News of the Weird

Work of a Researcher

“Field work is always challenging,” explained Courtney Marneweck of South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal in a recent journal article, but studying the sociology of a white rhino’s dung meant developing a “pattern-recognition algorithm” to figure out “smell profiles” of 150 animals’ feces — after tracking them individually to observe them in the act. Wrote Marneweck, “I think my record for waiting for a rhino to poo was 7 1/2 hours.” Conclusion: Rhinos use feces to send distinct social signals on genetically compatible herds, mating access and predator dangers. (Or, in the Los Angeles Times “clickbait” version of the story, rhino dung “has a lot in common with a Facebook post.”)

“Retiring” the Herd

Settlement of a class-action lawsuit against a group of dairy co-ops was announced in January with milk producers agreeing to pay $52 million on charges they had conspired to fix the dairy supply for years to get top-dollar prices. Among the producers’ primary tactics, allegedly, was using what the industry calls “herd retirement,” which is “retirement” only in the sense that 500,000 healthy young cows were slaughtered — just to drive up prices by eliminating otherwise-available milk. The $52 million will be for consumers in 15 states and Washington, D.C.


(1) Rutgers University Athletic Director Pat Hobbs, responding to the NCAA’s announcement of violations against the school’s sports programs (including failure to penalize 16 football players who tested positive for drugs), told the Asbury Park Press in January that he would immediately dismiss from teams any player testing positive for hard drugs — upon the fourth violation (if for marijuana only, upon the fifth). (2) In January, the Russian parliament voted 380 to 3 to amend its assault law to allow a spouse one punishment-by-”ticketing” (i.e., not criminal) for domestic violence against his partner — provided the bodily harm was not “substantial” and that it happens no more than once a year.

The “Virtuous Pedophile”

Gary Gibson, 65, of Chiloquin, Oregon, admits he is sexually attracted to little girls but never acts on his urges, and therefore, demands that people get off his case. He formed the Association for Sexual Abuse Prevention, campaigning, he says, to keep children safe from other pedophiles whose self-restraint may not match his. Gibson describes himself as a “normal, everyday person,” married to a British nurse (whom he met via a Christian singles organization), and has three children and 10 grandchildren — none so far molested (though in an interview, London’s The Sun allowed him to explain his side of various edgy events of his life, such as his having moved for a while to the South Pacific, where little girls sometimes played naked).

Wait, What?

(1) Surgery on a 16-year-old Japanese girl, reported in January by New Scientist, revealed that her ovary contained a miniature skull and brain. Doctors say that finding rogue brain cells in ovaries is not that uncommon, but that an already-organized brain, capable of transmitting electric impulses, is almost unheard-of. (2) The neonatal intensive care unit of Texas Health Fort Worth disclosed in January that the secret to keeping the most fragile prematurely born babies alive is to quickly stick them into Ziploc freezer bags to create, according to a clinician, a “hot house effect.” (It turns out that merely raising the temperature in the delivery room had only marginal effect.)

Leading Economic Indicator

Doughnut lovers have legitimately mused for years how U.S. law could condemn, say, marijuana, yet permit Krispy Kreme to openly sell its seemingly addictive sugary delights on America’s streets. Sonia Garcia, 51, realized a while back that residents of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, so much needed Krispy Kreme fixes that she earns a handsome living running a black market from El Paso, Texas, bringing in 40 boxes at a time and re-selling from the trunk of her car at a 60 percent markup, pointing out to a Los Angeles Times reporter in January that her trafficking has already put one son through engineering school. (Mexico City now has Krispy Kremes, but apparently the company’s distribution system cannot yet vanquish Sonia Garcia’s car.)

Can’t Possibly Be True

Reporting from Mbyo, Rwanda, in January on the success of a “reconciliation” program following the country’s bloody genocidal wars, London’s The Guardian found, for example, Laurencia Niyogira living peacefully and forgivingly alongside neighbor Tasian Nkundiye — even though, 22 years ago, Nkundiye murdered Niyogira’s entire family (except for her and her siblings, left barely alive). (Over a 100-day span in 1994, 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were systematically slaughtered by Hutus.) A survey by the country’s national unity commission showed that 92 percent of Rwandans have come to accept reconciliation.

Least Competent Criminals

Driver Joshua Concepcion-West, 27, was arrested in Apopka, Florida, with an ingenious license-plate cover that he could raise and lower remotely from his key chain (thus avoiding identification by cameras as he passed through turnpike checkpoints). On Jan. 11 at a $1.25 toll plaza, he had neglected to check his rear-view mirror before lowering the cover — and failed to notice that right behind him was a Florida Highway Patrol car with a trooper watching the whole thing.

Right to Be Grumpy

Trader Joe’s has gained popularity among grocery shoppers in large part by having relentlessly sunny employees, but now that the firm has expanded from mellower California to more brusque New York City, it is learning that cheerfulness is harder to find. The company fired Thomas Nagle recently because, though he said he frequently smiled, he was told his smile was insufficiently “genuine,” and, backed by several colleagues, he has filed an unfair labor practice charge (and union organizers have taken notice). The National Labor Relations Board has already ruled (against another employer) that workers cannot be forced to convey that all-important “positive work environment” because they are entitled to have grievances.

The Passing Parade

(1) Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania (pop. 4,300), rarely makes the news, thus allowing it to avoid questions about its awkward name (since it is (a) landlocked and (b) 100 miles from New Jersey). (In January, local residents were disturbed about the odor of a farm’s prematurely ripening radishes.) (2) Scientists at Spain’s University of Barcelona announced they had reduced the fear of death in some of their 32 research participants by exposing them (using artificial intelligence Oculus Rift headsets) to out-of-body experiences so that they could see and feel themselves “alive” even when they are not actually present.

A News of the Weird Classic (April 2013)

Undocumented immigrant Jose Munoz, 25, believed himself an ideal candidate for President Obama’s 2012 initiative for children, in that he had been brought to the United States by his undocumented parents before age 16, had no criminal record, and had graduated from high school (with honors, even). Since graduation, however, he had stayed at his parents’ home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, jobless, unenterprisingly “vegging,” making it difficult to prove the final requirement of the law: that he had lived continuously in the U.S. since graduation (since just lying around the house leaves no paper trail). After initial frustrations, Munoz finally proved his residency by submitting his Xbox Live records documenting that his computer’s Wisconsin location had been accessing video games, daily, year after year.

Lamest Criminal Defense Ever

Substitute teacher Pete Garcia Hernandez, 49, was arrested in Houston in January and charged with three counts of indecency with a child, involving girls at Looscan Elementary School. The girls had reported earlier that Hernandez had kissed them each on the mouth, but police investigators quoted Hernandez as calling it all an “accident,” that “he was speaking close with them and his tongue accidentally went into their mouth(s).”