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News of the Weird 1/17/13

by Chuck Shepherd

Jails Need Locks Too? “Fulton Jail Will Get Working Cell Locks,” read the Dec. 19 Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline. The county commission serving Atlanta had finally voted to break a longstanding 3-3 tie that prevented buying new jailhouse locks—even while knowing that inmates could jimmy the old ones at will and roam the facilities, threatening and assaulting suspects and guards. The three recalcitrant commissioners were being spiteful because a federal judge had ordered various improvements to the jail, costing $140 million so far, and the three vowed to spend no more. The 1,300 replacement locks will cost about $5 million—but will not be installed right away.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit! The Chinese fashion designer “Ms. Lv” told China Newsweek in November that her sales had “quintupled” since she began using her 72-year-old grandfather to model her clothing styles for girls. “(It’s) helping my granddaughter,” Liu Xianping said. “I’m very old,” he said, and “I have nothing to lose.”

• Challenging Business Plans: (1) British “medical illustrator” Emily Evans recently created eight pricy, bone china dinner plates emblazoned with the microscope images of tissue slides of the human liver, thyroid, esophagus and testicles ($60 per plate, $200 for a set of four). (2) In October, a shop in London’s St. Bart’s Pathology Museum ran a special sale of cupcakes as part of a sexually transmitted disease awareness campaign. Each pastry’s icing was crafted to resemble the lesions, boils and warts of gonorrhea and other maladies.

• Leading a “jerky renaissance” is Krave, a Sonoma, Calif., company creating nontraditional flavors such as turkey jerky and jerky flavored with basil citrus or lemon garlic. Actually, Krave points out, jerky is rich in protein, with low calories and fat (but with, admittedly, sky-high sodium) and could be reasonably pitched as a healthy snack. However, jerky’s main obstacle (a Krave competitor’s CEO told The Wall Street Journal in September) is “jerky shame,” in which some male consumers remain mortified that their girlfriends might see them enjoying the snack.

Science on the Cutting Edge Behold, the “McGyver” Spider: Biologist Phil Torres, working from the Tambopata national park in Peru, revealed in December that he had witnessed a tiny Cyclosa spider construct a replica of an eight-legged spider in a web made of leaves, debris and dead insects. Since the real spider was found nearby, Torres hypothesized that the wily arachnid had built a decoy to confuse predators.

• Artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso, already known for her “circus” of performing fleas at Australia’s Sydney Festival 10 years ago, has since become a legitimate academic expert on the sex organs of fleas and other insects. She debuted the Museum of Copulatory Organs last year near Sydney, teaching visitors such esoterica as: In many insect species, females are promiscuous; snails are hermaphrodites in which one shoots sperm “darts” that form rigid chastity-belt-like blockages on his mate; and a male flea copulates for eight hours straight (but only mates three times in his life).

Awe-Inspiring Animals A team of French researchers writing recently in the journal PLOS ONE described a species of European catfish, growing to a length of five feet, that feeds itself pigeons by lunging out of the water (“cat”-like) and snatching them, even if the leap carries it to shore. Like Argentinian killer whales, the catfish are able to remain on land for a few seconds while wriggling back into the water where they can enjoy their meal. The lead researcher said he filmed 54 catfish attacks, of which 15 were successful. {in}