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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

Despite a $1.4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez is having trouble attracting patients for a Columbia University study of his treatment for pancreatic cancer (only 25 of 90 slots filled after three years)--perhaps because the regimen includes a twice-daily coffee enema. A Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center doctor called the enemas "ludicrous" in an October Wired magazine report, but Gonzalez insists that the caffeine stimulates nerves in the bowel, triggering more efficient detoxification by the liver. His 1999 pilot program reported significant benefits, but it's regarded with skepticism because it involved only 11 patients.

The for-profit school-administration company Edison Schools Inc., reportedly low on cash (its stock is currently worth around a dollar a share, down from $36 in February 2001), tried to cut corners this fall in its management of 20 chronically underperforming Philadelphia high schools. According to an October dispatch in Toronto's Globe and Mail, Edison sold off newly ordered textbooks, computers, lab supplies, and musical instruments; briefly moved some of its Philadelphia executives out of company headquarters and into vacant schoolrooms, trying to save on rent; and suggested that students could acquire valuable experience (as well as cut down on the number of salaried adults) if they worked an hour a day for free in school offices. (The school board, to its credit, would have nothing to do with the proposal.)

Names in the News

Scheduled to marry in December in Flint, Michigan: Ms. Laura Kah and Mr. Scott Boom (she'll take his name, however, rather than hyphenating). And in August the Santa Cruz Sentinel published a story on the decline in the town's hippie population since the mid-70s; among its subjects were men who'd legally changed their names to Climbing Sun, Shalom Dreampeace Compost, and (no last name) Chip. (Sundancer Sweetpea and Darting Hummingbird Over a Waterfall were not available.)

Government in Action

Several doctors with Britain's government-funded National Health Service plan to start prescribing vibrators to sexually dysfunctional women, according to a September report in the Observer. The operator of a nearby sex boutique (who already works closely with a London hospital) welcomed the development, describing medical devices currently "used for dilating vaginas" as "frightening," like crosses between "toilet brushes and medieval torture implements."

Great Art!

In August in Santiago, Chile, sculptor and painter Antonio Becerra opened a government-funded exhibit called "Oils on Dogs," consisting of the stuffed and mounted bodies of a dozen dogs he'd found on the city's streets, on which he'd painted his own images (Pope John Paul II and a cross, for example, or a number of blue and orange butterflies). Becerra called his work a reflection on society's violence and cruelty--he made no attempt to disguise injuries and malformations in the dogs that had been struck by cars--but animal-rights activists were appalled by his lack of respect for the dead.

Over the past 20 years, retired graphic designer J. Jules Vitali of Freeport, Maine, has created more than 1,000 small pieces of sculpture, each carved from a single foam polystyrene cup with the same worn Craftsman pocketknife. He first took up his craft while bored at a meeting and toying with his Styrofoam coffee cup; these days some of his sculptures are cast in bronze or decorated with flourishes of acrylic paint, and an exhibit of his "Styrogami," with pieces priced up to $800, is currently on display at the University of Southern Maine.

People Different From Us

In September in Ottawa, Ontario, inmate Ian Cheeseman, 34, admitted at his "dangerous offender" hearing that he'd made about 250 collect calls from prison in order to trick young girls into urinating into a cup near the phone; he'd often pretend to be a disc jockey and pass off his request as a stunt the girls had to perform to win Backstreet Boys tickets. And in October in Omaha, Nebraska, a judge ruled that a confession made by former schoolteacher Mike Florea, 36, was admissible in his sex-abuse trial; Florea had told police that he'd paid some of his male students $20 to $25 to ejaculate into small containers, which he stored in his freezer.

In the Last Month

In Lantana, Florida, 61-year-old James F. Welles, author of the book Understanding Stupidity, was arrested for soliciting sex over the Internet from a 15-year-old girl (actually a 40-year-old policeman); "Bottom line, I'm committing a crime," he had written, asking the girl to call him "dad" when they met at a Denny's....In the Tororo district of Uganda, where local priests are encouraging couples to have Christian weddings, health officials warned impoverished brides that they will ruin their mosquito nets--often the best defense against malaria--if they take them out of their bedroom windows and make them into bridal veils....And in Tehran, Iran, a thief was quickly overpowered by bank customers after he began snatching bills from their hands; he had bought a "spell" on the street for about $600 and believed he was invisible.

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

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