News of the Weird January 16 2008

Flaming squirrel carcass, accidental shootings and more

Lead Story: Pink Justice: In parts of India's Uttar Pradesh state, according to a November BBC News dispatch, women are hopelessly oppressed by poverty, abusive husbands and corrupt officials, but two years ago, Ms. Sampat Pal Devi got fed up. She organized bands of vigilante women (with several hundred members), dressed in pink saris, to protect their sisters using both nonviolence (heaping public shame on wrongdoers) and violence (with axes and the traditional Indian stick, the "lathi"). Said Sampat Devi, "Village society in India ... refuses to educate women, marries them off too early (age 9, in her case), barters them for money. Village women need to study and become independent to sort it out themselves."

The Litigious Society: A few days after professional skier Stoil Popow was killed while kite-surfing in the rough winter waters off of Connecticut's Long Island Sound in 2004, his widow told the Connecticut Post that she had "begged" her husband not to go out "because it's January." Nonetheless, in November 2007, she filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court, charging that her husband's tragic demise was actually caused by the town of Stratford, Conn., which was negligent in not posting warning signs along the stretch of beach used by Popow (of "hazardous and unsafe conditions") and for not having lifeguards on duty.

Ironies: On Nov. 7, news media reported that New York City's Serendipity 3 restaurant had been noted by the Guinness Book of World Records for having the planet's most expensive dessert (a $25,000 chocolate sundae, featuring, among other delicacies, edible gold flakes). On Nov. 16, the same news media reported that the city's Department of Health had ordered Serendipity 3 closed after inspectors found a live mouse in the kitchen, along with mouse droppings, fruit flies, house flies and more than 100 cockroaches.

Least Competent Criminal: Failed to Master the Art of the Getaway: A suspect in car break-ins, running from Miccosukee Indian Reservation police near Miami in November, dove into a retention pond but apparently failed to notice a "Live Alligator" sign, and was killed by "Poncho," a gator well-known to locals.

Update: What was an edgy, unconventional treatment of severe diarrhea when News of the Weird mentioned it in 2000 is now catching on as a remedy for the potentially deadly C. difficile bacteria infection, according to a November report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "Good" bacteria in the stomach are often depleted by the antibiotics that work on (but may not remove entirely) C. difficile, leaving the patient with violent or chronic diarrhea. Some doctors now recommend controlling C. difficile by re-establishing the patient's "good" bacteria via a stool transplant from a close blood relative, who should have similar intestinal conditions. The donated stool (providing that a loving, straight-faced relative is found) is mixed with saline and administered by enema.

Undignified Deaths: 1) A 32-year-old man was found dead, stuck in the cat door of his girlfriend's St. Augustine, Fla., house after she had kicked him out. Said a friend, "His head was caught ... like he was trying to reach up and unlock the door ..." 2) A 46-year-old construction worker fell to his death in November in Custer County, S.D., after co-workers had raised him, in a boom, 30 to 40 feet off the ground so that he could try to get cell-phone reception, but the boom's truck tipped over backward.

Armed and Clumsy (all-new): More people who accidentally shot themselves recently: Opherro Jones, 32, shot himself in the stomach while allegedly pistol-whipping a man (Honolulu, June). A 23-year-old San Francisco police officer accidentally shot himself to death while demonstrating police training techniques to friends at a party (August). A 24-year-old man accidentally shot himself in the foot while aiming at a turtle (Massillon, Ohio, August). A 17-year-old boy and 19-year-old Patrick Jefferson accidentally shot themselves while "holstering" handguns in their waistbands (in, respectively, Pittsburgh, September, and Chicago, August). Eric Titov, 22, accidentally shot himself to death while fleeing from police (perhaps caused, they said, by his tripping on his baggy shorts) (Houston, October).

Urban Legends Come to Life: 1) In Bayonne, N.J., in October, Lindsey Millar's car burned up after a squirrel, chewing on an electric line, caught fire, and its flaming carcass fell down beside the car and rolled underneath it. 2) Jacqui Dean, a member of the New Zealand Parliament, apparently became the latest prominent person to publicly fall for the H2O hoax. A constituent, perhaps intending to mock Dean's general alarm about dangerous substances, sought her help in "investigating" the "toxic" "dihydrogen monoxide," and Dean appeared to support an inquiry.

Correction: Last week, News of the Weird reported that the Army Corps of Engineers had admitted that an earlier calculation of improvement it had made in strengthening the levees in two New Orleans neighborhoods, which it said would withstand floods 5 feet higher than the level during Hurricane Katrina, was wrong and that the levees could withstand floods only 6 inches higher.

However, the Corps subsequently corrected its correction and now stands by its initial report – improvement of more than 5 feet.