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News of the Weird 6/21/12

by Chuck Shepherd

Chinese High-Tech Answer to Red Bull Chinese media reported that on May 4th, at the Xiaogan Middle School in Hubei province, high school students studying for the all-important national college entrance exam worked through the evening while hooked up to intravenous drips of amino acids to fight fatigue. A director of the school’s Office of Academic Affairs reasoned that before the IVs were hung, weary students complained of losing too much time running back and forth to the school’s infirmary for energy injections. After the media reports, there was a public backlash, but less against the notion that China was placing too much importance on the exams than against reports that the government was subsidizing the cost of the injections.

Fine Points of the Law In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled, 3-0, that it is not necessarily improper under federal law for Minute Maid to name a beverage “Pomegranate Blueberry” even though those two ingredients constitute only 0.5 percent of the contents. A competing seller of pomegranate juices had sued in 2008, pointing out that 99.4 percent of the Minute Maid beverage was merely apple and grape juices. Minute Maid’s owner, Coca-Cola, called the competitor’s complaint “baseless.”

• Almost all companies that collect customer data publish their policies on how they keep the data “private” (even though those “privacy” policies almost always explain just precisely the ways they intend not to keep the data “private”—and are not required to by law). Researchers writing in the journal I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society (summarized in an April post on the blog TechDirt.com) found that if typical consumers bothered to read all of the detailed privacy policies they encountered, it would take from 181 to 304 hours per year (22-38 workdays), depending on shopping habits. (If every consumer in America did it, it would take from 40 billion to 67 billion hours a year, or 5 billion to 8.3 billion workdays a year.)

Unclear on the Concept In April, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it was fining Google for deliberately impeding the agency’s investigation into the company’s collection of wireless data by its roaming Street View vehicles and that the agency had decided, based on Google’s “ability to pay,” that it needed to double its staff-proposed fine in order to “deter future misconduct.” Hence, it raised Google’s fine from $12,000 to $25,000. (As pointed out by ProPublica.org, during the previous quarter year, Google made profits of $2.89 billion, or $25,000 every 68 seconds.)

•  In April, police in Newtown Township, Pa., searched (unsuccessfully, it turns out) for a “skinny” black male, between ages 35 and 45, wearing a black tracksuit. He had indecently exposed himself at a place of business—the offices of the Bucks County Association for the Blind (although, obviously, at least one sighted person reported his description).

• District of Columbia Councilman Marion Barry initially was scorned in May for criticizing the influx of “Asian” shopkeepers into the ward that he represents. “They got to go. I’ll say that right now.” Later, after re-thinking the issue, Barry announced that his ward should be “the model of diversity,” and issued an apology to Asian-Americans. But, he lamented, America has always been tough on immigrants. “The Irish caught hell, the Jews caught hell, the Polacks caught hell.” (The preferred terms are “Polish” or “Poles.”)

Bless Those Researchers’ Hearts!(1) A team of scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, following up on a Harvard study that found dramatic weight-loss qualities from eating yogurt, did its own yogurt study. The results, summarized in Scientific American in May, noted that yogurt-eating male mice have 10 times the follicle density of other mice, producing “luxuriantly silky fur” and larger, outward-projecting testicles that made them far more effective inseminators. (2) British researchers from the University of Liverpool and the University of Bristol concluded in an April journal article that caterpillars of the large white butterfly, which defends itself against predators by vomiting on them, are less likely to do so when the caterpillars live in groups. The researchers hypothesize that gratuitous vomiters are seen as poor mating risks.

Recurring Themes The most recently reported morbidly obese person who required that her home be partially torn apart by firefighters so that she could be lifted out to be taken to a hospital was teenager Georgia Davis in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. Davis, 19, weighs nearly 800 pounds, and 40 people were involved in extricating her in May from her upstairs bedroom, via scaffolding. (Several years ago, Davis enrolled in a weight-loss camp in the U.S. and got down to about 250 pounds, but she quickly gained it back.)

No Longer Weird A time-honored defense used by many older men when charged with having sex with underage girls is now so common that it must be retired from circulation. In February in Bridgeport, Conn., Norberto Millet, 60, denied raping the 9-year-old girl, accusing her of actually attacking him—and said he had to fight her off. In fact, Millet told police, a lot of girls 8- to 10 years old try to have sex with him. And in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in May, Lyle Moodie, 47 at the time, said much the same about his 16-year-old accuser. “She just suddenly grabbed me by the pajama bottoms. I pulled back and said, ‘No, stop.’ I didn’t know what to do.” {in}