News of the Weird January 23 2008

The world capital of vomit, ‘supermice’ and more

Correction: Two weeks ago, News of the Weird misidentified a Florida Wal-Mart customer charged with shoplifting. Christopher White is the Wal-Mart store official who assisted the police. I apologize for the error.

Lead Story: In December, inmate Michael Polk (serving time for robbery and aggravated assault) filed a federal lawsuit against the Utah Department of Corrections for denying him the right to properly practice his religion, Asatru. According to its teachings, adherents must communicate with ancient Nordic gods (such as Odin, Thor and Heimdall) and for that, it is crucial that they have a Thor’s hammer, a mead horn (for drinking wassail), a drum of wood and boar skin, a “rune staff,” and a sword (though Polk graciously said he would accept a cardboard sword).

The Entrepreneurial Spirit! A warehouse on Chicago’s West Side is “the world capital of fake (latex) vomit, where it’s still made the old-fashioned way, ladle by ladle, formed and coagulated,” reported the Chicago Tribune in December. Though it is not as popular as 50 years ago (7,000 units sold yearly, compared to 60,000 then), Fun Inc. President Graham Putnam said, still, “It’s the best vomit on the market.” According to the awestruck Tribune reporter: “The texture is soft and sturdy, pliable and complex, with ridges of multihued solid chunks looking like a jagged lunar landscape ... perfect for the bathroom, refrigerator, auto seat or sidewalk.”

Cutting-Edge Science: Males Will Be Males: University of Lausanne researchers discovered that not only are cichlid fish oriented to “oral sex” (because the female stores fertilizable eggs in her mouth) but that studlier males have evolved a trick to get females to open up: Super-procreative males create egglike growths on their fins, which females imagine are their own missing eggs and try to suck them up, thus improving the male’s opportunity to slip sperm in, according to a November report in New Scientist.

A research team led by Richard Hanson of Case Western Reserve University has produced a colony of “supermice” whose physical abilities are the rodent equivalent of those of gifted humans. By modifying a single metabolism gene, researchers enhanced the mouse’s ability to use body fat for energy, creating a mouse that can run five hours without stopping, live longer and have three times as much sex as ordinary mice. According to Hanson, humans have exactly the same modifiable gene, “(b)ut this is not something that you’d do to a human. It’s completely wrong.”

It is well-known that methane released by cattle forms a significant amount of the greenhouse gases in some countries, but getting people to abruptly drop beef from their diets might be unrealistic. But a senior researcher for the Queensland, Australia, government, Athol Klieve, told Agence France-Presse in December that it would be possible to transplant the stomach bacteria of kangaroos into cows to reduce cattle’s gas-passing proclivity to the much gentler level of kangaroos’ (since the latter have much more efficient digestive systems).

News That Sounds Like a Joke: 1) Salt Lake City police reported that an out-of-town man was treated at a local hospital Dec. 1 after being beaten up by gang members. The man had earlier mentioned to the gangbangers that “Utah gangs” are not as tough as those from his hometown. 2) In October in West Palm Beach, Fla., Jacqueline Holmes filed a lawsuit against a nightclub named Coco Bongo for injuries after a disco ball fell from the ceiling and conked her on the head.

Fine Points of the Law: 1) Ryan Holle, 25, is serving a life sentence (with no possibility of parole) in Florida even though his only connection to a 2003 murder was that he loaned his car to one of the killers. According to a December New York Times report, Florida, even when dispensing its second-worst punishment of all, does not restrict “aiding and abetting” to just those who consciously assist a murder. 2) Scott Masters, 41, faced a potential 30-year sentence for shoplifting a doughnut in a Farmington, Mo., convenience store in September because, as he exited the store, he pushed a worker aside. Prosecutors said that “assault” made the crime a “strong-arm robbery” (but in December, a judge decided 90 days in jail was more appropriate).

People Different From Us: Small-Town News: 1) Nicholas Palmer, 22, briefly took to the woods near Swanville, Maine, in October after an altercation with his sister. He had tried to snip the cord of the clipper she was using to shave the family cat to rid it of fleas and ticks. 2) Robin Handel, 44, was arrested in Rowlett, Texas, in December and charged with conspiracy after allegedly convincing her mother to kill Robin’s husband to protect a romance she was having via the Internet. (The small-caliber handgun the mother used failed to inflict life-threatening wounds, either to the husband or to her when she shot herself as police closed in.)

Least Competent Criminals: Unclear on the Concept: The 44-year-old man who allegedly skipped out on a court appearance in April in Vernon, British Columbia, in connection with marijuana-growing was arrested in December in Mission, British Columbia, when he applied for a job at the county jail.