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[NEWS OF THE WEIRD]

by Chuck Shepherd

Annals of Invention

Although Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the alleged 9/11 mastermind) was waterboarded 183 times among several extreme interrogation techniques, he and his CIA captors eventually reached  a moderated state. In 2003, though still housed in a “black site” in Romania, “KSM” asked permission to design a household vacuum cleaner, and the highest echelons of the agency co-operated, according to a former senior CIA analyst, speaking to the Associated Press in July. In reality, when a detainee exhausts his intelligence value, the agency’s main mission is to keep him “sane,” in case he is later put on trial, and the vacuum cleaner project was thought likely to engage KSM, who, 15 years before the murders of nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, had earned a mechanical engineering degree from NC A&T State University.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

• The gourmet lollipop company Lollyphile announced its latest flavor in June: breast-milk lollipops (four for $10). Owner Jason Darling said it “slowly dawned on” him that his friends were “producing milk so delicious it could turn a screaming, furious child into a docile, contented one. I knew I had to capture that flavor.”

• Marketing challenges: (1) The Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop franchisers, already with a lineup of sometimesunappreciated flavors such as Buffalo chicken wing soda, briefly experimented in June with “ranch dressing” soda, a mistaken adventure that co-founder Rob Powells jokingly blamed on his business partner. (2) Brewmaster John Maier of Rogue Ales in Newport, Ore. pointed out that “wild yeasts” have been used in beer for centuries and thus (according to a June report on FoodBeast.com) his company’s Beard Beer (from yeast of beards, including at one time, his own) should be regarded as a traditional brew.

Science on the Cutting Edge

• Carnivorous vegetation: It was a special occasion in Surrey, England in June as a rare plant prepared to bloom. The 3-foot-tall Puya chilensis, native to Chile, features neon-bright greenish-yellow flowers with blooms large enough to yield drinkable nectar, but its most startling distinction is its ability to nourish itself by trapping small animals in its razor-sharp spines, leaving them to decay. (At Britain’s Wisley Garden, it is fed with ordinary fertilizer rather than animals.)

• Too much information: During a June debate in a House Rules Committee hearing on abortion legislation, US Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas, himself an obstetrician/gynecologist, criticized a proposal to outlaw abortion at the 20- week limit (where a fetus is said to begin to feel pain), insisting on an earlier ban, at 15 or 16 weeks. “Watch a sonogram of a 15-week-old baby,” said Burgess, “and they have movements that are purposeful…. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs.” Thus, “If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?”

Animals in the News

• Alarming headlines: (1) “Koala chlamydia: The STD threatening an Australian icon” (BBC News). (2) “Super-sized crabs and oysters with herpes” (Field & Stream). (3) “Far-right extremists chased through London by women dressed as badgers” (International Business Times, reporting June rallies of two British nationalist parties and their opposition occurring at the same time and place as a better-attended demonstration against the government’s cull on badgers).

• Horse bullies: In June, Barbour County, W.Va. firefighters, called to a farm in Belington, rescued the horse “Rowdy,” whose entire body was somehow trapped inside an industrial-sized tire. Rowdy’s owner said she believes Rowdy had an altercation with some of the other horses.

Perspective

A staff report by Democrats on the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce released in June and using data from Wisconsin (because of the state’s comprehensive record-keeping) found that taxpayers wind up paying out at least $75 million a year in “safety net” assistance to the state’s Wal-Mart workers (food stamps, Medicaid, school lunches, earned-income tax credits, etc.) allegedly because the company’s wages and benefits are so meager. The report, an update on 2004 numbers that were less than half those found this time around, estimated that Wal-Mart families accounted for more than 9,000 Wisconsin Medicaid enrollees. The $75 million, covering 75 stores, represents a low-end estimate with the high end about $130 million.

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