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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

Minnesota's new "conceal-and-carry" handgun law went into effect on May 28, despite complaints from critics who claimed it was even more lax than the Texas law. Licensees may carry guns openly in any parking lot in the state (except those at federal facilities), including school parking lots--although possession of a knife in a school lot is still a felony. Guns are prohibited on other school property, but the law reduces the charge for transgressing from a felony to a misdemeanor. Private establishments like restaurants and churches can prohibit guns, but only if they post state-mandated signs at every entrance--and even then a gun licensee's "penalty" for a violation is to be told to leave.

According to a May story in southern California's OC Weekly, an obscure provision in the state's vehicle code allows any ordinary citizen, by means of an anonymous complaint, to force a motorist to attend a hearing at the DMV to "review [his] driving qualifications"--with license suspension a possible outcome. The loophole was intended to allow relatives of unsafe elderly drivers to ease them off the road, but as it's written the law allows anyone to commit "bureaucratic road rage": all complaints, even those completely unsupported by witnesses or evidence, must lead to a hearing, and even if the hearing ends in dismissal the victim's insurance rates can be affected.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Recently launched products: Downloadable "Purring Kitty" software, from British firm Vibelet.com, that enables Nokia cell phones to vibrate continuously for roughly an hour on a full charge, turning the phone into a discreet "massager." And a fashionable "No-Contact Jacket" for women, with a rubber lining and nylon shell sandwiching conductive fibers that literally crackle with an 80,000-volt electric charge, stepped up from a 9-volt battery; if an assailant tries to lock the jacket's wearer in a bear hug, he'll get a jolt powerful enough to throw him to the ground.

"We figured that everything obviously worth doing is already being done by 50 other guys in Miami, so we had to do some thinking first," said Anton Solar to the Miami New Times in April, discussing his determination to start a profitable small business (with his partner, "Frank") for under $2,500. The result of this thinking? A seven-foot-square display of exactly one million wooden toothpicks. Solar believes that "thousands" of people will pay a dollar each to see a million of something all at once, and after eight months, two weeks, and two days of counting and banding the picks, he and Frank are now looking at venues and marketing proposals.

Weird Science

In April doctors at Chimkent Children's Hospital in Kazakhstan removed a dead fetus from a seven-year-old boy, most likely a conjoined twin that developed in the wrong place; it was first thought to be a cyst, but turned out to have hair, nails, and bones. And in May in Cape Town, South Africa, doctors at Groote Schuur Hospital reported that a baby girl had been surgically delivered after developing in her mother's liver--only the 14th such gestation ever documented, and just the fourth infant to survive.

In January in Melbourne, Australia, curator Mark Norman of the Museum Victoria revealed that he had captured and photographed the first live male specimen of the world's most sexually size-dimorphic animal. The male blanket octopus is only about an inch long, and mates with the six-foot female using a specialized "reproductive arm" to transfer sperm from its penis (after which it dies). Females, which can weigh 10,000 to 40,000 times as much as males, are often found with several such arms lodged in their gill cavities.

People Different From Us

Contrary to warnings from Japan's 1,200-member Panawave Laboratory cult, the world didn't end on May 15--though the cult's doomsday pronouncements did draw media attention to its members' public eccentricities (they drape their belongings and their roadside campsites in white sheets for protection against electromagnetic waves beamed by "communists"). The Panawavers, who also dress in white and drive a fleet of all-white vans, aren't believed to be dangerous--though one member has said that if the group's guru, Yuko Chino, succumbs to her illness (allegedly a cancer caused by harmful waves), the cult will take revenge by exterminating "all humankind."

Readers' Choice

In May in Stuart, Florida, 36-year-old Lynda Taylor was arrested and charged with aggravated battery--specifically, wearing perfume, spraying Lysol and bug killer around her house, and lighting scented candles. Her 46-year-old husband, David, allegedly suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity, such that her "attack" left him in a stupor, too feeble to call for help; he believes she's trying to punish him because they've been talking about divorce and he won't give her half his recent workers' comp check.

In the Last Month

In Bangkok, Thailand, the organizers of the "International Kids Contest," for children ages 3 to 12, bowed to protests and dropped the "Miss Sexy Body" category from the pageant. In West Seneca, New York, a man drove his pickup into a self-service car wash, hoping to put out a small fire in his engine--but by the time he realized he didn't have any coins, the fire had spread, eventually destroying four of the car wash's eight bays. And in Pike Creek Valley, Delaware, a 38-year-old man disposed of some gunpowder by tossing it into his lighted fireplace; he was hospitalized with burns to his head and arms.

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

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