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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

The New York Times reported in July that scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, are planning to use new DNA sequencing techniques developed by a Connecticut company to reconstruct the Neanderthal genome from genetic information found in bones. If they succeed, the resulting genome could be compared with human and chimp genomes to further the study of human development; theoretically it could also be used to bring the species back to life after 30,000 years of extinction, though this would require (among other things) a human volunteer willing to bear a Neanderthal baby.

The Litigious Society

Having unsuccessfully tried to borrow a boat from friends in the days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Mark Morice found an 18-foot pleasure craft with the keys in it and used it to evacuate survivors from his flooded neighborhood and a nearby hospital, rescuing by his count more than 200 people. He then abandoned the boat, for other rescuers to use, he said; later he returned to the house where he'd found it to explain what had happened. This August the boat's owner, John Lyons Jr., sued Morice for replacement costs plus damages, alleging that by commandeering the boat Morice had caused him "grief, mental anguish, embarrassment and suffering."

Making Life Somewhat Better

The British Egg Information Service announced in August its solution to a problem reportedly plaguing millions of Britons: the inability to boil an egg. The new "smart egg"--to be available in soft-, medium-, and hard-boiled varieties--is set to go on sale this fall; a lion logo printed on the shell in heat-sensitive ink becomes visible when the egg reaches the correct temperature.

In August BBC News reported on plans for an Internet video link that would allow endangered orangutans at a rescue center in Borneo to communicate with orangutans at Apenheul, a primate zoo in the Dutch city of Apeldoorn. An Apenheul spokesperson conceded that due to transportation costs it was unlikely that two apes that became friendly online would ever meet in the flesh, but the system might allow each to press buttons that would dispense food for the orangutan on the other end.

Schemes

In August in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Randy Bailey--already serving house arrest for a DUI-related conviction--was charged with criminal destruction of property. According to police, Bailey knew that his ankle monitor would set off an alarm if he went more than 150 feet from his house but only after a delay of roughly four minutes. One Saturday night Bailey allegedly drove three blocks to a Burger King, apparently betting he could make it back in time. Described later as seeming agitated, he used so much profanity in addressing the drive-through operator that staff ultimately refused him service. Allegedly he got out of the car, kicked in the drive-through window, hopped back in, and sped home. Burger King employees supplied police with a plate number that led to Bailey; as the alarm had never gone off, however, his alibi looked ironclad until investigators learned about the four-minute delay, then reenacted the burger run and concluded it was doable.

Leading Economic Indicators

According to a BBC News article in July, the Indian Medical Association announced it would conduct a probe after a televised investigative report showed hidden-camera footage of doctors saying they'd accept money from professional beggars to perform medically unneeded amputations. (It's been suggested for years that Indian gangs pay to have beggars' limbs amputated--making them more sympathetic and thus better earners--in return for a share of the proceeds.) In the footage, a senior doctor at a government hospital near Delhi is seen apparently discussing with a beggar where the cut should be made, proposing that he induce gangrene beforehand to make the procedure seem legitimate, and naming his price--about $200.

Compelling Explanations

After a security camera caught 34-year-old Joshua Shores, an employee at a Subway in North Platte, Nebraska, allegedly pocketing $502 he was supposed to deposit in the safe, he told police and later the arraignment judge that he was actually an undercover operative working at Subway only until the CIA could replace his badge, which he'd lost; he'd been instructed to borrow money from the register as needed and the agency would pay it back.

Gas, Brake, Whatever

More accidents in which elderly drivers apparently stepped on the wrong pedal: Age 89, backed into rear wall of own garage, then sped across street and into neighbor's porch; driver hospitalized (Dearborn, Michigan, July). Age 89, hit pedestrian while driving through festival grounds, seemingly panicked, and lurched into crowd; 27 injured (New London, Connecticut, July). Age 89, plowed through stalls at open-air market; ten injured, two seriously (Rochester, New York, August). Age 87, taking husband to eye doctor, drove through clinic's brick facade and into waiting room; no injuries (Orlando, Florida, July). Age 86, drove through doors of McDonald's; no injuries (Brookfield, Wisconsin, August). Age 85, drove into Starbucks outdoor seating area; ten injured, two critically (El Monte, California, July). Age 84, backed over 87-year-old man in lawn chair near driveway, then, seemingly confused by shouting bystanders, pulled forward and ran over him again, then backed over him again; man killed (Tamarac, Florida, July).

No Longer Weird: A Look Back

Continuing a review of frequently recurring stories that have been retired from circulation: The last few stories of the 20th century declared No Longer Weird included dog steps on gun, shooting its master; bank robber hails taxi or bus for getaway; pack of animals gets into liquor supply, fermentation vat, etc, then goes on drunken rampage; and person dies at home but family (in some cases possibly motivated by desire to keep receiving Social Security or pension checks) never gets around to burying him.

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

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