NEWS OF THE WEIRD
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-oldman 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 comicoperetta 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. ¦
Leading economic indicators
¦ In March, William Ernst, 57, owner of the QC Mart chain of Iowa convenience stores, excitedly announced a companywide 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. ¦
Feel good news
Japan’s Showa University School of Dentistry has for several years been training future practitioners using lifesized synthetic patients from Orient Industry, based on the company’s “sex dolls,” and recently upgraded to the fancier silicone dolls with humanfeel 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. ¦
¦ 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.
¦ 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.
¦ Employees at the dump yard in Pompano Beach, Fla., gave Brian McGuinn zero chance of ever finding the customdesigned 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. ¦
Our animal overlords
¦ 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 firsthand 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.
¦ 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).
¦ 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. ¦