News of the Weird

* A November New York Times story profiled surgeon Stanley H. Biber, who has kept the small Mount San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad, Colo., afloat for 44 years through his sideline as the world's most prolific sex-change surgeon. He estimates he has performed 3,800 such operations at prices now up to $11,000 and in the process has helped create standards in transgender surgery that are accepted worldwide (presurgery requirements of at least two psychiatric exams, nine months of hormone therapy and a year of living and dressing in the new gender).

* A November Associated Press dispatch described the work of commercial leech and maggot suppliers who sell to hospitals for medical treatments. A Welsh firm, Biopharm Ltd., moves about 20,000 3-inch-long leeches a year at $17 each to suck blood through delicate clogged veins to restore circulation, and a unit of the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, Wales, produces sterilized maggots to eat decayed skin on a wound to speed the healing process (price: $90 per 100 maggots). Boasts Dr. Stephen Thomas, who guards his secret technique for sterilizing fly eggs, "Our maggots are cleaner than the patient."

* Los Angeles surgeon Brigitte Boisselier announced in November that her company, Clonaid, might soon accept clients, at $200,000 each, to make genetic twins of themselves. She plans to use the technique that produced the sheep Dolly, which she hopes will be refined for humans by the year 2000. In her spare time, Boisselier is a bishop in the Raelian religion, founded in 1970 by a French former sports reporter, which believes that Earth was created 25,000 years ago by alien DNA. Said Dr. Boisselier, "I'm a scientist and very pragmatic even if I do believe in little green men."

* The developers of the Providence (R.I.) Place shopping mall now under construction announced in November that they had reached agreement to house a private high school of about 100 students with classrooms inside the mall.

* Window washer Kerry Burton, 27, was only slightly injured in November after falling five stories from a building in Calgary, Alberta. Burton landed butt-first in the basin of water that was tethered to his body and bounced 2 feet in the air after the bucket hit the pavement. And in November, Jo'Tan Cooper, 18, escaped from the Natick, Mass., police-station lockup by sliding his 5-foot-6, 130-pound body through the 9-by-17-inch food-tray slot. (He was recaptured before he made it out of the station.)

* In November, the state of Punjab, India, announced that its 18-month search for its most honest government officer (which carried an award of more than $2,000) was over, because they couldn't find anyone worthy. However, as part of the same program, the government revealed that it had found 300 corrupt officers worthy of prosecution. (India was recently named the world's eighth most corrupt country by an international watchdog organization.)

* The latest episode of inmates acting as winemakers was disclosed by the Chattanooga Times in October, reporting on missing sugar from the pantry of the Franklin County Jail in Winchester, Tenn. Authorities traced the sugar to two dozen inmates concocting a fruit-based wine in, as usual, a jail-cell toilet.

* In the course of offering support for Scottish independence from Great Britain, Mohamed al-Fayed (father of the late Dodi al-Fayed) told a Glasgow Herald reporter in October that Scots are sexually superior to Brits, in part because of the kilt (which al-Fayed says they stole from his own ancestors, the Egyptians): "The Egyptians wore nothing underneath. That is why they were great (copulators). (W)hen you leave your organs free and ventilated with air, they are always fertile."

* In November, Ma Yulan, 41, owner of a restaurant and bathhouse in Beijing, was convicted of allowing her hostesses to engage in sex for hire and was sentenced to death.

* The Hotel de Sal Playa (altitude 12,500 feet, and recently renamed the UT Salt Palace and Spa) in the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia is a 12-room setup in which the walls, beds, tables and chairs are made entirely of blocks of salt. According to an August Associated Press travel story, the rooms go for $50 a night and have no salty smell (although, during the rainy season, the walls are covered with brine).

* In May, after another guest at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria hotel disturbed her sleep for two hours and eventually urinated outside her door, Elizabeth Jaffe received a complimentary bottle of wine and a fruit-and-cheese basket from the management to make amends for her horrible night. According to Jaffe's $6.5 million lawsuit against the hotel, filed in August, the fruit and cheese caused severe vomiting, requiring her to be hospitalized for intestinal bleeding and dehydration. "Obviously," said Jaffe's lawyer, "it was the fruit."

* On Nov. 9, according to police in Creedmoor, N.C., Leroy Howard, 30, took a space heater from the back of one truck, placed it in the truck he was driving and fled, just as the police chief, who happened to be driving by, asked him what he was doing. Chief Ted Pollard chased Howard, who abandoned the truck (which had been stolen in nearby Oxford, N.C.) and fled on foot. Oxford police joined in the chase. Two state wildlife officers were in the area and also joined. Two vans carrying a SWAT team happened to be passing by, headed for training, and joined in, and then called their 60 colleagues at the training site to come on over. A highway-patrol helicopter was nearby also, and joined the chase. Four hours after the theft, Howard was in custody.

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

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