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Tuesday July 29th 2014

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News of the Weird

by Chuck Shepherd

Intruder (Not) Alert Are We Safe? In August, Daniel Castillo’a Jet Ski broke down in New York City’s Jamaica Bay, forcing him to swim to the nearest shore — at JFK International Airport. As Castillo roamed the grounds, he somehow failed to disturb the airport’s $100 million, state-of-the-art Perimeter Intrusion Detection System of cameras and motion sensors, stumbling into the Delta terminal before an employee noticed him. This happened two weeks after the now-notorious “peace” protest of nun Megan Rice, 82, and two colleagues, who cut through fences at the Oak Ridge (Tenn.) nuclear reservation’s Y-12 facility that houses more than 100 tons of highly enriched uranium. They braved numerous (though apparently unmonitored or malfunctioning) alarms and sensors for up to two hours before a lone guard stopped them.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Challenging Business Models: (1) In June, owners of the legal brothel Stiletto in Sydney, Australia, revealed their multimillion-dollar expansion to create the country’s (and perhaps the world’s) first “mega-brothel.” (2) Short-stay “love hotels” proliferate in Brazil, but in July in the city of Belo Horizonte, Fabiano Lourdes and his sister Daniela were about to open Animalle Mundo Pet, which they described as a love hotel for dogs. Owners would bring their mating-ready canines to rooms that feature the dim lighting and heart-shaped ceiling mirrors traditional in love hotels (to appeal to the party paying the bill, of course).

• Oh, Dear: New York City is the scene this summer of a particularly nasty turf war among ice cream trucks vying for space on the city’s choicest blocks. Most aggressive, according to a July New York Post report, are the drivers of Mister Softee trucks. Said a Yogo frozen yogurt vendor, “If you see a Mister Softee truck, you know bad things are coming,” including, reported the Post, such hardball tactics as cutting rival trucks’ brake lines.
Can’t Possibly Be True The Treasury Department’s inspector general reported in August that the IRS doled out more than $5 billion in fraudulent income tax returns in 2011 (owing to its mission to provide refunds promptly without first vetting the claims). The agency “refunded” $3.3 million to a single address in Lansing, Mich. (supposedly the home of 2,137 different tax filers) and nearly $4 million to three Florida addresses (518 to one in Tampa, 741 to one in Belle Glade, and 703 to a post office box in Orlando). In all, refunds were claimed by, among others, 105,000 dead people.

Science on the Cutting Edge “Pheromone parties” attract men and women seeking romance not via often-insincere conversation but based on the primal-scent signals emitted by each other’s slept-in T-shirts. Organizers have staged parties in New York City and Los Angeles and plan to expand, according to a June Associated Press report. The organizers’ initial conclusion: People prefer lovers with a somewhat-different genetic makeup than their own, but not too different.

• In a study published in August, women with the feline-oriented Toxoplasma gondii parasite in their systems showed an elevated risk of depression and suicide perhaps caused by the brain’s being deprived of serotonin. Since toxoplasmosis is most often passed via handling of cat feces, women’s fondness for and time spent with cats might thus put them at greater risk than previously believed. (T.gondii is believed capable of reproducing only inside cats’ intestines, and might, hypothesizes prominent Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr, have learned that the surest route to the intestines is by hacking into the brains of delicious rats and mice.)

• 100 Pounds or “15 Minutes”? Wesley Warren Jr., 47, of Las Vegas, suffers from rare elephantiasis of the scrotum, which accounts for about 100 of his 400 pounds and severely hampers urination and sex. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in October 2011 that Warren was on the verge of accepting an offer to cover the expensive corrective surgery, but when the newspaper followed up in June 2012, it found him hesitant because he had become accustomed to his celebrity status (TV’s The Learning Channel and “Tosh.0” program and Howard Stern’s radio show). Said he, “It was fun going to Los Angeles (for “Tosh.0”) in the big van they sent for me.”

Animal Behavior In July, the U.K.’s Wildlife Aid Foundation took in a dying, parasite-infested cuckoo bird, but by the time it had been nursed back to health, it had missed its species’s winter migration toward Africa. Consequently, according to BBC News, the foundation bought an airline ticket for a handler to carry the bird to Italy, where satellite tracking indicated it could meet up with the end of the migrating flock, and the handler released it.

•Latest Orangutan News: (1) Jungle Island zoo in Miami uses tricked-out iPads so that orangutans can order food by pointing at their choices on a screen. As zookeeper Linda Jacobs noted, “They have all the intelligence they need (but not) developed vocal chords and voiceboxes.” (2) A Taru Jurug Zoo official in Central Java, Indonesia, reported in July that “Tori,” its famous, 13-year-old cigarette-smoking orangutan, had been moved with her boyfriend to an isolated island with recreational facilities so she could kick her nicotine habit. At Taru Jurug, visitors kept enabling her by tossing her cigarettes.