Weird Universe Archive

August 2008

August 7, 2008

Bizzare Experiments

Shameless self-promotion: MSN UK has an article about "the weirdest experiments in the history of science" based on my book Elephants on Acid, which was just released in the UK. It's got a nice photo gallery of ten particularly strange experiments selected from my book.

But eagle-eyed reader Rowenna noticed that, on the cover, the word "bizarre" was misspelled. They spelled it "bizzare". Panicked, I ran to check if the actual cover had the same misspelling. (By coincidence, I had just received my copy of the UK edition in the mail.) Thankfully, it was spelled correctly. But then I noticed that the same misspelling occurs on the cover photo on Amazon. I'll have to let my publisher know. I don't think "bizzare" is an alternative UK spelling of "bizarre".

Posted By: Alex - Thu Aug 07, 2008 - Comments (1)
Category: Science, Experiments, Books, Alex

Chuck’s Hand-Picked Overnight Weird News for Thursday

After two Southern California biker gangs brawled, 3 Hell's Angels were arrested, along with 7 from a Christian biker gang
"Set Free Soldiers Worldwide" is "not your normal motorcycle club," its website reads. "Some say we are too good for the bad guys, and too bad for the good guys. [W]e try to live right in this wrong world and let our light shine wherever we may go." One neighbor gave high marks to Pastor Phil Aguilar, 60, head rider of Set Free, but, gee, do their hogs have to make all that noise at night? Orange County Register
Comments 'christian_bikers'

One of those news stories destined to launch a million Internet "Comments"
A British professor suggested we'd all save so much time (especially teachers and students) if we just took, say, the 20 most-often misspelled words and officially blessed them, instead, as acceptable alternative spellings. Great idea; let's move on. No, no, civilized society is doomed. Is not. Is, too. (Bonus: One of the new words is "wierd.") Daily Mail (London)
Comments 'misspelling_OK'

Recurring Themes
He just got out of jail from serving time for robbing a BBT bank in Seymour, Tenn., and he robbed it again last Friday.and got caught again last Saturday. (No, this is a different guy from that last guy who re-robbed the bank after getting out of prison.) And here's a slideshow of a darling fixer-upper house in Monkton, England. The gov't didn't object that a sloppy couple lived there, only that making their dog live there constituted abuse.
Comments 'recurring_080807'

Your Daily Losers
In Bethlehem, Pa., several teenagers stole a tip box that had been set out to collect money for a local charity that did maintenance on the portajohns at the park, but police chased them, with the fastest kid dashing off through nearby woods. Then he accidentally fell into a pit and was captured. "That's not mud on him," said an officer. The pit was actually a manure pit dug by homeless people in the area to use as their latrine. Morning Call (Allentown)
Comments 'tip_jar'

People Whose Sex Lives Are Worse Than Yours
Ronald Miller was arrested in Fort Wayne, Ind., and charged once again with public indecency after displaying himself blatantly from his house. From the news report: "[T]he two [officers] walked up to the home and found the naked man, then on the couch, conducting a lewd act with a claw hammer, plastic bag, and motor oil." WANE-TV (Fort Wayne)
Comments 'ronald_miller'

Your Daily Jury Duty
[no fair examining the evidence; verdict must be based on mugshot only]
Matthew Sigman and his lovely sweetheart Anthonette Betancourt might have committed a string of burglaries. St. Petersburg Times
Comments 'matthew_sigman'

More Things to Worry About on Thursday
Big-time Houston pastor Joel Osteen is so powerful that his wife has the ability, if she's mad at you (as she was at this flight attendant), to cast a plague of hermorrhoids . . . . . "Woman Riding a Donkey Fights Off Lion with Machete" (and the question is not, Why would a lion need a machete? but how could this happen right outside Acapulco?) . . . . . An F State mother was arrested for child abuse but said she still doesn't understand what was so bad about setting her 3-yr-old on top of the car and driving around a parking lot to give the kid some "Whee!" moments" [LINK CORRECTED]. . . . . Cincinnati preacher Thomas Howell, 71, abjectedly failed at turning the other cheek to a driver who had cut him off in traffic. Today's Newsrangers: Paul Venderley, Stephen Taylor, Harry Farkas, Joan Knappenberger
Comments 'worry_080807'

Posted By: Chuck - Thu Aug 07, 2008 - Comments (0)

August 6, 2008

Cocaine on Money

An article in the April 2008 issue of Trends in Analytical Chemistry discusses the "state-of-the-art in the analysis of cocaine on banknotes." Apparently scientific interest in this subject has grown enormously. Before 2003 there was only an average of 1.8 papers per year on the subject. Now there's an average of 4.5 papers per year about it.

