Monday, September 20, 2010

Fortean / Oddball News - 9/20/2010


Opossums Run Rampant in Brooklyn!

nypost - In a bizarre attempt to outwit Mother Nature, city officials introduced beady-eyed opossums in Brooklyn years ago to scarf down rats running amok in the borough, according to local officials.

Surprise: Operation opossum didn't work.

Not only do wily rats continue to thrive, but the opossums have become their own epidemic, with bands of the conniving creatures sauntering through yards, plundering garbage cans and noshing on fruit trees.

They've even taken up golf, with two sightings of the whiskered marsupials at the Dyker Heights municipal course in the past week, local officials said.

"They are everywhere," said Theresa Scavo, chairwoman for Community Board 15, which represents Sheepshead Bay and surrounding south Brooklyn neighborhoods.

"Didn't any of those brain surgeons realize that the opossums were going to multiply?"

A city Sanitation spokeswoman said they were not involved with the Brooklyn opossum drop, and the Health Department didn't have any record of it. But Scavo and two city councilmen said city officials spoke about the effort at a 2007 Brooklyn forum.

"City brought possums in to take care of rats," read Community Board 15 notes from the meeting.

The opossums were set free in local parks and underneath the Coney Island boardwalk, with the theory being they would die off once the rats were gobbled up, said Councilman Domenic Recchia (D-Brooklyn).

Instead, the critters have been populating, spreading to Park Slope and Manhattan.

"The population has boomed in recent years," said Josephine Beckmann, district manager for Community Board 10, which represents Bay Ridge. "They climb up in the tree and have a good meal."

The critters have a mouth full of 50 sharp teeth, tend to exude a foul odor, and can occasionally contract rabies, said Stuart Mitchell, an entomologist.

They are nocturnal, and some Brooklynites have become terrified to go into their yards at night.

NOTE: Wow...NYC definitely has a problem. From personal experience, opossums are really hard to get rid of unless you're willing to use shotguns. BTW, opossum are very tasty when cooked properly...though, a bit greasy. Lon

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....get the Corned Beef and Potatoes

Jimmy Hill planted his heirloom cabbage seeds in May and watched in disbelief as one of the mammoth vegetables – dubbed The Hulk – grew to span an incredible 5ft in width.

Grandfather-of-six Jimmy, 53, today revealed he would feed the cabbages, which need to be hacked out the ground with a hacksaw, to neighbours.

Jimmy, of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, said: ”I reckon that by the time they split and are ready for cutting out they should be around 80lb.

”They’re a good talking point and neighbours often ask to come round and have a look. From leaf to leaf they must measure at least 5ft across and are still growing.”

Jimmy also grows giant onions, carrots and cucumbers in the modest rear garden of his home which he shares with wife Jackie, 51.

But he admitted he is at a loss as to how to cultivate and cook his giant crop without becoming sick of cabbages.

Mechanic Jimmy added: ”I like cabbages and my wife is a wonderful cook but I have to admit there are only so many ways you can cook them so I reckon we’ll give them away to neighbours.

”We had cabbage soup with a previous crop. Let’s just say it is an acquired taste.

”People say I should enter shows and grow them professionally but for me it is just a hobby to pas the time.

”I love spending tie int he garden and am pleased to be able to share them with neighbours.”

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Stargazers' Delight

space.com - Stargazers can get a great look at Jupiter on any clear night for the rest of September. The giant planet, always bright, will be especially hard to miss as it approaches closer to Earth than it will at any time until 2022.

In North America this month, Jupiter will be low in the east shortly after twilight, moving higher up toward the southeast as the evening grows late, according to NASA and Sky and Telescope magazine.

Jupiter will be nearest to Earth on the night of Monday, Sept. 20, when it passes 368 million miles (594 million km) away. For comparison, the sun is about 93 million miles (150 million km) from us. But viewers shouldn't despair if they miss the show on the 20th: Jupiter will be nearly as close and bright all month.

Earth orbits the sun in about 365 days. But Jupiter, farther out there, takes 4,332 Earth-days to make the same trip. Therefore, Earth laps Jupiter periodically, on the inside track. As that pass occurs, the two worlds come much closer than when they are on opposite sides of the sun. Because the planets' orbits are not perfect circles, some passes are tighter than others.

This Jupiter sky map shows where to look to see the bright planet on the night of Sept. 20.

This year's close pass should beat out other years to give a spectacular show, with Jupiter coming nearer to Earth than at any time between 1963 and 2022, according to a Sky & Telescope announcement. At the closest point of its previous swing-by in August 2009, for example, Jupiter was more than 7 million miles (11.3 million km) farther away. That translated into the planet appearing 8 percent dimmer, all things considered.

Jupiter is also an extra 4 percent brighter than usual because one of its brown cloud belts has gone missing.

For nearly a year, the giant planet's South Equatorial Belt, usually easy to see in a small telescope, has been hidden under a layer of bright white ammonia clouds. This lets more sunlight reflect off the planet, giving it an overall brightness boost.

Uranus makes an appearance

There's more to see in the heavens right now than just Jupiter. The giant planet is lined up almost perfectly with Uranus at the moment.

Uranus is five times farther away and almost 3,000 times dimmer than Jupiter, so it's invisible to the unaided eye. But binoculars or a telescope — as well as access to a detailed chart — will show Uranus less than 1 degree from Jupiter now through Sept. 24, Sky and Telescope said. (A fist held at arm's length covers about 10 degrees of the sky.)

