-It is well known that hospitals charge for medical supplies far in excess of what the products would cost at drugstores, but an August New York Times investigation of “saline drips” vividly demonstrated the disconnect. Though Medicare reimburses $1.07 for a 1-liter plastic bag of saltwater (supplied by a subsidiary of Morton Salt), White Plains (N.Y.) Hospital charged patients' insurance companies like Aetna $91 per bag. Other hospitals decline to charge per-bag, listing only “IV therapy” of, for example, $787 for hooking up the drip.
-From the world's cosmetic-surgery capital (South Korea, where one woman in five has had at least one procedure) comes the “Smile Lipt” offered by Aone Plastic Surgery in the city of Yongin, designed to produce a permanent smile (associated with success). The Smile Lipt turns downward-drooping lip corners upward, to allow a persistent smile resembling that of Batman's nemesis, The Joker.
-Among the more repugnant paraphilias covered in News of the Weird is toilet-peeping -- men who set up underneath the seats in public outhouses (sometimes wearing a raincoat) and wait for a user to answer nature's call. In August, Kenneth Enlow, 52, pleaded guilty after a woman found him the month before in a privy in White Water Park in Tulsa County, Okla., “standing with his head and shoulders out of the hole ... covered in feces,” according to a deputy. Enlow's initial explanation was that his girlfriend had knocked him unconscious with a tire iron and dumped him there.
-Another Hard-Working Lawyer: The Dayton Daily News reported in September that an audit of Dayton lawyer Ben Swift (the highest-paid court-appointed public defender in Ohio, at $142,900 in a recent year) revealed several invoices demanding government payment for workdays of more than 20 hours, and in one case, 29. Swift's attorney said his client was guilty only of bad record-keeping.
-Patients with gargantuan tumors, but intimidated by the cost of treatment, create the possibility that by the time they can afford an operation, the tumor itself will be heavier than the post-surgery patient. A 63-year-old man in Bakersfield, Calif., finally had surgery in August, after 14 years' waiting during which his set of tumors grew to 200 pounds. Bakersfield surgeon Vip Dev noted that the sprawled tumors dragged the floor when the man sat and that the surgery was complicated by the patient's shape, which could not be accommodated by the hospital's MRI and CT scan machines.
-In 2010, Chinese agencies stepped up “birth tourism” packages for rich pregnant women to book vacations in America timed to their due dates -- to exploit the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of citizenship to anyone born here and thus giving the Chinese children future competitive advantages against non-Americans who must apply for U.S. visas. A September USA Today report indicated that more Chinese mothers now prefer to land in the U.S. territory of Northern Mariana Islands (where birth also bestows citizenship), to the consternation of Islands officials, who would prefer traditional Chinese tourists instead of the “birthers.” (Historians agree that the 14th Amendment birth right was aimed at assuring citizenship for freed slaves.)
-At Hong Kong's traditional “Hungry Ghost” festival in August, in which people burn fake money on top of ancestors' graves to support their afterlife styles, a weaker economy and inflation seem to have upped the ante for the gifts. An August Wall Street Journal dispatch noted that the denominations of burnable “currency” sold in stores have appreciated, including one “valued” at one trillion Hong Kong dollars (US$130 billion). (Some festival-goers asked, sensibly, about how the ancestor could expect change from such a bill if he needed to make a small afterlife purchase.)
-The family of the great Native American Olympic athlete and Oklahoma native Jim Thorpe (1888-1953) was so disappointed that the then-governor of Oklahoma would not properly honor Thorpe on his death that one faction of his family moved the body to Pennsylvania, where he had no discernible ties but where municipal officials eagerly offered to name a town after him. Since then, Jim Thorpe, Pa. (current population, 4,800), has withstood legal challenges seeking to return the body to Oklahoma, including a recent federal court decision upholding the entire town as a Native American “museum.” One grandson said that Thorpe spoke to him at a sweat lodge in Texas in 2010, telling him to leave the body in Jim Thorpe, with “no more pain created in my name.”
-Anthony Alleyne appeared in News of the Weird in 2003 for turning his Hinckley, England, home into a replica of the command center of Star Trek's starship Enterprise (including transporter control, warp core drive, infinity mirror, etc.). When he later tried to sell it, he learned that, somehow, potential buyers failed to value the house as much as Alleyne imagined. In September 2013, Alleyne was back in the news as Leicester Crown Court sentenced him to 34 months in prison for viewing child pornography -- a diversion that he blamed on years of depression following marital difficulties and of course the brutal real estate market.
-The Raelian sect initially made News of the Weird in 1998 when “Bishop” Brigitte Boisselier ran a human-cloning start-up planning to charge $200,000 to make identical twins. Raelian's core belief is that humanity descended from extraterrestrials arriving on spaceships whose inhabitants explained to Raelian founder Claude Vorilhon that life's purpose is to experience sexual pleasure. Recently, a Raelian “priestess,” Nadine Gary, has turned the sect's attention to counseling victims of the anti-pleasure female genital mutilation, which, though horrifyingly painful, remains traditional among some African societies, and enlisted a prominent U.S. surgeon to undo the procedure, pro bono. Wrote London's The Guardian, in an August dispatch from the surgeon's San Francisco clinic, “(J)ust 12 minutes of delicate scalpel work (to restore the clitoris) removes a lifetime of discomfort.”
-The story of Kopi Luwak coffee is by now a News of the Weird staple, begun in 1993 with the first reports that a super-premium market existed for coffee beans digested by certain Asian civet cats, collected, washed and brewed. In June, news broke that civets were being mistreated -- captured from the wild and caged solely for their bean-adulterating usefulness. In August the American Chemical Society reported that a “gas chromatography and mass spectrometry” test had finally been developed to assure buyers that their $227-a-pound Kopi Luwak beans had, indeed, been excreted by genuine Asian civets. (Thus, Kopi Luwak drinkers, at up to $80 a cup in California, can sip their brews without fear of being ripped off.)