News of the Weird

* According to an April Associated Press report, the University of Illinois managed to find women to fill all 15 laboratory positions in which the only job is to sniff pig manure. They work three hours a week at $15 an hour attempting to recognize certain chemical markers in the manure so that researchers can ascertain which foods are responsible for making pig manure so foul-smelling. The university sought only females because estrogen improves sensitivity to smells.

* In April, surveyor William Parker, 51, filed a lawsuit in Kingston County Court, southwest London, England, for about $30,000 to recover money he had spent on Helen Holdsworth during the years 1993-1996, when the two were lovers and produced a son. Included on Parker's tab were such items as about $3 for a lock for Holdsworth's bathroom door, $7 for an oil filter and $13 for motor oil.

* The Agence France Presse news service reported that the official government newspaper of Baghdad, the Ai-Thawra, played an April Fool's Day joke on its readers, claiming on page 1: "Good news: from today, bananas (2 pounds), Pepsi (a case), and chocolate (50 pieces) to be included in rations." Elsewhere in the newspaper, the editors revealed their story to be a hoax, and that the monthly government food ration continues to be small amounts of tinned cheese, flour, rice, sugar, tea, cooking oil, powdered milk and salt.

* After biologists announced in December that, for the first time, they had mapped out all of the DNA of a multicell animal (a microscopic roundworm with 19,099 genes), colleagues told the New York Times that the revelation had a profound effect on their ability to do the same someday for human beings. Said the president of the National Academy of Sciences, "In the last 10 years, we have come to realize humans are more like worms than we ever imagined."

* Two researchers from the University of Vienna told a British Psychological Society conference in February that vaginal pheromones appear to block men's ability to distinguish beautiful women from plain ones. After men were given synthetic copulins, they judged plain women more attractive as to face and voice, and the less attractive the women initially, the greater the jump in their ratings. (However, birth-control pills appear to block the production of copulins.)

* In March, a joint urban-warfare exercise involving British Royal Marines and the U.S. Marines in Oakland, Calif., marked the first use of a small cannon that shoots a high-speed blast of quick-drying foam that hardens so fast, and with the strength of cement, that it enables troops to cross from building to building.

* The Kanda Tsushin Kogyo firm of Tokyo, Japan, announced in April that its child's anti-bed-wetting machine had finished clinical tests and was awaiting approval by the Health and Welfare Ministry. The device measures the depth of a child's sleep and how full the bladder is and sounds an alarm when it's time to get up and go. However, the device only works on children, is bulky to wear to bed, doesn't always wake the child and cost about $1.7 million in government grants to develop, leading some pediatricians to demand that nature be allowed to take its course.

* A police detective reading the confession of Lyle Clinton May in Asheville, N.C., in March told a jury that after May had killed a 21-year-old woman, he also stabbed her 4-year-old son to death. "It didn't seem right leaving him alive," May wrote. "I felt sorry for him. I did not want to see the kid crying or having the memory of his mom being killed." May was sentenced to death.

* A Carnegie Mellon University researcher revealed in March that the 20-year movement to open shelters for battered women, and to empower women to leave abusive men, has not seriously reduced the number of such women killed but has drastically cut the number of abusive men killed by retaliating women. The researcher theorized that shelters encourage women to leave men (rather than to stay and perhaps eventually be motivated to kill their tormentors) but also that shelters so empower women that it really enrages their men and pushes them closer to homicide.

* In April, prominent Canadian geneticist Robert Hegele told a conference in Edmonton, Alberta, that when he revealed to some Newfoundlanders in remote villages that they possessed a genetic flaw that increased their chances of heart disease, they were happy. Their initial reaction, said Hegele, was, "This is great! They figured, 'This means we're doomed, so we ... don't need to quit smoking or (stop eating fatty foods).'"

* Inmate Joshua Williams, 38, was released by jailers in Olathe, Kan., in February after he sent them a fake fax announcing that a warrant against him had been dismissed. Among the fax's misspellings that failed to alert jailers: "Govenor." And Detroit inmate Waukeen Spraggins escaped in February when, impersonating a police official, he called jailers and ordered them to transport him to his girlfriend's house. Said police chief Benny Napoleon, "His request was so bizarre that people thought it had to be true."

* Two 15-year-old boys, on a break from volunteer duty in a Winston-Salem, N.C., courthouse in March as part of a sentence for vandalizing a telephone booth, were captured on surveillance videotape urinating in a coffeepot used by lawyers, according to an Associated Press report. The coffeepot was left plugged in all night, creating a particularly pungent cooked-urine smell the next morning. Said one lawyer who often uses the coffee room, "(The boys) are going to have to get (someone) from out of state to defend them on this one."

* In 1997, "News of the Weird" reported that a man on trial for attempted murder in Newmarket, Ontario, was released when the foreman cleared his throat before uttering the word "guilty," causing the judge to interpret the verdict as "not guilty." (The defendant turned himself in three days later.) In April 1999, Alan Rashid was sentenced to two years in prison in Cardiff, Wales, when the jury foreman coughed during the "not" portion of "not guilty," causing the judge to believe the verdict was "guilty." (A few minutes later, the jury returned to the courtroom to clear up the matter, and the defendant was released.)

* In Bucharest, Hungary, in March, Romanian professional soccer player Mario Bugeanu and his girlfriend accidentally died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his car while having sex. And in New York City in March, software salesman Douglas R. Buchholz, 36, was pushed out a window to his death from the 13th floor of his office building during horseplay with a colleague celebrating a business success.

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