Was Moammar Gadhafi the last of the "buffoon dictators," asked BBC News in October. His legend was earned not merely with his now-famous, dirty-old-man scrapbook of Condoleezza Rice photos. Wrote a BBC reporter, "One day (Gadhafi) was a Motown (backup) vocalist with wet-look permed hair and tight pants. The next, a white-suited comic-operetta Latin American admiral, dripping with braid." Nonetheless, Gadhafi had competition, according to an October report in the journal Foreign Policy. For example, the son of Equatorial Guinea's dictator owns, among other eccentric luxuries, a $1.4 million collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia. North Korea's Kim Jong Il owns videos of almost every game Michael Jordan ever played for the Chicago Bulls.
-- In March, William Ernst, 57, owner of the QC Mart chain of Iowa convenience stores, excitedly announced a company-wide employee contest with a prize of $10 for guessing the next worker that Ernst will fire for breaking rules. "Once we fire the person, we will open all the envelopes (containing the entries), award the prize, and start the contest again." Ernst added, "And no fair picking Mike Miller from (the Rockingham Road store). He was fired at around 11:30 a.m. today for wearing a hat and talking on his cellphone. Good luck!!!!!!!!!!" (After firing a cashier who had complained about Ernst's attitude, he challenged the woman's unemployment-compensation claim, but in October, a judge ruled in her favor.)
-- Even in a flagging economy, Christie's auction house in New York City was able to attract a record sales price for a photograph. In November, a 1999 photo by German artist Andreas Gursky, of a scenic view of the Rhine River, sold for $4.3 million. (It is possible, of course, that buying the actual waterfront property that Gursky photographed from -- to enjoy the same view every day -- would have been less expensive.)
-- Unfortunately, Manulife Financial Corp. is a Canadian firm, and thus it had a very bad year. If exactly the same company had been magically relocated to anywhere in the United States, it would have had an outstanding year. Under Canada's hard-nosed accounting rules, Manulife was forced to post a loss last year of $1.28 billion. However, under the more feel-good U.S. accounting rules, according to the company, it would have shown a profit of $2.2 billion and been flush with $16 billion more in shareholder value.
-- Following October arrests by Nigeria's Abuja Environmental Protection Board, authorities learned that local prostitutes earned premium fees by selling their customers' semen to "juju priests," who use it as "medicines" in rituals. Police who rounded up the sex workers found inventories of condoms with the necks tied.
In the course of an October story on an ill-fated Continental Airlines flight during which all restrooms in coach were broken, the reporter for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis sought reactions from experts. Calling the toilet failures a "bad situation that hasn't been addressed" was Robert Brubaker, a spokesman for something called the American Restroom Association, "a Baltimore-based advocacy group for toilet users."
-- An Oxford University researcher reported in August on the African crested rat, which is so ingenious that it slathers poison, from chewing the A. schimperi plant, onto an absorbent strip of fur on its back as protection against predators many times larger. The researcher observed first-hand a dog quivering in fear after just one failed mouthful of a crested rat's fur in his laboratory. The noxious goo is also used by African tribesmen on their hunting arrows.
-- Researching the Itty-Bitty: In October, Popular Science dubbed researcher Gaby Maimon of Rockefeller University as one of its "Brilliant 10" for 2011 for his monitoring of neurons in the brains of fruit flies. Maimon first had to immobilize the flies' brains in saline and outfit their tiny neurons with even tinier electrodes -- so that he could track which neurons were firing as the flies flapped their wings and carried out other activities (work that he believes can be useful in treating human autism and attention-deficit disorder).
-- Oh, Dear! (1) An October Associated Press dispatch from New Orleans warned that "Caribbean crazy ants" are invading five Southern states by the millions, and because their death triggers distress signals to their pals for revenge attacks, up to 10 times as many might replace any population wiped out. Said a Texas exterminator, of a pesticide he once tried, "In 30 days I had 2 inches of dead ants covering (an) entire half-acre," and still the ants kept coming, crawling across the carcasses. Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi are currently the most vulnerable. (2) Biologists found a shark fetus with one centered eye inside a pregnant dusky shark off the coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico, in October. A marine sciences lab in nearby La Paz confirmed that the unborn baby, which filled up a researcher's hand, had the extremely rare congenital "cyclopia."
Japan's Showa University School of Dentistry has for several years been training future practitioners using life-sized synthetic patients from Orient Industry, based on the company's "sex dolls," and recently upgraded to the fancier silicone dolls with human-feel skin that can cost as much as the equivalent of $9,000 when sold to perverts who custom-order young women for companionship. According to a July CNN report, advanced robotics added to the Showa version allow the doll to utter typical patient phrases, to sneeze, and (when trainees mishandle tools) to gag.
Police in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, arrested a much-too-zealous expert on local cemeteries in November, suspected of digging up the bodies of 29 women buried in the city and taking them to his apartment. Local media identified him as prominent historian Anatoly Moskvin, 45, possessor of "certain quirks," including making solitary forays through the hundreds of graveyards in the region. Police found the mummified corpses, outfitted in dresses and headscarves, in Moskvin's home, along with an assortment of plastic dolls wearing frilly dresses.
(1) Japan's National Police Agency revealed in August that during the five months following the tsunami-provoked nuclear disaster, super-honest searchers had turned in wallets containing the equivalent of $48 million and safes containing cash of the equivalent of $30 million. (2) In August, the school superintendent of Fresno County, Calif., refused $800,000 in guaranteed salary and said he would run the 325-school system for three years on less pay than a first-year teacher makes. (3) Employees at the dump yard in Pompano Beach, Fla., gave Brian McGuinn zero chance of ever finding the custom-designed ring he had given his wife but had accidentally tossed in his trash at home on Oct. 30. Facing nine tons of 10-foot-high rotten eggs, dirty diapers and other garbage (which made him vomit), he found the ring within 30 minutes.
Russia's long-running Moscow Cat Circus/Theater, reported in News of the Weird in 1998, is still in service, astonishing all who ever tried to train a cat. In the United States, Samantha Martin runs her own similar show (at such venues as Chicago's Gorilla Tango Theatre in March (2009)) featuring the Rock Cats trio on guitar, piano and drums, as well as a tightrope-walker, barrel-roller and skateboarder, among other performers. Martin admitted to a Chicago Tribune reporter that the cats' music "sucks," in that "when they're playing, they're not even playing the same thing," and anyway she has two backup drummers because her regular is prone to "walking off in a huff," sort of "like diva actresses." "This is why you don't see trained cat acts. Because . . . the managers can't take the humiliation."