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News of the Weird 1/9/13

by Chuck Shepherd

Robo Medicine At least two U.S. medical schools so far are early adopters of Dr. Benjamin Lok’s and Dr. Carla Pugh’s “Robot Butt” for teaching doctors-in-training to properly (and compassionately) administer prostate exams. The robot, bent over a desk to simulate the patient profile, has sensors to alert the students if they dig too deeply or quickly for comfort. Other sensors enable a check on eye contact to evaluate “bedside manner.” (News of the Weird reported a similar innovation in 2012 by Nobuhiro Takahashi, whose model’s “sphincter” has the ability to “clench up” if the probing becomes too distressing.)

The Continuing Crisis Neuroscientist James Fallon, fascinated by the brains of serial killers, experienced a seminal career moment in 2005 when he realized that his own brain scan was a dead-on match for the typical psychopath’s. Subsequent self-examination revealed him to be, he said, a “pro-social psychopath,” displaying traits similar to a killer’s (aggressiveness, low empathy) and different (“killing” opponents only in games and debate, with little compassion for their haplessness). “I’m kind of an asshole,” he admitted, according to a November report by The Smithsonian, “and I do jerky things that piss people off.” Fallon failed to break bad, he guesses, because he “was loved (growing up), and that protected me.” He figures he has not kicked his pathology but rather strives “to show to everyone and myself that I can pull (this balancing act) off.”

• Sucker’s Game: (1) Homeless man James Brady had his New Jersey state benefits cut off in October for “hiding” income. He had found $850 on a sidewalk in April and turned it in; when no one came forward, it was returned to him, though he was unaware that he needed to report it as “income.” (2) A 16-year-old Fox Chapel, Pa., boy realized at a football game in September that he was inadvertently carrying a pocket knife and conscientiously turned it in to a security guard—which earned him a 10-day school suspension. The school’s “zero tolerance” rule, said the boy’s father, “sends a message (that) you should probably lie.” (3) Betty Green was fired as clerk at the Speedway gas station in Lexington, Ky., in November when she “just said no” to an armed robber, who smiled and walked out. Company rules require always giving up the money. Said Green, “I don’t think anybody knows what you are going to do until it happens to you.”

• In November, the senior class president of Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Ore., “came out”—as an atheist. Eric Fromm, 21, is apparently popular on campus, and an ABC News report revealed that he was under no pressure to resign or drop out. Said the director of university relations, “All of our students are on a journey. … We as an institution meet students where they are at.” Fromm said he was impressed with the school right from his initial visit. “No one was speaking in tongues or handling snakes, so I decided to stay.”

Bright Ideas Not the Usual Modus Operandi: (1) The vandalism of Marion County High School in Jasper, Tenn., on the eve of a big football game in November was not, after all, the work of arch-rival South Pittsburg—notwithstanding the clues. The South Pittsburg markings were apparently made by Marion County teacher-coach Michael Schmitt, who was arrested. He told officers he was only trying to inspire the team (which lost anyway, 35-17). (2) Police in Urunga, Australia, charged teacher Andrew Minisini in December with taking three female students to a motel, giving them alcohol and seducing them—not into sex, but into vandalizing the residence of one of Minisini’s former colleague rivals.

• A government-subsidized, foundation-supported program for alcoholics in Amsterdam announced a “welfare”/”work” program offering the city’s drunks the equivalent of about $14 a day—and five free cans of beer—for several hours of street-cleaning. Some beneficiaries told London’s The Independent, in a November dispatch, that, of course, they intended to use the cash to buy even more beer.

Democracy Blues In November, Dave Wilson, a white conservative candidate for the board of the Houston Community College System, pulled off an astonishing victory over the African-American incumbent, by distributing campaign materials that made him—Wilson—appear to be black and thus the favorite of African-Americans. Wilson’s brochures depicting black “supporters” were all, he later said, copied from the Internet.

Recurring Themes In 2001, German computer repairman Armin Meiwes captured world attention when he was convicted of killing, and then sauteeing and eating parts of a Berlin engineer of particularly low self-esteem, who had offered himself on a German cannibal-fetish website. In November 2013, police in the German state of Saxony were investigating human body parts found at a bed-and-breakfast run by “Detlef G.,” suggesting the parts were from “Wojciech S.,” who frequented a cannibal-fetish website and who had traveled to meet Detlef—and that the parts had been found in an area of the grounds used for “grilling.” The investigation is continuing. {in}