News of the Weird

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New York: Ulrich Rolfing of Hamburg was 40 years old before he visited America for the first time. He had just enjoyed an exhibition of work from the Pompidou Centre at the Guggenheim Museum, then strolled down Fifth Avenue and stepped off the sidewalk by the Plaza to see why a crowd had gathered - and was immediately arrested as one of the 4,000 gay protesters who were marching in memory of Matthew Shepard. "I wasn't able to speak," he said. "I could not find any words. I thought it was like a film." Hauled off to the slammer, he agreed to the District Attorney's plea offer. On leaving court, he commented: "It is a marvellous city, but it's more than strange."


Russia: Thieves used a tractor and shovels to make off with eight tons of therapeutic mud at a spa near Volgograd. They then drove off with it in a truck. Some 200 clients of the spa will now have to forego body-rubs and face-packs. Be suspicious of anybody who offers you a dumperload in a pub.

Italy: Researchers have found that chronic constipation in children can be caused by cow's milk. Drs Antonio Carrocco and Giuseppe Iacono of the University of Palermo found that a switch from cow's to soya milk reduced constipation in two-thirds of children aged from one to seven.

Australia: There could be torrid scenes in the Olympic Village at the next games, for it has been discovered that athletes perform all the better after drinking breastmilk, a commodity high in colostrum; being a natural product, it will not fall foul of regulations.

California: The lack of pot has been declared a public-health emergency in Oakland, where, until now, marijuana had been available at a cafe. Californian law allows its use for medical purposes; federal law forbids its distribution. By a five-to-four vote, town officials have come up with the wheeze of giving it to 2,200 patients by means of designating cannabis club officials as city agents.

Korea: A south Korean victim of a traffic accident arrived at a hospital in Seoul and was promptly put in a scanner by a technician who was about to go on holiday - and did so, leaving her there until somebody asked why this routine matter was taking 29 hours.

Boston: Dr David Bates of Brigham Women's Hospital has discovered that the use of computer prescriptions has cut down medical errors by 55 per cent. There are no plans to develop the software to translate this automatically into Latin.

Kansas City: Robbie Thompson, a Boy Scout who suffers from Tourette's Syndrome, has been expelled from his troop as a danger to others. Protests led to his being reinstated and everybody else's resignation, even the leaders'. "I feel angry, I feel mad, I want to go back to being a troop," he said. Prone to four-letter words, tics and violence, he was offered a place in a special Lone Troop but this was rejected: "Robbie doesn't need to be by himself," said his father, "he needs to be around people."


Russia: At Kopeisk in the Ural Mountains, 45 smoke alarms have been stolen from apartment buildings. Warning has gone out that anybody who prises these open risks exposure to Plutonium-238.

Washington: The name Richland takes on another dimension with the discovery that there are radioactive gnats, ants and flies at its Hanford nuclear complex. Officials are at pains to say that this is perfectly normal. "We're not dealing with an insect that would leave and all of a sudden start to give birth to these malformed, horrible insects," chuckled Ricjard Zack, an entomolgist at Washington State University. He points out that such insects have a territory of only a few hundred yards and the complex is 560-square miles. Even so, some garbage at the town dump was discovered to be radioactive: flies had landed on it before its removal from the complex, to which it will now be taken back for treatment. The town's inhabitants are sanguine: "I'm sure I get more radioactivity from my microwave," said Julie Petersen at the Sunburst Video Store. "It's something we deal with every day. It's the way most people live." She lets them discover for themselves whether she glows in the dark.

Austria: A high incidence of leukemia has been found at Salzburg's Mozarteum music school, which is meant to nurture talent rather than kill it off. Polychlorinated biphenils have been spread by a ventilation system which should be trademarked Salieri.


Paris: It has been discovered that a plunge in the value of French 10- year-bond futures which happened the summer was all because a trader at Soloman Brothers in London leant on a keyboard and repeatedly hit the "instant sell" button; 145 such commands went out.


Pennsylvania: It could be an opening scene from The Simpsons. Elma Donnelly of New Castle owns the ugliest sofa in the USA. Her balding, green velour number has brought her a prize of $2,000 and a new slipover so that it appears less shameful. She does not fudge the issue, but admits that the 21-year-old thing merited its first place among the 1,200 entries judged by publicity-hungry Surefit Slip Covers of New York. "It is not only ugly, it's also hard to get up out of once you sit down."


Texas: Schulenberg High School has received a letter from DC Comics which forbids it to continue to use an S within a triangle for its school badge, as this is perilously close to the one sported by Superman. Unlike Clark Kent, the school requires more than one uniform, and the S is on everything else - letterheads, shields, etc. - but there is no demand in gym lessons that knickers should be worn outside tights.

California: A restaurant in Morpack not only operates their statutory no-smoking rule, but imposes a surcharge of $800 if anybody wishes to bring children along to its champagne brunch.

Chicago: A poster of the charred wreck of a man is part of the latest political campaign. A 100lb part had fallen from a rig driven by Ricardo Guzman, which resulted in a gas-tank blowing up and the death of six children on a highway near Milwaukee. Guzman was never ticketed for the offence. Democrat Glenn Poshard has used this as a symbol of the corruption prevalent under his opponent, the Republican George Ryan, who is Secretary of State, and the FBI has uncovered a system of bribes for drivers' licences, $150,000 of which found its way into Ryan's campaign funds. Meanwhile, Ryan has 51 per cent of the poll to Poshard's 36 per cent, and says: "I'm being accused of murder."


New York: No sooner has the city learnt that one haywire taxi-driver has got back his old job as a sandwich filler at Grand Central Station, then comes news of another. Larry Siegelbaum jumped a stop light on Amsterdam Avenue at 82nd Street and killed Damian Ramois, a traffic-enforcement officer who was riding home on his scooter. That Siegelbaum had nine moving- vehicle violations and three speeding charges did not prevent the Department of Transportation from granting him a licence. Instead, efforts are being devoted to ridding the city of its celebrated Walk/Don't Walk signs at every junction. Assistant deputy commissioner, Louis Calcagno, favours a red hand and a white-lit human figure. "We have a lot of tourists now."

Los Angeles: A man was killed while changing a tyre beside the Ronald Reagan Freeway when an 18-wheel truck came by. "The big-rig swerved over the shoulder, struck the individual, and fled the scene," said Patrol Lieutenant Andrea Whitman. She advised: "Never turn your back to traffic because you can't see the hazard coming at you. The engine still runs and wheels still turn when you have a flat. It is better to sacrifice the rims than your life."


Chicago: The Rabbi's Manual, which is distributed to some 750 Synagogues across North America and 200 elsewhere in the world, has been adapted to include a "grief ritual" for couples after an abortion. Rabbi Reuven Frankel of B'nai Tikvah Synagogue, Deerfield, said: "It's a very necessary updating. Necessity is sometimes determined by newly-perceived needs. Certain things that are painful were not being addressed." And so now: "We grieve for you over the loss of this seed of life, and we affirm your essence as people gifted with the ability to nurture other life."


China: A confession in a Peking jail by Han Gou Chang has led to a court case in Chicago. Chang testified that he was party to putting through an invoice of $809,767 for an 850-B Motor-Grader, a piece of machinery which existed only in the handsomely-rewarded imagination of Phillip Wu in America. Anthony D'Amato of Northwestern University sees the Chinese use of an American court as a sign of improved relations between the countries.

Tennessee: Buddy Frazier of Chattanooga will have to cough up a fine of $250,000 and faces five years in jail for hiring homeless men to remove asbestos from a Wisconsin factory without benefit of safety training. That is to say nothing of faking Social Security numbers.