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News of the Weird


■ Alternative-world online games like Second Life allow players to create identities and personalities, to communicate, and to interact commercially in a self-contained universe. Players buy, sell, invest and generate wealth using a virtual monetary system. Currently, Second Life players bump up against real-world taxes only if they earn real-world money from cashing out in-game wealth, but a congressional economist told Reuters in October that the House and Senate would soon be considering whether also to levy taxes on property and currency left inside the system (“virtual capital gains”). (Second Life’s in-game economy is so robust that it is growing at many times the rate of the US economy.) (The story was filed by a real-life reporter embedded as Reuters’ Second Life “bureau chief.”)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit!

■ The small, specialty restaurant Guolizhuang, in Beijing, serves mostly dishes made from various animal penises, according to a September BBC News dispatch, attracting discerning customers who come for the reputed health benefits. Sheep, horse, ox and seal are good for the circulation, said the restaurant’s staff nutritionist, and donkey improves the skin. Tiger, she said, has no particular value to justify its high price, but snake (“two penises each,” she said) is great for potency.

■ No sooner did Abel Gonzales Jr. develop a State Fair of Texas prize-winning recipe for his Fried Coke than a competitor popped up at the North Carolina State Fair. Gonzales’ fried batter balls are made with strawberry and Coke syrups topped with cinnamon sugar, whipped cream and more Coke syrup. In October, Greg Seamster in North Carolina served a similar concoction but as fried strands of dough in a cup.

New Frontiers in Science

■ In October, The Washington Post reported the growing movement among psychiatrists to call compulsive buying a separate, identifiable disorder and recounted this 62-year-old “shopaholic’s” therapeutic conversation with herself: “I would say (to the jewelry she felt compelled to buy), ‘You are so beautiful, I can’t live without you, I love the way you sparkle.’ The jewelry would say back, ‘You need me. You look pretty when you wear me.’ I would say, ‘I do need you. I can’t possibly think of being without you. But something has to change. I need to stop this. I can’t afford a penny more.’” The patient said she eventually came to believe that her compulsion stemmed from her relationship with her mother.

■ 21st-Century Medicine: (1) Researchers at the University of Bradford in the UK said in October that bandages soaked in maggot secretions were successful in accelerating tissue repair. (2) In September, researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, seeking to create a robot to traverse the colon but without tearing the colon’s delicate walls, successfully tested one such tiny robot that can propel itself smoothly by gliding along mucus.

Leading Economic Indicators

■ According to 2005 transcripts made public by the Wall Street Journal in September, a British Airways 747 flew its entire 10-hour-plus route from Los Angeles to Manchester, England, even though the pilot knew that one of its four engines had caught fire and burned up 30 seconds after takeoff. The pilot surprised the Los Angeles tower by radioing his decision to fly on “as far as we can” (after checking with BA headquarters, which might have been mindful that returning to Los Angeles would have meant dumping $30,000 worth of fuel and possibly incurring $275,000 in European Union fines for the delay). The US Federal Aviation Administration initially proposed a fine for BA but recently closed its investigation.

■ Even though protests grow against Wal-Mart for supposedly treating its employees badly, Kellie Guderian is not fazed. In October, she and her husband won Iowa’s $200 million Powerball lottery, but she cheerfully said she was keeping her job at the Fort Dodge Wal-Mart. Guderian, said her husband, “loves her job, and the people she works with are like family.”

■ Hard-working Britain: The Birmingham City Council revealed in October, first, that a man whose job is to paint white lines in the street made more than twice the average annual British wage, and then that a city lightbulb-changer was paid at about the same rate. And in October, London’s Daily Mail profiled Keith Jackson, 57, an engineer for the AquaTec Coatings company in Wales, whose occupation for the last 30 years has been watching paint dry (to gauge its application time). He said the job pays “fairly well” but “can be stressful.”

People With Too Much Time on Their Hands

■ In October in Cincinnati, lines once again formed well in advance of the grand opening of a Chick-fil-A restaurant, populated in part by out-of-town customers who chase openings around the country much as rock fans follow their favorite groups on tour. As usual, there were tents, sleeping bags, lawn furniture and portable generators in evidence. “We’ve been planning it for two weeks,” said a 24-year-old woman from New Richmond, Ind., who was there with her grandmother. (The first 100 in line received coupons worth $260.)

Creme de la Weird

■ In September, health officials in Macerata, Italy, rescued a 57-year-old woman identified only as Carmela, after a brother reported he wouldn’t be able to keep delivering food to her. It turns out that Carmela had become fearful of influenza 26 years ago, had sealed the windows of her apartment, and had not ventured out the entire time except to collect the food her brother left at her door. She weighed about 65 pounds and had hair seven feet long, and workers required respirators to enter the home.

Least Competent Criminals

■ Peggy Sue Hesskew, 44, was arrested in Kerrville, Texas, in November after she made a down payment to a hit man (actually, an undercover police officer) for a contract on her ex-husband. She made the contract even though the Kerrville Daily Times had reported the day before that police were on the lookout for a woman who had been asking around town for hit men. “You don’t get the paper?” asked the magistrate when she was arrested. “I was out of town,” she said.

Recurring Themes

■ In 2001, News of the Weird noted a US tour by the Indian spiritual leader “Amma” (Mata Amritanandamayi), whose mission in life is to dispense random hugs in her attempt to calm the world’s stresses, sometimes putting in 20-hour days of straight hugging. In some countries, however, public hugging has not taken hold. Random huggers working the streets in three Chinese cities in October found that most people ignored them, and in Beijing, police detained the huggers for questioning. And in north London in October, two New York coaches staged the country’s first (nonsexual) “cuddle party” to a slowly warming group of Brits that eventually loosened up and hugged. (A recent study cited by London’s Daily Telegraph reported that at a Puerto Rican cafe, diners touched each other 180 times per hour, vs. zero in a British cafe.)

Fine Points of Law

■ (1) In October, a judge freed Tammy Skinner, 22, of Suffolk, Va., who had been charged with killing her unborn, third-trimester child by shooting herself in the abdomen. The judge said Virginia’s anti-abortion law, like those of other states, makes criminals of doctors and others who abort third-trimester fetuses (absent special medical circumstances) but exempt the mother herself. (2) Lawrence Roach of Seminole, Fla., complained in October that the $1,200 monthly alimony payments he has been making to his ex-wife should end, now that she has undergone a sex-change. Said Roach, “I’m a man, and I don’t want to be paying alimony to a man.” (Legal experts were pessimistic about his chances.)