News of the Weird

May 5, 1999 at 4:00 am
* New Scientist magazine reported in April on how weaker males in two animal species end up fathering almost as many offspring as their studly competitors. Researcher Brian Preston told a conference in Newcastle, England, that strong rams get more sex but that toward the end of mating season, they may literally run out of sperm, leaving females to scrawnier rams. And a team from Liverpool University reported that strong male flour beetles' spiny penises can scrape previously deposited sperm from females, to allow their own sperm to prevail, but that some of the scraped sperm remains on the penis during the male's next conquest (within a matter of minutes). Thus the subsequent female is sometimes impregnated not by the current male but by the residue sperm of a male she has never encountered.

* After marathon partisan sessions in March, the Alabama Senate reached agreement to permit Lt. Gov. Steve Windom to retain his traditional presiding powers. However, during the fierce debates, Windom was forced to remain continually at the presiding officer's podium, and things got so tense on March 28 that he had to urinate into a pitcher because opponents would have won votes if he had taken a restroom break. Afterward, the director of the state archives asked for the pitcher, but Windom said it had been discarded.

* Berkeley, Calif., Councilman Kriss Worthington announced in April that he would propose that the City Council pass a reparations package to heal sociopolitical wounds dating back to the 1960s. Included were proposals for official apologies to anti-Vietnam War protesters and to Patricia Hearst Shaw, who was kidnapped by (and later joined) the radical Symbionese Liberation Army. Worthington also proposed that the city erect a statue of Hearst Shaw in her notorious gun-toting pose and declare the abduction house, in Worthington's district, a historic site.

* In January, a pair of popular dolls was introduced in Japan from the firm Mataro, consisting of a female with her hands out asking for a loan and a male banker in a business suit rejecting her. And in Mompos, Colombia, in March, local teachers stole about 50 Easter figurines from a church and vowed not to return them until the city issued their six- months-overdue paychecks. And Nike announced in March to great fanfare that it was raising the minimum wage for its Indonesian workers, to about $37 per month, which in the U.S. buys one-fourth of a pair of Air Jordans.

* Unitel Corp. announced in March it was relocating its l00-job telemarketing office from small-town Frostburg, Md., to Florida. Unitel said Frostburg workers' telephone manner is too polite for the telemarketing business.

* According to a February Science News profile of University of South Florida pollution microbiologist Joan B. Rose, her career is devoted to flushing fecal-germlike "phages" down toilets and then sending monitoring crews into local waterways to track down where they end up. She has found, for example, that some bacteria flushed into septic tanks can seep into nearby canals within 11 hours.

* Another germ ranger is University of Arizona environmental microbiologist Charles Gerba, whose specialty, according to a February New York Times article, is discovering germ patterns in kitchens, bathrooms and laundries. In random home visits, Gerba found that 25 percent of washing machines are contaminated with fecal matter and that hepatitis A and salmonella survive even a very hot dryer and remain on clothes. He is noted for developing the "commodograph," a visual display of where droplets of water land after they are sprayed into the air when a toilet is flushed. (Hint: Gerba keeps his toothbrush in the medicine cabinet.)

* Janice Peck, 50, filed a lawsuit last year in Salt Lake City against the state Division of Wildlife for alienation of affection. The agency had assigned Janice's then-husband, Randal, to partner up with agent Jodi Becker, now 33, as a married outdoor couple in order to infiltrate a poaching operation. Apparently the couple was so good at portraying a couple that Randal divorced Janice after 23 years' marriage and married Becker. Randal and Jodi said they initially slept together in their government-supplied trailer only to give their relationship greater authenticity.

* "News of the Weird" reported in 1994 on a Nassau County, N.Y., cell block bragging contest and fight over pay-telephone privileges between notorious murderers Colin Ferguson (race-motivated commuter-train killer) and Joel Rifkin (serial prostitute killer). Better-spirited, according to news reports in March 1999, are the twice-a-week bull sessions at the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo., of bombers Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City), Ramzi Yousef (World Trade Center) and Ted Kaczynski (Unabomber). Said one former prosecutor, "This is the oddest kaffeeklatsch in the history of Western civilization."

* "News of the Weird" has reported several times on capital punishment in China for crimes somewhat less serious than murder. Among the latest: Gao Yunliao, executed in January in Henan province, for stealing a statue. Executive Tang Mihong and his employee Zhao Jian, executed in December in Beijing, for smuggling computers. And Jie Hua Huang, 34, granted asylum in Canada in November because he faced a certain death penalty in China for tax fraud.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or [email protected].