News of the Weird December 12 2007

Price wars, live explosives and more

Lead Story: As an alternative to burial, cremation is no longer green enough, say environmentalists, because it releases smoke and mercury, and thus the industry is considering "promession," in which the body is frozen in liquid nitrogen to minus-320 degrees (F) and then shaken until it disintegrates into powder. For green burials, the United States has at least six cemeteries that require biodegradable casings and for bodies to be free of embalming chemicals. The Forever Fernwood cemetery in Mill Valley, Calif., goes even further, according to an October Los Angeles Times story, banning grave markers, but, said the owner, "We issue the family a Google map with the GPS coordinates" so they can find their loved one.

Fine Points of the Law: The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in October that attorney Michael Inglimo did not violate a state regulation that bars a lawyer from having sex "with a current client": Inglimo had sex with a client's girlfriend during a three-way session, but according to the judges, the regulation bans only direct sex with the client. (However, the court suspended Inglimo's license based on other grounds.)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit! 1) A price war broke out in November among chain stores in Britain, with Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda vying for the cheap-drunk customers, and at press time, Asda was leading by offering a low-end lager in multipacks for the equivalent of 46 cents a pint, which is less than colas or bottled water. 2) For those Britons who drink in pubs but miss the atmosphere as it was before smoking bans (for example, who may be disoriented by "new" smells that are no longer masked by cigarette smoke), the company Dale Air has introduced, in aerosol cans, a fragrance that it says mimics the musty, ashtray-based scent so familiar to veteran pub-goers.

Bahadur Chand Gupta bought an old Airbus 300 and now offers weekly sessions in Delhi in which any of the 1 billion Indians who have never flown before can sit on a genuine (though disabled) airliner, listen to pilot announcements ("We are about to begin our descent into Delhi"), and be served by flight attendants. Said one customer (who paid the equivalent of about $4), "I see planes passing all day long over my roof. I had to try out the experience."

Science on the Cutting Edge: Babies Out of Order: 1) Amelia Spence, 29, gave birth in Glasgow, Scotland, in October to two babies, one just minutes before the other, but they were not twins. The apparently superfertile Spence, though on contraceptive pills, conceived twice in a three-week period with eggs from successive monthly cycles ("superfetation"). 2) In Cary, N.C., a woman gave birth to twins early in the morning of Nov. 4, one at 1:32 a.m. and the other 34 minutes later, at 1:06 a.m. (after daylight saving time ended).

The prominent Rotterdam Natural History Museum in the Netherlands, which houses more than 300,000 species, announced in October that it was missing a particular one that it fears is dying out: crab lice (pubic-hair lice). In a June science-journal article, researchers had hypothesized that the "Brazilian bikini wax" was in part responsible for the scarcity; said the museum's curator, "Pubic lice can't live without pubic hair."

Doctors at Mackay Base Hospital in Australia saved the life of a 24-year-old Italian tourist in August after he had ingested a large amount of poisonous ethylene glycol (found in antifreeze), perhaps in an attempted suicide. The antidote, pharmaceutical-grade alcohol, was in short supply at the hospital, but doctors improvised by setting up a gastric drip and feeding him vodka at the rate of three standard drinks an hour for three days. He made a full recovery, according to an October report in Melbourne's the Age.

Least Competent People: In November, Britain's new weather-themed Cool Cash lottery game was canceled after one day because too many players failed to understand the rules. Each card had a visible temperature and a temperature to be scratched off, and the purchaser would win if the scratched-off temperature was "lower" than the visible one. Officials said they had received "dozens" of complaints from players who could not understand why, for example, minus-5 is not a lower temperature than minus-6.

Recurring Themes: Once again, someone found a suspected live explosive on his property, put it in his car and took it to the local police station (this time, a hand grenade). (For the record, emergency personnel would rather be told about an explosive than have it brought into their building.)