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News of the Weird 

F for failure: New York City high school chemistry teacher Elihu McMahon, 69, reports daily to a do-nothing job -- at $77,000 a year -- as the result of being ordered out of the classroom based on various complaints and administrative findings. According to a February New York Post story, he has spent about three-fourths of his time in the last 15 years in such jobs (since New York teachers have generous job protections), costing the schools an estimated $600,000 in salary. Among the complaints against him: racist remarks to students (McMahon is black), insubordination, incompetent teaching, improper grading and sexual harassment. McMahon blames the problems on bad administrators.

Finer points of the law: An 18-year-old man was transferred to youth court, with its more lenient procedures, after he was arrested and charged with stabbing a man to death at a New Year's Eve party in Edmonton, Alberta. He will not be tried as an adult because the victim was stabbed just before midnight, and the alleged killer did not turn 18 until Jan. 1.

In December, Australia's TV Channel 7 reported that many schools across the country, at the behest of the Australasian Performing Right Association, were discouraging parents from making keepsake movies of their kids' appearances in Christmas musicals because recording the holiday songs might violate copyright law.

Magnificent obsession: The New York Times reported in February on a Washington, D.C., man whose love of music led him, in the 1960s, to meticulously hand-make and hand-paint facsimile record album covers of his fantasized music, complete with imagined lyric sheets and liner notes (with some "albums" even shrink-wrapped). Even more incredibly, the man handmade cardboard facsimiles of actual grooved discs to put inside the album covers. "Mingering Mike," whom a reporter and two hobbyists tracked down (but who declined to be identified in print), also made real music on tapes, using his and his friends' voices to simulate instruments. His 38 imagined "albums" were discovered at a flea market after Mike defaulted on storage-locker fees. The hobbyists who found them said they were so exactingly done that a major museum would soon feature them.

Important animal research: Case Western Reserve University researchers revealed in a December journal article that cockroaches do not age gracefully. After about 60 weeks of adulthood, they get stiff joints (which inhibits climbing) and hardened foot pads (which prevents sticking to vertical surfaces). One of the researchers, noticing that the aged roaches seemed to have lost their ability to escape from predators, hypothesized that the loss was brain-based; he tested the hypothesis by removing the roach's head (and thus, brain), and sure enough, the roach once again was able to flee like a youngster.

The entrepreneurial spirit: Among recent U.S. patents (according to a January story in the East Bay Express, Emeryville, Calif.): 1) a penile prosthesis with a magnet, from Deborah Knoll-Ewers, Hercules, Calif. (to overcome erectile dysfunction with new-age magnet therapy); 2) a plastic liner for men to use beneath their underwear, from Wesley Johnson, Burbank, Calif. (to keep the clothing clean while engaged in fully dressed sex, such as lap dances); and 3) an electrically safe device that attaches to the tongue to make it vibrate, from Eric A. Klein, Mountain View, Calif. (to enhance a partner's sexual pleasure).

Least competent criminals: A 16-year-old boy was arrested in January in Dania Beach, Fla., after a 7-Eleven clerk subdued him mid-robbery. The boy had pointed a .22-caliber rifle at the clerk but then suddenly remembered that he hadn't loaded it. He had shells in his pocket, but they were .40-caliber, too large for the rifle (but that didn't stop the boy from trying to cram them in). The clerk took advantage of the boy's confusion and disarmed him.

Undignified deaths: A 41-year-old model airplane hobbyist was killed when his radio-controlled helicopter went haywire and crashed into his neck (Houston, November). A 27-year-old woman was killed when, during calm weather on a suburban street, a 40-foot magnolia tree fell on top of her while she was jogging (Titusville, Fla., December). A 38-year-old man was killed when his pickup truck hit a ditch at 60 mph, with the cause of death later determined to be that the truck's radio had been jarred loose during the crash sequence and hit him on the head (Timberlake, N.C., January).

Also, in the last month: National Hockey League goalie Byron Dafoe (Atlanta Thrashers) went on the injured list after he slipped on the icy sidewalk outside his team's hotel in Ottawa, Ontario, and hurt his back. And insurance companies in Thailand complained that politicians were using their generous health care policies to stay overnight in hospitals while traveling on business, thus pocketing their per diem money. And several dozen (maybe many more) automobile keyless-entry systems failed in the Las Vegas area on Feb. 20, allowing conspiracists to remind everyone that the city is only 150 miles from Area 51, supposedly the government's extraterrestrial research center.(c) 2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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