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News of the Weird
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Sharing the Wealth

In findings that could surely be matched in the United States, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported in January that the country’s 100 highest-paid business executives had, by 9:46 a.m. on Jan. 2, earned an amount equal to what the average Canadian would earn in all of 2007. And The New York Times reported in December that Wall Street bonuses for 2006 were so large that one real estate broker complained at New York City’s shortage of $20 million properties and a Greenwich, Conn., Ferrari dealer complained that Ferrari hadn’t manufactured enough 599 GTB Fioranos (price: about $250,000) to fill his customers’ orders.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

(1) Because of recent government campaigns to protect wildlife, snake charmers in India’s Rajasthan state are increasingly unable to work with live snakes but nonetheless hope to continue earning tourists’ money by performing the same rituals, except without snakes. (2) On New Year’s Day at the South African tourist attraction of Cango Caves, an overweight visitor in the “Tunnel of Love” got stuck exiting, and she and the 23 people behind her were trapped for 12 hours until rescuers used a pulley and liquid paraffin (to grease the rocks) to extricate her.

Leading Economic Indicators

(1) Employees at Wal-Mart’s headquarters in China have set up a branch of the Communist Party, according to a December Associated Press dispatch, to go with five existing branches at individual stores (but the party said it would not interfere with Wal-Mart management). (2) Outsourcing of American jobs recently reached a new category of corporate employees: lawyers. An estimated 23,000 lawyers’ jobs were lost in the U.S. last year to India, where document review and legal research can be performed at about half the cost as in America, according to a December story in the News Journal of Wilmington, Del.

In what one reporter termed “a culture clash of near-epic proportions,” Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist (the mostly free online advertising Web site), told a gathering of head-shaking, befuddled Wall Street analysts in December that his company had no intention of raising more money than necessary to cover expenses, much less of maximizing income (even though many analysts believe investors might pay $1 billion or more for the company).

Signs of the Times

(1) About one-fifth of professional rodeo bull riders have given up their cowboy hats and now wear modified hockey helmets with face masks because of the prevalence of serious injuries. Said one diehard, though, “I don’t wear a cowboy hat because I’m a bull rider. I wear a cowboy hat because I’m a cowboy.” (2) London’s Observer reported in November that several UNICEF offices worldwide have complained to U.N. headquarters that celebrities endorsing the charity’s work have demoralized the staff because traveling celebrities are so high-maintenance when they arrive to “help” and also because some companies making donations (for example, Gucci) are owned by parent companies whose factories exploit Third World children more than the donations help.

At least 30 Texas death-row inmates have pages on dating Web sites, according to a November Associated Press report, and the murderers usually describe themselves in cuddly terms. Wrote convicted cop-killer Randy Halprin, “I think I’m a pretty funny guy. I have a wacked (sic) sense of humor. I can be a big kid at heart. I’m a hopeless (and I mean hopeless) romatic (sic).” However, also in November, Calvin Bennett, 26, a suspect in two Arkansas murders, was traced by police to Rothschild, Wis., by the personal ad he had placed on a dating Web site, describing himself as shy and giving his ideal evening as “a nice romantic dinner with soft music, followed by a romantic walk or a carriage ride.”

Science on the Cutting Edge

Don Karkos heroically regained sight in his right eye in November after 65 years. A 1941 Navy submarine explosion had knocked him out, and doctors had told him many times that he would never see with that eye again, but Karkos, 82 (a retired horse farmer who works as a security guard at New York’s Monticello Raceway), was butted in the head by a horse in November and awoke the next day with sight regained. He told the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y., in December that the blow he took from My Buddy Chimo was even harder than the one from the concussion.

Alarming Science: (1) A researcher at the Minnesota Cancer Center reported in January finding amounts of the carcinogen NNK, most likely from tobacco smoke, in toenail clippings of smokers (and nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke). (2) A researcher writing in the January/February issue of Australasian Science magazine reported that the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, carried by many cats, not only can harm pregnant women (as was previously known) but also can lower the IQ of men and make women more promiscuous.

Science Gone Too Far: A December New York Times dispatch reports that among the hottest social status symbols in Tokyo is the cute-but-bizarre dog created by inbreeding, such as a blue Chihuahua or a white dachshund. However, inbreeding also produces a high number of deformities, and to get that dachshund, for example, the litter of five contained four dogs with almost unspeakably gross birth defects. Nonetheless, because of demand, dog inbreeding continues. And a Nottingham University professor warned in January that farmers are now at work in the United Kingdom breeding “stress” and “hostility” out of pigs and cows to make them more obedient en route to the slaughterhouse. The professor said the goal of such breeders is to create animal “vegetables.”

Least Competent Criminals

Police in Chesterfield Township, Mich., arrested Calvin Fluckes Jr., 21, in December after he tried to cash a counterfeit check for $848 at a Wal-Mart. Fluckes was apparently oblivious of the approximately 80 uniformed police officers who were in the store for a charity event and whose cruisers Fluckes had to pass when he parked his car in the Wal-Mart lot. According to a police lieutenant, “(Fluckes) was immediately apprehended.”

Marshall Byers, 28, was arrested in Everett, Wash., in December, and charged with the attempted murder of his estranged wife’s boyfriend (who was treated for five knife wounds). According to prosecutors, Byers was surprised at the “attempted” charge. Allegedly, he told a detective, “What? I thought I stuck him like a pig. What do you mean, he’s alive?”

Also Should Have Kept His Mouth Shut: Jeremy Lyons, 20, was arrested in Hanover Township, Pa., in October for an alleged vandalism spree, bashing car windows with a baseball bat. A local TV station had carried a story of the arrest of another person, and Lyons for some reason called the station and, laughing, told them they had the wrong man. He was arrested when the call was traced.  ƒç