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Wide World of Weird

A weekly roundup of unusual news stories from around the globe, compiled from Times wire services:

September 04, 1998

But What if the Birds Turn Against Us?: China has trained an army of 10,000 chickens to wage war on locusts in northwestern Xinjiang.

The chickens, backed by tens of thousands of starlings, were called in after attacks by humans and aircraft failed to eradicate swarms of hungry insects infesting grasslands, housing complexes and offices.

"The chickens undergo a special 60-day training program shortly after birth," a report said, but no details were given on the young birds' training regimen.

Poached Toilet Returned: Usually, the divers in Michigan's Underwater Recovery Unit are asked to retrieve things from under the water. They went the other way last month, spending about an hour to return a toilet to a 1906 shipwreck.

The ship, a 1891 steel freighter called the Grecian, sank in an area that is classified as a preserve. That means divers aren't allowed to take anything from the wreck.

So when a diver saw the rust-stained toilet in a Chicago marina and recognized it from photographs he had taken while diving in Lake Huron, it was returned to Michigan. Authorities didn't say what legal action might be taken against the person who had the rare toilet.

Charlotte's Web Meets Hulk Hogan: Education officials in a southern Philippine province have banned spider wrestling, a favorite children's pastime in many rural areas, to discourage students from skipping classes to catch spiders, an official said.

Authorities also say that the "sport," in which spiders fight to the death on a stick, encourages children to gamble.

Big Fish Gets Away Hook, Line, Sinker--and Angler: A passionate angler at an eastern Slovenian lake caught a fish so big that he drowned trying to reel it in. A friend said Franc Filipic's last words were, "Now I've got him!"

Clinton-Lewinsky Doll Sells Out: A nesting doll of President Clinton with Monica Lewinsky inside is a sellout on Moscow's Arbat pedestrian mall.

"They sell well. We just have this display one left," a street vendor said Wednesday when Clinton was in town to meet Boris Yeltsin. "Mostly foreigners like these." The doll features Clinton in black tie, a smaller Lewinsky inside, then several other women who are not his wife, including Gennifer Flowers.

News McNuggets:

* A colonel in the Ivory Coast army was killed by gunfire as he tested a "magic" belt that supposedly had powers to protect him from bullets.

* Women are more attracted to an honest face even if it is less masculine, according to a study published in the journal Nature. A man with more feminine facial features seems more trustworthy and loving as a potential father, while masculine features are associated with coldness and dishonesty, said the report from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

* Belgian prisoners who have served more than three months in jail may now win a new privilege: conjugal visits in a room complete with bed, linens and contraceptives.

* Canada's Defense Department confirmed that the military has agreed to pay for a sex-change operation after a request for such an operation was made by one of its soldiers.

* Two Connecticut residents were arrested last month on suspicion of growing marijuana on their back porch, less than 100 yards from police headquarters--in plain sight of the patrol car parking lot.

* Wide World of Weird is published every Friday. Off-Kilter appears Monday through Thursday.

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