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News of the Weird


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In a BBC TV documentary series on bears that premiered in November, remote-camera footage shows a wild male giant panda marking its territory by urinating on a tree while doing a handstand on its front paws, apparently attempting to establish greater dominance by making its mark as high up the trunk as possible.

Weird Science

University of Florida professor Thomas DeMarse announced in November that his team of researchers had created a functioning brain out of 25,000 rat neurons in an electrode-wired petri dish and taught it to pilot a flight-simulator aircraft. And in September New Scientist magazine reported on EcoBot II, a robot developed at the University of the West of England, in Bristol, that runs on energy it produces by digesting flies. At the time the article was written, EcoBot was still being hand-fed; ultimately, its inventors said, it will be able to catch its own flies, most likely using a foul-smelling sewage-based bait.

Crisis Averted

In November the school district of Spurger, Texas, called off one of its longstanding homecoming-week traditions--a day when boys dress like girls and vice versa--after parent Delana Davies protested that such behavior might lead to homosexuality. It's "like drugs," she said. "You do a little here and there...eventually it gets you." Instead, officials said, students would be encouraged to wear camouflage hunting gear.


In July investment-fund manager Charles Harris of Winnetka, on the run from a federal fraud investigation, sent DVDs to his investors in which he apologized for losing their money and asked them not to cooperate with authorities but instead give him time to put things right. According to the FBI Harris filmed the apology while he was sailing the Caribbean on a 62-foot yacht bought with part of the $25 million he allegedly stole from his clients.

Questionable Judgments

A journal written by Tara Pisano, a former bailiff in Tampa, Florida, became public in November when it was introduced by her husband during divorce proceedings. It provided new details about her affair with former circuit court judge Gasper Ficarrotta, who resigned amid scandal in 2000. Pisano described one incident in which Ficarrotta laid out his judge's robe on a hotel room bed and asked her to put it on. When she declined, he became angry and told her she "needed to feel the power that his black robe possessed."

In September, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin sentenced Jonathan Magbie, 27, to ten days in jail for first-offense marijuana possession despite the fact that Magbie was a quadriplegic with a permanent tracheotomy, stomach tube, and urinary catheter and often required a ventilator to breathe. Magbie died four days later while in the custody of the corrections department.

Superproductive Farm Animals and the Music They Love

According to a November article in the Guardian the most sought-after stud bull in the UK, a Holstein named Picston Shottle, listens to Mozart in its living quarters in Ruthin, Wales. At that time the bull was on pace to produce 200,000 doses of semen in 2004, whereas a typical bull produces only 120,000 a year; its output, which sells for about $77 a dose, was sold out through next April. And in December a 200-pound bale of superfine Australian wool was sold for about $175,000, a record price; one of the owners of the New South Wales flock that produced it revealed that the sheep listen regularly to the recordings of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Creme de la Weird

Ending decades of secrecy, residents of Villa Baviera--a cult community founded in 1961 by German immigrants to Chile--spoke to a Reuters reporter in November. Their leader was former German army nurse Paul Schaefer, who deleted references to love or sex from the Bible, forbade contact between family members, and banned physical intimacy, with the result that virtually no children were born in the village for 25 years. Schaefer also prohibited most technological innovations (including the telephone), and villagers lived (and dressed) much as 1930s Bavarian peasants did. After Schaefer, charged by Chilean authorities with sexual abuse, fled in 1997, loyal elders continued to enforce his rules for several years, but gradually the group came to admit that Schaefer was not an infallible "celestial being." Though they're now free to leave, one resident says the members of the community (who number about 280) plan to stay together.

Least Competent Criminals

Riding mowers have been used as transportation to and from crime scenes before, but only rarely does a suspect try to actually outrun police on one, as Steven Coleman, 37, did in Dover, New Hampshire, in December. Coleman allegedly threw two Molotov cocktails at an ex-girlfriend's apartment building, though neither exploded. When police arrived Coleman took off on his mower and led a squad car on a slow, brief chase until a second squad car cut him off.

Readers' Choice

In November a 46-year-old man climbed into the lion enclosure at the Taipei Zoo, approached two lions, and shouted "Jesus will save you!" When he raised his arms and shouted "Come bite me!" one of the lions did, getting him in the arm and leg before zoo personnel drove the animals away and led the man out of the pen.

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

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