Pensacola, Florida
Saturday April 21st 2018


News of the Weird

by Chuck Shepherd

Price of Friendship “Whoever said, ‘Money can’t buy you friends’ clearly hasn’t been on the Internet recently,” wrote The New York Times in April, pointing to various social media support services that create online superstars by augmenting one’s Facebook “friends,” Twitter “followers” and Instagram “likes.” The reporter described how, by paying a company $5, for example, he immediately acquired 4,000 “friends,” and had he splurged for $3,700, could have had a million on his Instagram photo account. Such services have been around for two years, but earlier, cruder versions (sometimes, just unmonitored email addresses) are now sophisticated “bots”—groups of computer code created on algorithm farms in India and elsewhere—that “behave” on social media with original messaging (often “drivel,” wrote the Times) as if they were real people.

Science Fair Medical Marvels: (1) China’s Chengdu Commercial Daily reported in March that Liu Yougang, 23, finally had surgery to remove that whistle he had swallowed when he was 9. He had been experiencing worsened breathing—and had been making “shrill whistle sounds” nightly after falling asleep. (2) London’s Daily Star featured Sarah Beal, 43, of Arley, Warwickshire, England, in a March story demonstrating her skin condition in which writing words on her skin makes it puff up for about an hour before it recedes. It is referred to by doctors as the “Etch A Sketch condition” (formally, dermatographia), and despite occasional pain, she described it as “cool” and a “party trick.”

• The Job of the Researcher: Cornell University graduate student Michael Smith, disappointed at the paucity of research on the pain of honeybee stings, decided to evaluate the stings himself (but in line with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975 on safe self-experimentation). Smith’s protocols required five stings a day on various body locations for 38 days—at least three on each of 25 body areas. The worst, according to his pain index, were the nostril (9.0) and the upper lip (8.7).

• North Carolina’s Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is already well known to News of the Weird readers for creating functional organs in the lab (most notably, perhaps, growing a human bladder and a rabbit’s penis). In an April article in the Lancet, the program announced that it had implanted artificial vaginas in four women in the U.S. A functioning vagina, the director told BBC News, “is a very important thing.”

Leading Economic Indicators While Medicare continues to be among the most costly federal services, and U.S. doctors continue to drop out of the program because of paltry fees for some procedures, other specialists are rewarded with such outsized compensation that almost 4,000 physicians were paid $1 million or more for 2012 and about 350 of those totaled nearly $1.5 billion, according to Medicare records released in April 2014. Ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen of West Palm Beach, Fla., took in more than $20 million and treated 645 Medicare patients with a total of 37,000 injectable doses of Lucentis (a much more expensive drug than the popularly regarded equivalent, Avastin), according to Business Insider. (In fact, taxpayers could have saved more than $11 million with Avastin on Melgen’s billings alone, according to an April Washington Post analysis.)

• Visitors to the New York City office of Clear Channel radio station group chairman Bob Pittman are greeted exotically as they step off the elevator by a “tunnel” of “fine mist.” However, a spokeswoman told a New York Post reporter in March that it “isn’t for cooling or humidifying,” but to impress advertisers, in that Clear Channel knows how to project the advertiser’s logo against the mist. (Clear Channel, the Post reported, is $21 billion in debt and has laid off “thousands” of employees.)

Perspective The maximum penalty a drunk driver can serve in Missouri for causing another’s death is 15 years in prison—which is the same penalty handed down last year by Circuit Judge Kenneth Pratte to a brother and sister whose crime was getting caught with 20 marijuana plants (12 mature, eight sprouts), which they insisted were for personal needs. In fact, David and Natalie DePriest had not even taken the case to trial—but had pleaded guilty, expecting, of course, minimum jail time (normally maxing out at about 120 days in prison, according to Missouri Department of Corrections statistics cited by Huffington Post). (David DePriest, though a licensed gunsmith, received seven more years jail time for having a rifle a quarter-inch shorter than permitted in Missouri.)

Least Competent Criminals Recurring Theme: An unnamed “gangland” bomber was killed in March in Dublin, Ireland, when the payload exploded prematurely. The detonation occurred on the morning of March 30, which marked the daylight saving time change in Ireland, and police concluded that, most likely, the bomber had forgotten to set the timer ahead that morning, which would have given him up to 60 more minutes to plant the bomb and leave. (In 1999, two Palestinians, operating on West Bank time, but carrying bombs to the Israeli cities Haifa and Tiberius, which had already advanced their clocks that morning, were blown up—along with only one bystander instead of the dozens or hundreds planned for.)