The Odd Truth, Feb. 7, 2003

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Invisibility System In The Works

NEW YORK - A University of Tokyo professor claims he and his research team have developed a system that can make you 'invisible.'

Engineering Professor Susumu Tachi is in the early stages of technology that he says will eventually enable camouflaged objects to be virtually transparent by wearing an optical device.

Professor Tachi demonstrated the technology on Wednesday. In a photo of graduate student Kazutoshi Obana, it appears as if three men walking in the background can be seen 'through' Obana's green overcoat.

The retroreflective material of the coat acts as a screen and gives a transparent - or invisible - effect.

For the best effect - one that keeps the correct depth of focus - the observer needs to look through a pinhole.

Tachi's second example shows the image of the skeleton being projected onto a sheet of the retroreflective material, giving the impression the body has become transparent.

The technology could be useful in medicine, where surgeons might use it during operations to avoid having their fingers or surgical tools block their view.

In aviation, cockpit floors could become 'invisible' to assist pilots in landing.

Professor Tachi hopes to have a commercially viable system within a few years.

Mark Twain Would Be Proud

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Calaveras County's celebrated jumping frogs can leap right through a legal loophole and back into the wild.

Last year, California wildlife officials warned it was illegal to return competitors in the Mark Twain-inspired festival to their natural habitat for fear they could spread disease or alter ecosystems.

But in a twist almost as bizarre as one of Twain's tall tales, officials found an obscure 1957 provision to the Fish and Game Code that exempts frogs used in jumping contests from wildlife rules.

"Frogs to be used in frog-jumping contests shall be governed by this article only," the provision said.

About 2,000 bullfrogs are captured each May for the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee in the old Sierra gold mining town of Angels Camp.

For years, organizers urged participants to put the frogs back carefully where they got them. When fairgrounds manager Warren "Buck" King heard that was illegal, he had nightmares about having to slaughter frogs.

"I'm tickled to death about that," said King, the unofficial mayor of Frogtown. "I didn't want to even think about what would happen."

The contest has been an annual event since 1928, when a local club organized the first jump to celebrate the paving of Main Street.

It harkens back to the tall tale Twain heard in the Angels Hotel and published in 1865 as "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

Flapping Flag Flap

CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — It's a flap over a flapping flag.

A man who installed a 50-foot flag poll after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was ticketed after a neighbor said the flag's flapping made too much noise.

Ray Saelens says the sight and sound of an American flag whipping in the wind has special meaning.

"To me, the noise of the flag is the voices of everyone who's died for this country," the 51-year-old mason told The Macomb Daily of Mount Clemens for a story Thursday.

But next-door neighbor Mark Grucz complained, saying the flapping of the flag bothered him, and police issued Saelens a warning.

In response, Saelens switched to a polyester flag designed to be quieter. "Never in a million years did I think I would bother someone by flying a flag," he said.

On Monday, a police officer cited him for violating the local noise ordinance.

"He could hardly look me in the eye," Saelens said.

Township police spokesman Jim Gates said the dispute was unprecedented, and the department had no choice but to issue a ticket when someone complains about noise.

It is up to the court to decide between the neighbors, he said.

"You're going to have to pry it out of my hands," Saelens said.

Proposed Snake Restriction Fails

MURRIETA, Calif. — A proposal to put the squeeze on pet snakes has slithered by.

Some residents in this southern California community couldn't charm the City Council into restricting the size, type and number of snakes a resident can own. The board voted against the proposed law Tuesday.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Councilman Brian Youens said. "We have no problem in our jurisdiction, so why do we expect there to be in the future?"

Councilman Warnie Enochs proposed the ordinance after receiving a few calls from residents concerned about several large snakes owned by a neighbor. The law would have limited snakes to 5 feet long, prohibited venomous snakes and outlawed a large number of snakes.

But council members said there was no way to enforce such an ordinance and the law would unfairly target snake owners.

"You don't own a dog and then when it gets over a certain level, start chopping pieces off," Councilman Kelly Seyarto said. "You are asking these people to own a pet for a time, then have to get rid of it."

Man Charged For Killing Wombats

SYDNEY, Australia — A man who allegedly crushed 12 wombats in an Australian national park by repeatedly running over them in his car has been charged with cruelty, police said Friday.

Police charged the 46-year-old man after the dead bear-like marsupials were discovered in the Wollemi National Park west of Sydney last week.

The body of one wombat has been sent to Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney, where animal specialists will try to determine how it died.

Detective Senior Constable Ian Mitchell said it was hard to imagine why anyone would commit such a senseless act of cruelty.

The man, whose name has not been released but comes from a small rural town west of Sydney, has been charged with aggravated cruelty, cruelty and harming native fauna. The maximum fine or sentence he faces was not immediately known.

The wombat, a slow-moving marsupial native to Australia, has a large head, dark brown fur and short stumpy legs, making it look like a baby bear.

Having A Cow Over A Hot Dog

KENNEBUNK, Maine - The owner of a restaurant in a tourist community in Maine has gone to federal court over his umbrellas.

He's suing the town -- after being told he had to cover up the words "Hebrew National Beef Franks" on the umbrellas outside his restaurant.

The code enforcement officer in the town of Kennebunk says the umbrellas violate a sign ordinance.

Brian Bartley -- who owns Bartley's Dockside -- says the enforcement officer told him last year that the umbrellas were "personally offensive" to him.

Bartley's lawyer wonders if the town would have had the same objections to umbrellas that read, "Christian National Beef Franks."

Trust Exploited

LISBON, Portugal - When the government last year offered an amnesty to people with tax debts, waiving fines on outstanding sums if they were paid by Dec. 31, some 300,000 Portuguese took up the offer.

Long queues formed outside tax offices as people came clean, and the authorities congratulated them on their overdue display of civic duty.

The problem? Thousands of checks written to pay the debts — amounting to $2.7 million — bounced.

And now the tax man is on the warpath.

The Finance Ministry said Friday it is starting legal action against the taxpayers whose checks bounced. They face up to five years in jail.

Even so, officials downplayed the bouncing checks.

"There's nothing unusual in it. It happens every day," a Finance Ministry spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.

Israeli-Pakistani Doubles Team Lauded

LONDON - A tennis doubles team -- made up of an Israeli and a Pakistani -- is being honored for promoting "tolerance through tennis."

The Israeli -- Amir Hadad -- and Pakistan's Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi, who's a Muslim, played doubles last year at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

They're being awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award by the ATP -- the men's professional tennis organization.

The Pakistani was denounced by his country's top tennis official during Wimbledon for teaming up with an Israeli.

The award is named for the first black man to win the U.S. Open. Arthur Ashe fought racism during his career.