Lead Story

The New York Times and the Associated Press reported in April on surgical procedures in which doctors avoid making major incisions by instead accessing the inside of the body through pre-existing orifices. Inspired in part by an appendectomy performed in India in 2004 via the patient’s mouth (though watching a video of the operation reportedly made even some surgeons shudder), proponents say natural-opening surgery can reduce scarring, pain, and recovery time. Doctors have performed spinal surgery and removed large brain tumors by going through patients’ noses, and in a recent two-week period teams in New York City and Strasbourg, France, extracted female patients’ gallbladders via the vagina. The leader of the New York team told the Times that once methods are developed to control digestive-tract leakage, the same surgery could likely be performed on men through the rectum.

The Weirdo-American Community

In May a judge in Yonkers, New York, dismissed the most recent of many lawsuits filed by a public-access TV host known as Glendora; this one alleged that a cable-company employee had “poisoned” sponsors against her. Of the 360 pages of largely handwritten documentation she offered to support her suit, the judge wrote, “The record should reflect that the overwhelming majority of the material submitted is completely irrelevant, consisting of multiple copies of a 60-year-old photo of the plaintiff with Bob Hope, sheet music, commentary about the impressive geographic expanse of the City of Yonkers . . . details of how she ‘writhed’ while her chauffeur shot insulin into his abdomen, [and] an account of a near-miss with a deer on the Taconic State Parkway.”

Animals Getting It On

Last month the New York Times reported from a Connecticut waterfowl sanctuary on ecologist Patricia Brennan and her study of duck sex. Though most bird species have no visible genitalia, the males of some types grow an external phallus, and in certain ducks this takes the form of a corkscrew-shaped tentacle that’s sometimes as long as the bird’s entire body. Scientists had for years assumed the oversize phallus evolved through simple competition among males to fertilize females. But after her research revealed that the females of these species have unusually long, complex reproductive tracts that spiral in the opposite direction, Brennan proposed an “arms-race” theory: as the females developed these elaborate tracts to block sperm from unwanted mates, the males developed longer, more flexible organs in response.

Leading Economic Indicators

Business Week ran an April postmortem on Kongo Gumi, a Japanese construction firm that until its demise last year was the oldest continuously operating family business in the world. The article noted that for most of its run, which began in 578 AD, the company had mainly stuck to building Buddhist temples; only after getting swept up in the Japanese real estate boom of the 80s did it take on the excessive debt that finally did it in.

Recurring Themes

More people who apparently weighed their options and decided to get shot: John Amos of Martins Ferry, Ohio, was charged with obstruction of justice in March after he allegedly staged an attempt on his life in hopes of avoiding his upcoming trial for rape. Authorities said Amos’s alleged accomplice tried to back out, but Amos threatened him, they fought over the gun, and ultimately Amos successfully guided the barrel to his own stomach. And in Baltimore in May, 20-year-old David Briggs and 22-year-old Philip Anderson told police they’d sustained minor gunshot wounds during a gas station holdup. When security-camera footage showed otherwise, they then claimed they’d had a friend shoot them so they could avoid fraternity initiation rites at their college. But this story fell apart too–among other problems, Briggs wasn’t even a student. Soon a third account emerged: Anderson reportedly admitted that Briggs arranged the shooting to avoid being sent to Iraq with the national guard; Anderson apparently took a bullet to bolster his friend’s story. (A military spokesperson confirmed that some guardsmen in Briggs’s battalion would soon be headed for Iraq but said Briggs hadn’t completed enough training to go along.)

Cultural Diversity

Reuters reported in May on Lal Bihari and his campaign for office in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. His platform: to protect the rights of what he says are nearly 3,000 state residents who have been declared legally dead by relatives trying to steal their assets. Due to massive inefficiency and corruption in the legal system, such people typically have a very difficult time proving they’re still alive; Bihari, 52, said a scheming uncle had him declared dead in 1976 and only after 18 years of various gambits–he once kidnapped his cousin in hopes of forcing a trial–was he able to get the ruling overturned.

Least Competent Corrections Officials

Timothy Rouse, a 19-year-old accused of beating an elderly man, was released from the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center outside Louisville after the facility received a fax in which the state supreme court seemingly ordered that he be freed. Not until two weeks later did anyone notice the fax wasn’t typed on any sort of letterhead, contained several grammatical errors, and had been sent from a nearby grocery store. (Rouse was soon picked up at his mother’s home.)


John Brandrick, 62, told British reporters in May that he was considering a lawsuit against Royal Cornwall Hospital, near Truro, England, over a possible misdiagnosis he received there two years ago. After being told pancreatic cancer would likely kill him within a year, he quit work, gave away many of his possessions, and spent his savings enjoying himself. It later turned out he only had pancreatitis, and now he’s broke.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

Thieves broke into the MGM Galleri in Oslo, Norway, in February and stole a work of art called Relativ Verdi (“Relative Value”), a collage consisting of 1,000 100-kroner bills (equivalent to about $16,400) pasted onto a canvas. The artist, Jan Christensen, told the news agency NTB, “We were afraid of something like this.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Chuck Belshwender.