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News of the Weird 3/10/11

By Chuck Sheppard

New York University arts professor Wafaa Bilal had his camera surgically removed in February—the one that was implanted in the back of his skull in November to record, at 60-second intervals, the places he had left behind (beamed to and archived by a museum in Qatar). The camera had been mounted under his skin, braced by three titanium posts, but his body very painfully rejected one of the posts, and his temporary solution is to merely tie the camera to the back of his neck (even though that work-around is unsatisfactory to him because it represents a less-personal “commitment” to the art). In the future, he said, communication devices like his will routinely be part of our bodies.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Till Krautkraemer’s New York City beverage company MeatWater creates dozens of flavors of water for the upscale market of hearty gourmets who would like their daily salads, or shellfish, or goulash from a bottle instead of from a plate. Among his new flavors introduced in January, according to an AOL News report, were poached salmon salad water and a Caribbean shrimp salad water that can double as a vodka mixer. Old standbys include Peking duck water, tandoori chicken water, bangers ‘n’ mash water, and Krautkraemer’s favorite, German sauerbraten water.

Sell What You Know In December, a company in eastern Ukraine (a country known for hard drinking) announced a “drinking buddy” service in which, for the equivalent of about $18, it would supply a barroom companion for the evening, “qualified” to discuss politics, sports, women, etc., and even to offer psychological counseling if appropriate.

Not Your Father’s Scotch (1) The Panamanian company Scottish Spirits recently introduced a straight Scotch whisky in 12-ounce cans, for a market of mobile drinkers who prefer not to invest in a whole bottle. The international Scotch whisky trade association expressed alarm. (2) At Clive’s, of Victoria, British Columbia, Glenfiddich Scotch whisky is only one ingredient in the signature cocktail “Cold Night In,” which, according to a January New York Times review, combines “molecular mixology” and comfort food. An especially buttery grilled-cheese sandwich is soaked overnight in the Scotch, along with Mt. Gay rum and Lillet Blanc wine. Following a brief freeze to congeal any remaining fat, and double-straining, it is ready to serve—with a celery stick and other garnishments.

Science on the Cutting Edge “You’re not going to like this,” warned NPR’s Robert Krulwich, about to deliver a February story about visionary robotics developers James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau, who created a carnivorous clock, supposedly able to power itself for 12 days merely on the carcasses of 12 dead houseflies (which the clock traps with fly paper and then mechanically razors in two). The pair also showed a prototype of a coffee table that catches mice by luring them up the table legs with cheese into a hole in the center, where they are guillotined. Auger and Loizeau said their creations are just extensions of TV nature programs showing animals hunting in the wild, but Krulwich fretted about the dangers inherent in “giving robots a taste for (meat).”

The Continuing Crisis In May 2008, classroom disrupter Alex Barton, 5, was finally made by his teacher at Morningside Elementary kindergarten in St. Lucie County, Fla., to sit down and listen to the accumulated complaints of his classmates, who then were asked to vote on asking Alex to leave the class. (He lost, 14-2.) Shortly afterward, Alex was diagnosed with a form of autism, and his mother filed a federal disability discrimination lawsuit, citing Alex’s “humiliation” by the voting incident. A settlement was reached in February 2011 when the school district agreed to pay Alex $350,000 (which included legal expenses). Said Ms. Barton, “Money can’t take care of what (the school district) did to my family.”

Fine Points of the Law Lawyer Terry Watkins admitted to a judge in Faribault, Minn., in February that his client William Melchert-Dinkel did things that were “abhorrent,” “sick” and “creepy,” but that doesn’t make him a criminal. Melchert-Dinkel has been charged with two felonies for counseling depressed people online on the techniques and virtues of suicide (for example, recommending positioning for a noose to a Briton who hanged himself three days later). (A judge’s decision was pending at press time.)

People With Issues Mental health practitioners, writing in the January issue of the journal Substance Abuse, described two patients who had recently arrived at a clinic in Ranchi, India, after allowing themselves to be bitten by cobras for recreational highs. Both men had decades-long substance-abuse issues, especially involving opiates, and decided to try what they had heard about on the street. One, age 44, bitten on the foot, experienced “a blackout associated with a sense of well-being, lethargy and sleepiness.” The other, 52, reported “dizziness and blurred vision followed by a heightened arousal and a sense of well-being,” and apparently was so impressed that he returned to the snake charmer two weeks later for a second bite.

Least Competent Criminals Another “negative cash-flow” robbery occurred in February, in Kansas City, Mo., as an unidentified man tried to distract the clerk at a gun store by laying $40 on the counter to buy a box of bullets, then pulling a gun and demanding all the store’s money. The clerk thwarted the robbery by pulling his own gun (not surprisingly, since it was a gun store) and scaring the robber off—while the $40 remained on the counter.