Among the oppressive patriarchal customs that remain in force in Saudi Arabia is a requirement that females obtain their father’s (or guardian’s) permission before marrying — even women who are profoundly independent, such as the 42-year-old surgeon (licensed to practice in the UK and Canada as well as Saudi Arabia) who was the subject of an Associated Press report in November. One activist, estimating that nearly 800,000 Saudi women are in the same position, complained that a Saudi woman “can’t even buy a phone without the guardian’s permission.” The surgeon took her father to court recently, but the judge had not rendered a decision by press time.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
• Alabama is the only remaining state to ban the sale of sex toys, but nevertheless the Huntsville shop Pleasures recently expanded by moving to a former bank building in order to use three drive-thru windows to sell dildos. (Since state law prohibits the sale unless used for “bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial, or law enforcement purposes,” customers must provide a brief written description of their medical or other “legitimate” condition in order to make the purchase.)
• Wei Xinpeng, 55, a boatman in a village near industrial Lanzhou, China, collects bodies from the Yellow River (the murdered, the suicides, the accidentally drowned), offering them back to grieving relatives for a price. Distraught visitors pay a small browsing fee to check his inventory and then, if they identify a loved one, up to the equivalent of $500 to take the corpse home. Said Wei, “I bring dignity to the dead”; no overstatement for him since his own son drowned in the river (yet his body was never recovered).
• Nov. 3 was National Sandwich Day, and several U.S. eateries capitalized by mixing up bar drinks in honor of such favorites as the cheeseburger, the BLT (bacon-infused rum), and the PB&J (peanut syrup, strawberry jam, banana and rum). The mixologist at Toronto’s Tipicular Fixin’s makes his cheeseburger cocktail with beef stock reduction, Roma tomatoes and iceberg lettuce water, garnished with a cheddar crisp and a kosher dill.
• Researchers at the University of Queensland revealed in November that parrot fish, which reside on Australia’s reefs and need protection from blood-sucking, lice-like parasites, shelter themselves at bedtime with blankets of “snot.” Typically, the fish’s mouth-slobber, once it starts dribbling out, takes about an hour to ooze into place.
• Medical Marvels: (1) Six-year-old Alexis McCarter, of Pelzer, S.C., underwent surgery in December to remove the safety pin that she had stuck up her nose as a baby and which was lodged in her sinus cavity (having sprung open only after it was inside her, causing headaches, nosebleeds and ear infections). (2) Sharon Wilson of Doncaster, England, finally got a worthwhile answer for her nearly 10-year odyssey through a range of doctors’ complicated misdiagnoses. She had complained of many, many days when she vomited more than 100 times, at “almost exactly” 10-minute intervals. The previous diagnosis was a tumor in her pituitary gland, but another specialist nailed it: “Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome.”
• Researcher Patricia Brennan of Yale University told a conference in July that a duck’s penis may vary in length from year to year — depending on their competition that year. Their penises waste away after each mating season and regrow, and Brennan found that they regrow longer if there are other males around. (Female ducks are known to have corkscrew-shaped vaginas, and thus a centimeter or two can make a big difference for success in mating.)
• What’s Weird is That it’s Legal: The pharmaceutical company Genentech makes both Lucentis (a $2,000 injection for relieving age-related macular degeneration) and Avastin (an anti-cancer drug that many retina specialists prescribe for age-related macular degeneration because it is just as effective yet costs about $50). Using Avastin instead of Lucentis saves Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars a year, reported The New York Times in November, and, obviously, every dollar’s savings is a dollar less income for Genentech. In response in October, the company commenced a lucrative rebate program for physicians, worth tens of thousands of dollars, that apparently passes as legal according to Medicare guidelines, but said one Ohio specialist, “There’s no way to look at that without calling it bribery.”
News of the Overprivileged
(1) Cell phones and GPS devices have led national-park visitors to do “stupid” things, confident that they will be saved from themselves, a Grand Teton National Park spokesperson told The New York Times in August — such as the lost, cold hiker who called rangers to ask for hot chocolate or the visitors flummoxed by cold weather who wanted a personal escort back to their campsite. In August, a party of hikers in Illinois called for (and received) three separate rescues in 24 hours. (2) The Milwaukee teachers’ union filed an equal-rights lawsuit in August challenging health-insurance cutbacks by the budget-challenged Milwaukee Public Schools. The union was denouncing the elimination of Viagra as discrimination against men.
The Weirdo-American Community
• In November, at a burglary scene near Seneca, S.C., deputies found Noah Smith, 31, naked and apparently drugged, perhaps on hallucinogenic mushrooms, and with a string-like object protruding from his buttocks. Smith was X-rayed, revealing (according to the deputies’ report, which made its way to the Internet) that the object in his rectum was a “mouse.” However, several days later, the sheriff’s office clarified that the object was a “computer mouse.” Smith told emergency room personnel that he had no memory of the incident.
Armed and Clumsy (all-new!)
People who accidentally shot themselves recently: Daniel McDaniels, 31, Sarasota, Fla., “trying to ward off a skunk” (October). Sanford Rothman, 63, Boulder, Colo., while sleepwalking (October). Reserve police officer Kenneth Shannon, 68, Gary, Ind., in the hand while loading his gun (and the bullet went on to hit his partner) (October). Sheriff’s Deputy Miguel Rojas, Crestview, Fla., in the leg while firearms training (July). Darrell Elam, 52, Peshastin, Wash., in the buttocks as he holstered his gun (August). A 48-year-old woman, Clover, S.C., in the jaw while trying to kill a rat (September). A 25-year-old man, Juneau, Alaska, in the head after jokingly telling friends that there is “one way” to find out whether a gun is loaded or not (October 2009).
• Ironies: The man caught in November in Brainerd, Minn., with a computer drive containing 75,000 pornographic videos, including child pornography, was Steven Augustinack, 52, who had one month earlier been named by the Brainerd Jaycees as Citizen of the Year.
An Odd Files Classic (August 2005)
In July (2005), film director David Lynch announced that he had formed a foundation to raise $7 billion to fund 8,000 Transcendental Meditation practitioners to bring world peace by creating a “unified field” of stress-free brain waves over the Earth (which TM’ers accomplish, as they unironically describe it, by detaching their minds from the “thinking process”). Training expenses have increased dramatically in 12 years, for TM maven Dr. John Hagelin only needed $4.2 million in 1993 to bring 4,000 TM’ers to Washington, D.C., to reduce crime for eight weeks, and TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi asked for only $1 billion in 2002 to train 40,000 meditators to calm the world after Sept. 11.