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News of the Weird 

Lead story: "Anal-wart researcher" (visual inspection being the only way to detect anal cancer from the human papillomavirus) heads Popular Science magazine's second annual November list of the worst jobs in science. "Worm parasitologist" can be just as challenging, however, especially for anyone studying the Dracunculus medinensis (which can settle in humans to a length of 3 feet and then must be removed carefully after its thousands of offspring burst through the skin). Other contenders: "tampon squeezer" for the study of vaginal infections; a Lyme-disease "tick attractor" (who must sing, to keep bears away, while trolling in the woods); and "monitors" at warm-climate landfills (where garbage has been reduced to steamy, liquid condensates).

Majority rules: Perhaps the strangest election result this year was in Orange County, Calif., where a school board seat went not to the favored establishment candidate, but to an unknown, Steve Rocco, who never campaigned or even appeared in public. (He did tell a friend after the election that he would appear at the board meeting Dec. 9.) Among the little information known about him: His candidate registration included one page of (according to the Los Angeles Times) "densely typed text cut and pasted together, and filled with rambling prose," and several years ago, he hosted a 17-episode interview series on public-access TV while wearing dark glasses.

Suspicions confirmed: In November, four University of Memphis basketball players, who share an apartment on campus, reported a break-in, with items missing (according to the police report obtained by WPTY-TV) including $6,000 worth of shoes, $4,000 of custom-made shirts, $6,000 of trousers and $40,000 of mink coats.

Scenes of the surreal: While demonstrations about Iraq usually either support the troops or criticize U.S. involvement, a group of porn-video actresses staged an idiosyncratic protest in August in Los Angeles, denouncing the U.S. military for offering breast implants to female soldiers (as a way to help keep combat surgeons sharp for battle-related plastic surgery). One sign read, "Honk if you love natural breasts."

Asking for trouble from the spirits: Kenneth Rabalais, 19, was charged with desecrating a grave in a suburb of New Orleans after he opened the crypt of a young relative, believing that other relatives had buried "tribute" money and drugs to help ease the deceased's transition to the afterworld. (Apparently, the deceased left un-tributed.) And in Hawaii, Wal-Mart opened a store in October despite warnings that it had been built on an ancient grave site (and, indeed, the remains of 44 bodies turned up during construction). Wal-Mart said it is protecting the remains while it seeks state approval to rebury them.

Questionable judgments: Colin Hancock, a convicted drug dealer serving time in Perth Prison in Scotland, filed a lawsuit in October, asking the equivalent of about $55,000 because of an improper rectal exam (responding to his symptom of urine blockage) given by a prison physician. Dr. Alexander MacFarlane said he was forced to use, as lubricant, milk from a bowl of porridge because that was all the prison had on hand.

Oops: In August, a pilot, cruising over Forest Grove, Ore., on assignment, reached out the window to scatter the cremated ashes of a man over the Mountain View Memorial Gardens, but the four-pound bag slipped out of his hand, eventually crashing through the roof of Barbara Vreeland, who lives near the cemetery. The deceased's family paid for the damage, but Vreeland later told a reporter, "I think some of [him] is still in our attic."

Least competent criminals: John DeWitt, 18, fled from a security guard at the Orlando Ale House (Orlando, Fla.) in September after the guard suspected he was about to burglarize the building. DeWitt's flight ended when he climbed into what he thought was a garbage can in order to hide, but which turned out to be discarded restaurant grease.

2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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