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News of the Weird 4/25/13

by Chuck Shepherd

Smarty Pants The Precocious Tots of Finland: A University of Kansas professor and two co-authors, in research in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Finance, found that children age 10 and under substantially outperformed their parents in earnings from stock trading in the few days before and after rumors swirled on possible corporate mergers. A likely explanation, they said, is that the parents or guardians were buying and selling for their children’s accounts using illegal insider information that they were cautious about using in their personal accounts, which would more easily arouse suspicion. While the parents’ accounts had nice returns, the kids’ accounts (including those held by the very recently born) were almost 50 percent more profitable. (The study, reported by NPR in April, covered 15 years of trades in Finland, chosen because that country collects age data that the U.S. and other countries do not.)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit! Delicate Marketing Required: (1) A fluoride-free chocolate toothpaste “proven” to strengthen teeth and regenerate enamel is now on sale in limited markets in the U.S. Theodent (active ingredient: “rennou”) is also available in mint flavor, said its New Orleans-based inventor, Dr. Tetsuo Nakamoto. (2) One of the 12 Canadian foods chosen to accompany the country’s International Space Station astronaut in December is the limited-issue dry cereal especially noted for its fiber, organic buckwheat and various nontraditional ingredients. “Holy Crap” cereal is available throughout Canada and in 19 other countries.

• “Even to Icelanders accustomed to harsh weather and isolation,” reported The New York Times in March, the city of Grimsstadir “is a particularly desolate spot.” Nonetheless, Chinese billionaire land developer Huang Nubo has announced he intends to build a luxury hotel and golf course in the area for his countrymen seeking “clean air and solitude.” Since snowfalls often run from September until May, locals are skeptical of Huang’s motives, but he continues to press for a long-term lease covering about 100 square miles for a project estimated to eventually cost about $100 million.

Frontiers of Science Since gastrointestinal noroviruses are so infectious and can be fatal in countries with marginal hygiene, scientists at the U.K. government’s Health and Safety Lab in Derbyshire needed to study the “reach and dispersion” of human “vomitus,” especially its aerosolizing. Working with nauseous patients would be impractical, and thus, researcher Catherine Makison created “Vomiting Larry,” a puke-hurling robot with a range of almost 10 feet. (According to a University of Cambridge researcher, one can be infected by fewer than 20 norovirus particles, each droplet of puke can contain 2 million particles, and the virus remains active on hard surfaces for 12 hours.)

• The Dark Side: Even though human hearts open warmly to helpless animals, kindness is not universal. As Clemson University animal conservation student Nathan Weaver found with a quick experiment late last year, some drivers will deliberately swerve into a turtle trying to cross a busy road—seven drivers, he found, in the space of one hour (though most drivers easily avoided the realistic rubber model). (In the 1979 movie “The Great Santini,” an overbearing fighter-pilot-husband who squishes turtles while driving late at night tells his wife, “It’s my only sport when I’m traveling, my only hobby.”)

Leading Economic Indicators Wealthy Russians have recently found a way around the country’s horrid traffic jams: fake ambulances, outfitted with plush interiors for relaxation while specially trained drivers use unauthorized lights and sirens to maneuver through cluttered streets. London’s Daily Telegraph reported in March that “ambulance” companies charge the equivalent of about $200 an hour for these taxis.

Perspective While Americans Just Sigh: After a trial on fraud charges, the Iranian judiciary sentenced four bankers and their collaborators to death in February and several others to public floggings for obtaining loans by forgery in order to purchase government properties. The total amount involved reportedly was the equivalent of about $2.6 billion—tiny compared to losses suffered since 2008 by investors and customers of large American banks’ illegality, money-laundering and corner-cutting, for which no one has yet been jailed even for a single day.

Least Competent Criminals So Far, So Good … Oops!: (1) Husband Jared Rick and wife Ashley walked out of the Wal-Mart in Salem, Ill., in February with about $2,400 in shoplifted merchandise, apparently home free, but in the parking lot got into a loud domestic argument that drew the attention of security officers, who saw the merchandise and matched the Ricks with surveillance video. (2) Corey Moore, a Washington, D.C., “street legend,” according to The Washington Post, for beating one arrest after another on murder and firearms charges, was finally convicted in February and faced at least 15 years in prison. The case was broken by a foot policeman in the suburb of Takoma Park, Md., who saw Moore toss an open bottle of beer into some shrubbery. After a sidewalk chase, a search yielded cocaine, which enabled a search of Moore’s apartment that supplied crucial evidence the police had been lacking for years. {in}