The most interesting factoid from the article is the amount of cocaine found on money in different countries. Predictably, America leads the pack. (Yay! We're Number One!!!):
The country with the highest contamination of banknotes due to cocaine is the USA (with mean value levels in the range 2.86–28.75 μg cocaine/note, depending on the year and the city)... the highest cocaine levels in Europe can be found in Spanish Euros (€), where 889 μg of cocaine was found in a banknote and the mean concentration was 155 μg/note (n = 16), compared with the lower levels of cocaine found on German Euros (€) (5 times less cocaine per note) and Irish banknotes (€)... semi-quantitative data from 1995 and 1999 suggest that 51% and 40%, respectively, of UK banknotes (£) in general circulation were cocaine contaminated with levels of 0.0011 μg/note, the upper level found on confiscated money being 0.0029 μg/note. In the case of Swiss banknotes, it was found that 6% of the currency (356 samples) was contaminated with cocaine (with concentrations higher than 1 ng/note).

The high cocaine levels on Spanish Euros (€) could be explained by Spain being the main entry point for cocaine coming into the European Union. This seems to be confirmed in the UNO report data regarding cocaine seizures in Europe in 2005, where Spain leads the list, followed by Portugal and The Netherlands, and in data about annual prevalence of abuse as a percentage of the population age, where Spain also leads the list of European countries, followed by England, Wales and Italy.

Posted By: Alex - Wed Aug 06, 2008 - Comments (0)
Category: Drugs, Science

The Shoelace Experiment

Norbert Elias (1897-1990) was a highly influential sociologist, best known for his two-volume work The Civilizing Process. Among his less well-known accomplishments was his shoelace experiment.

In 1965 and 1966 Elias traveled throughout Europe as a tourist. Deciding to mix sociological research with pleasure, he resolved to find out how people in different countries would respond to him if he left his shoelaces untied. Ingo Moerth summarized the results of this experiment in the June 2007 issue of The Newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation:

(1) Spain - Torremolinos 1965 (upper village): In the mostly touristic context of ‘upper’ Torremolinos the loose shoe-laces were sometimes noticed, but never communicated, which Elias explained by a predominantly anonymous Gesellschaft context, brought about by a predominance of tourism.

(2) England - London 1965 (Regent Street, Bond Street): Here Elias conducted three experiments, all of which lasted three hours. He got nine reactions, mostly by older ‘citizens’, as Norbert Elias notes: ‘In England mostly elderly gentlemen reacted by communicating with me on the danger of stumbling and falling’ (in Elias 1967, as translated by Ingo Moerth). This might be interpreted as an established ‘society-context’, where the anonymity is overruled by engaged and experienced citizens watching the public space.

(3) France - Paris 1966 (Champs Elyseés, Boulevard St Michel, Montparnasse): Here Elias conducted three experiments of three hours, but with much less reaction. Only two people communicated directly with him about the visible shoe-lace problem, both sitting in street cafés on the Champs Elyseés, besides a youngster who shouted directly ‘prenez garde’ (‘take care’) into his ear, much to the amusement of the young man’s group of companions. As an explanation of this different reaction, perhaps a different character of ‘public space’ in France may be relevant: mere observation in contrast with engagement and direct intervention, as in London/UK or in Germany (see the following discussion, as cited below).

(4) Germany - for instance Münster 1965: Here the ‘society-context’ mentioned above was – according to Norbert Elias – watched and communicated not by gentlemen, but mostly by women: ‘In Germany older men only looked at me somewhat contemptuously, whereas women reacted directly and tried to ‘clean up’ the obvious disorder, in the tramway as well as elsewhere. Here in most cases a short conversation, comprising more than the obvious ‘shoe-lace disorder’ took place, such as a short warning about what might happen if I didn’t take care of the basic problem’ (in Elias 1967, as translated by Ingo Moerth).

