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Lead story: To publicize the use of fat as an alternative method of harvesting stem cells to grow new human tissue, Austin, Texas, plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Ersek, who is overweight, called in reporters in August to watch as he liposuctioned 1-1/2 pounds of his own fat from the left side of his abdomen. As Ersek (under local anesthetic) moved the vacuuming wand inside his body, he urged people to save their fat for the time (maybe five years from now) in which stem-cell work will be routine. (Ersek said he would leave the right side of his abdomen as is, to show liposuction candidates a "before" and "after.")

Japanese passions: Judging by sales figures for a recent product, Japanese men and women have either too much free time or not nearly enough, because now selling briskly in pet shops are ants. The Antquarium is a six-ant farm that uses a self-sustaining nutritional gel instead of sand. One satisfied customer told the Japan Times, "As I live on my own, I wanted to have pets that are easy to take care of."

Never give up: Jacob Hadad and his "witness," David Mullem, were charged with perjury in Long Beach, Calif., in July after they refused to budge from their testimony in Hadad's challenge to a camera-generated traffic ticket. Hadad said he was forced to run a red light because a maniacal driver was chasing him, and Mullem, his "passenger," backed him up. The camera revealed no car chasing Hadad, however, and no passenger in his car.

Only for me, not for thee: In April, the St. Augustine Record in Florida announced the opening of artist Andrea Giovanni's exhibit on behalf of the Betty Griffin House, a local shelter for battered women; eight days later, the same newspaper carried news of Giovanni's arrest for allegedly beating up her boyfriend and trying to run him over with her car. And the July 2004 Smithsonian magazine featured the work of ecology-minded architect Paolo Soleri, who advocates that people form smaller, efficient, high-density residential communities to help conserve the environment. It was also revealed that Soleri himself lives on a five-acre ranch near Scottsdale, Ariz., housing a bell foundry and several buildings.

Bright ideas: Police in Niles, Ohio, were called to the house of a 50-year-old man in July, having received complaints that the home might be one of those increasingly common ones that the resident loses control of, littered with garbage and vermin and reeking of urine and feces. Zoning inspector Anthony Vigorito did declare the home unfit for human habitation, but gave the resident credit for trying to improve things: The man had gone to the trouble of installing a porta-john in the middle of his living room.

Least competent criminals: Accused bank robber Stephen C. Jackson, 35, was arrested after violating the rule that a criminal on the lam should try to keep a low profile. He was spotted calmly feeding one red-dye-stained dollar bill after another into a coin changer, which bystanders found suspicious in that his pockets were bulging with quarters (about 1,800 in his trousers). Police tied him to the robbery earlier in the day of a Charter One Bank in Cleveland.

Recurring themes: Once again, a kid survived with minimal aftereffects after being impaled by a stake that completely penetrated his chest. (Jason Curtis, 9, was bouncing on a trampoline in Camanche, Iowa, in August and came down on the stake, which entered through his left armpit and barely missed vital organs, but he lifted himself off the stake and walked for help.)

Readers' choice: In August, a sightseeing boat taking some society-type guests of the Chicago Architecture Foundation down the Chicago River crossed under the Kinzie Street bridge just as a bus passed over and apparently released its sewage container through the bridge's grating, directly onto the boat's passengers. Police subsequently charged a driver for the bus belonging to the Dave Matthews Band, but the band claimed its buses were not in the area at the time.

2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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