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News of the Weird 

Lead Story: Five of the 10 best-selling novels in Japan in 2007 were originally composed, and serialized, on cell phones, thumbed out by women who had never written novels, for readers who mostly had never before read one. The genre's dominating plotlines are affairs of the heart, and its characteristics, obviously, are simplicity of plot and character and brevity of expression (lest authors' sore thumbs and readers' tired eyes bring down the industry). Said one successful cell phone writer, for a January dispatch in the New York Times, her audience doesn't read works by "professional writers" because "their sentences are too difficult to understand."

Science on the Cutting Edge: Latest Ape-Human News: The 4th Texas Court of Appeals in January affirmed a lower court decision that monkeys and chimpanzees have no legal right to file lawsuits against an animal preserve for mistreatment. In Apeldoorn, Netherlands, however, one prominent member of the family is full of human nature: Sibu, an orangutan at the Apenheul Primate Park, has so far rejected all overtures to mate with other orangutans and instead appears smitten with blond female zookeepers, especially those with tattoos, according to an October Reuters dispatch.

To learn how cockroaches socialize, a research team from Free University of Brussels created tiny robots programmed to act like cockroaches, doused them with the proper pheromones and set them free within crowds of cockroaches to see if they could influence behavior. While some of the robots coaxed real cockroaches to follow them into an unshaded area (away from a dark area that most normally prefer), nearly half of the robots, despite programming, fell under the "spell" of the real ones and headed for the darkness.

Leading Economic Indicators: It was not only banks in the United States that freely loaned money over the last few years, but also those in India, and not surprisingly, many of their debtors have recently run into trouble making payments. Indian banks, inexperienced at collecting from so many defaulting consumers, often prefer to hire "goondas" (thugs) to settle debts the old-fashioned way, according to a January Wall Street Journal report. Though iron-bar beatings are frowned upon, some bankers say it's their only recourse because of the numbingly slow pace of the Indian legal system.

Would News of the Weird Exist Without Alcohol? 1) On Nov. 18, two inebriated men in separate cars, driving by the Carpet Classic Floor Studio in Highland Township, Mich., lost control at the same time, and both smashed into the store. 2) Christopher Dougherty, 22, the subject of a "drunk pedestrian" police call in Kingsport, Tenn., on Oct. 14, was tracked to a Hardee's restaurant, where he was face-down in a plate of gravy. 3) Tina Williams was arrested in St. Augustine, Fla., on Super Bowl Sunday, charged with DUI and failure to have her 1-year-old daughter seat-belted or in a car seat. However, a case of Busch beer was safely buckled up in the front seat.

The Weirdo-American Community: Police in Madison, Wis., believe they ended the spree of vandal defecations in an apartment house on Schroeder Road (laundry room, hallways, items of clothing) with the January arrest of Ronnie Ballard, 19. At Ballard's first court appearance, Dane County Court Commissioner Todd Meurer set bail at $1,400 and issued a ruling he said he never imagined having to make: As a condition of release, should Ballard make bail, Meurer ordered him to defecate only in toilets.

Least Competent Criminals: A 53-year-old man from Vernon, British Columbia, was arrested in January and charged with robbing a CIBC bank. He had left his 20-year-old companion in the getaway car listening to the radio, but when the alleged robber got in with the stash, they discovered that the car would not start because the radio had drained the battery. The pair was captured in a nearby bakery, where they had fled, as law enforcement was plentiful in the area since the CIBC bank is located in a building with a Mounted Police station.

Recurring Themes: Undignified Deaths: 1) A 25-year-old woman jumped to her death from a department store roof in Tokyo in November and, as sometimes happens with such suicides, she landed on a pedestrian (who was hospitalized in serious condition). 2) At least five people choked to death in Japan over New Year's, as usual, from eating the extremely sticky "mochi" rice cakes that are a staple of the holiday. 3) In Ogden, Utah, in December, a 73-year-old woman was accidentally fatally run over by a motor home. It was unclear whether the first pass over her was fatal, but the driver behaved as others have: After feeling a thumping sound, he said, he stopped and backed up to see what he had hit, thus driving over the body a second time.

Readers' Choice: 1) In Chaparral, N.M., in December, a loaded .357 Magnum was being traced by two men onto a pattern to create a custom tattoo design, but somehow, the gun went off. Both men were hit by the same bullet, one in the hand and the other in the arm. 2) A 77-year-old man in Des Moines, Iowa, who was trying to unclog his septic tank on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, lost his balance and fell in, head first with his legs sticking up. He remained in that position for about an hour until his wife saw him and called for help.

© 2008 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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