(5) Switzerland: Bern 1966: Here Elias experienced the most elaborate conversation about dangers related to untied shoe-laces, including admonitions about dangers of eating grapes and using trains. He explicitly states: ‘This was probably an exception, from which no conclusion on a Swiss national character can be drawn' (in Elias 1967, as translated by Ingo Moerth).

It would be interesting to conduct this experiment in America. New Yorkers would probably ignore you. In Los Angeles everyone drives, so you'd be lucky if you encountered another pedestrian.

Posted By: Alex - Wed Aug 06, 2008 - Comments (0)
Category: Fashion, Experiments, Psychology

Julian Eltinge

Every election year, politicians seek to invoke a mythical Golden Age, when life was simpler and more wholesome. Take the Edwardian Era in America, for instance, when the moral fiber of the country was still unpolluted--

--and when a drag queen like Julian Eltinge was a top attraction in high society and popular culture alike.

Face it: life was never any different.

Posted By: Paul - Wed Aug 06, 2008 - Comments (3)
Category: Celebrities, Eccentrics, Entertainment, Government, History, Historical Figure, Hollywood, Sexuality, Gender, Gender-bending, Men, Theater and Stage, Vaudeville, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s

Chuck’s Hand-Picked Overnight Weird News for Wednesday

Leading economic indicator
Expected budget deficit for U.S. for fiscal 2009: $482B; expected budget surplus for Iraq at end of 2008: $79B. New York Times
Comments 'iraq_surplus'

The good old days for British hospitals were when they only had to worry about C.difficile and MRSA
Over the last 2 yrs, 100 of the 171 public hospitals reported a total of 20,000 cases of ants, rats, mice, fleas, bed bugs, cockroaches, or maggots. Seventy of the 100 had to call pest-control an average of 25x a year. Daily Telegraph (London)
Comments 'hospitals_infested'

"Spam king" at least now knows thine own self
"Here's my dysfunction," he confessed to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "No one clapped at my high school graduation. Maybe [prison for sending spam] is not how I want to be famous, but [my thinking was], 'At least people know who I am.'" (Also, he has Tourette's and attention-deficit, obsessive-compulsive, and oppositional-defiant disorders.) He pleaded guilty and will serve almost 4 yrs, starting soon. And, "I'm not minimizing what I did, but the fact is, it is just an e-mail. [Get] a spam filter. You can get them for free." Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Comments 'spam_king'

Accusations of sex abuse trail doctor
The NY Times this morning lays out its investigation of the much-heralded pediatrician Melvin Levine, who developed a ground-breaking approach to teaching slow-learning kids. According to several patients over the yrs, Dr. Levine was also ground-breaking about assuring that his little patients' wee-wees were in working order, requiring parent-less, full-body physicals not just on the initial visit. There were earlier complaints, but because of Levine's star status, the hospitals just shrugged. Now, there are four lawsuits. New York Times
Comments 'doctor_levine'

Gun-collecting twirp now also accused of tackiness
Collin McKenzie-Gude, freshly graduated from a D.C. private school, with supportive parents in an upscale Bethesda, Md., neighborhood, had a major arsenal in his bedroom, and cops are investigating. (Yesterday, it came out that he also had a map of Camp David, a motorcade map for President Bush, and a to-do list of sniper-type things.) Now it comes out that right before the first home search in July, Collin allegedly tried to jack a car at an upscale mall in Bethesda, but failed (accidentally leaving his cellphone behind), and . . the car was a Geo Prizm! Washington Post
Comments 'collin_arsenal'

Your Daily Loser
Carlos Gutierrez is all over the news [Ed.: which usually means you won't read it on Weird Universe, and you certainly won't read about the next instance of someone's calling 911 for a ridiculous reason, because I'm No Longer Weird'ing it. Far too many cases, like this guy who called to say Subway didn't make his sandwich spicy enough.] After an unsuccessful session with a casino's slot machine, Gutierrez called to say that the machine had "robbed" him. After a lecture by the dispatcher, he agreed that it was wrong for him to call. He hung up, then apparently stewed over it for another 30 seconds or so, and called 911 again! Tampa Tribune
Comments 'carlos_gutierrez'

