[NEWS OF THE WEIRD]
NUCLEAR TRACTOR PULL
• Redneck geek: Edward Teller, the famous theoretical physicist known as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” for his work on the World War II-era Manhattan Project, died in 2003, but his daughter Rene told The Free Press of Kinston, NC, in November that she had recently discovered two of her father’s precious mementos at a thrift shop near Kinston during a road trip to visit relatives. “(Father’s) work was so demanding” she said, that he needed “recreational activities” and tried “the things you’d suspect,” like chess. However, the two mementos were awards Teller had won at tractor pull competitions. “He’d show up at major tractor pulls” riding just a Cub Cadet mower, Rene said, and “leave the competition in the dust.” (Teller’s secret, she said, was using “nuclear fusion-based engines,” which sponsors ultimately had to ban.
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT
• “It will be sort of my unique factor,” said indulgent customer Lucy Luckayanko, describing her then-upcoming $3,000 eyeball jewelry implant from New York City’s Park Avenue Laser Vision — the insertion of a piece of platinum between the sclera (the white part) and the clear conjunctiva. Actually, said the shop’s medical director, Dr. Emil Chynn, to WNEW-TV in November, it’s “pretty safe.”
• Restaurant startups: (1) Japan’s “cat cafes” allow the pet-starved to relax while dining by caressing house kittens that roam the facilities, but similar eateries have opened recently featuring owls (the Fukurou Sabou in Tokyo, Owl Family in Osaka). (The owls are not caressable and easily spooked by excessive noise.) (2) Liu Pengfei’s Five Loaves and Two Fish restaurant in Fuzhou, China, is losing money rapidly despite overflow dining crowds, according to a December China Daily report, because he allows customers to pay only what they wish. (They must also wash out their bowls.) “I want to continue,” he said, “as I believe the feeling of trust is contagious.”
• It may be a cliche of domestic conflict, but physicists recently, earnestly, tackled the dynamics of toilet bowl “splash back.” A stream delivered by a standing male, because it travels five times farther than a seated male’s, produces a splash easily reaching seat and floor — even without factoring in the “well-known” Plateau-Rayleigh instability — the inevitable disintegration of a liquid stream “six or seven inches” after its formation. Short of recommending that men be seated, the researchers (speaking to a November conference) suggest “narrowing the angle” by “standing slightly to one side and aiming downwards at a low angle of impact.”
• The human-rodent connection: University of British Columbia researchers, intent on judging whether blocking dopamine D4 receptors can reduce the urge to gamble in subjects other than humans, claimed in October to have devised a test that works on the dopamine receptors of rats — especially those with a gambling problem. With a slot machine-like device dispensing sugar pellets, the researchers claimed they offered rats measured risks and even determined that rats are more likely to take risks immediately following a close loss (as are humans).
• Seven years ago, Michael Spann, now 29, suddenly doubled over in pain that felt like he “got hit in the head with a sledgehammer,” and began crying blood. Despite consulting doctors, including two visits with extensive lab work at the venerable Cleveland Clinic, the Antioch, Tenn., man told Nashville’s The Tennessean in October that he is resigned to an “idiopathic condition” — a disease without apparent cause. Spann’s main wish now is just to hold a job, in that fellow workers, and customers, tend not to react well to a man bleeding from the eyes (even though his once-daily episodes have become more sporadic).
• The sex life of the anglerfish, according to a Wired.com interview in November with evolutionary biologist Theodore Pietsch, is as dismal as any on planet Earth. According to Wired: “Boy meets girl, boy bites girl, boy’s mouth fuses to girl’s body, boy lives the rest of his life attached to girl, sharing her blood and supplying her with sperm.” Only 1 percent of males ever hook up with females (because the ocean floor is dark), said Pietsch. The rest starve to death as virgins.
• Professor Pietsch may know his anglerfish, but Marlene Zuk of the University of Minnesota knows her insects, including the mating mechanics of damselflies, crickets and cockroaches, which she described for The New York Times in November. The damselfly male’s penis is a Swiss Army knife-like contraption (necessary to access the female’s well-hidden eggs). The cricket easily produces sperm, but then awaits its draining through a “long stem” “for several minutes” to achieve fertilization. Cockroaches, Professor Zuk wrote, mate by “blind trust” as they hook up back-to-back and, with no neck, cannot even glance over a shoulder to check on their work.
• Elephant whisperer: Nirmala Toppo, 14, is apparently the one to call if wild elephants overrun your village, especially in India’s Orissa and Jharkhand states, which are still home to hundreds of marauding pachyderms. Her latest pied-piper act, in June, emptied a herd of 11 out of the industrial city of Rourkela. Said Toppo: “First I pray and then talk to the herd. I tell them this is not your home. You should return where you belong.” Somehow, the elephants followed her for miles away from the town, according to an October BBC News dispatch.
• The daunting problems that faced the launch of the HealthCare.gov website in October were merely symptoms of the federal government’s often snail-like pace at integrating digital innovations common to everyday America. A December New York Times report revealed that The Federal Register (the daily journal of the US government) still receives original content from some agencies on virtually obsolete 3.5-inch floppy disks — and (because of unamended legal requirements) its work-order authorizations from some agencies on disks handdelivered inside the Washington Beltway by courier. Contractors can be frustrated as well since, though they operate with top-of-theline digital efficiency internally, they must sometimes downgrade to interface with their government clients.
LEAST COMPETENT CRIMINALS
• Not ready for prime time: (1) An alreadydistinctive man (367 pounds) was arrested in Everett, Wash., for a December grocery store shoplifting because he was also wearing an easily noticed purple sock and over two hours later was still wearing it when police caught up to him and questioned him. (2) A 23-year-old woman was arrested in Crestview, Fla., in November for shoplifting a “toy” from an adult store — before inquiring about a job there. She had professed her innocence until shown the surveillance video, when she said (according to the police report), “Oh, my God. Look at what I’m doing. … I’m gonna cry.”
A NEWS OF THE WEIRD CLASSIC (JULY 2009)
• Escape from L.A.: Hundreds of Los Angeles’ down-and-out live not just underneath local freeways but inside their concrete structures, according to a June 2009 Los Angeles Times report. The largest “home” is a gymnasium-sized cavern under the Interstate 10 freeway in the suburb of Baldwin Park. That space is nearly inaccessible, requiring squeezing through a rusty grating, traversing a narrow ledge and descending a ladder to reach “a vast, vaultlike netherworld, strewn with garbage and syringes,” with toys and rattles and a cat carcass visible on an upper platform only marginally harder for rats to reach. Authorities fear the area, but every few years, state officials try to seal the entrance (which the homeless quickly unseal as soon as the officials leave). !
© 2012 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate.