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Famous frozen heads, high-maintenance goddesses and more

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LEAD STORY: The human brain's 100 billion neurons may have such specific functions that a few electrically charge only upon recognition of a single celebrity, such as Oprah Winfrey or Bill Clinton. UCLA researchers, studying the healthy cells of pre-op epilepsy patients, inadvertently discovered this unusual property, which apparently varies with individuals but remains internally consistent, whether the celebrity is represented by picture, name or sound. Patients were presented "hundreds of stimuli," one researcher told the Wall Street Journal in October, but "the neuron would respond to only one or two." For example, neurons were found that reacted only to Jennifer Aniston, only to "The Simpsons," or only to Mother Teresa.

THE CONTINUING CRISIS: In 2002, following an acrimonious family debate, the head of late baseball slugger Ted Williams was cryogenically frozen, in the hope that science will some day learn how to revive dead people. An employee of the Arizona lab that stores the head recently disclosed some inside shenanigans, according to a September report in the New York Daily News. According to the employee, to keep Williams' head from sticking to the inside of its storage carton, the head was placed on an empty Bumble Bee tuna fish can inside the container, but the can itself then stuck to the head and had to be whacked off with a monkey wrench. (Since the lab's work is secretive, only first-person reports are likely to emerge on this story.)
    High-Maintenance Goddesses: In Ahmedabad District, India, in September, Ramveer Singh Baghel, 35, sliced off his tongue as an offering to the goddess Amba. His sacrifice made him an instant deity in the local temple, delaying his trip to the hospital. And two weeks later, in a village in Bargarh District, India, a 19-year-old woman cut out her tongue, hoping, she said, that the Shiva temple's resident goddess would halt the woman's imminent arranged marriage and allow her to pick someone closer to her age.
    Adventure in the Bush: In June, after a monitored, endangered marsupial (a "woylie") was killed in West Australia, scientists set out to recover the expensive radio collar transmitter it was wearing, but as they approached the signal, a 6-foot-long python swallowed the woylie and collar. The scientists captured the snake, intending to wait for the collar to pass through, but poachers broke into the Department of Environment and Conservation's shelter and stole the python, surely intending to sell it. According to a June report in the West Australian, the scientists, aided by authorities, eventually picked up the radio transmissions again, arrested one poacher, and freed the snake from its impending life of captivity.
    In a delicate, two-hour procedure at a hospital in Newport Beach, Calif., in September, firefighters carefully sawed off the inch-thick metal dumbbell-tightening ring into which a man had inserted his penis three days earlier. He told surgeons his plan was to lengthen the organ, to, as he put it, "make me the chief of my tribe." By the time he got to the hospital, his member was swollen to more than twice its normal size, and sawing the ring off (without cutting the skin) was the only way to save it.

BRIGHT IDEAS: The mayor of the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret, faced with an overcrowded highway D909 through town, "solved" the problem recently by making the street one-way, sending traffic speedily into the adjacent town of Clichy-la-Garenne. That city's mayor (a political rival of the Levallois-Perret mayor) reacted by making his portion of D909 one-way back toward Levallois-Perret, creating a dilemma at the city limit. Other authorities are working to resolve the impasse.
    Chutzpah! In the tiny east Texas town of Tenaha, police allegedly extorted traveling motorists by subjecting them to bogus traffic stops, perhaps finding small amounts of drugs, and then offering to forgo prosecution if the motorists would forfeit their cars and other property. The forfeited items were then sold to fund a special police recreation account. Last year, the ACLU of Texas filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against both the police and local prosecutor Lynda Russell, and in September 2009, Russell asked the state attorney general if she could pay her legal expenses from the alleged extorted recreation account.

HYPERACTIVE SENIORS: 1) Ella Orko, 86, was arrested in Chicago in August (her 61st arrest) and charged with shoplifting $252 worth of groceries and sundries (including anti-wrinkle cream). 2) Earlier this year, Richard Ramsey, 77, finally fulfilled a dream he said he'd had since age 13: He surgically became a woman. He had been living occasionally as Renee Ramsey following a 20-year military career, partly spent as a Green Beret.

FINE POINTS OF LAW: Judge James Morley dismissed animal cruelty charges in September against former Moorestown, N.J., police officer Robert Melia Jr., who had been caught in 2006 attempting to sexually gratify himself using calves' mouths. Because the state has no anti-bestiality statute, Melia was charged with animal cruelty, but Morley said he was uncertain whether the acts were "cruel" or merely confusing. He reasoned that calves would normally recognize an appendage in their mouths as the prelude to food. If the calf could speak, said Morley, it might merely say, "Where's the milk? I'm not getting any milk."

FETISHES ON PARADE: 1) Jerry Lowery, 38, surrendered to police in Milwaukee in July in connection with three thefts of expensive eyeglasses from local retailers. He admitted that he "really [likes] to be around glasses" and has had this "problem" for about 15 years. 2) Police in Commerce, Texas, arrested a man in September and charged him with twice approaching a female clerk at Commerce Hardware, holding up a piece of paper with powder on it and blowing it into her face to provoke sneezing. Said police Chief Kerry Crews: "He becomes aroused by females sneezing. ... In my entire career I've never heard of anything like this."

LEAST COMPETENT CRIMINALS: Major Denial: In September, David McKay, 28, finally pleaded guilty in Regina, Saskatchewan, to obstruction of justice after initially lying to police officers who were trying to serve a warrant on him from an earlier incident. McKay had repeatedly claimed that he was "Matthew," and not "David McKay," even at the station house, when a search revealed that "David McKay" was tattooed on his shoulder.

UNDIGNIFIED DEATHS: 1) A 40-year-old man accidentally fatally shot himself in Imperial, Mo., in September while teaching gun safety to his girlfriend. The gun fired when he was quizzing her to recognize whether a gun's safety mechanism was engaged or not. 2) Tom Elton, 54, and Brenda Blondell, 59, both convicted murderers who became prison-rights activists, eventually won parole, continued their community work together in the Vancouver, British Columbia, area, and married each other. However, in June, police arrested Elton and charged him with murdering Blondell.

A NEWS OF THE WEIRD CLASSIC (SEPTEMBER 2006): In August 2006, the St. Petersburg Times profiled Michael Wiley, 39, of Port Richey, Fla., an enthusiastic driver despite having lost both arms and half a leg in a childhood accident. Wrote the Times: "He guides the key into the ignition with his mouth. Turns it with his toes. Shifts with his knee. Bites the headlight switch. Jams his stump of a left arm into the steering wheel and whips it around." On the minus side, his license was revoked long ago, and reckless driving charges flourish, including the latest, one day after the Times story ran. (And three weeks later, he was charged with domestic assault, using his forehead.)

© 2009 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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