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News of the Weird

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The learned profession of law: In July, police were summoned to an upscale office building in west St. Louis on a report of a man roaming the halls with a gun, and on arrival, officers found some workers hiding under desks and in closets and others having fled the building. Police concluded that two lawyers, Gary Burger and Mark Cantor, were once again playing their game in the hallways, stalking each other with BB guns and occasionally firing. (Most workers did not know that the men were playing, but one did because she had been shot in the finger and shoulder after walking into a previous battle.) Police said they intend to file charges of waving a dangerous weapon, and one officer said the men would be tried as adults.

Things people believe: Two reporters from South Africa's largest online news operation, News24, profiled Miyi Shongi, 58, in August, in her quest to avoid a "curse" of stones landing on her. She was forced to leave her home village of Lombani after her home was pounded inexplicably with stones (evidently witnessed by a police officer) and forced again to leave her relatives' home in nearby Nhombelani after another rock storm hit her. A spiritualist she consulted concluded that the problem was a spell cast by a Zimbabwean trader to whom she owned money.

Compelling explanations: The University of Colorado received much negative publicity in the last year about allegations that its football coach and some players had sexually assaulted or harassed female students, and it fell upon the school's president, Elizabeth Hoffman, to try to minimize the damage -- and she apparently took that task seriously at a deposition in a federal sexual harassment lawsuit. According to a leaked copy of the deposition, reported in June by KUSA-TV (Denver), Hoffman denied that what some call "the C-word" (a vulgar reference to women) is necessarily "filthy and vile." "It is all in the context," she strained to explain. Asked for an example of a "polite" context, Hoffman said, "I've actually heard (the word) used as a term of endearment."

Least competent criminals: Two men were arrested in Dearborn, Mich., in July and charged with robbing a Bank One branch, done in by a glitch in their getaway plan. They had hopped on mountain bikes to make their exit (which bank robbers have used with success from time to time), but they were apparently unfamiliar with the concept of a gearshift, and both men rode away in first gear (or perhaps second), so slowly that one witness followed them easily on foot, and a bank guard got close enough to shoot one of them in the arm. They were quickly arrested.

Almost all true: Three of these four things really happened, just recently. Are you cynical enough to figure out the made-up story? a) A state Sierra Club official, hiking with friends, was struck and killed by lightning. b) A family in India was reported to have 175 members, who eat meals in shifts of 25 to 30 and require about 1,500 weekly servings of fresh-baked bread. c) Federal and state officials managed to shut down a smuggling tunnel running from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, to Laredo, Texas, on grounds that it violated U.S. mine safety standards. d) Among the recent priorities of the Netherlands' Labour Party is legislating a ban on the forcible licking of people's toes. (Answer: The third choice is made up.)

Update: News of the Weird has reported several times in the last 12 years on Kopi Luwak, the ultra-expensive coffee derived from beans that have been eaten and excreted by civet cats in Indonesia. In July, Massimo Marcone of the University of Guelph (Canada) published his examination (in the journal Food Research International) of how taste is affected by the beans' journey through the civet. First, the civet instinctively chooses only the ripest beans. Then, digestive biochemicals penetrate the outer layer of the bean as it passes through the GI tract. Internal fermentation by digestive enzymes adds a unique flavor ("earthy, musty, smooth and rich with jungle and chocolate undertones"). Also, proteins are leached out during digestion, thus removing a source of coffee's bitterness.

2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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