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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

In a December journal article, researchers from Case Western Reserve University detailed some of the ravages of old age among cockroaches: after 60 to 65 weeks of adulthood, the bugs tend to suffer from stiff joints (which cause them to trip over their own legs) and hardened foot pads (which interfere with climbing). The researchers also noted that elderly roaches displayed "decreased spontaneous fleeing response" when disturbed, and hypothesized that the deficit was brain based; sure enough, when the roaches' heads were removed, they were once again able to scurry promptly away at the slightest touch.

According to a February New York Post story, high school chemistry teacher Elihu McMahon, 69, has been ordered out of the classroom due to a student complaint, and while he awaits the resolution of his case he's reporting daily to a do-nothing job for which he receives a salary of $77,000 per year. By his own admission McMahon has spent 12 of the past 15 years in such positions, costing the school system an estimated $600,000. Among the charges he's faced during that time: racist remarks to students, insubordination, incompetent teaching, improper grading, and sexual harassment. (McMahon blames "bad administrators.")

Finer Points of the Law

In Morinville, Alberta, an 18-year-old accused of stabbing another man to death at a New Year's party in Edmonton has had his case transferred to a relatively lenient youth court. He won't be tried as an adult because the victim was attacked just before midnight, and the alleged killer didn't turn 18 until January 1.

In December, according to Australia's Channel 7 TV, the Australasian Performing Rights Association persuaded many grade schools to discourage parents from making keepsake videos of their kids' appearances in Christmas musicals, because recording holiday songs might violate copyright law.

Magnificent Obsessions

In February the New York Times reported on the discovery in a flea market of 38 albums credited to a soul singer named "Mingering Mike." The hand-painted sleeves are lovingly detailed, but the LPs inside are just decorated circles of cardboard--the work of a prolific bedroom songwriter from Washington, D.C., who used them to map out his fantasy career in the late 60s and early 70s. The packages come complete with lyric sheets, liner notes, and even catalog numbers and logos from nonexistent record labels; sometimes the sleeves are shrink-wrapped and adorned with stickers bearing apocryphal promotional quotes. Two record collectors, who'd found Mike's "babies" after he defaulted on the rent for a storage locker and the contents were auctioned off, tracked him down (he declined to be identified) and discovered that he'd actually recorded the music on many of his imaginary albums, with the help of an uncle and a cousin: they had no instruments, so they imitated strings and electric bass with their mouths, blew through rolled-up paper trumpets, and beat on mattresses with Afro combs. The collectors say they hope to find Mike's record sleeves a home in an art gallery and get his music issued on CD.

As of January, brothers Tom and Jack Musser (81 and 84 years old, respectively) had sold more than 1,600 pieces of their one-of-a-kind wooden furniture from their home in Delta, Colorado. The pair are retired cowboys who took up the craft 12 years ago after Tom hurt his back in a car crash, and according to a friend (and satisfied customer) their crooked, primitive pieces derive their beauty and charm from the fact that the Mussers aren't "burdened with any knowledge of woodworking." Says Tom, "We just do what the sticks want."

Latest Important Animal Research

In November a team of researchers that included Ben Wilson of the University of British Columbia reported that herring appear to communicate with each other in the dark using a high-pitched "raspberry" sound emitted from their anuses. Because the sounds don't occur more often after the fish eat, digestive gases have been tentatively ruled out as a cause; the researchers believe that the streams of tiny bubbles they've observed are actually air from the animals' swim bladders.

Least Competent Criminals

In January in Dania Beach, Florida, a 16-year-old boy was arrested after being subdued while failing to rob a 7-Eleven. He'd pointed a .22-caliber rifle at the clerk, then remembered he hadn't loaded it; he'd brought several .40-caliber bullets in his pockets, but while he tried in vain to cram them into the gun, a customer tackled him.

In the Last Month

National Hockey League goalie Byron Dafoe of the Atlanta Thrashers was placed on injured reserve after he slipped on an icy sidewalk outside the team's hotel in Ottawa, Ontario, and hurt his back. Thai insurance companies made the news for refusing coverage to members of parliament, complaining that they often stay in hospitals overnight on business trips even when they're well, then use their health policies to get reimbursed (the government requires politicians to cover hotel expenses out of pocket). And the keyless-entry systems of hundreds of automobiles failed in and around Las Vegas on February 20, probably as the result of military radar-jamming on a nearby air force base--but conspiracy theorists took the opportunity to point out that the city is only 90 miles from Area 51, the government's reputed extraterrestrial research center.

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

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