News of the Weird 

Lead Story

The UK's Daily Mail reported in June on zoologist Brady Barr and a recent documentary shoot for National Geographic in which he infiltrated a colony of Tanzanian crocodiles by donning a 13-foot-long crocodile suit. Made of fiberglass, aluminum, canvas, and Kevlar, the suit allowed Barr to crawl around undetected on Nile riverbanks frequented by crocodiles and other equally dangerous animals; at one point he survived close inspection by a hippopotamus, which was seemingly intrigued by the coating of hippo dung he'd smeared on the outfit to mask his unfamiliar scent.

Are We Safe Yet?

According to a July report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, undercover investigators set up a fake West Virginia company (using only a phone, a fax machine, and a P.O. box at Mail Boxes Etc.) and applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to buy radioactive materials. Weeks later the NRC granted the license without a face-to-face interview or on-site inspection, and soon the investigators had ordered enough americium and cesium to power a dirty bomb.

Latest Religious Messages

Earlier this year Ashwyn Falkingham, 22, flew from Sydney to Toronto so he could donate a kidney in a procedure scheduled for April 30. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, however, the operation was called off and the prospective donor was sent home after his mother intervened, claiming her son had been coerced into providing the kidney by a religious group he'd joined: the Jesus Christians, whose emphasis on expressing devotion by donating organs to strangers has led some to describe them as a "kidney cult." The hospital wouldn't comment on the case; would-be recipient Sandi Sabloff insisted, perhaps understandably, that Falkingham was acting of his own volition.

In May prominent Egyptian cleric Ali Gomaa called for new standards to regulate the now-rampant issuance of fatwas, the edicts through which Islamic leaders aim to guide believers' behavior. A week earlier Cairo lecturer Ezzat Atiya had been suspended for a fatwa proposing a way around the segregation of unmarried men and women in the workplace: if a man were to symbolically breast-feed from a female coworker five times, Atiya said, it would then be permissible for the two to be alone in the office together. Meanwhile, other leaders criticized Gomaa's own recent pronouncement that contemporaries of Mohammed had obtained the prophet's blessing by drinking his urine.

Frontiers in Science

The AP reported in June on a demonstration of the "brain-machine interface" being developed by the electronics company Hitachi. Consisting of a helmet connected via optical fiber to an outboard mapping unit, the system allows the user to control electric devices--in this case, a toy train--by solving simple arithmetic problems in his head. And according to a May article from the ANSA news agency, a stem-cell procedure performed last year at Rome's Umberto I hospital allowed an adult female patient born without external genitalia to grow a vagina.

Cultural Diversity

In a June New York Times article about the effect of ongoing tuna shortages on Japan's sushi restaurants, one Tokyo restaurateur recalled a 1973 mercury scare when diners refused to order tuna. His solution then was to make sushi out of another substance with a similar deep red color: raw horse meat. "Horse sushi was pretty good," he said. "It was soft, easy to bite off, had no smell."

Just Can't Help It

Having already served two years in prison for bigamy, 35-year-old traveling minister Anthony Owens was jailed in Lawrenceville, Georgia, in May after four more women reported he'd proposed to them. Authorities said they'd seen no evidence that Owens had divorced any of the eight women he'd previously married. And in Brisbane, Australia, in June, Kylie Wilson received only a nine-month sentence with immediate parole for an incident in which she stabbed her friend Daniel Blair twice in the shoulder with a kitchen knife. Prosecutors told the court that Blair had provoked Wilson by masturbating in front of her young children and ignoring her requests that he stop; after the stabbing Blair retreated to the garage, where he reportedly continued to masturbate until police arrived.

Recurring Themes

In May 64-year-old Hazel Pawlik of Cleburne, Texas, joined the long list of people killed by smoking. According to a report released last month, her husband called the fire department expressing concern over blue flames that leaped to the ceiling every time she lit up. An inspector said he'd be right over and directed them to stop lighting matches in the meantime; Pawlik decided, however, to have one more cigarette before he arrived. This time the match ignited natural gas that had collected in the room (though the house contained only electrical appliances, gas from an underground leak nearby had seeped in via sewer and air conditioning lines), setting off a pair of explosions that destroyed the building. Several of Pawlik's relatives survived serious injuries, but she didn't make it.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Shawn Belshwender.

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