Holes in their theory

In July, the director of Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., finally got around to forming a committee of physicists whose job it is to ascertain if the lab's replication of the Big Bang (scheduled for later in 1999) could possibly backfire and destroy the Earth. The lab's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider will begin to produce full nuclear collisions this fall, building to the Big Bang. Some physicists believe there is a small chance that the machine could create new kinds of matter or form mini-"black holes" and suck in all surrounding matter.

Pirate property

In March, about 5,400 descendants of a Welsh pirate filed papers to revive a Pittsburgh lawsuit in which they lay claim to 77 acres of prime real estate around New York City's Wall Street (including the World Trade Center) -- an estate valued at about $680 billion. Pirate Robert Edwards was supposedly given the land by the British Crown, in exchange for the booty from his raids of Spanish galleons. The descendants argue that the statute of limitations should not apply because of record-keeping errors in colonial New York.

And your complaint is?

In July, Zoe Bernadette Dawes, 25, and two men were scheduled for a September trial on a charge that they raped a 24-year-old man at a party in Miles, Queensland, Australia, last year. According to prosecutors, the victim was held at gunpoint, tied down on the floor and straddled by Dawes after he had been given an injection to induce an erection.

Surely you joust

A July Wall Street Journal dispatch from Brazil described a $1.2 million employee-morale program at the Volkswagen plant near Sao Paulo, in which a medieval courtyard has been created that allows workers to escape into the worlds of Camelot and King Arthur's round table. A VW executive said that the company chose its inspirational scenarios in order to help its workers cope with periods of upheaval. For example, it was hoped that the confidence employees would build by withdrawing the sword Excalibur from a rock would enable them to ignore looming layoffs in Brazil and at VW.

It's nice to feel wanted

Shawn Socha, 35, was arrested in Huntington, W.Va., in June as a fugitive from justice, and now faces bank-robbery and other charges in Ohio. He blew his cover when he called the Huntington police to ask if they had seen any arrest warrants out on him.

Get out the Red pen

The Bangkok Post reported in February that Wang Xinzhang had filed a lawsuit against China's Red Flag Publishing Co., seeking damages for a shoddy product: the book "Five Thousand Years of China," which had 984 typos. And Texas court reporter Sandra Halsey lost her certification in June for inadvertently helping convicted child killer Darlie Routier's appeals; there were reportedly 18,000 errors in Halsey's 6,000-page transcript of Routier's trial.

Just boning up

An April U.S. Tax Court finding disallowed the $9,000 in prostitutes' fees that Washington, D.C., vanity-press author Ralph Vitale had claimed as "research" expenses for his novel, which is set in a Nevada brothel. Vitale said he was just a stickler for detail, but one reviewer said the average woman in the book "has the complexity of a blow-up doll." And veteran radio reporter Larry Matthews, 55, told a judge in Greenbelt, Md., in March that he wasn't trafficking in child pornography during the two years in which he swapped pictures with Internet pedophiles, but was instead working on a story (though he couldn't name any editor he had told about the project).

Reaching out to the laymen

Just before his April sexual-assault trial was postponed in Toronto, former United Church minister Anthony Gifford, 57, admitted having consensual sex with troubled female parishioners, but said he had only been counseling them. Stated Gifford, "I tried to follow the ways of Jesus ... to get back to the basics of Christianity." Gifford also admitted that he and Mrs. Gifford had engaged in a three-way, and one man testified that the Giffords had sexually "ministered" to him and his girlfriend after Rev. Gifford gave the man a copy of a book titled "Open Marriage."

Bad medicine

Earlier this year, News of the Weird reported charges that private U.S. donations for Russian and Honduran disaster relief were rife with unwanted contributions (e.g., old clothes and microwave popcorn, instead of cooking utensils and medicines). In June, relief workers in Albania and Macedonia told The New York Times that as many as half of the (double-tax-deductible) donations from U.S. pharmaceutical companies are useless (either outdated or consisting of such products as lip balm and stop-smoking remedies) and that because some of their ingredients are hazardous, their regulated destruction imposes high costs on relief agencies. Countered a Project Hope executive: "[R]efugees need Chap Stick [and] Preparation H."


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