News of the Weird

LEAD STORY: Sonette Ehlers of Kleinmond, South Africa, recently invented a tampon-like sheath that she says will reduce the disturbing number of rapes that plague that country, but local anti-violence leaders are skeptical, as well as alarmed. The device folds around the penis with microscopic hooks and, once engaged, requires medical intervention to remove. (It may also incidentally inhibit the transmission of HIV.) Critics call it impractical (since one must be worn constantly) and barbaric, and a distraction from other solutions to the rape crisis. The devices are expected to be available in pharmacies starting in July, for one rand each (about 15 cents).

Cultural Diversity: Chinese men smoke cigarettes at twice the rate U.S. men do, according to a June dispatch from Guiyang by Toronto's Globe and Mail, and that includes an estimated 60 percent of male Chinese doctors, with about 90 percent of the men believing that smoking is either not harmful or actually healthful. Implicated in these beliefs is the government, whose cigarette monopoly sells 1.8 trillion units a year (at the equivalent of about 25 cents U.S. a pack) and apparently disseminates its own feel-good messages about smoking (e.g., that it enhances brain function, relieves schizophrenia, reduces the risk of Parkinson's disease), despite also requiring small health warnings on the package.

The Continuing Campaign to Make Sure No One Is Ever Offended: Organizers of the June 28 reenactment of the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, near Portsmouth, England (in which Britain's Admiral Nelson soundly defeated French and Spanish ships), have decided to remove all references to the defeated nations, calling the mock battle one between the "red" and the "blue," so as not to offend visiting dignitaries.

Ironies: 1. The South Carolina House's Judiciary Committee, voting in mid-April on two bills to upgrade the crimes of, respectively, gamecock fighting and spousal abuse, from misdemeanors to felonies, passed the former but tabled the latter for the remainder of 2005. 2. Jerry Adams, deputy finance commissioner of Tennessee, was stranded for 13 hours in an elevator in the state Capitol in May without the use of the emergency telephone because the phone's line had been disconnected over the state's nonpayment of the bill.

Creme De La Weird: Adventures in Foil: Anthony Hudson, 43, a former city council candidate and a host of a cable TV program, was arrested in a disturbance in Akron, Ohio, in April; he was covered in silver Mylar foil, wearing an athletic supporter over his trousers, and calling himself the "King of Egypt." And housing authorities in Sacramento, Calif., ordered the D'Souzas on Timberwood Court to take down the sheets of aluminum they had placed around their home to stop the neighbors from allegedly bombarding them with radio waves, which they say had given them headaches, lupus and other illnesses. A Code Enforcement spokesman said there was also foil aplenty covering the inside of the house.

Least Competent Criminals: In May, sheriff's deputies in Albuquerque arrested four men on drug-trafficking charges with the inadvertent help of the 2-year-old son of one of the men, according to an Albuquerque Journal story. The father had accidentally locked his keys and his son inside his Cadillac SUV, and the boy had used the OnStar emergency button, which generated a phone call to the sheriff, and deputies arrived to find the father still pleading for his son to unlock the door (which OnStar eventually opened electronically). Deputies became suspicious at all the late-night hubbub and in a consensual search of a nearby trailer belonging to another of the men, found 1,700 pounds of marijuana.

Recurring Themes: Latest Toilet Litigation: Scott A. Keller filed a lawsuit in March against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, claiming he was seriously injured when a wall-mounted toilet at a rest stop collapsed, sending him to the floor, causing whiplash and other injuries to his neck and back. And John Jenkins, 53, filed a lawsuit in Morgantown, W.Va., in June against the general contractor Chisler Inc. and another company, claiming that a portable toilet at a construction site exploded while he was using it (due to leaking methane gas underneath, which his cigarette ignited). Jenkins said he suffered severe burns to his face, neck, arms, torso and legs.

Patience: Michelle Alabaster, 36, of Bexleyheath, England, finally prevailed in May, nine years after filing her lawsuit against her then-employer for having (illegally, she contended) awarded her vacation pay at the rate she was making on the date of her application for vacation instead of the rate she was making on the last day before vacation. Her total winnings: the equivalent of about $495, including interest. But more money was at stake in the battle in New York between Nicholas Purpura, 62, and his ex-wife, Barbara, who married in 1983 and have been fighting over millions of dollars since their 1988 divorce. The New York Post reported in March that the case is "lurching to an end." Four of the judges who heard earlier parts of the case have since died. COPYRIGHT 2005 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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