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News of the Weird 12.16

By Chuck Sheppard

Among the oppressive patriarchal customs that remain in force in Saudi Arabia is a requirement that females obtain their father’s (or guardian’s) permission before marrying — even women who are profoundly independent, such as the 42-year-old surgeon (licensed to practice in the UK and Canada as well as Saudi Arabia) who was the subject of an Associated Press report in November. One activist, estimating that nearly 800,000 Saudi women are in the same position, complained that a Saudi woman “can’t even buy a phone without the guardian’s permission.” The surgeon took her father to court recently, but the judge had not rendered a decision by press time.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Alabama is the only remaining state to ban the sale of sex toys, but nevertheless the Huntsville shop Pleasures recently expanded by moving to a former bank building in order to use three drive-thru windows to sell dildos. (Since state law prohibits the sale unless used for “bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial, or law enforcement purposes,” customers must provide a brief written description of their medical or other “legitimate” condition in order to make the purchase.)

Cutting-Edge Science  Researchers at the University of Queensland revealed in November that parrot fish, which reside on Australia’s reefs and need protection from blood-sucking, lice-like parasites, shelter themselves at bedtime with blankets of “snot.” Typically, the fish’s mouth-slobber, once it starts dribbling out, takes about an hour to ooze into place.

Medical Marvels: (1) Six-year-old Alexis McCarter, of Pelzer, S.C., underwent surgery in December to remove the safety pin that she had stuck up her nose as a baby and which was lodged in her sinus cavity (having sprung open only after it was inside her, causing headaches, nosebleeds and ear infections). (2) Sharon Wilson of Doncaster, England, finally got a worthwhile answer for her nearly 10-year odyssey through a range of doctors’ complicated misdiagnoses. She had complained of many, many days when she vomited more than 100 times, at “almost exactly” 10-minute intervals. The previous diagnosis was a tumor in her pituitary gland, but another specialist nailed it: “Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome.”

What’s Weird is That it’s Legal: The pharmaceutical company Genentech makes both Lucentis (a $2,000 injection for relieving age-related macular degeneration) and Avastin (an anti-cancer drug that many retina specialists prescribe for age-related macular degeneration because it is just as effective yet costs about $50). Using Avastin instead of Lucentis saves Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars a year, reported The New York Times in November, and, obviously, every dollar’s savings is a dollar less income for Genentech. In response in October, the company commenced a lucrative rebate program for physicians, worth tens of thousands of dollars, that apparently passes as legal according to Medicare guidelines, but said one Ohio specialist, “There’s no way to look at that without calling it bribery.”

News of the Overprivileged (1) Cell phones and GPS devices have led national-park visitors to do “stupid” things, confident that they will be saved from themselves, a Grand Teton National Park spokesperson told The New York Times in August — such as the lost, cold hiker who called rangers to ask for hot chocolate or the visitors flummoxed by cold weather who wanted a personal escort back to their campsite. In August, a party of hikers in Illinois called for (and received) three separate rescues in 24 hours. (2) The Milwaukee teachers’ union filed an equal-rights lawsuit in August challenging health-insurance cutbacks by the budget-challenged Milwaukee Public Schools. The union was denouncing the elimination of Viagra as discrimination against men.

The Weirdo-American Community In November, at a burglary scene near Seneca, S.C., deputies found Noah Smith, 31, naked and apparently drugged, perhaps on hallucinogenic mushrooms, and with a string-like object protruding from his buttocks. Smith was X-rayed, revealing (according to the deputies’ report, which made its way to the Internet) that the object in his rectum was a “mouse.” However, several days later, the sheriff’s office clarified that the object was a “computer mouse.” Smith told emergency room personnel that he had no memory of the incident.

Armed and Clumsy (all-new!) People who accidentally shot themselves recently: Daniel McDaniels, 31, Sarasota, Fla., “trying to ward off a skunk” (October). Sanford Rothman, 63, Boulder, Colo., while sleepwalking (October). Reserve police officer Kenneth Shannon, 68, Gary, Ind., in the hand while loading his gun (and the bullet went on to hit his partner) (October). Sheriff’s Deputy Miguel Rojas, Crestview, Fla., in the leg while firearms training (July). Darrell Elam, 52, Peshastin, Wash., in the buttocks as he holstered his gun (August). A 48-year-old woman, Clover, S.C., in the jaw while trying to kill a rat (September). A 25-year-old man, Juneau, Alaska, in the head after jokingly telling friends that there is “one way” to find out whether a gun is loaded or not (October 2009).