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News of the Weird



Lead Story

Already able to grow mouse and frog muscle tissue in a petri dish, scientists around the world are currently at work on methods of mass-producing test-tube beef, pork, and chicken, according to a March article in Canada's Globe and Mail. The reporter projected that in five years or so consumers might be able to buy low-fat cultured meat grown in an industrial-size incubator or simply "throw starter cells and a package of growth medium" into a kitchen appliance at bedtime "and wake up to harvest-fresh sausage for breakfast." One tissue engineer in South Carolina said that although he was having a hard time finding financial support for his work, he had turned down prospective backers who wanted him to create cultured meat using human cells as starters.

Signs of the Times

A February article in the Columbia Missourian reported on Specialist Adam Ballard, a 22-year-old stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in central Missouri, and his plan to to eat his way out of the army. Last year 3,285 soldiers were discharged for failing to meet the army's strict body-fat requirements; a Pentagon spokesperson acknowledged that recent increases in such discharges might be related to the ongoing war. Ballard, six-foot-one and 223 pounds as of February 9, said he needs to get out of the service, adding that the recruiters who promised him a desk job when he enlisted two years ago didn't warn him that clerical workers could wind up driving trucks in Iraq. Though he's been ordered to improve his nutrition and exercise regimen, he told the reporter, "I basically eat what I can to get full and then just go to sleep."

Science on the Cutting Edge

In March New Scientist reported on a device in development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab: an "emotional social intelligence prosthetic"--essentially, a boredom detector. Intended for use by people with autism (who can have inordinate trouble picking up social cues), the system consists of a glasses-mounted video camera feeding a handheld unit programmed to monitor and interpret facial expressions; when a listener seems to be tuning out, the unit vibrates to alert the speaker. So far the emotion-recognition software works 90 percent of the time when used on actors, 64 percent of the time with normal people.

Cultural Diversity

Last year Sohela Ansari of the village of Falataka in West Bengal, India, told friends she'd heard her husband, Aftab, say "talaq, talaq, talaq"--the phrase that under some forms of Islamic law constitutes a legal divorce--in his sleep one night. Local Muslim clerics got word and in December ordered the Ansaris to separate, even though they said they didn't want to. According to various press reports in March, controversy over the case continues. The couple have become pariahs in their village for disobeying the order; some scholars have argued that an action taken by a sleeping person has "no religious sanctity," but West Bengal's chief religious judge affirmed that the divorce is binding and said that to get back together with Aftab, Sohela must first marry and divorce another man.

Not as Safe as They Thought

People who were asleep at home recently when a car plowed through a wall and into their bed: a husband and wife in Altamonte Springs, Florida, December (no serious injuries); Juan Diaz, Fairdale, Kentucky, February (no serious injuries); Jose and Zenaida Castorena, Missouri City, Texas, March (both killed).

Least Competent Criminals

Phillip Williams, 47, approached two uniformed police officers in Tampa, Florida, in March and allegedly asked them to examine the residue in his crack pipe so he could be sure that what he'd bought really had been cocaine. They did, then arrested him. And in February in Orlando, Michael Garibay, 34, reportedly approached an Orange County deputy in a marked patrol car and asked him if he was "straight." He then explained to the officer that this meant "do you want to buy some cocaine?" After allegedly producing a baggie of a white substance and asking for money, he too was promptly arrested.

In March Gary Brunner of Carmel, New York, became the latest person to go to a police station and ask if there were any warrants on him only to find the answer was yes and himself under arrest (in this case for drug trafficking). And in the same month Bryan Palmer, 21, and Peggy Sue Casey, 31, dropped by the police station in South Windsor, Connecticut, to ask how a particular burglary investigation was going; officers working on the burglary, who had been having trouble finding Palmer and Casey again after an earlier interview, took the opportunity to arrest them.

Readers' Choice

Leroy Johnson, a deputy fire chief in Mesa, Arizona, announced his retirement in March; earlier in the month he'd been arrested following an incident in which he was seen allegedly trying to have sex with a neighbor's lamb. The 52-year-old Johnson denied it later, but according to the Arizona Republic the neighbor and another witness told police that when they found Johnson in a barn with the animal, he said, "You caught me. . . . I tried to (expletive) your sheep." And in February 36-year-old Kimberly Du was charged with forgery in Polk County, Iowa, after allegedly sending a judge a letter saying she had been killed in a December car accident (accompanied by a homemade obituary supposedly from the Des Moines Register). Authorities concluded that Du had tried to fake her own death in order to get out of paying several parking tickets.

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

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