News of the Weird

Nov. 19, 2009
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Psychics Rise in Phoenix

Though the Phoenix area, like most places in the country, has been hit by the recession, surprisingly the down economy has largely spared one "profession": psychics. An October Arizona Republic report found that while longtime clients were often reducing their use of astrology and related fields, that lost business was being replaced by a new class of customers desperate to know the future—specifically, those facing financial ruin because of bad home mortgages or job loss. Few of the customers seemed to sense the irony of purchasing questionable psychic services to overcome the consequences of questionable mortgage decisions or other financial struggles.


Recurring Themes

Drug-Runners Who Needed to Keep a Lower Profile: (1) Michael Dennis, 22, of Mahoning Township, Pa., dared to speed in May, police said, even though he had 100 packets of heroin in the back seat. (2) Mark Smith of Winslow, Ariz., dared to run a stop sign in Philadelphia in September, police said, even though he was carrying 5 kilos of heroin in the back of his SUV. (3) The driver of an 18-wheeler dared to make an illegal lane change on Interstate 15 in Riverside County, Calif., in August, deputies said, even though he was hauling 14 tons of marijuana. All were arrested, and the drugs were seized.


The Entrepreneurial Spirit

  • The British retailer Debenhams announced in September that it would begin selling men's briefs with an opening that is more accessible for left-handers who have been forced for decades to manipulate a right-side opening. According to a Debenhams executive, previously "left-handed men [had] to reach much further into their pants, performing a Z-shaped maneuver through two 180-degree angles before achieving the result that right-handed men perform with ease."
  • Mattel is accepting pre-orders for the April 2010 release of the newest doll in the Barbie/Ken line, the spiffy Palm Beach Sugar Daddy Ken (rumor has it that this version of Ken will be showcased with a much younger, trophy-wife-type Barbie).


Green Toys

For some consumers, good environmental citizenship is important even when choosing among sex accessories. No longer will they tolerate plastic personal vibrators made with the softeners called phthalates; or body lubricants that contain toxic chemicals typically found in, say, antifreeze; or leather restraints from slaughtered cattle. In an October issue, Time magazine described a market of organic lubricants, biodegradable whips and handcuffs, vegan condoms, and glass or mahogany vibrators (even models with hand-cranks, to eliminate the need for batteries).


Animal News

  • CNN, reporting from the London Zoo in August, described the excitement surrounding news that the zoo would soon acquire a 12-year-old male gorilla from a preserve in France. Zoo officials were pleased, but the zoo’s three older female gorillas were almost ecstatic. Shown posters of Yeboah, the male gorilla, a female named Zaire "shrieked in delight." Effie, another of the females, wedged the poster into a tree and stared at it, while Mjukuu held the photo close to her chest, "then ate it."
  • Among the species discovered recently in Papua New Guinea were tiny bear-like creatures, frogs with fangs, fish that grunt, kangaroos that live in trees and what is probably the world's largest rat (with no fear of humans). Scientists from Britain, the United States and Papua New Guinea announced the findings in September. The new creatures are among more than 40 new species from a jungle habitat a half-mile deep inside the crater of Mount Bosavi, a dormant volcano that last erupted 200,000 years ago.


Leading Economic Indicators

  • People With Too Much Money: A young, media-shy Chinese woman, identified only as "Mrs. Wang" and photographed in jeans, T-shirt and baseball cap, purchased an 18-month-old Tibetan mastiff in September for a reported 4 million yuan (about $585,000). She ordered a motorcade of 30 luxury cars to meet her and the dog on their arrival in Xi'an, in Shaanxi province. The price is almost four times the previous reported high for the purchase of a dog (a cloned Labrador, by a Florida family).


Hyperactive Seniors

  • Not Too Old to Do Her Own Hit: Elsa Seman, 71, was shot and killed in North Versailles, Pa., in September, when she was mistaken for a prowler. According to police, Seman had gone to the home of her ex-boyfriend at night and, dressed in black, commando-style, was lying in wait in his yard with a pistol, allegedly with the intent to kill him. A neighbor called in the report of a prowler, and a police officer arriving at the scene fatally shot Seman.
  • Not Too Sickly for a Career in Bank Robbery: Police in Southern California know what the man looks like (from surveillance video), but have not yet apprehended the well-dressed, 70ish man who has robbed four banks since August, with the latest being a Bank of America in Rancho Santa Fe in October. The man has shown special dexterity in pulling off the robberies, since he is on oxygen and has to carry around his own tank.


2009 Chuck Shepherd


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