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7/6/2006

Columns > News of the Weird

NEWS OF THE WEIRD

 

one way or another

In May, a 30-year-old man from Waterfoot, England, attempted suicide by tying one end of a rope around his neck and the other end to a telephone pole, then driving off in his car. However, the rope quickly broke, dooming the suicide. But the impact jarred the driver, causing him to lose control of the car and crash into a tree, fatally. And in June, a man attempted suicide in Huntington Beach, Calif., by hanging himself off the side of the Adams Avenue Bridge, but he accidentally came loose, fell to the dry riverbed below and was killed.

focus on the family drama

The “indecent” CBS drama Without a Trace, for which the Federal Communications Commission is proposing a $3.3 million fine of the network and affiliates, was apparently complained about by only two actual viewers of the estimated 8.2 million who watched it that December 2004 night, according to FCC records that CBS cited in a June filing. Those two (and 4,209 complaints from people who only heard about the show) did not start arriving at the FCC until 12 days afterward, which coincidentally was the day that a family watchdog organization began alerting its members about the show. The same program had aired in 2003, with no complaints.

America: 70 percent idiots

As Congress debates whether to retain the federal estate tax, two advocacy groups released evidence in April that 18 super-rich families (including the owners of Wal-Mart, Gallo wine, Campbell’s soup and the Mars candy company) spent as much as $500 million in the last 10 years through industry and trade associations to urge abolition of the tax, and if their campaign is successful, the families will have saved themselves an estimated $71 billion in taxes, a return of 142 times the investment. (Polls show that around 70 percent of Americans favor abolition, even though only one taxpayer in 400 owes any tax.)

tasteful research

Researchers at England’s University of Birmingham announced in May that they had powered a fuel cell by giving chocolate to Escherichia coli bacteria, which converted the sugar into hydrogen. (The bacteria are also expected to produce precious metals from discarded catalytic converters.) And researcher Mayu Yamamoto of Japan’s International Medical Center said her team had succeeded in extracting vanilla from ordinary cow dung, although she conceded the flavoring could only be commercially used in non-food products like shampoos.

league of ordinary gentlemen

James Otis Denham, 49, was arrested in May after attempting to sell a 375-year-old etching by Rembrandt (“The Raising of Lazarus”) that police later learned had been stolen. Denham was unsuccessful, largely because he said he’d take just $1,500 for it and because his sales venue was the trunk of his car, to a potential customer he had met in Torchy’s Legends bar in Broken Arrow, Okla.

Paul Wendell Gunn was arrested in May, sitting on a sofa in the reception area at the First State Bank in Round Rock, Texas, minutes after he had allegedly robbed it. According to Austin’s American-Statesman, Gunn, for reasons he has not yet disclosed, chose to remain in the bank and read magazines until police arrived.

In Kumagaya, Japan, in May, a 58-year-old unemployed man commenced a robbery of the Saitama Resona Bank, but then asked a teller for suggestions on bank-robbing. When the teller angrily ordered the man out, he left, but in his haste, cut himself with his knife.

The March of progress

In May, Lester Clancy was awarded a U.S. patent for a ropeless jump rope (a handle that electronically duplicates the feel of a jump-rope handle), which he said would be practical for, among other places, mental institutions and prisons, where actual rope is banned.

The San Diego firm Allerca Inc. announced in June that it is accepting advance orders (at $5,000 each) for hypoallergenic cats it intends to create by cross-breeding species that lack the noxious bacteria that most cats produce that are so dangerous to asthmatics. A competitor, New York’s Transgenic Pets, is after the same result by modifying the actual gene that produces the cat saliva bacteria. (Transgenic is expecting to beat Allerca to market, at a price of around $1,000.)

Audio software programs that re-create the hubbub and screaming of orders on an active stock-exchange floor are coveted by some traders who formerly worked such floors but now buy and sell in quiet offices. Those traders, according to a June Wall Street Journal story, say they miss the energy they got from trading-floor chaos.

The Da sushi code

In May, The Times of London reported on Japan’s Shingo village, which is well-known to locals (and practically no one else) as the burial place of Jesus Christ. According to documents written in ancient Japanese, Jesus supposedly moved to Shingo from Jerusalem as a young man, married “Miyuko,” became a farmer and died at age 106.

 

 

 

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