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News of the Weird 

Lead Story: The New Zealand agricultural company Summit-Quinphos revealed in March that it has a working model of an automated nitrogen-inhibiting sprayer that fits under a cow's tail, and that it has a government grant to develop the device. A company spokesman said nitrogen from cow urine, concentrated in small patches in a field, currently must be neutralized by expensively treating the entire field. However, the company's "tail-activated" gizmo immediately fires a blast of an inhibiting chemical at the ground directly below every time the cow lifts her tail for a call of nature. (A New Zealand Herald reporter made Summit-Quinphos scientist Jamie Blennerhasset solemnly swear that the announcement was not an April Fool's joke.)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit: In December, German inventor Juergen Broether introduced his "telephonic angel" system (at about $2,000), which is a battery-operated, underground loudspeaker that, buried at a gravesite, allows someone to speak into a microphone and have the messages amplified through the dirt to the departed for up to a year on a single battery charge.

Science on the Cutting Edge: Bureaucrats in North Korea's Communist Party, summarizing their understanding of the way the brain works, announced in January that, henceforth, all men would be expected to wear their hair short (2 inches, maximum) in that longer hair impairs function by taking oxygen away from the nerves in the head. (Balding men would be allowed another inch for comb-overs, and hair length of women was not addressed.)In studies reported recently by mainstream researchers: 1) DNA-damaging cancers caused by heterocyclic amines were found reduced in rats that drank nonalcoholic beer instead of water (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry); 2) Tobacco-smoking apparently provides some protection against the onset of Parkinson's disease (Karolinska Institute of Sweden).

Scenes of the Surreal: Heidi Erickson of Boston, one of America's more aggressive cat-hoarding women, made News of the Weird in 2003 when she raucously challenged her evictions from two homes where she allegedly was attempting to breed the "imperfections" out of Persian cats. Subsequently, she moved into the Plympton, Mass., home of Patricia Pima, a black hermaphrodite who raises champion horses. The friendship ended in February when passenger Erickson yelled at Pima for reading the Bible while driving on Interstate 495, resulting in Pima's ordering Erickson out of the car, which led to Erickson's filing a complaint with local authorities that Pima's home reeks so bad that it is a public health hazard.

The Sacred Institution of Marriage: 1) In six weddings this year in India, two boys and four girls were married in tribal-custom ceremonies to dogs, which is believed to bring better luck to children who have been cursed by teething first from the upper jaw ("dog teeth"). (Agence France-Presse reported that the four February marriages in Jharkhand state involved, thank goodness, dogs of the opposite gender from the spouse.) 2) In February, a Pakistani tribal council in Kacha Chohan (Punjab state) ordered a 2-year-old girl to marry a man, age 42, to punish the girl's uncle for having sex with that man's current wife (although the marriage will not be official until the girl turns 18).

Recurring Themes: News of the Weird has reported on how single acts of sexual intercourse wound up costing men (e.g., tennis star Boris Becker) staggering amounts of money. In March, Harry C. Stonecipher resigned under pressure as CEO of Boeing for having an affair with a Boeing lobbyist, and the New York Post, examining regulatory filings, concluded that Stonecipher had thus forfeited bonuses and incentives that could have been worth about $38 million. While more than one act may have been involved, the pair were stationed in different cities, and published reports indicated that the affair had only recently begun.

Readers' Choice: In March, the Oregon board that enforces teachers' standards and practices charged Salem high school football and track coach (and science teacher) Scott Reed with gross neglect of duty after investigating parents' complaints that he routinely licked the bleeding wounds of his players to help them recover. In addition to knowledge he acquired as a teacher of science, Reed had also earlier taken the standard teachers' seminar on bodily fluid contact (which he was ordered by the board to retake).


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