People Whose Sex Lives Are Worse Than Yours
The late Australian Geoffrey Braunack, 47, died almost 4 yrs ago in a bondage game gone wrong. Well, that's what his lover Jean Meiers says, and she's on trial this week for manslaughter. Police testified that when they arrived on the scene, she said Geoffrey had been badgering her for hours to do him up "like she used to." She finally relented. "I told the f***ing idiot he wouldn't get out of this one." The Australian
Comments 'geoffrey_braunack'

Your Daily Jury Duty
[no fair examining the evidence; verdict must be based on mugshot only]
Matthew Rivera, 27, might have walked into a North Carolina lingerie store with a play-like Play-Doh bomb and taken a hostage WRAL-TV (Raleigh)
Comments 'matthew_rivera'

More Things to Worry About on Wednesday
Government in Inaction: D.C. and Virginia, having posted their old drivers' tickets online, kinda didn't remember that the old versions of their licenses contained Social Security numbers, so go steal 'em while they're hot . . . . . A driver's veering into oncoming traffic in Cass County, Minn., might have been caused by speeding, or alcohol, or the fact that he was text-messaging . . . . . A female cop in Germany has designed a bullet-resistant bra (though it sounds like she was mainly interested in a garment that would cushion her breasts from that damned vest they have to wear) . . . . . Latest thriving industry in New York City: kindergartens and private elementary schools for the masses of newly-rich parents who can't get their urchins into the actual top schools . . . . . The University of Melbourne has awarded its first doctorate in the study of, er, UFO's.
Comments 'worry_080806'

Editor's Notes
An error yesterday: The Chinese ox pendant is designed not to save Rat Year people from Horse Year people, but the reverse. The ox distracts the rat so it won't spook the horse. Or, something like that. Today's Newsrangers: Tom Sullivan, Hal Dunham, Bob Adams, Matt Hillman, Scott Langill, Tim Trewhella, Troy Hauschild
Comments 'editors_080806'

Posted By: Chuck - Wed Aug 06, 2008 - Comments (0)

August 5, 2008

Unsolved Mystery: The Disappearing Gourmet

Pascal Henry, a Swiss motorcycle courier, had planned the trip of a lifetime. Over the course of 68 days he was going to eat at every three-star Michelin-rated restaurant in the world -- all 68 of them.

By June 12 he had reached #40 on his list, El Bulli in Spain. He had finished his dessert, but had not yet paid his bill, when he excused himself from his table to go outside to his car to get one of his business cards to give to the couple at the next table. He hasn't been seen since.

What happened to him? The most popular theory is that he must have run out of money and decided to go into hiding. But there's also the possibility he may have wandered off a nearby cliff (though no body has been found) or that foul play is involved. Supporting the theory that he went into hiding are "reports that he is divorced and deeply secretive and went missing for several months as a teenager." Links: Times Online, Independent.

Posted By: Alex - Tue Aug 05, 2008 - Comments (0)
Category: Unsolved Mysteries

Random Rant

I dug this out of my files, and although it's nearly twenty years old, a good psychotic rant never goes out of style.


Posted By: Paul - Tue Aug 05, 2008 - Comments (4)
Category: Art, Eccentrics, Education, Literature, Obsessions, Scholarship, School, 1980s

Robotic and Redneck Stonehenge

Steve Norris has built a Stonehenge Robotic Digital Clock. I don't think it would work so well as a bedside timepiece (the whirring of it might keep you up at night), but it would definitely be something you could show off to your friends. It would be even cooler if a version of this were built that was the actual size of Stonehenge. (via OhGizmo!)

And speaking of Stonehenge, Rhett Davis, a farmer in Hooper, Utah has built what he calls his "Redneck Stonehenge" to annoy his residential neighbors who apparently don't understand "him and his kind." It's three cars stuck in the ground, which is no rival to Carhenge in Nebraska. (Thanks, Katey!)

