News of the Weird February 04 2009

LEAD STORY: “Genetic modification” sounds like frighteningly complicated lab work, but amateurs are routinely doing it in garages and dining rooms across the country, according to a December Associated Press report. Hobbyists (some terming themselves “biohackers”) are busy creating new life forms and someday, observers say, may turn up a cure for cancer or an accidental environmental catastrophe. The community lab DIYbio in Cambridge, Mass., has patrons who typically work on vaccines and biofuels, but might also whimsically create tattoos that glow. One amateur bought jellyfish DNA containing a green fluorescent protein (for about $100), and built a DNA analyzer (less than $25) so she could alter yogurt bacteria to glow green when it detects melamine (the substance recently discovered in deadly Chinese baby formula and pet food).

Compelling Explanations: As the British government was poised in November to reclassify lap-dancing clubs from “entertainment” to “sexual encounter establishments” (thus imposing tougher licensing standards), the industry’s trade association insisted to a Parliamentary committee that the clubs are not sexual. “The entertainment may be in the form of nude ... performers, but it’s not sexually stimulating,” said the chairman of the Lap Dancing Association. That would be “contrary to our business plan.”

Not My Fault: 1) Bruce George, 20, admitted to police that he had molested a 6-year-old girl in Anchorage, Alaska, in October, but said he needed to do it to acquire the courage to kill himself. He said he needed motivation for suicide by doing something that totally disgusted him. 2) In October, a man unnamed in news reports filed a lawsuit in Selkirk, Manitoba, against the woman who supposedly caused him mental distress by suing for child support. The man said he had been sound asleep during that 2006 encounter, but awoke to discover the woman having sex with him. He ordered her to “cease and desist,” he said, and she complied (but nonetheless, a pregnancy resulted).

Ironies: Karma: A few animals were rescued from an early morning fire at a Humane Society shelter in Oshawa, Ontario, in December, but cats suffered heavy casualties, with nearly 100 perishing. The fire marshal’s office said the blaze was probably started by mice chewing through electrical wires.

Drunk-Driving News: 1) Kathleen Cherry, 53, was arrested for DUI in Carson City, Nev., in December. She is a phlebotomist working on contract with the sheriff’s office and was driving to the jailhouse to administer a blood test to a DUI suspect. 2) Stephen Foster, 28, was jailed briefly in June in Edmonton, Alberta, when he showed up in court drunk for his DUI trial. The driving charge was postponed until December, and at that time a court found him not guilty.

In December, Lorraine Henderson, the port director for the federal Customs and Border Protection agency’s southern New England area, was charged with hiring illegal immigrants to clean her home and instructing them how to avoid detection by her agency. According to court documents, she told one worker, “You have to be careful, ‘cause they meaning, her agency will deport you.”

The Litigious Society: Elizabeth Shelton, 21, filed a lawsuit in Houston in December against the truck driver whom she accidentally rear-ended in a 2007 crash, while she was intoxicated, and in which her boyfriend was killed. Though she was convicted of manslaughter, she is now suing for $20,000 damage to her Lexus SUV and for “pain and suffering,” basing her claim on the fact that the blameless driver she hit was uninsured. In all, her lawsuit names 16 defendants, including insurance companies and banks. Shelton is the daughter of a state court judge.

In November, Michigan Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo Jr. almost single-handedly quashed thousands of apparently bogus lawsuits for asbestos-related injuries by exposing the principal examining doctor as unqualified. Dr. Michael Kelly had diagnosed injuries on 7,323 patients’ X-rays over 15 years (earning $500 per screening), which in one sampling was 58 times the abnormality-detection rate of independent radiologists. Judge Colombo found that Kelly is neither a radiologist nor a pulmonologist, had failed the certification test for reading X-rays, and performed lung-function tests improperly 90 percent of the time. On the day Colombo commenced the investigation of Kelly, plaintiffs’ attorneys, realizing they had been busted, promptly withdrew all of their lawsuits except one.

Poor Babies! 1) Two customers who lined up for the 5 a.m. November “Black Friday” opening at the Long Island, N.Y., Wal-Mart (in which a worker was crushed to death) filed lawsuits against the store because of the crowd’s unruliness. Fritz Mesadieu, 51, and son Jonathan, 19, said they got neck and back pain from the surge of customers and that their medical and legal expenses amounted to at least $2 million. 2) More than 130 lawsuits were filed in November and December by inmates at a state prison in Beaumont, Texas, who claimed to suffer psychological trauma because prison officials failed to prepare them well for Hurricane Ike, which hit the city in September.

Least Competent Criminals: Questionable M.O.s: 1) Jessica Cohen, 20, was rearrested in Cincinnati in December. She had gone to the local public defender’s office seeking a lawyer to represent her on a theft charge, and while there, according to police, stole an employee’s cell phone. (However, she had already filled out paperwork with her name and address.) 2) Robert Dendy, 59, was detained by police in Tonawanda, N.Y., in November after he dropped by police headquarters to give them a holiday wreath as a token of his gratitude for their service. One of the officers happened to notice that the wreath was the same one that had just been stolen from a market next door to the station, and after investigating, found more suspicious missing goods at Dendy’s home.

Recurring Themes: Poor at Multitasking: 1) In Britain’s Manchester Crown Court in December, Imran Hussain, 32, was sentenced to eight years in prison for his DUI-related crash that killed two people in August. (Hussain was also masturbating at the time.) 2) Louise Light, 21, was not hurt when she crashed into guideposts in Woodstock, Ontario, in November, but she did get milk all over her because she was eating cereal from a bowl while driving.

The Joys of Air Travel: 1) In December, a Flybe airline flight from Cardiff, Wales, was preparing to land as scheduled at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris when the pilot announced that they had to return to Cardiff because, he said, “Unfortunately, I’m not qualified to land the plane in Paris.” Because of the heavy fog, the plane would have to be instrument-landed, and the pilot had not yet completed certification. 2) In September, after a Chinese Shandong airline flight landed safely in Zhengzhou, the engine died, and the airline was forced to enlist some of the 69 passengers to help employees push the plane to the gate.

A News of the Weird Classic (July 2005): Willie Windsor, 54, of Phoenix has for several years lived as a full-time baby, wearing frilly dresses, diapers and bonnets, sucking on a pacifier, eating Gerber cuisine and habitually clutching a rag doll, in a home filled with oversized baby furniture. According to a long Phoenix New Times profile in June, the diaper is not just a prop. Windsor said he worked hard to learn to become incontinent, even chaining the commode shut to avoid temptation, and the reporter admitted feeling “disconcerted” that Windsor might be relieving himself at the very moment he was describing his un-toilet training. Apparently, Windsor’s brother, ex-wife, girlfriend and a neighbor tolerate his lifestyle (though no girlfriend has yet been willing to change his diapers). Windsor is a semi-retired singer/actor and said he’s been celibate for nine years.