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News of the Weird



Lead Story

After a spirited debate at the great Midwestern Think-Off on June 26 in New York Mills, Minnesota, the audience of professional and amateur philosophers officially affirmed, by a vote of 70 to 54, that life has meaning. Winning debater and sometime fisherman Peter Hilts argued that life has meaning even for a fish; he prevailed over beekeeper Charles Carpenter, who maintained that life simply "is," being beyond such a bland concept as "meaning." Each of the four semifinalists received a medal showing Rodin's The Thinker seated on a tractor.

Weird Science

In Dallas in June a 63-year-old woman had a 156-pound ovarian cyst, representing about half her body weight, removed. Her surgeon said "several stout people" were required to get the tumor off the operating table. The woman's family proudly tacked up a photograph of the tumor in the hospital room, but according to the Guinness book, the largest tumor ever recorded was a 328-pound cyst removed from a woman in Galveston, Texas, in 1905.

Among the grants awarded this year by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences--which administers the 1940 legacy left by Torsten Amund Amundsson to fund homosexuality studies--was about $6,300 to examine whether homosexual behavior in fruit flies is genetic in origin.

Writing last summer in the journal Animal Behaviour, two researchers from England's University of Manchester hypothesized that masturbation improves a man's chances of inseminating his mate, even though it reduces the number of sperm that reach an egg. They found that masturbation after several celibate days releases "tired" sperm, moving more vigorous sperm up the queue. In a companion paper in the same issue, researchers posited that female orgasm may be a mechanism to regulate conception, because more sperm are accepted from a mate with whom a female has an orgasm.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in June on an allegedly successful traumatic-memory treatment consisting of vigorously wagging fingers in the patient's face like an angry schoolteacher or parent, a motion that induces rapid eye movement in the patient. This treatment--"eye movement desensitization and reprocessing"--is believed to put patients in a better mood by "unclogging" brain patterns.

In May more than 100 scientists convened in Ames, Iowa, for the International Round Table on Swine Odor Control to discuss implications for the growth of pig farms. Speakers included the developers of electronic equipment that measures the offensiveness of odors and a researcher who found that downwind neighbors of a large North Carolina hog farm became "tense, depressed, angry and confused." Said one participant, "We're dealing with complex issues that don't just come down to 'Does it smell bad?'"

Doctors in England reported in March that people who grow up in clean homes may be more likely to become ill later in life, because they've been robbed of the small doses of bacteria that might immunize them against many illnesses, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

In February scientists reported from Malaysia in the journal Nature that they'd found a male mammal, the Dayak fruit bat, that lactates. According to Dr. Charles Francis, "[The bats] looked like perfectly good males with large testes, but from the other end I could see they also had well-developed breasts." The only other male mammals to lactate have been a few specially bred goats and sheep, which produce milk in extremely small quantities.

A news agency in India reported in June that an energy project in New Delhi produced street lighting and cooking gas for about 30 families from the waste in about 40 public toilets.

Fetishes on Parade

In November Lance A. Binkowski, 20, was charged with reckless endangering in Brookfield, Wisconsin, after he ran from police. Officers had been called after Binkowski pounded on the back door of a day-care center while dressed in a large, footed sleeper, with a pacifier in his mouth and a teddy bear and diaper bag clutched in his arms. According to the police chief, Binkowski intended no harm to the children but "had his own personal reasons" for being there.

Thomas A. Dietrich, 31, pleaded guilty to sexual battery of eight girls in Fairfax, Virginia, in June after police discovered that he'd been using the demonstrator video camera in the appliance showroom where he worked to videotape himself fondling the girls. He approached them on the pretense of showing them how the camera worked while their parents were shopping just a few feet away.

Reuters News Service reported in February that a male flasher has been plaguing Adelaide, Australia, since April 1992 and has exposed himself to nearly 50 females. The man is distinguishable by the padlock he wears around his genitals.

In April the Board of Education in Hamden, Connecticut, met in private session to discuss the guilty plea that had been entered in a drunk-driving case by superintendent of schools David W. Shaw two days before. At the meeting board members reviewing previously undisclosed police records learned that in his arrest photo Shaw is wearing men's pants but blue eye shadow, a gold lame blouse, a string of black beads, and a ladies' undergarment. Shaw blamed the incident on alcohol, which he said caused him to mistake an adult bookstore for a convenience store when he needed to buy cigarettes.

Last October New York City Correction Department doctor Jerzy Gajewski was on trial for fondling a woman in a subway station the year before; he was suspended without pay after he allegedly fondled the court stenographer.

Least Competent Person

In June two men, aged 18 and 19, walked up to the front window of the Columbia Heights, Minnesota, Tasty Pizza late at night, turned their backs, dropped their pants, and mooned the patrons. Apparently upset that they weren't being noticed, they began to jump up and down. One of them lost his balance, fell into the window, and broke it, cutting his buttocks and several fingers.

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

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