On the other end of the brightness scale, the full moon joins this celestial scene around the same time, shining above Jupiter on the evening of Sept. 22 and to the left of it on Sept. 23.

Special view of Mercury

Also, this week is one of the few occasions when stargazers will be able to get a good look at Mercury. Though Mercury is very bright, its orbit's extreme closeness to the sun dictates that the sun's glare usually overpowers the small, rocky planet.

But twice each year, once in the evening and once in the morning, Mercury stands highest in the sky, giving skywatchers the best opportunity to spot it. This week offers its best morning appearance of the year.

To see Mercury, skywatchers should go out any morning this week about 30 minutes before sunrise. A low, cloudless sky and an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon are necessary. Mercury should be visible just above where the sun will rise, about 10 degrees above the horizon.

Stargazers may need binoculars or a small telescope to see Mercury at first, but once spotted it should be visible to the unaided eye.

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Man Claims Caffeine Insanity in Wife's Death

yahoo - A Kentucky man accused of strangling his wife is poised to claim excessive caffeine from sodas, energy drinks and diet pills left him so mentally unstable he couldn't have knowingly killed her, his lawyer has notified a court.

Woody Will Smith, 33, is scheduled for trial starting Monday on a murder charge in the May 2009 death of Amanda Hornsby-Smith, 28.

Defense attorney Shannon Sexton filed notice with the Newport court of plans to argue his client ingested so much caffeine in the days leading up to the killing that it rendered him temporarily insane — unable even to form the intent of committing a crime.

Sexton declined requests for comment on the defense strategy he indicated he would pursue in filings before the court. Jury selection was scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. EDT Monday. Opening statements were expected to begin around 1:30 p.m. EDT.

A legal strategy invoking caffeine intoxication is unusual but has succeeded at least once before, in a case involving a man cleared in 2009 of charges of running down and injuring two people with a car in Washington state.

Dr. Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University has noted in an unrelated study that there is a diagnosis for "caffeine intoxication," which includes nervousness, excitement, insomnia and possibly rambling speech.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said their own expert may testify there was no evidence Smith had consumed diet pills or energy drinks as he claimed before his wife died.

Prosecutor Michelle Snodgrass said Smith tested negative for amphetamine-type substances shortly after the killing.

Police say Smith used an extension cord to strangle his wife on May 4, 2009, then used the same cord to bind her feet together. Smith then used another cord to tie his wife's hands.

If convicted of murder, Smith could be sentenced to life in prison.

Smith told Dr. Robert Noelker, a psychologist from Williamstown hired by the defendant, he remembers taking his children to school that morning.

But Smith remembers little else about the ensuing hours.

In the weeks preceding May 4, 2009, Woody Smith told Noelker, he hadn't been sleeping, in part out of fear his wife would take their two children and leave him.

"The next several hours of Mr. Smith's life, were described to me as if he were in a daze," Noelker wrote in a report.

After sleeping intermittently, Smith had nap with one child he picked up from school at midday at a school near their home in Dayton, Ky., across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. After picking up the second child later that day, Smith said he went to his mother and stepfather's house.

He described feeling "out of control," weeping to the point of being unable to communicate. Smith eventually confided in his stepfather, Noelker wrote, "I think my wife is dead."

Reports and case records say during that time, he was drinking five or six soft drinks and energy drinks a day, along with taking diet pills; it all added up to more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — published by the American Psychiatric Association showing standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders — defines overdose as more than 300 mg. That's about three cups of coffee.

Noelker said he determined Smith was open to "brief psychosis" brought on by sleep deprivation, which was caused by the heavy ingestion of diet pills and caffeine in the weeks leading up to his wife's death.

"It is my opinion that this disorder was the direct result of psychosis due to severe insomnia," Noelker wrote in a report filed in Smith's case. Noelker is expected to be called as a defense witness.

The defense strategy recalls the case of Daniel Noble, a budget analyst at the University of Idaho Foundation who awoke Dec. 7, 2009, after a restless night and multiple weeks of working long hours on the foundation's budget.

Attorney Mark Moorer of Moscow, Idaho, won a dismissal of charges against the 31-year-old analyst, who had been accused by authorities of running down and injuring two pedestrians with a car in Pullman, Wash. Each man survived with a broken leg.

Moorer said Noble awoke in pajamas and slippers in near-freezing weather, went to a Starbucks and downed two large coffees before driving eight miles to Pullman where the pedestrians were hit.

Medical tests in the Noble case resulted in a diagnosis of a rare form of bipolar disorder — triggered by heavy consumption of caffeine, Moorer said.

That evidence went before a judge, who dismissed the charges after concluding Noble was unable to form the mental intent to commit a crime.

"We referred to it as a temporary insanity defense," Moorer said. "If you sat down and talked with him now, you'd think he's as normal as you and I."

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U.S. Tourists Caught With Human Skulls


aolnews - Greek police have charged two American tourists with desecrating the dead after they were caught at the Athens airport with six human skulls in their hand luggage.

"The skulls were found in a scanner check during a stop-over in Athens on their way back to the United States," a police official told Reuters. "The coroner confirmed they were human skulls."

The tourists told police they'd bought the skulls at a souvenir shop on the Greek island of Mykonos and thought they were fakes. They were charged Thursday and then released pending a trial. The tourists were identified as young men but were not named. Their arrests were reported by several news outlets.

"They bought them ahead of Halloween to decorate their homes. Both tourists were then released and took a flight back to the U.S.," another policeman told CNN.

It's unclear where the skulls came from.

Fortean / Oddball News - 9/20/2010

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