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News of the Weird

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Is it safe yet?: The head of security at Boston's Logan Airport revealed in December that travelers continue to appear so unfamiliar with restrictions that, three years after 9/11, his screeners still seize 12,000 prohibited items per month. Nationwide, the total since 2002 is nearly 17 million, including 2,200 guns, 79,000 box cutters and 5 million knives. And in December, a Republican congressman blasted the Department of Homeland Security for making "a joke" out of President Bush's 2003 order to compile a comprehensive list of potential domestic terror targets. The list so far (of 80,000 sites) is termed by critics both too large (unlikely targets inexplicably included) and too small (imaginable targets inexplicably left off).

Scenes of the surreal: 1) Following the Dec. 5 Newtown, England, charity Santa Claus race (in which 4,000 Saint Nicks in full costume competed), police had to use noxious spray and nightsticks to break up a brawl of about 30 Santas when the festive spirit got out of hand. 2) Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, England, told New Scientist magazine in December that they're studying why ostriches are able to run so fast (about 20 mph) even though they are heavy (more than 200 pounds) and awkward-gaited. The team's work: They observe 15 ostriches running on treadmills.

Finer points of the law: In Durham, N.C., in December, gang member Robert D. Johnson was sentenced to 15 years in prison for shooting off the genitals of a fellow Blood who was trying to leave the group. The jury rejected an even harsher penalty, for "malicious castration," settling on "nonmalicious castration" because of evidence that Johnson actually shot the man in the leg but that the bullet just happened to exit his thigh and hit his penis.

The litigious society: Jerry Colaitis of Old Brookville, N.Y., died of complications from spinal surgery in 2001, and the next year, his family filed a $10 million lawsuit blaming everything on the Benihana Japanese restaurant chain. Benihana hibachi chefs engage in colorful hand acrobatics while skillfully slicing and grilling food tableside, and on the night in question, Colaitis flinched at a shrimp the chef had tossed his way. The flinch jarred two vertebrae in his neck, which eventually required surgery and then a second surgery, after which complications developed, leading to Colaitis' death. In November 2004, a judge cleared the case for trial.

The entrepreneurial society: Victoria Pettigrew started VIP Fibers three years ago in Morgan Hill, Calif., and according to a December 2004 report by the Knight Ridder News Service, has an enthusiastic clientele of pet owners who pay her to make specialty items (blankets, pillows, scarves) from their animals' hair ("Better yarn from your pet than a sheep you never met"). For example, client Bob Miller of Carmel, Calif., brought in enough collected sheddings of his golden retriever for a blanket, two couch pillows, a small teddy bear, a scarf and a picture frame. Pettigrew has also created items from the hair of cats, sheep, alpaca, bison, rabbits, hamsters, cows and horses.

Recurring themes: Several times over the years in News of the Weird, bad things (including death) have happened to drivers who make the poor decision (usually while inebriated) to stop along the side of a highway at night to urinate but then fail to deal properly with the various dangers. Usually the dangers involve wandering out into traffic or falling over an embankment, but in November, Henry Turley, 77, started to exit his pickup truck to urinate near Kingsbury, Ind., and when rescue workers arrived 20 minutes later, Turley's truck was in a ditch, and Turley was lying on his back with his left foot caught between the wheel well and the left front tire and his right foot caught between the driver's side door and the front seat. (A nearly empty bottle of whiskey was on the passenger side.)

Awesome: In December, a wheel from a tractor-trailer on Interstate 84 in Idaho (glowing hot from an overheated bearing) came off, rolled across a frontage road, and started several fires after it crashed into the home of Charisse Stevenson. According to a report in the Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho), Stevenson, seeing her 10-year-old son trapped by flames on the second floor of their home and separated by the red-hot wheel, moved it out of the way (though it weighs 250 pounds), scooped up her son (135 pounds), and carried him to safety. Afterward, of course, Stevenson was found to be unable to lift either the wheel or her son.

© 2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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