News of the Weird

At ease

Even with the nation at war and casualties mounting, some Pentagon officials evidently believe that one way to reduce military families' stress is to teach them to laugh. Its "laughter instructor," retired Army Col. James Scott, holds therapeutic sessions around the country with National Guard families that feature walking like a penguin and blurting "ha ha hee hee and ho ho," according to a January USA Today story. Said Scott, "The guiding principle is to laugh for no reason (which is) one of the reasons it works so well for military families."

Packing heat, juice box

After her 11-year-old son was suspended for twice bringing a loaded handgun to school, Linnea C. Holdren, 43, said the matter was pretty much beyond her control. "I can't lock up his guns," she told police. "They belong to him, and he has a right to use them whenever he wants to use them." (The boy was expelled in January, and Holdren, who is a teacher at her son's Shickshinny, Pa., elementary school, has been charged with felony endangerment.)

Social servicing

Denmark's government ruled in 2001 that institutionalized citizens have the right to have sex and that caregivers must even take them to visit prostitutes. (Prostitution is legal in Denmark.) According to a January dispatch from Aarhus, Denmark, in London's Observer, Mr. Torben Vegener Hansen, 59, who has cerebral palsy and lives at home on government assistance, is challenging the government also to pay for prostitutes to make house calls, claiming that he is unable to have sex manually because of his illness and must be accorded this "human right" by a service similar to the government's meals-on-wheels program.

Stroke of genius

Researchers for Finland's Helsinki University of Technology's Air Guitar Project recently demonstrated software that allows a player's finger movements along the imaginary instrument to be set to music from a library of guitar sounds. According to a November New Scientist report, the virtual guitar hero wears special gloves, allowing his gestures to be tracked by camera. Researcher Aki Kanerva expects players even to develop a distinct air guitar style.

Max whacks wax

Two physicians, in a December note in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, wrote glowingly of the ability of the Super Soaker Max-D 5000 squirt weapon to quickly and safely loosen severely impacted earwax (knowledge learned from an emergency use when no standard ear-syringing equipment was available). In fact, they wrote, since the Super Soaker holds much more water than the standard equipment, using it would actually shorten patients' office visits. (However, the Super Soaker was obviously not anticipated for medical use; its awkward design assured that both patient and doctor would be drenched by excess spray.)

Editors bury the lede

Researcher Jean-Louis Martin of the Universite Claude Bernard in Lyon, France, found (for a December British Medical Journal article) that consuming cannabis (marijuana) doubled motorists' likelihood of a fatal auto collision, and alarming news headlines about the report followed.

Less prominently noted in the article, and consequently in alarming news reports, was that drivers impaired by alcohol were six times more likely than an unimpaired driver to have a fatal collision, thus suggesting that the generally illegal drug cannabis is only one-third as dangerous for drivers as the legal drug alcohol.

We have the technology

Recently opened archives in Moscow show that in the 1920s, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered his top animal-breeding scientist to create interspecies "super warriors." Stalin's half-men, half-apes would be "invincible," "insensitive to pain" and "indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

The Associated Press reported in October that Japan's Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp., in the course of video-game research, is developing a joystick-controlled headset that disorients humans and makes them move in certain ways — a benign "virtual dance experience," according to one researcher, with potential uses such as keeping the elderly from falling.

Affirmative inaction

Scotland Yard agreed in January to pay the equivalent of about $52,000 to London police Sgt. Leslie Turner to settle Turner's claim that the reason he failed in a 2004 assignment was that he had been "overpromoted" to the job because he is black.

Turner explained that he had been given a job as a guard for Prince Charles and then as a guard for Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, without adequate training and, as a result, made mistakes that caused him to be reassigned.

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