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News of the Weird 10/31/13

by Chuck Shepherd

Norway’s Battle Against Chaos Norwegian public television (NRK), which introduced the now-legendary continuous, live log-burning show (12 hours long, with “color commentary” on the historical and cultural importance of fire), scheduled a new program for this week in its appeal to serenity (labeled “Slow TV”). On Nov. 1, NRK was to televise live, for five hours, an attempt to break the world record for producing a sweater, from shearing the sheep to spinning the wool and knitting the garment (current record: 4:51, by Australians). (In addition to the log, NRK viewers have been treated to live cams on a salmon-fishing boat and, for five days, on a cruise ship.) Said an NRK journalist, “You would think it’s boring television, but we have quite good ratings for these programs.”

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Extract of cockroach is a delicacy among some Chinese, believed able to miraculously reduce inflammation, defy aging and cure tuberculosis, cancer and cirrhosis. Quartz reported in August that Yunnan province is a Silicon Valley-type business center, where pulverized roaches can sell for the equivalent of about $89 a pound, and five pharmaceutical companies have contracts with ranches that have formed the Sichuan Treasure Cockroach Farming Cooperative. (In August, a start-up farm in Jiangsu province was, police suspect, vandalized, allowing at least a million cockroaches being prepared for market to flee to adjacent neighborhoods.)

• When entrepreneur Michelle Esquenazi was asked by a New York Post reporter in September why her all-female crew of licensed bounty hunters (Empire Bail Bonds of New York) is so successful at tricking bail-jumpers into the open, she offered a five-letter vulgar euphemism for a female body part. “It’s timeless,” she continued. “Of course he’s going to open his door for a nice piece of (deleted). … The thing about defendants is no matter who they are (of whatever color), they’re all dumb. Every single last one of them is stupid.”

• Hipster Haven: Two fearless entrepreneurs inaugurated services recently in faux-fashionable Brooklyn, N.Y. Lucy Sun, a Columbia University economics major, began seeking work as a $30-an-hour “book therapist,” to help readers find the “right” book to read or give as a gift, with attention to clients’ “specific situations.” In Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood in September, the stylish Eat restaurant began reserving certain nights’ meals to be experienced in total silence. On opening night, a Wall Street Journal reporter noted one throat-clearing and a muffled sneeze, but barely any other human sound. Some diners were won over; another said it felt like “being 50 and married.”

• It’s expensive to go broke in America. Detroit, which most acknowledge acted wisely in filing for bankruptcy protection in July (in the face of debts estimated to be at least $18 billion), will nonetheless be on the hook for bankruptcy legal fees that could total $60 million under current contracts (according to an October New York Times report), plus various expenses, such as the $250,000 to Christie’s auction house to price and sell some assets. A fee examiner has been hired to keep the expenses in line, but he charges $600 an hour.

Medical Marvels The Horror: A recent medical journal reported that a 49-year-old man in Brazil said he had recovered from a stroke except that the damage to his brain (in a “subcortical region” associated with higher-level thinking) has caused him to develop “pathological generosity” toward others. A Duke University neurologist told London’s Daily Mail that stroke-induced personality changes (such as hoarding) are common, but that this particular change appears unique. Doctors reported in the journal Neurocase that even with medication, this patient’s beneficence was unabated after two years.

• Blood clots can be especially dangerous, often requiring urgent, harshly invasive open-heart surgery to remove the clot before it can be fatal, but a team from UCLA Medical School reported breathlessly in September that a “minimally invasive,” cutting-edge machine worked just as well: a vacuum cleaner. When a 62-year-old man arrived at an emergency room with deep vein thrombosis, AngioVac lines were inserted in the leg and neck and sucked out the 24-inch-long clot. The patient was back home and full of energy a week later.

Weird Animals A “scatological force field” is how a Reuters reporter in September described the way ordinary house termites are able to increasingly resist extermination. They use their own feces to build their nests, and the pathogens seem to form a protective shield that attacks unfriendly bacteria trying to invade the nests.

• Pig Drinks 18 Pints and Has Fight With Cow” read one August headline from Port Hedland, West Australia, after rampaging wild pigs stole and drank 18 beers from a campsite. International Business Times, summarizing recent research in September, noted that moose, especially, are attracted by fermenting apples; that prairie voles are prominent social drinkers (consuming much more available alcohol when other voles are around); and that African elephants often turn violent to secure the fermenting fruit of the marula tree (although the elephant would require 1,400 pieces of fruit to generate the seven gallons of alcohol that—if consumed all at once—would match humans’ legal limit for driving).