Noggin to lose 


In July, a 48-year-old woman filed a lawsuit against Gold Coast Hospital in Southport, Australia, for about $450,000 (U.S.) because the hospital apparently misplaced part of her brain after her aneurysm surgery in 1996. According to the lawsuit, doctors were to temporarily remove her right frontal lobe and replace it when swelling subsided, but couldn't find the lobe when it was time to reinsert it. She now sports a temporary titanium plate, but claims symptoms including "irritability" and a "perception" that the lobe might have been fed to dogs.

Showing brass Balkans

In May, Arizona state Rep. Tom Gordon inexplicably faked a Naval Reserve order, hopped a military plane to the Balkans and (according to a U.S. official) engaged in unspecified "unauthorized activities" in Sarajevo for six weeks before being ordered home. Afterward, Gordon refused to answer most questions, except to say that he had been held hostage by Serbs and that "lots of things need to be explained, and in due course, they will be."

A real flamer

In August, the Ottawa Sun reported that the veterans' group the Royal Canadian Legion was at the forefront of public outrage over Topeka, Kan., pastor Fred Phelps' burning of the Canadian flag during a recent trip to Ottawa. Protesting a Supreme Court of Canada decision to designate same-sex couples as having "spouses," the gay-hating Phelps had called the smoldering banner the "Fag Flag." Said a retired army captain, "Our government has got to make the stand."

Ride to liver, liver to ride

In June, a New Orleans court awarded $95,000 to bicyclist Jerry Lawrence, 60, for the fractured skull and two broken legs he suffered after being hit by a police car that was on call. Lawrence prevailed even though he had been drunk when he ran a stop sign, putting him directly in the path of the cruiser, which had its siren and emergency lights on. Said Lawrence's lawyer, "[D]runks have some rights, too."

Here comes the sludge

According to a March Boston Globe story, residents of Portsmouth, N.H., have finally reached their breaking point over an ancient and deteriorating city sewer system that has, according to one resident, caused raw sewage to overflow in his basement and on city streets during every high tide in the past 10 years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes repair would be so costly that it has long exempted Portsmouth and 100 New England communities from raw-sewage-discharge regulations. The city manager said a solution is at least 10 to 15 years away. Asked one resident, "Why are we talking about building a new library and parking garage when we have sewage in our basements?"

Stain out of trouble

The Safety Tanteisha detective agency in Osaka, Japan, told New Scientist magazine in June that it sells about 200 aerosol-spray kits a month (at $400 each) that help women find out if their men are having affairs by detecting the presence of fresh seminal fluid on their underwear. Another "miracle product," Infidelity Detection Cream, is rubbed on a man's skin, causing blisters the next time he showers and subjecting him to wifely questioning if he arrives home with fresh, telltale marks.

Hue and cry

In May, scientists at the University of Hawaii announced that they had successfully transferred the gene that gives jellyfish a green color to the permanent DNA of a mouse, via a method of "transgenesis" that breaks the coating of sperm and allows gene-commingling. As part of the experiment, a pink mouse turned fluorescent green when placed under an ultraviolet light, but the scientists were much more excited that their transgenesis was a big improvement over previous methods.

Long-range planning

The Times of London reported in May that officials from Britain's Ministry of Defense had recently met with Eric Herr, the American who has patented a phaser gun and is seeking $500,000 to make a prototype. Current "taser" guns are not effective unless applied directly to the skin, but Herr's gun would shoot a laser at a subject up to 100 yards away, then pass an electrical current through it that would temporarily immobilize the target.

Cross purposes

Londoner Lisa Wright was granted a loan of about $4,500 from the Prince's (of Wales) Trust during the spring to help her start a business designing "respectable and elegant" women's clothes for male transvestites. Said Wright, "If they're going to dress as women, they must learn how to dress properly. We don't want transvestites to frighten children."

Celluloid zeroes

In May, four men, aided by an employee of the State Theater in Menomonie, Wis., stole a print of the "Star Wars" movie "The Phantom Menace" (value: $60,000) in one of the worst-executed crimes in state history. As the men lifted the 3-foot-wide spool from the projector, it unraveled, leaving two miles of celluloid on the floor. The men scooped up the mess, took it home and tried to wash the film in a bathtub to get rid of their fingerprints. (It didn't work.) They then cut it up for disposal, but eventually realized they needed to turn themselves in. Authorities said alcohol was heavily involved in the caper. In a July sentencing, each man received five days in jail.


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