Brett Backwell, Australian rules football player for Gleneig, a suburb of Adelaide, whose broken finger has hampered his playing for three years, decided in September to forgo bone fusion in favor of just having half the finger amputated. "(I)f that's going to help me to succeed at this level (of pro football), then it's something you've just got to do."


The Anchorage, Alaska, zoo has now completed the elephant treadmill it promised last year for its venerable "Maggie," age 23, and will unveil it in November even though in the intervening year, she has lost about 1,000 of her then-9,000 pounds through exercise and dieting. The treadmill is merely a humongous version of a treadmill for humans.


Los Angeles has become the U.S. epicenter for surgery for women seeking to "firm up" their genitals, with Dr. David Matlock the leading practitioner of "vaginal rejuvenation," according to a dispatch in Toronto's Globe and Mail in August. Much of the impetus comes from patients' (or their husbands' or boyfriends') desire for vulvas as trim and youthful as those of actresses in porno movies. News of the Weird first covered the phenomenon in December 1988 when a Dayton, Ohio, gynecologist was accused of surgically tightening a woman's vagina without her consent (at the behest of her husband during surgery for another condition). The doctor, James C. Burt, who wrote an early book on the subject, The Surgery of Love, eventually lost his license and a $5 million malpractice verdict.


The Moscow Cats Theater still plays to packed houses in Russia, as described in News of the Weird in March 1998, but founder Yuri Kuklachev brought 26 of his improbably trained housecats to New York City's TriBeCa Performing Arts Center this fall to play weekends through October. Among the tricks: front paw stands; "tightrope" walking on a pole; and traversing the pole from underneath by grasping it with four legs (one cat does it using only two legs). Kuklachev says each show is different because "(s)ometimes a cat doesn't want (to perform) one trick, so he does another."


Former Cornelius, N.C., dentist John Hall pleaded guilty in July (an "Alford plea," acknowledging only the sufficiency of the evidence against him) to seven counts of misdemeanor assault on female patients, specifically, squirting semen into their mouths from a syringe. The state Board of Dental Examiners had revoked his license in 2004 after finding two syringes of semen in his office with patients' DNA (from saliva) on them. Hall's sentence was five years' probation, and his lawyer said he thought Hall would move to Jacksonville, Fla., and go into the flooring and tile business.


The supreme leader of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, chronicled here in 2002 (when he changed the names of the days of the week and the months of the year) and 2004 (for insisting that licensed drivers pass a "morality" test), said in September 2005 that his country would build a huge, natural-habitat zoo for a array of species, including penguins, in a desert-like area of the country. And North Korea's Kim Jong-il was touted by a spokesman in August 2005 as one who never forgets a phone number or even a single line of computer code. (Among his previously publicized skills in NOTW dating back to 1994 are writing operas, flying jets, producing movies and shooting 11 holes-in-one on the first round of golf he ever played.)


Florida artist Maria Alquilar returned to Livermore, Calif., in August to fix the large mosaic she created at the city library a year ago when the city paid her $40,000 but failed to check the spelling of several names in her work: "(Albert) Eistein," "(William) Shakespere," "(Paul) Gaugan," "(Vincent) Van Gough" and seven others. She had initially refused to make the corrections, dismissing the errors as merely "words" and angry at being ridiculed, but she relented after the city offered her $6,000 more.


With increased job anxiety in China's market economy, more Chinese men and women are opting for painful body-lengthening procedures to get taller. A June 2005 report on China Radio International updated the 2002 News of the Weird story, which reported that hundreds were enduring the months-long "Ilizarov procedure" (forced breaking of bones in the leg, then manually adjusting leg braces four times a day that pull the bones slightly apart, then waiting as they grow back and fuse together). As a 33-year-old, 5-foot-tall woman (aiming for another 4 inches of height) said in 2002: "I'll have a better job, a better boyfriend, and eventually a better husband. It's a long-term investment."


Robert Norton starred in News of the Weird several times since 1988, owing to his habit of (and more than 20 arrests for) annoying his Pekin, Ill., neighbors by doing yardwork naked. (When, in 1999, a judge finally told him that he would go to jail if he did it again, Norton said, "I can't (promise) anything.") He passed away in July 2005, at age 82, and despite his wishes, family members made sure that he was wearing clothes when he was buried. [email protected]


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