News of the Weird October 08 2008

LEAD STORY: Deja Vu: The two states whose electoral votes decided the presidential races in 2000 (Florida) and 2004 (Ohio) are provoking anxiety this time around, also. In Palm Beach County, Fla. (home of the "butterfly ballot" in 2000), 3,478 optical-scan votes disappeared between primary-night counting on Aug. 26 and the official recount a few days later (flipping the outcome of at least one race). Also in August, Ohio officials claimed they had fixed a software-logic tabulating error in Premier Election Systems machines used in some counties (but, according to a spokesman for Premier, a company formerly known as Diebold, that error had been present for the last 10 years). (Also in August, the Ohio secretary of state ordered election officials to end the practice of taking voting machines home at night during election season "for safekeeping," even though such "sleepovers" had been encouraged to protect the machines from tampering.)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit: The New York Post spotted several Manhattan businesses that tried to appeal to nudists this summer with special events. Among the most challenging were John Ordover's monthly dinners at selected restaurants (such as the Mercantile Grill), where about 50 diners eat and drink naked (served by the restaurant's regular, clothed staff), and the Naked Comedy Showcase at People's Improv Theater in the Chelsea district, where once a month, naked comedians perform (and a section in the audience is reserved for naked patrons).

Weird Science: In July, microbiologists writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that the Malaysian pen-tailed tree shrew subsists on a diet of fermented palm nectar that is roughly the equivalent of 100 percent beer. "They seem to have developed some type of mechanism to deal with that high level of alcohol and not get drunk," according to one researcher, who hoped further study could help with human cases of alcohol poisoning (and other rare instances in which people ingest alcohol for purposes other than getting drunk).

Intelligent Design: Among the photo exhibits at New York City's Museum of Sex in July was the display of the genitalia of the spotted hyena, which was described by Bloomberg News: "Both the male and female have penises. The female, it turns out, has a scrotal sack, too. For reproductive purposes, the male transfers his sperm through the female's penis, which doubles as her clitoris." Other exhibits included "Gay Dolphin Blow-Hole Sex" and a "Deer Threesome," featuring a "Bambi" with two stags. Said the museum's curator, the exhibit simply compensates for museums' traditional animal exhibits in which depictions of genitalia are suppressed.

Kay Underwood, 20, of Barrow upon Soar, England, risks momentarily collapsing every time she laughs, according to an August report in London's Daily Telegraph. Her cataplexy causes a sudden, dramatic weakening of muscles when she experiences strong emotions, including joy, excitement and anger. She said she has collapsed as many as 40 times in a day, and sometimes her friends will good-naturedly try to make her giggle, but she said she has learned tricks to protect herself, "such as locking my knees together or grabbing on to something."

Leading Economic Indicators: Some dermatologists have created significant divides between their "medical" patients (acne, cancer) and their beauty-treatment patients (plastic surgery, Botox), with the latter offered luxurious waiting rooms, frequent telephone contacts and more personalization of treatment. One doctor told the New York Times in July, "You have to class it up for those patients," who pay their own way and with minimal paperwork. Besides, said another, "If you do an extreme makeover on someone, you are a hero."

In a July Newsweek review of "faith-based" mutual funds (whose managers invest only in companies whose work does not offend their particular spiritual values), big short-term losers included one Mennonite fund emphasizing pacifism (eschewing high-performing military and energy stocks), but big winners lately were Islamic funds. Not only do they screen out the "sin" companies (tobacco, alcohol) and sellers of pork products, but they avoid financial-services stock (based on the Quran's prohibition against borrowing or lending if interest is charged) and thus were unscathed by the initial mortgage-market meltdown.

It's Good to Be a British Prisoner (continued): 1) Ian Brady, now age 70 and perhaps the most famous British murderer of the 20th century, complained recently that the psychiatric inmates housed with him in Ashworth Hospital still qualify for government allowances up to the equivalent of about $200 per week whereas prison transfers like him receive "only" one-fourth that amount. 2) After completing a six-year sentence for aggravated burglary in 2006, an unidentified male inmate at Peterborough prison has for two years refused to leave, for fear of being deported, and will continue to remain behind bars indefinitely, costing the government the equivalent of about $60,000 a year to house him.

Recent Alarming Headlines: 1) "Elephant beats heroin habit with detox" (Reuters, Sept. 4) (Chinese poachers had spiked his bananas with heroin to control him.) 2) "Court grants injunction to stop woman cutting off man's penis" (Daily Telegraph, Sydney, Aug. 15) (He told the judge in Darwin, Australia, that to escape her pursuit recently, he had to hide in tall grass.) 3) "Police: Chihuahuas provoke baton attack on nude beach" (KGW-TV website, July 28) (A naked beachcomber, 74, near Portland, Ore., may have overreacted to two Chihuahuas advancing on him.)