Top 10 Oddball News Stories of 2008

1. The Pregnant Man

Thomas Beatie, a trans-gendered man who was born a woman, caused a global double-take when he announced in March that he was pregnant. Beatie, who kept his (apparently well-functioning) female reproductive system while undergoing testosterone therapy and a chest reconstruction, was artificially inseminated using donor sperm. (A hysterectomy had left Beatie's wife, Nancy, unable to carry a child.) The result: a healthy baby girl, Susan Juliette, born in June. Beatie professed to be shocked at all the attention his pregnancy caused, despite having published an article about his condition, making an appearance on Oprah and writing a book about his experience. If he misses the limelight, however, there's more on the way: Beatie announced in November that he's pregnant with his second child.

2. Night of the Corpse Skull Bong

In the course of talking to police about an unrelated burglary, a Texas teen revealed that he and two friends had robbed a grave, used a garden tool to break off the skull of its occupant, made the skull into a bong and smoked marijuana out of it. Police didn't believe the story at first, but when they arrived at the home of one the fingered friends to ask about incident, the friend "regurgitated in his plate of food," according to the Houston Chronicle — which clued cops in that they may have been on the right track. The skull belonged to an 11-year-old boy who had died in 1921. The teen who first confessed was sentenced to eight months in county jail for "abuse of a corpse."

3. Strange Things Afoot in Vancouver

In a case that has confounded investigators and creeped out Canadian beachgoers, at least six severed human feet have been found on the shores of British Columbia since August 2007. The most recent discovery was in November, when a New Balance athletic shoe with a human foot inside was found south of Vancouver near the mouth of a river. (A black high-top sneaker with a foot inside was found on the beach in Washington in August.) One of the feet found in Canada was identified as that of a man who had been missing for months; two others have been linked to a different individual, still unidentified. Medical experts say that the feet most likely detached naturally from bodies floating in the ocean, but why so many have found their way to the strait between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island is still unknown.

4. Virgin Shark Mother

To the medical unlikelihoods and religious miracles surrounding the phenomenon of virgin births, we can now add the story of a female Atlantic blacktip shark named Tidbit. Tidbit, who died due to pregnancy complications — the pup, also deceased, was discovered inside her womb after her death — had produced the offspring without the help of a shark father. The asexual reproduction, known as parthenogenesis, occurred at an aquarium in Virginia Beach, VA and the October announcement was only the second documented case in shark history. (An earlier case in Nebraska was found in a female hammerhead shark and was thought to be a fluke.) Tidbit was about 5 feet long and her baby, measuring about 10 inches, was nearly full term.

5. She Ain't Heavy, She's My Partially Absorbed Embryonic Twin

When doctors examined a 9-year-old Greek girl complaining of a stomach ache, they were startled to discover the cause: an embryonic twin the girl had absorbed while in the womb. The girls' abdomen was swollen with the growth, which surgeons removed safely. "Vanishing Twin Syndrome" is not entirely uncommon — experts say it occurs as often as 1 in 8 pregnancies — but the vast majority of vanished twins are completely absorbed by the surviving twin or by the mother before birth. The 2-inch fetus inside the girl did not have a formed brain, but did have hair and eyes.

6. Second Life Divorce

When Briton Amy Taylor caught her husband cheating on her with a prostitute, she reacted as many women would — she filed for divorce. What made the break up newsworthy was that the "cheating" was virtual and the "prostitute" was actually a divorced mother of two living in Arkansas. Taylor's husband committed the infidelity using his avatar in the computer role-playing game Second Life, but Taylor — who married her husband in 2005 and again in a lavish virtual ceremony in Second Life — viewed the online betrayal as cheating and used it as grounds for a very real divorce in the British courts. While news reports say Taylor has found love elsewhere on the web since the divorce, according to the Daily Mail her cheating husband and the Arkansas woman from his online assignations are now engaged — in real life.

7. Fish Pedicures

[I just did a post on this] Some women, it seems, will do anything for beautiful feet — even use them as fish food. The practice of plunging feet into a tub of tiny carp called garra rufa, which nibble on dead skin, was popular in some Asian countries and became an American craze after John Ho, a Virginia salon owner, announced he had offered the treatment to 5,000 customers over a four-month period. Soon, pedicurists all over the country were ordering thousands of the fish, which are said to help soften the skin in advance of normal, human-administered pedicures. Unfortunately for some salon owners who had already ordered the fish, Washington and Texas quickly banned the practice on sanitary grounds. Ho, however, is still going strong with his "Dr. Fish Massage" for the feet.

8. Breast Milk Ice Cream

[This made it on the pages of Curious Read earlier as well] To highlight the plight of calves and cows, the advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote an open letter to the Ben & Jerry's ice cream company, urging them to swap the cow's milk in their products for human breast milk. "Your customers and cows would reap the benefits," PETA noted, arguing that cow's milk leads to human obesity, heart disease and allergies, among other ailments. Not surprisingly, Ben & Jerry's executives were non-responsive and their employees were somewhat disgusted. PETA President Ingrid Newkirk later told TIME that the breast milk campaign was designed to draw attention to the fact that calves are separated from their mothers soon after birth to be raised for veal, and the cows are milked by machine in the name of human consumption. Newkirk admitted the letter was a gimmick, saying, "It isn't feasible at all, but it's great fun to suggest it."

9. Bigfoot Lives! No, Really!

Bigfoot claims are a dime a dozen, and there was no particular reason to believe this one. But Rick Dyer and Matt Whitton seemed so sure: "Everyone who has talked down to us is going to eat their words," predicted Whitton confidently at a press conference, in which the pair of amateur Bigfoot hunters claimed they had found the corpse of a Sasquatch in the woods of northern Georgia. More than that, they claimed to have the body itself, releasing photos of what appeared to be a mass of matted hair and bloody flesh stuffed into a large freezer. As the "evidence" thawed, though, researchers revealed that "Bigfoot" was, in fact, a rubber gorilla suit stuffed with roadkill and other animal remains. Days later Dyer and Whitton, who was fired from his job as a police officer as a result of the hoax, said they had intended the stunt as a joke all along; as Dyer told a CNN affiliate, "Everyone knew we were lying."

10. Your Money For My Life

After his wife left him, Ian Usher decided to make a clean break from his old existence as a rug salesman in Perth, Australia. So he took the next logical, if extreme, step, and put his entire life up for sale on eBay. On the auction block, sold only as a package, were Usher's three-bedroom house, his 1989 Mazda sedan, a jet ski, his computer, his furniture, an introduction to his friends and a tryout at his sales job. The bids rolled in and Usher, 44, ended up collecting around $380,000. He later said he had hoped his life would sell for more, but he still had enough to finance phase II of his unusual midlife crisis, embarking on a massive trip around the world to complete a hundred life goals in a hundred weeks, a project he's blogging about online. [via time]

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