News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



Among the "10 Worst Jobs in Science" in Popular Science's annual November listing: Harvard researchers in Borneo who catch orangutan urine (in plastic sheets, the way firefighters catch jumpers) for studying reproduction-hormone levels; gear-packing monitors who run toward (not away from) the gases and molten rock of erupting volcanoes (dozens have been killed or wounded); U.S. Geological Survey workers at two picturesque California lakes monitoring "extremophile" microbes that thrive in the most putrid environments (work that one says resembles being surrounded by 100 "extremely flatulent people"); and "human lab rats" such as students employed in an industry-funded University of California at San Diego study for $15 an hour to have pesticides sprayed into their eyes.

Leading Economic Indicators

-- Chief executive officers at 367 top U.S. corporations were paid, on average, $431 last year for every $1 paid to their companies' average production worker, according to publicly available information jointly compiled in September by Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy. In 1990, the ratio was about $100-to-$1. (If the federal minimum wage had increased since 1990 by the same rate as the multiple for CEOs' pay, it would have risen from $5.15 an hour to $23.03, but, of course, it's still $5.15.)

-- Cutting-Edge Products: (1) In September, China's Guangzhou Haojian Bio-science Co. introduced new condoms whose names read phonetically as the "kelintun" and the "laiwensiji," which of course resemble the names of a former U.S. president and his acquaintance. (2) Women's Wear Daily reported in October that rock star Marilyn Manson said he was finalizing a personal perfume deal with a "major" company, as a precursor to his own full cosmetics line.

-- Parents pf McGovern Elementary School students in Medway, Mass., complained to the Boston Herald in October because Paul Trufant's septic-sewage service, located across from the school, boasts the identifying slogan on all its trucks: "Shit Happens." Trufant said he would advertise however he wants to: "This is America, not Iraq."

Awesome Animals

-- More Weird Mating Habits: (1) In October, researchers said they had tagged a great white shark and tracked him 12,400 miles over nine months, from Africa to Australia and back again, ostensibly seeking to mate; according to the report in the journal Science, sex was the best explanation because food was so plentiful around Africa. (2) The male nursery web spider uses a cheap trick to get sex, according to an October report in the journal Biology Letters; the male gives the larger female a dead insect, then collapses, feigning death, distracting the female, which turns to the insect, at which point the male springs back to life and mounts her. (On the other hand, the female sometimes just eats the male, after or instead of copulating.)

-- Those Versatile Goats: (1) David Valentine, 12, often bounces on a trampoline with his pet goats, D.J. and Blessing, but officials in Miami Township, Ohio, threatened to crack down this fall since goats are not permitted within the town limits; David's parents say the goats are necessary to help with David's Attention Deficit Disorder. (2) The economy of the section of Morocco around Tiout is dependent on a renowned cooking oil made from nuts of the argan tree, but only nuts that have been eaten and excreted by goats (that actually climb into the trees and stand on branches to eat the nut-bearing fruit). According to an October New York Times dispatch, locals are trying to shift gradually from predigested nuts without spoiling the oil's taste.

-- Python Mania: In a 10-day period in October in and near Miami-Dade County, Fla., non-native but super-predatory Burmese pythons killed and swallowed a turkey, a 15-pound cat, and (most famously, unsuccessfully) a 6-foot-long alligator. (The alligator ultimately burst the snake open, and the turkey's bulge prevented the python from slithering out of the bird's pen.) Officials have captured 150 pythons in recent years and estimate 250 more are in the area, the result of people discarding pet snakes once they reach adult length.)

Signs of the Times

-- Erica Salmon, originally a fantasy-football-league "widow" because of her husband's seasonal mania, has now become mogul of her own fantasy league: of famous fashion designers. According to an October report by the Des Moines Register, managers draft teams consisting of three clothing designers, plus one each designer of shoes, handbags, jewelry and celebrity clothing, and then three celebrities, and they get points daily for the number and quality of name-mentions in Women's Wear Daily and other fashion and style magazines. As with football leagues, trades are permitted once a week.

-- More Signs: (1) Judge Norene Redmond, facing the necessity to release prisoners from overcrowded Macomb County (Mich.) Jail, asked the public (via an October online poll) which types should be freed first; drug-possession and DUI defendants were deemed the most worthy, but Redmond said the final decision was hers. (2) An October Business Week report labeled mothers who are obsessed with buying their toddlers only upscale merchandise as "Yoga Mamas" who extend their own lifestyle to their babies; the report suggests that the toddler who receives a $129 pair of shoes would probably "have more fun with the box they came in."

Least Competent People

-- Shortly after Hurricane Wilma struck Florida in October, officials said 911 operators in Palm Beach County were flooded not only with storm-related calls but with self-imposed injuries. Some of the problems (according to an October Palm Beach Post story): brush-clearing chain-saw accidents; the old "cigarette-lighter-to-check-fuel-level-of-a-generator"; people falling off roofs while making repairs; setting up a generator too close to a window; cooking inside on a charcoal grill; pouring gasoline into a generator while it's running; failing to respect downed power lines; and stacking items atop a previously "on" electric stove so that, when power resumes, they catch fire.

-- Police in Twin Falls, Idaho, confiscated almost $1 billion in counterfeit money in October in a doomed scheme in which the loot consisted only of bills of the denomination of $1 million (which does not legally exist); a man from Buhl, Idaho, had tried to give a bank that amount as collateral for a loan. And according to police in Lafayette, Ind., in September, Earl Devine's counterfeit money was not much better: Though a popular name for $100 bills is "Benjamins" (for the face of Benjamin Franklin), Devine's $100 bills still had the face of Abraham Lincoln from the $5 bill he allegedly used as a model.

Readers' Choice

In October, a 33-year-old pastor at the University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, standing in a baptismal pool preparing to immerse a parishioner in front of hundreds of congregants, mishandled a microphone and was electrocuted. On the same day in Johannesburg, South Africa, a pastor at the Jerusalem Apostolic Church drowned during a river baptism ceremony when he and the parishioner (who also drowned) lost their footing on rocks in the river bed.

Gas Pedal, Brake Pedal, Whatever (all-new)

Accidents by elderly drivers whom police suspect momentarily confused the gas pedal for the brake (or accelerated in the wrong gear): Age 90, crashed into another car in a funeral procession, injuring nine, Birdsboro, Pa. (May). Age 89, crashed into a Winn-Dixie, injuring seven, Lakeland, Fla. (November). Age 87, crashed into a hospital's lobby, injuring five, Bismarck, N.D. (October). Age 83, crashed into a garage and house, killing the driver, Chicago (September). Age 82, crashed through four walls and a steel door of a security company, injuring one, Anderson, S.C. (November). Age 80, crashed into four parked cars, no injuries, Rockford, Ill. (November). Age 78, crashed into several cars and a large crowd at an auto auction, injuring 20, Yaphank, N.Y. (July). Age 77, crashed into the operating room of an eye clinic, just missing a sedated patient, no injuries, Newark, N.J. (August).

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