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News of the Weird

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According to a July BBC report, researchers Steven Potter (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Guy Ben-Ary (University of Western Australia) have devised what they call a "semi-living artist"--a robotic arm that paints, directed over the Internet by a "brain" composed of 50,000 embryonic rat neurons, cultured on a grid of 64 two-way electrodes connected to a computer in Potter's lab. The system cannot properly be described as intelligent, says Potter, but it can adapt: at a recent art exhibit in New York, it created abstract "portraits" of gallery visitors by comparing webcam images of their faces to scans of its own output.

People Different From Us

In August in Saint Louis, Missouri, school board member Rochell Moore sent Mayor Francis Slay an open letter, criticizing school closings and management reforms she believed he'd orchestrated and advising him that she'd placed a curse on him. According to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Moore's curse paraphrased Deuteronomy 28:21, in which Moses warns the Israelites of what will happen if they stray from God. (A sample: "The LORD shall make the pestilence cleave unto Francis Slay.")

More Things to Worry About

In August the Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported that the 2003 valedictorian of Alcee Fortier Senior High School had failed (for the fifth time) the state's mandatory exit exam, which is at the tenth-grade level. Also in August, workers tearing down reactors at the nuclear reservation in Hanford, Washington, discovered dozens of radioactive nests built by mud dauber wasps, which had apparently collected mud from the plant's spent nuclear fuel basin. And in July a district attorney in Watauga County, North Carolina, frustrated by the light sentences associated with methamphetamine production, announced that he would invoke a new antiterrorism law to charge a defendant with manufacturing a "nuclear or chemical weapon."

Cliches Come to Life

In July New York City released its new 16-page antiterrorism household preparedness manual, produced by a consortium of 20 government, private, and nonprofit agencies. It contains such advice as: If you encounter radiation inside a building, go outside, and if you're outside, go in; do not accept packages from strangers; and if you find yourself holding a suspicious parcel, put it down. Also offered is this familiar wisdom from a generation ago: If you can't make it out of a building, "get under a sturdy table or desk."

In May in Kingsford, Australia, Phyllis Newnham, hoping to be awarded a larger portion of the estate of her late friend Florence Mather, claimed in court that Mather had written a new will that favored Newnham, but that one of Mather's dogs had eaten it before it could be formalized. (Newnham did demonstrate that the dog had eaten a document, and proposed subjecting the mangled remains to DNA and forensic tests to prove it was the will.)

Least Competent Criminals

On June 22 at an Amoco station in Spring Valley, New York, an unidentified man armed with a pistol twice jumped on the counter and demanded the clerk hand over money, but the clerk pushed him off both times and the man gave up and left. And in August in Delray Beach, Florida, a man tried to rob motorist Larry Klein, 53, through the driver's side window of his car; Klein wears a prosthetic leg, and jabbed at the man out the window with a metal-tipped cane until he ran away.

Our Civilization in Decline

In August in McNairy County, Tennessee, father Steven Joseph Yurick, 33, was convicted of possessing and producing child pornography in connection with a Web site he runs to promote the modeling career of his 15-year-old daughter. Authorities found no explicitly sexual photos on the site (though in various shots the girl appeared in a leather bikini or alongside a men's room urinal); the daughter claimed that the Internet posting had been her idea and that she'd chosen her outfits and poses herself, often copying what she saw in fashion magazines.

Below the Fold

In August in Orlando, Florida, 19-year veteran prosecutor Robin Wilkinson, who'd recently resigned after being charged with DUI, said her main defense in court would be that, at the time of the traffic stop, police did not tell her that she had the right to an attorney. And in August in New York City, accountant Patrick Monachino was charged with embezzling $170,000 from two union locals he'd worked for; he explained that he'd given almost all of it to a female clerk for three years of oral sex.

In the Last Month

Three teenagers with paintball guns who were terrorizing a Pittsburgh neighborhood from a car apparently bothered the wrong group of kids, one of whom returned fire with a real gun, wounding two of the paintballers. In Honolulu, a state expert in workplace violence was allegedly roughed up by his supervisor in a policy dispute, suffering nerve damage to his arm. And the government of the Indian state of West Bengal began offering prostitutes a Kama Sutra workshop--which, in the words of the program's designer, is intended to reduce AIDS cases in the sex industry by "teach[ing] the girls the art of ensuring a premature but very satisfying discharge by tactfully avoiding intercourse."

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

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