News of the Weird July 25 2007

Lead Story: Popular Science’s “10 Worst Jobs in Science” this year (July issue) included the divers who scrub the walls of pits of sewage, toxins and nuclear waste; the elephant vasectomist (wielding a 4-foot-long laparoscope to deal with the 12-inch-wide testicles); carcass-preparers who ship cat, frog, shark and even cockroach bodies to be studied in science classes; the whale researcher who admitted she was “surprised” at “how much you could learn about a whale through its feces”; and the volunteers who lie still for up to 21 days to study the effects of weightlessness (for $2,000 a week).

Government in Action! Servicemembers Legal Defense Network activists told reporters in June that at least 59 U.S.-trained Arabic speakers have been ejected from the military because they’re gay (and in each case despite being a native English-speaker who completed intense, expensive military language school). But a month before that, as symbolic of the government’s shortage of Arabic speakers, an official of the U.S.-funded Al Hurra Middle East television service admitted that it had recently, inadvertently, broadcast several pro-terrorist programs (including an hour-long tirade encouraging violence against Jews), attributing the error to the fact that no senior Al Hurra news manager speaks Arabic.

Britain’s Home Office said in April that the country’s 1,500 most “disruptive” families could soon be moved into special communities by themselves, with 24-hour supervision, if they didn’t stop causing trouble (trouble the Home Office figured has cost taxpayers the equivalent of more than $1 billion to deal with).

Among the tax sweeteners offered by states to welcome relocating businesses is Texas’ easy-to-get farmland benefit. When the huge Fidelity Investments company bought a 300-acre plot near Dallas for a new office, it made sure to put 25 head of cattle on the land, which the Boston Herald found reduced its real-estate tax bill by about $360,000 a year under what it would pay without the cattle. Also, federal farm subsidies continue to be skewed, as well. In May, a coalition of Washington groups unveiled a searchable computer database listing agriculture subsidies by recipient, which revealed that such “farmers” as David Letterman and basketball player Scottie Pippen receive federal funds for incidental farm uses of their land.

Democracy! 1) In May, a jury in Weld County, Colo., declined to hold Kathleen Ensz accountable for leaving a flier containing her dog’s droppings on the doorstep of U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, apparently agreeing with Ensz that she was merely exercising free speech. 2) Jenny Bailey was elected mayor in Cambridge, England, in May, and her companion/partner Jennifer Liddle (a former Cambridge city council member) became the equivalent of “first lady”; both Bailey and Liddle were born males and became women as young adults.

Great Art! University of Western Australia artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr blend art with science, extracting living cells from animals and growing them on top of biodegradable scaffolds so that when the scaffolds disappear, a living entity remains, in the shape of the scaffold. At the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon, Israel, in April, they unveiled “Victimless Leather,” or actual animal skin cells that grew into leather without harming an animal, but their previous work has included growing steak from lamb muscle cells and the preparation for growing wings on a pig (though, in the final stage of that project, they were turned down by the exhibitor, who was apparently grossed out).

Fine Points of the Law: Thomas Wimberly, 74, was arrested in July 2006 for stealing two hot dogs (value: $2.11) from a Quik Trip convenience store in Wichita, Kan. Because it was Wimberly’s third misdemeanor theft charge, Kansas law required the count be upgraded to a felony. Wimberly could not immediately make bail, and in fact was incarcerated for 71 days before his trial (once being subject to a bond of $100,000), but prosecutors insisted on a trial. In April 2007, a jury (reportedly angry at having been called to such an insignificant case) found Wimberly not guilty.

Crime Waves: 1) In May, a woman in Jacksonville, Ill., reported the theft of a bong from her house; she told police that she valued it because it belonged to her son, who is in prison, and it is all she had to remember him by. 2) The sheriff’s office in Clyman, Wis., reported that a man called 911 on April 21, alarmed that he had just paid $20 to a woman at a club after a lap dance and then realized that she was not the one who had danced for him.