for the others--thus increasing the likelihood that the dead spider will pass on his genes.

No Longer Weird

Stories that were formerly weird but now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (1) a phone caller trying to reach a charity, church, or company (such as NYNEX in northern Vermont in June) but because of an error somewhere gets a phone-sex line instead, and (2) a suspicious package left in a public place that brings in the bomb squad, which evacuates the area and surrounds the package for several hours in full gear, then cautiously disposes of it only to find that inside is a doll, a vibrator, cans of food, or, in an incident in Hong Kong harbor in June, a large inflatable sausage.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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