Posted By: Alex - Tue Aug 05, 2008 - Comments (0)
Category: Buildings and Other Structures, Inventions, Technology, Video

Chuck’s Hand-Picked Overnight Weird News for Tuesday

OK, please, will the Chinese kindly get this "8" stuff cleared up?
Stories abound on how it's supposed to be soooo lucky, to start the Olympics (or get married) on 8-8-08. Well, no, it turns out that you actually need these-here ox pendants to protect you, during this Year of the Rat, from people born in a Horse Year (such as President Hu Jintao), And, anyway, the earthquake this year struck on May 12th, i.e., 5-12, i.e., 5 plus 1 plus 2. Reuters [CORRECTION: It's the Horse people who need protection from the Rat people; hence, an ox to distract the rat.]
Comments 'number_8'

Kevin Hansen needs your support as he works his way through this devastating disorder
According to his lawyer, he has undergone "extensive medical treatment" for "severe and permanent pain" and "disability," ruining his marriage and his career. The etiology was that a cook at a Texas Roadhouse stuck some pubes in his steak after he sent back the first order. He believes he can self-medicate against this disorder by the topical application of money. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Comments 'steak_hair'

Go figure: They adopted actual "standards" for hiring jail guards in Chicago, and now there's a shortage
The dishonest, the mentally unstable, and the tubs o' lard that previously passed the easy qualifying test can no longer make it. Lie-detector and psychological tests, alone, weeded out 63 people recently who might have been on the payroll by now under the old rules. Chicago Sun-Times
Comments 'jail_guards'

Having fun with a potentially debilitating condition
Kay Underwood, 20, has the rare, momentary-muscle-relaxing disorder of cataplexy, which causes her to collapse to the floor during extremes of emotion, including laughter. "I have learned a few tricks, like locking my knees together or grabbing on to something" to prevent falling. On the other hand, she and her friends think it's great sport to do something funny to make Kay fall. Daily Telegraph (London)
Comments 'kay_underwood'

Thai video-game distributor yanks Grand Theft Auto IV off the shelves after a teenager in Bangkok kills a cab driver "to see if it was as easy as in the game"
In other news, way over 9 million people have bought GTA-IV but have failed to kill a human "to see if it was as easy as in the game." Daily Mail (London)
Comments 'thai_GTA'

Update: Chuck jumped the gun yesterday with the story on the dad teaching his son to party with oxy and methadone
I assumed, based on statements the man made to police, that he is guilty. Well, I found a mugshot of Steven Alfano, and in the American justice system, as we all know, a person is presumed innocent only until the mugshot is released. Associated Press via WJXT-TV (Jacksonville)
Comments 'steven_alfano'

Your Daily Losers
Four scrap-metal thieves were arrested in Williamsburg, Ky., with the metal being a 20-ft-long section of railroad track that wouldn't fit in their truck and so was tied to the truck and dragged home, which left gouge marks in the pavement. WKYT-TV (Lexington)
Comments 'gouge_marks'

Your Daily Jury Duty
[no fair examining the evidence; verdict must be based on mugshot only]
Raymundo Castaneda is a suspect in a Charlotte, N.C., murder. WCNC-TV (Charlotte)
Comments 'raymundo_castaneda'

More Things to Worry About on Tuesday
Get Used to It: Tyson Foods (Shelbyville, Tenn.) swapped out Labor Day (no longer a paid holiday for workers) for Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan, now a paid holiday for everyone) . . . . . Milwaukee man just lost his house over an unpaid $50 parking ticket (well, that he ignored for 4 yrs, through 15 warnings, even though he was smart enough to keep up on property taxes) . . . . . Once more, guy steals a truck and then gets irate when somebody jacks it from him . . . . . And once more, a guy drove onto railroad tracks, inexplicably couldn't get off (even with 45 minutes of trying), and kablooey! Today's Newsrangers: Shannon Oyler, Tom Barker, Florence Shirakawa, Sam Gaines, Stephen Taylor
Comments 'worry_080805'

Posted By: Chuck - Tue Aug 05, 2008 - Comments (0)

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Who We Are
Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.

Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

Chuck Shepherd
Chuck is the purveyor of News of the Weird, the syndicated column which for decades has set the gold-standard for reporting on oddities and the bizarre.

Our banner was drawn by the legendary underground cartoonist Rick Altergott.

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