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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

The San Diego firm Allerca announced in June that it was accepting advance orders for the hypoallergenic cats it claims to have created by crossbreeding cats found via genetic screening to have a naturally low level of the allergy-causing protein. Allerca projects that the cats should be available next spring for $4,950 each. Meanwhile in Denver, Felix Pets is continuing its attempts to make hypoallergenic cats the old-fashioned way--direct genetic modification--and hopes to ship the first of them (for about $1,000 apiece) in 2008.

Those Amazing Feces

Researchers at the UK's University of Birmingham announced in May that they'd powered a small electric fan using hydrogen excreted by E. coli bacteria that had been fed caramel and nougat waste from a chocolate factory. And in March Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan said that her team had successfully synthesized vanillin, the primary element in vanilla extract, from cow manure. Although the manure-derived vanillin is identical to vanilla flavoring made from other sources, Yamamoto conceded it could probably be used only in products like shampoo or candles, as "it would be difficult for people to accept it in food."

Government in Action

This spring the Federal Communications Commission proposed a record $3.3 million indecency fine against CBS and its affiliates for airing an episode of Without a Trace in December 2004 that contained a scene in which three teenage boys force a teenage girl wearing a bra and panties to have sex. After reviewing the e-mailed complaints the FCC received about the show, the affiliates argued in a June filing that the fine should be rescinded, pointing out that all 4,211 e-mails were sent via Web sites operated by two activist groups; the e-mails only started arriving at the FCC 12 days after the show aired, which happened to be when one of the groups first alerted its members about the alleged indecency; and only two of the complainants claimed to have actually seen the show themselves.

The Weirdo-American Community

After a three-month trial in Martinez, California, Susan Polk was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of her psychotherapist husband, Felix Polk. Acting as her own lawyer, the 48-year-old Polk had told the jury that, among other things, her husband had actually been an Israeli secret agent, she once prevented the assassination of the pope, she had had a vision of Colin Powell as the Antichrist, and she foresaw the 9/11 attacks and could have stopped them had her husband not kept her from contacting authorities. At one point Polk demanded a mistrial because, she said, the judge had prejudiced the jury by drinking a cup of tea and making certain arm movements while addressing them.

More Challenges to Christianity

In May the Times of London reported on the village of Shingo, Japan, believed by many Japanese to be the final resting place of Jesus. According to local tradition, Jesus spent most of his 20s and early 30s in Japan, returned to Judaea to preach at age 33, then escaped crucifixion (his brother took his place on the cross), went back to Japan, married, and lived as a farmer in Shingo till his death at age 106. Meanwhile in the same month the Post of Durban, South Africa, reported on Katherine Jhawarelall, who claims that two years ago, on her 33rd birthday, she received divine notification--via a swollen arm and a message written on her skin--that she was Jesus. Jhawarelall, who holds a degree in criminology, suggested that this claim has been met with resistance because she is "female and a Hindu."

Least Competent Criminals

James Otis Denham, 49, was arrested in May after allegedly attempting to sell a Rembrandt etching--The Raising of Lazarus, valued at $6,000--out of the trunk of his car to an art collector he'd met at Torchy's Legends, a bar in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The prospective buyer persuaded Denham to let her keep and examine an authenticating document he'd brought along; it turned out to bear the name of the rightful owner, who confirmed the etching had been stolen the day before.

In Round Rock, Texas, in May 61-year-old Paul Gunn allegedly presented a bank teller with a holdup note, received some money, then sat down in the bank's reception area and read magazines until police arrived--which wasn't long, as the police department was less than a block away. And in the same month, according to Reuters, a 58-year-old man allegedly brought a knife into a bank in Kumagaya, Japan, and asked a teller for suggestions on how to commit bank robbery; while being escorted out, the man accidentally stabbed himself in the leg.

The Only Way Out

Just like they planned it: In May a 30-year-old man from Waterfoot, England, apparently attempted suicide by putting a noose around his neck, fastening the other end of the rope to a telephone pole, and driving off in his car; the rope snapped, but conveniently the man lost control of the car and was killed when he crashed into a nearby house. And in June a man tried to hang himself from the Adams Avenue bridge in Huntington Beach, California, but the rope broke and he fell 30 feet to the riverbed below, where, according to police, he then slit his wrists and died.

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

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