In January in New Square, New York, home to a Hasidic community of the Skver sect, a Skver fish cutter and his Christian coworker swore they heard a 20-pound carp shout apocalyptic warnings in Hebrew. The coworker--who couldn't understand the language--thought the fish was the work of the devil, but Zalmen Rosen, 57, believed it held the soul of a recently deceased community elder and that its warnings referred to the imminent war in Iraq. The story spread throughout the Jewish world (aided by a March feature in the New York Times), but by then the carp had met an inglorious end: it had flopped into a box of other carp in the commotion that ensued when it spoke, and because no one could pick it out, they were all butchered for gefilte fish.
Scientists based at the University of Southern California will soon begin animal testing of the world's first brain prosthesis--basically a mathematical model of the hippocampus mapped onto a silicon chip. The prosthesis may eventually help people whose brains have been damaged and cannot form new long-term memories. A potential problem with such an application, according to a March story in New Scientist: subjects might not remember consenting to receive the implant. (Not to mention that nearly everyone is glad to be able to forget traumatic experiences--and an artificial hippocampus might force a patient to remember everything.)
In March former Northwest Airlines flight attendant Daniel Reed Cunningham was charged with drugging the apple juice of a 19-month-old girl who wouldn't stop squirming and crying during an August 2002 international flight. The mother became suspicious after noticing blue and white specks in the juice; she took some home in a container, and tests revealed the presence of the antianxiety medication Xanax.
Israeli Aircraft Industries is testing a surveillance plane the size of a credit card (flight time: 20 minutes), which can transmit real-time images from a battlefield or even from the interior of a building (since it can fit through a mail slot). And TrapTec, based in Escondido, California, has developed antigraffiti sensors that can "hear" a tagger using spray paint: the distinctive ultrasonic components in the hiss of an aerosol can trigger a transmitter that relays the tagger's position to the police.
In February at the Nil Ratan Sircar hospital in Calcutta, India, doctors performed what they claimed was the world's first penis transplant between two living humans; the lead surgeon was removing a second penis from a one-year-old when he learned that elsewhere in the hospital was a seven-month-old boy who'd been born without one.
Leading Economic Indicators
In February the British ad agency Cunning Stunts began paying college students about seven dollars an hour to walk around in public with corporate logos semipermanently tattooed on their foreheads. And in December another British agency launched a "dogvertising" campaign for client Sony Ericsson--large dogs such as Saint Bernards and Great Danes are draped with ads, and in return their owners get free dog-walking service (of course, the animals are taken to parks and other well-trafficked areas).
People Different From Us
Stanley Jollymore, a smoker for 70 of his 90 years, was written up in Toronto's National Post in February for the shiny sphere he's made out of 139,620 foil wrappers from cigarette packages, collected over the past two decades; he removes the paper backing from each piece of foil over a stove, so the sphere is almost solid metal, a bit bigger than a bowling ball and weighing over 80 pounds. And Carl Masthay, 62, was profiled in Saint Louis's Riverfront Times in March after spending more than 12 years compiling (and then self-publishing) a 757-page dictionary for translating between French and the Kaskaskia Illinois Indian dialect--a language no one has spoken for hundreds of years.
News of the Weird occasionally reports on the antihomosexuality crusades of Reverend Fred Phelps and his extended family, from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. The clan plans to be in Pittsburgh this Sunday to picket organizations associated with the late Fred Rogers, because the Phelpses believe Mister Rogers' Neighborhood taught kids that being gay was acceptable--apparently because the show never explicitly condemned homosexuality. Said an attorney in the family: "This country has forgotten God and effectively flipped him off, and Fred Rogers is in part responsible." (In November at the University of Maryland, the Phelpses carried signs reading "Thank God for Sept. 11" and "God Sent the Sniper"--apparently almost any calamity can be seen as proof of the Lord's wrath against gays.)
In the Last Month
In Birmingham, Alabama, the members of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church voted 67-10 to fire pastor Stanley Hall, who'd refused to reschedule a consecration service that conflicted with the telecast of the Super Bowl. In Santa Ana, California, a 19-year-old woman learning to drive took a turn too fast and ran over her two young sons, her sister, and her ten-year-old niece, who were all sitting on a curb watching her (everyone survived). And in Boulder, Colorado, a 39-year-old man, who was celebrating his Cadillac's 100,000th mile with a bottle of champagne behind the wheel, smashed the car into a tree.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.