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News of the Weird

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The Wall Street Journal reported in February on the growing inclination among U.S. businesspeople to remain on task while in the bathroom. Besides simply bringing cell phones, PDAs, and laptops along with them, high-powered types are now having their home bathrooms fitted with flat-panel TVs, speaker phones that automatically turn off the shower when answered, and waterproof touch-screen monitors embedded in the mirrors. Downsides include the acoustics of a bathroom, which tend to give away one's location when on the phone, and the tendency to drop one's gear at the worst possible time: "There's something magnetic," said the president of the BlackBerry Repair Shop in Houston, "about a BlackBerry and a toilet."

Government in Action

An unarmed 37-year-old optometrist suspected of taking illegal sports bets was accidentally shot and killed in Fairfax, Virginia, in January when a SWAT unit descended on his house to execute a search warrant with guns drawn. Also in January prosecutors in Palmer Lake, Colorado (population 2,200), dropped charges against the last of 22 people who'd been arrested the previous April when a 52-officer SWAT team burst into a local restaurant to break up a poker game.

The Sunday Times of London reported in January that according to recently released government files from the mid-1980s, British officials of that time were concerned about the possibility of poachers killing the Loch Ness monster and seriously discussed the potential need for a new protective statute; ultimately they concluded that the monster was sufficiently protected by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. The deliberation apparently followed a request for advice from the Swedish government, which was then considering its options for safeguarding Sweden's legendary Storsjo monster.

In December Brian and Jackie Lawson of Chimacum, Washington, called the IRS and ordered a copy of the Form 1040 instructions for 2003, which they needed to fix an error on their tax return for that year. Three weeks later a UPS truck showed up at the Lawsons' house with 12 boxes containing 24,000 copies of the 1040 instructions; the next day they got a call saying that 24,000 more sets of instructions had arrived for them at the UPS warehouse. And in February administrators tried to fix the damage done to civic budgets throughout Porter County, Indiana, after a two-bedroom ranch house in Valparaiso worth $121,900 was (as a result of a computer error) mistakenly valued at a little over $400 million. The incorrect valuation led to a massive tax shortfall, and the county auditor's office was forced to ask local municipalities and schools to return about $3.1 million it had already disbursed.

Latest Religious Messages

In seemingly direct contradiction of a 2003 ruling in another case in Malaysia, an Islamic court ruled in January that Malaysian senator Kamaruddin Ambok could not divorce his wife simply by telling her of his intention to end the marriage via text message and voicemail; Kamaruddin was fined about $150 for the attempt.

Least Competent People

Donald E. Neff, 38, of Pleasant Township, Ohio, ran his 27-foot boat aground in November while trying to take it along the Portage River to Lake Erie; the coast guard showed up to rescue him. Despite warnings to wait for higher water, Neff borrowed another boat the next day and set out to retrieve the first boat; motor trouble stranded him and he had to call again for the coast guard. Three days later he persuaded some friends to take him back out after the first two boats; they ran aground. An onlooker called the coast guard, who this time sent a helicopter. County officials charged Neff with seven misdemeanors.

On Super Bowl Sunday in Englewood, Colorado, police found an abandoned car with all its windows blown out, its back doors bulging outward, and its roof distended upward about a foot. The license plate led them to 46-year-old Norman Frey of nearby Sheridan, who admitted there'd been an accident while he and his girlfriend were driving to a Super Bowl party that day: they'd brought along a balloon he'd filled with highly flammable acetylene, planning to explode it as part of the celebration, but (perhaps due to static electricity built up as it rubbed against the car seat) it went off early. Frey and his girlfriend, their faces bloodied and eyebrows singed off, hitched a ride home; they were later persuaded to seek treatment for shrapnel wounds.

In January, having gotten a call from a woman saying she'd nearly been run off the road, police caught up with David Kennedy, 33, weaving along State Road 840 near Murfreesboro, Tennessee; arresting officers found porn magazines in Kennedy's passenger seat. Also in January police in Suffolk County, New York, guided an SUV onto the shoulder and then woke up its driver, 38-year-old Stephen Nielsen, after spotting him going about 40 miles an hour on the eastbound Long Island Expressway with his eyes shut and his mouth wide open. A crack pipe was allegedly found on Nielsen's lap.

How Researchers Spend Their Time

Documenting menopause in gorillas (at Brookfield Zoo and 16 other zoos nationwide, as reported by National Geographic News in December); determining whether hamsters experience seasonal affective disorder (at Ohio State University, as reported in December by ABC News--apparently you can tell a hamster is depressed if it turns down a drink of sugar water, or if when immersed in water it doesn't swim but simply floats); finding the gene that determines whether one's earwax is wet or dry (at Nagasaki University, as reported by the New York Times in January).

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

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