To soothe the savage beast

The debut CD from the Thai Elephant Orchestra (Lampang, Thailand) was scheduled for December release, featuring six pachyderm prodigies playing crude versions of traditional instruments (drum, gong, bass, xylophone) and recorded intact, without overdubbing, to create music that (in the words of a New York Times writer) "strike`s` some Western listeners as haunting, others as monotonous." The CD's American producers, pointing to much academic research on elephants' natural musical abilities, said they plan a second album ("easy listening," and engineered, they said, to make it more accessible to a wider audience).

Friends in high places

In November, federal drug officials busted what one agent called "the world's largest LSD lab," run from an abandoned missile site near Wamego, Kan. Indicted were two educated establishmentarians as the alleged principals: William L. Pickard Jr., 55, deputy director of a University of California Drug Policy Analysis program (and an expert on the illegal drug trade in Russia and a vegetarian, nonsmoking marathon runner with a master's degree in public policy from Harvard), and Clyde Apperson, 45, a Silicon Valley computer consultant. Pickard obtained personal bail recommendations from the San Francisco district attorney and from a British lord.

Alive and kicking

In December, a man in Kazakhstan turned up alive at his own funeral after surviving a makeshift burial by friends in a shallow grave after he appeared to be electrocuted on power lines. And in October, Ben Holmes, 48, missing and declared dead in 1988, was shot by his ex-wife in Youngstown, Ohio, when he dropped in on her after a 20-year absence to claim half of her furniture.

Sacred bonds

Brazil's Catholic Church issued $650,000 worth of "shares" on the Rio de Janeiro stock exchange in September, aimed at institutional investors who want to contribute to the church's social programs and who receive, instead of dividends, detailed reports on how their money is being used. More capitalistic is the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., which in September registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to make a public offering of shares in an ancillary real-estate venture, which will start by developing land adjacent to the church.

Listen up

Listen up

USA Today reported in September on New Zealander Geoff Marsland's new CD consisting of 64 minutes of lawn-mower noise, designed for those wishing to retaliate against annoying neighbors. Previously, Marsland released 64 minutes' worth of a crying baby, for couples trying to talk themselves out of becoming parents.

Not enough hours in the day

Federal investigators in November charged Lake Forest, Ill., physician Krishnaswami Sriram with Medicare fraud, based on records indicating that at least twice Sriram worked 70-hour days and once saw 187 patients in a single day, 131 of them in house calls. Records also showed, according to prosecutors, that he saw 32 patients subsequent to their dates of death and 49 patients one day in January 1999 while the city was virtually closed by a blizzard.

Lifetime warranty

Massachusetts inmate Frederick Ford, serving eight years for paying a hit man $11,000 in 1999 to kill two former associates (and convicted after the "hit man" turned out to be an undercover federal agent), petitioned a court in Boston in September to have his money returned, since the killings were never carried out.

Value judgment

In October, Ohio inmate Donald Harmon filed a $500,000 lawsuit against his former attorney Martin Emrich, whom Harmon says was supposed to bribe a judge with $10,000 of Harmon's money to get a favorable sentence; Harmon, however, wound up with a sentence almost double what he expected and now complains that he didn't get his money's worth from the bribe.

Dead on the inside

In October, Dee Blyth reported a burglary of her home in Chadwell Heath, Essex, England, in which thieves had helped themselves to what they thought was her stash of cocaine ("charlie" in local slang), leaving behind the residue of cocaine "lines" on a table after lifting several electronic appliances and jewelry worth about $3,500. However, as Blyth told police and reporters, gleefully, the container of powder on her mantle (labeled "Newfoundland Charlie") was not a coke stash but was an urn containing the ashes of her late dog, whose name the label bore.

A quick study

Among the for-credit curriculum now in Oberlin College's Experimental College is a course on the "life and times" of Drew Barrymore.

Next up, the decoder ring

Engineer Masaaki Fukumoto, 36, of the Japanese firm NTT DoCoMo, announced in October that he had developed a prototype of a wireless telephone worn as a wristband and functioning via a device that converts audio signals into vibrations. Incoming calls cause the wrist to vibrate. Speaking requires holding the wristband close to the mouth, and listening involves transferring the audio signal to the eardrum, which is done by the user's sticking his finger in his ear.

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