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News of the Weird

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Part of the problem: The 60,000 delegates (from 182 countries) to the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, luxuriated not only in four- and five-star accommodations but an elegant food and drink layout, including tons of lobster, oysters, filet mignon, salmon, caviar, pate de foie gras, champagne, fine wines and mineral water. (An estimated 60 African children a day die from contaminated water.) The conference center (which cleared out hundreds of nearby trees to accommodate delegates' limousines) is only a few miles from the squalid neighborhood of Alexandra, one of Africa's poorest. (Poverty in Africa is up 35 percent since the last such summit in 1992.)

Our Animal Friends: Researchers at England's Cambridge University, and others in Tallahassee, Fla., and Cleveland, are training dogs to screen patients for prostate and lung cancers by detecting distinct smells of tumors in patients' breath. One researcher reported a success rate of 87 percent, which rivals that of some expensive technology. (The genesis of the research was a 1989 journal article reporting that a border collie attacked a woman's mole that turned out to be a malignant melanoma and ignored her after the mole was removed.)

Missile fish: In a three-month period this summer, three 5-foot-long sturgeons have jumped from Florida rivers directly onto anglers, sending them to hospitals with injuries (all together: a cracked sternum, five broken ribs, two collapsed lungs, several broken teeth and various lacerations). According to a wildlife expert, sturgeons are docile, have no predators, and apparently jump only "because they can."

People Not Paying Attention to the News: An apparently harmless passenger (college student Maxim Segalov) forced

an unscheduled landing of an American Airlines flight in Salt Lake City (and his subsequent ejection) when he alarmed the crew by trying to recharge a size-AA battery by heating it with his cigarette lighter (August). And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in July that a passenger was detained at St. Louis' Lambert Field because for some reason he had packed in his checked luggage (which happened to be chosen for random inspection) his cute, personal alarm clock, which is an old- fashioned clock outfitted with six toy sticks of dynamite.

Spirit moved him: Loxley, Ala., street preacher Orlando Bethel, who was scheduled to sing at the June funeral of his wife's uncle, was beaten by parishioners and physically tossed from the Pine Grove Baptist Church after he screamed from the pulpit that the deceased was a "drunkard" and a "fornicator" and was now "burning in hell" and that the parishioners would be right behind him. Bethel defended his outburst by claiming that the "Holy Ghost" had ordered him to tell the truth.

Road hazards: Among the problem motorists cited in a July Toronto Star roundup: (1) a 26-year-old man who gave the finger to an only- trying-to-help driver who had motioned for him to fasten his seat belt (but the Samaritan was a police officer in an unmarked car, and he took umbrage, stopped the man, and discovered his license has been suspended since 1999), and (2) a middle-aged man who was let off with a warning for swerving across the road because his dog was licking his ear (and who, the officer discovered, was also shoeless, with banana peels wrapped around his feet, supposedly a remedy for bunions).

Undignified Deaths: A 19-year-old worker at the Kargher candy factory suffocated when he accidentally fell into a 1,200-gallon vat of chocolate (Hatfield, Pa., July). A 47-year-old man stumbled as he was removing his trousers for bed and fell out a second-story window in his home, landing fatally on his head (Aptos, Calif., July).

Also, in the Last Month: A half-ton bull broke loose from his handler at a show and battered a portable toilet that a 51-year-old woman had just entered, but she was not seriously hurt (Dorset, England). Anglers off Florida's east coast encountered a floating, severed human head and turned it in to authorities several hours later after they finished their outing (Fort Pierce, Fla.). Doctors examining rugby star Jamie Ainscough's lingering arm injury finally located the problem: Opponent Martin Gleeson's tooth was found embedded in Ainscough's arm, from a July match (London). Firefighters acknowledged a particularly pesky fire, which burned for more than 50 hours before being extinguished, at a Kingsford Charcoal plant (Pulaski County, Ky.).

2002 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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