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News of the Weird 10/10/13

by Chuck Shepherd

Haute Couture A few still-primitive cultures inexplicably celebrate such female adornments as the stacking of metal neck rings and the inserting of saucer-size disks into pierced earlobes. For “civilized” society, there is the annual Paris Fashion Week in September, when renowned designers outfit brave, otherwise-gorgeous models in grotesque clothing. Among the ensembles witnessed by a New York Times critic this year: a hat resembling steroid-enhanced stalks of peas; a shoe appearing to sprout twig-studs; “a flexible cage covered in doughnuts of black satin”; and a pillow clutch with (for some reason) its own porthole.

Recurring Themes News of the Weird first reported successful “stool implants” among family members in 2007 (to cure infections such as C. difficile by introducing the donor’s “good” microbes to overcome an imbalance of “bad” bacteria in a relative’s intestine). In 2012, however, two University of California, Davis, neurosurgeons boldly extended the cutting-edge treatment for three patients with a highly malignant brain tumor unresponsive to treatment. The doctors tried infusing bowel bacteria directly into the tumor, but the patients died, nonetheless. Although the patients had given fully informed consent, the school in August 2013 pressured Drs. J. Paul Muizelaar and Rudolph Schrot to resign for having violated internal and FDA procedures.

• It is well known that hospitals charge for medical supplies far in excess of what the products would cost at drugstores, but an August New York Times investigation of “saline drips” vividly demonstrated the disconnect. Though Medicare reimburses $1.07 for a 1-liter plastic bag of saltwater (supplied by a subsidiary of Morton Salt), White Plains (N.Y.) Hospital charged patients’ insurance companies like Aetna $91 per bag. Other hospitals decline to charge per-bag, listing only “IV therapy” of, for example, $787 for hooking up the drip.

• From the world’s cosmetic-surgery capital (South Korea, where one woman in five has had at least one procedure) comes the “Smile Lipt” offered by Aone Plastic Surgery in the city of Yongin, designed to produce a permanent smile (associated with success). The Smile Lipt turns downward-drooping lip corners upward, to allow a persistent smile resembling that of Batman’s nemesis, The Joker.

• Among the more repugnant paraphilias covered in News of the Weird is toilet-peeping—men who set up underneath the seats in public outhouses (sometimes wearing a raincoat) and wait for a user to answer nature’s call. In August, Kenneth Enlow, 52, pleaded guilty after a woman found him the month before in a privy in White Water Park in Tulsa County, Okla., “standing with his head and shoulders out of the hole … covered in feces,” according to a deputy. Enlow’s initial explanation was that his girlfriend had knocked him unconscious with a tire iron and dumped him there.

• Another Hard-Working Lawyer: The Dayton Daily News reported in September that an audit of Dayton lawyer Ben Swift (the highest-paid court-appointed public defender in Ohio, at $142,900 in a recent year) revealed several invoices demanding government payment for workdays of more than 20 hours, and in one case, 29. Swift’s attorney said his client was guilty only of bad record-keeping.

• Patients with gargantuan tumors, but intimidated by the cost of treatment, create the possibility that by the time they can afford an operation, the tumor itself will be heavier than the post-surgery patient. A 63-year-old man in Bakersfield, Calif., finally had surgery in August, after 14 years’ waiting during which his set of tumors grew to 200 pounds. Bakersfield surgeon Vip Dev noted that the sprawled tumors dragged the floor when the man sat and that the surgery was complicated by the patient’s shape, which could not be accommodated by the hospital’s MRI and CT scan machines.

• In 2010, Chinese agencies stepped up “birth tourism” packages for rich pregnant women to book vacations in America timed to their due dates—to exploit the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of citizenship to anyone born here and thus giving the Chinese children future competitive advantages against non-Americans who must apply for U.S. visas. A September USA Today report indicated that more Chinese mothers now prefer to land in the U.S. territory of Northern Mariana Islands (where birth also bestows citizenship), to the consternation of Islands officials, who would prefer traditional Chinese tourists instead of the “birthers.” (Historians agree that the 14th Amendment birth right was aimed at assuring citizenship for freed slaves.)

Update At Hong Kong’s traditional “Hungry Ghost” festival in August, in which people burn fake money on top of ancestors’ graves to support their afterlife styles, a weaker economy and inflation seem to have upped the ante for the gifts. An August Wall Street Journal dispatch noted that the denominations of burnable “currency” sold in stores have appreciated, including one “valued” at one trillion Hong Kong dollars (US$130 billion). (Some festival-goers asked, sensibly, about how the ancestor could expect change from such a bill if he needed to make a small afterlife purchase.)