Organic sex toys 

Lead Story

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 hand-crankable models, eliminating the need for batteries). Some Catholic Church officials have also embraced the concept to further denounce chemical and latex birth controls, re-characterizing the traditional "rhythm" family planning as the back-to-nature detection of ovulation via body signals.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

• The British retailer Debenhams announced in September that it would begin selling men's briefs whose opening is more accessible from the left side, for left-handers who have been forced for decades to manipulate a right-side opening. Previously, said a Debenhams executive, "(L)eft-handed men have 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."

• Troubling Products: (1) Mattel is accepting pre-orders for the April 2010 release of the newest doll in the Barbie/Ken line, the spiffily dressed Palm Beach Sugar Daddy Ken (apparently to be showcased with a much younger, trophy-type Barbie). (2) Even more troubling (but so far only a prototype) is Alex Green's "Placenta Teddy Bear," exhibited in London in September and Newcastle, England, in October at the "(re)design" showcase of "sustainable toys" with children's themes. After the placenta is cured and dried, it is treated with an emulsifier to render it pliable and cut into strips with which to stitch Teddy together, thus "unify(ing)" mother and baby.

Animal Weird 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 its three older female gorillas were almost ecstatic. Shown posters of "Yeboah," the male, female "Zaire" "shrieked in delight"; "Effie" wedged the poster into a tree and stared at it; and "Mjukuu" held the photo close to her chest, "then ate it."

• Gay Vulture Tricks: The births of two chicks on the same day at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo in April was unusual enough but especially noteworthy because of the birds' lineage. Their fathers were a gay vulture couple about 10 years ago, according to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, and zoo caretakers provided them an artificial egg to "incubate" until they could replace the egg with a just-hatched vulture, as if the male-male couple had birthed it. In "an insane coincidence," said a zoo official, the two males eventually separated and paired with females, and those females hatched eggs on the same day last April. Two weeks ago, according to Haaretz, the two chicks achieved independence on the same day and were moved to the zoo's aviary.

• 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, among more than 40 new species from a jungle habitat a half-mile deep inside the centuries-dormant Mount Bosavi volcano crater.

Leading Economic Indicators

• People With Too Much Money: A young, media-shy Chinese woman, identified only as "Mrs. Wang" and photographed in jeans, a 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).

• Circular Reasoning: Surprisingly, the recession otherwise felt in the Phoenix area this year has largely spared one "profession": psychics. An October Arizona Republic report found that while longtime clients tended to reduce their use of astrology and related fields, their business was replaced by a new class of customers desperate to know the future -- those facing financial ruin because of bad home mortgages. (Few, wrote the reporter, seemed to sense the irony of purchasing questionable psychic services to overcome the consequences of questionable mortgage decisions.)

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, intending 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 to pull off the robberies, since he is on oxygen and has to carry around his own tank.

Fine Points of British Law

(1) A September inquest into the 2007 suicide of a 26-year-old woman found that doctors at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital could have saved her, but that because she had executed a living will ordering no treatment, they rebuffed the pleas of family members to treat her because, they said, they feared the woman would sue them if she recovered. (2) An employment judge ruled in September that Tim Nicholson could use the "religion" claim for employment discrimination to sue the firm Grainger PLC, in Newcastle, even though the disputes he had with management were ostensibly just political -- about his fear of global climate change. Judge David Sneath said he found Nicholson's ecology convictions so sincere and all-encompassing that they amounted to religious beliefs.

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 11 pounds 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 all drugs seized.

A News of the Weird Classic (October 2002)

Performance-Enhancing Substances: University of Wisconsin-Madison veterinarians said in September 2002 that they now have the technology to detect the fraudulent use of three udder-beautifying schemes employed on show cows at dairy exhibits. Forty percent of a cow's grade is on how full, symmetrical and smooth her udders are (but unlike in, say, human beauty contests, cow udders are important only for their milk-producing potential). Tests of the milk can detect whether saline was injected into the udder, and ultrasound can reveal whether the udder has received isobutane gas "foamies" or a liquid silver protein that does for the udder what Botox does for human wrinkles.




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Chuck Shepherd

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