LEAD STORY: But What If the Device Falls Into the Wrong Hands? A 55-year-old British man whose bowel was ruptured in a nearly catastrophic traffic accident has been fitted with a bionic sphincter that opens and closes with a remote controller. Ged Galvin had originally endured 13 surgeries in a 13-week hospital stay and had grown frustrated with using a colostomy bag until surgeon Norman Williams of the Royal London Hospital proposed the imaginative operation. Williams, who was interviewed along with Galvin for a November feature in London's Daily Mail, wrapped a muscle transplanted from Galvin's leg around the sphincter and attached electrodes to tighten or loosen the muscle's grip.
Unreformed Health Care System: The Wisconsin Department of Corrections decided in October that it (i.e., taxpayers) should fund complex facial reconstruction surgery for inmate Daryl Strenke, who is serving 30 years after pleading guilty to murdering his girlfriend. Strenke had shot himself in the face in apparent remorse for the killing, severely disfiguring his mouth and jaw and making it nearly impossible for him to eat or speak normally.
Britain's Safety Weenies: 1) In November, the Solihull Council in Britain's West Midlands County ordered a flooring store to remove the festive balloons it had pinned out front to attract business, calling them hazards. One councilor explained that drivers may be distracted by the colors, and another was concerned that if a balloon came loose, it might possibly float into traffic and lure a child to follow it. 2) In October, Britain's Association of Chief Police Officers prepared a guidebook of instructions for bicycle-duty officers on how to ride a bike. The book was 93 pages long, containing such assistance as a diagram on how to turn left or right ("deployment into a junction"). (Following widespread ridicule, the association decided in November not to release it.)
Examiners from Britain's Health and Safety Executive, inspecting bowling alleys for hazards, considered recommendations (according to a November Daily Mail report) that included erecting barriers over the lanes to prevent bowlers from wandering the alleys and perhaps getting caught in pin-setting machines or, feared one inspector, bowlers injuring themselves trying to knock over pins by hand. The barriers would leave space for the ball to roll under.
The Science of Sex: Wake Forest University's Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which has successfully grown human bladders in the lab using only a few extracted cells sprayed onto a chemical frame that mimics the body's tissues, has so far been unsuccessful at regenerating penises because of the organ's complexity. However, it announced in a November journal article a success with rabbit penises. Four of the 12 rabbits with lab-grown phalluses successfully impregnated females, and in an unexpected finding, the new penises appear not to lessen sexual desire, in that all 12 of the rabbits began mating within one minute of meeting females.
Occasionally, people lose their short-term memory following vigorous sex, according to doctors interviewed for a November CNN report on "transient global amnesia." The condition occurs because blood flow to the brain is restricted by the strenuous activity, temporarily disabling the hippocampus from recording new memory. One sufferer, "Alice," recalled her experience, recounting how she initially cracked a joke about being unable to remember how good the sex was that she just had, and then supposedly repeated the joke over and over, each time as if she had just thought of it.
Common Sense Takes a Vacation: 1) Three men were convicted in August in Kansas City, Mo., of having convinced "numerous" customers to buy 3-inch-by-4-inch laminated "diplomat" cards that, promoters said, would legally free them from ever having to pay taxes or being arrested for any crime. According to the FBI, customers ponied up fees ranging from $450 to $2,000 for the cards. 2) Dr. Yehu Azaz, a wealthy, respected physician, gave up his career in 1991 and gave away all of his possessions, coming under the spell of guru Rena Denton's spiritual healing center in Somerset, England. In a 2009 lawsuit to recover his wealth, Azaz said that despite being an educated professional, he did not realize what he had done until 2003 because he had been brainwashed ("unduly influenced") by the aged guru. (A judge tossed out his lawsuit in July.)
Must Be Something About Septic Systems: After six years of total obstinacy, Janet and Lowell Carlson finally agreed in October to upgrade their farm's septic system in Camden Township, Minn. Until then, the couple had ignored numerous inspections, sheriff's visits and court orders, even though a new system had already been paid for (by escrow funds left by the owner who sold them the farm). The Carlsons' inspiring principle throughout the six years of living with failed plumbing was to challenge the county for its "inconsistent" enforcement of septic upgrades.
Scottish pig farmer Peter Roy, 72, is embroiled in a longstanding dispute with the Perth and Kinross Council over who has the responsibility for repairing the sewage system on his farm in Craigmuir, but has taken a more hardcore approach than the Carlsons. He has saved his sewage in oil barrels stored on his property (now numbering about 80) to the outrage of neighbors. Roy has also periodically stepped up his protests to include leaving full barrels around town.
People With Too Much Money: After Nicolas Cage filed a lawsuit against him for mismanaging the actor's money, Cage's former business manager, Samuel Levin, filed his defense in November, charging Cage with creating his own problems by disregarding Levin's budgetary advice. According to Levin, Cage's 2007 purchases included three houses (costing $33 million), 22 cars (including nine Rolls-Royces) and 47 works of art. By 2008, said Levin, Cage owned 15 houses, four yachts, a Gulfstream jet and an island in the Bahamas.
Least Competent Criminals: Better Planning Needed: 1) Brier Cutlip, 22, and Paul Bragg, 25, who were on parole and prohibited from possessing firearms, were rearrested in December in Elkins, W.Va., when they showed up for a parole appointment. However, they had just come in from a day of hunting and were still wearing orange vests, alerting the parole officer that they had been firing guns all day. 2) Grandville Lindsey, 30, on probation in Beaumont, Texas, after a child-sex conviction and prohibited from visiting any "social" websites, was rearrested in November when he sent a Twitter alert to a woman he had met while in the probation office, asking to include her as an online "friend."
Things You Thought Didn't Happen: British Museum officials announced in September that the hoard of seventh-century Anglo-Saxon gold and silver treasure discovered on land in Staffordshire (at least 1,500 pieces, including crosses and parts of helmets and daggers) would take a year to evaluate fully but could be worth "many times" the 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) archaeologists initially estimated. The treasure was discovered by an unemployed 55-year-old man using one of the widely ridiculed hand-held metal detectors that beachcombers favor to recover loose coins in the sand.
A News of the Weird Classic (April 2001): Hillsborough, England, was the site of a soccer stadium disaster in 1989, in which 96 fans were crushed to death. In March 2001, the government revealed that a police officer who worked at that site beginning in 1998 nonetheless acquired post-traumatic stress disorder from continually imagining the 1989 carnage and for that received a disability settlement from the government of the equivalent of about $560,000. That amount, according to a report in London's Guardian, is more than 100 times what was paid to any of the families of the 96 people who were killed at the site.
© 2009 CHUCK SHEPHERD