News of the Weird July 16 2008

LEAD STORY: Faced with its Alzheimer’s residents’ tendency to wander away, the Benrath Senior Centre in Dusseldorf, Germany, came up with a novel approach: a fake bus stop (an exact replica of a real one) out front. Straying residents might be attracted to the familiar colors and design of the kiosk (because long-term memory is typically still robust) and wait there for a bus instead of trying to “go home” on foot. But short-term, the resident is typically unaware of how long he has been waiting and will remain until a Centre employee sees him and can guide him back into the home (which often is easy because the resident has by then forgotten why he is sitting there, according to a June dispatch from Berlin in London’s Daily Telegraph).

Bright Ideas: Minor league pitcher John Odom was traded in May by the Calgary Vipers of the independent Golden Baseball League to the Laredo Broncos of the independent United League, but his exchanged counterpart balked at leaving the United States for the Canadian team. The clubs huddled and announced that Odom would still report to Laredo, which would send Calgary not a player in return, but 10 bats.

Car dealer Walter Moore of Max Motors in Butler, Mo. (an hour south of Kansas City), announced in May a free premium to every car purchaser: either $250 worth of gasoline or a gift certificate for a handgun. He told KMBC-TV that 80 percent of customers choose the gun.

Weird Science: Technically, Macie McCartney was born on May 3 of this year in Laredo, Texas, but that appearance outside the womb was actually her second. When a large tumor showed up on Macie six months into her mother’s pregnancy, surgeons actually pulled the fetus almost completely out of the uterus so they could excise the growth and then re-inserted the fetus. Following that rare procedure, the birth was normal, according to Dr. Darrell Cass, who explained it in June to viewers of NBC’s “Today” show.

Ironies: 1) Evolution scientists at Switzerland’s University of Lausanne reported in June that over the course of 30 to 40 generations, ordinary flies tend to live longer if they’re stupid. The researchers guessed that heightened neural activity overtaxed their systems. 2) Cardiologists at Hartford (Conn.) Hospital, writing in the June Annals of Emergency Medicine, described a patient suffering from irregular heartbeat whose rhythm was restored to normal following a Tasering by police.

Animals Amok: BBC filmmakers announced in June that they had captured, for perhaps the first time ever, an episode of pandas mating in the wild, for the “Wild China” TV series. A male is shown fighting off other males to coax a female down from a tree. What follows that, said producer Glenn Maxwell, are “loud calls which will make viewers think instantly of the Wookie character from the ‘Star Wars’ movies. I liken it to Chewbaccas in a pub brawl.” Eventually, the female descends, and the pair get to work, “breathing hard and panting,” said Maxwell.

Animals in Trouble: 1) China’s Xinhua news agency reported in March that a farmer in Jilin province had been found with a tortoise that is addicted to nicotine. The farmer, a smoker himself, said he was surprised when the pet puffed on a cigarette he had playfully stuck into its mouth, and since then, he occasionally shares smokes with it. 2) Magistrates in Sunderland, England, accepted a guilty plea in June from Samantha Pearson and David Step for animal cruelty. The couple had relocated quarters last October but left behind a pet, Milly, to starve to death. Milly was a pet rat.

District of Calamity (continued): Washington, D.C., police Chief Cathy Lanier decided in May to rehire 17 cops who had been fired for misconduct. The cases against the officers were solid, she noted, except that their hearings before a police trial board had not been held within the required 55 days after the charges were filed. D.C. courts and arbitrators had previously reinstated officers where the 55-day deadline was not met, and Lanier felt she had no choice. (However, the following week, Lanier announced she was beginning the process of refiring the 17 officers, this time because they would be unable to perform their jobs since they could not be credible witnesses in criminal cases because of their records.)

Fetishes on Parade: 1) “There’s really no way to explain people’s fetishes,” said University of Cincinnati campus police Capt. Karen Patterson, describing the arrest of Dwight Pannell, 43, for allegedly crawling under a library table, squirting liquid from a syringe onto a female student’s shoe and photographing it. Pannell told police he was just trying out his new camera. 2) In February, police officer Michael Curtin, 36, was removed from the force in Munhall, Pa., and in April was charged with offering two underage girls $1,000 each to let him suck their toes.

Least Competent Criminals: Not Ready for Prime Time: 1) Sharon Platt allegedly stole about $5,000 from her employer, Murphy Motors of Williston, N.D., recently and left town. She was apprehended in Pittsburgh in May after she applied for a job and listed Murphy Motors as a reference, and her old employer alerted Pittsburgh police. 2) Charles Ray Fuller, 21, was arrested in Fort Worth, Texas, in April after he took a blank check belonging to his girlfriend and wrote it out to himself for $360,000,000,000.00, which he presented to Chase Bank. He remained in character after his arrest, assuring police that the check was legitimate, offered by the girlfriend’s mother to help him start a record label.