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News of the Weird 2/6/14

by Chuck Shepherd

Modest Meat The International New York Times edition published in Kuala Lumpur on Jan. 22 carried a page-one story noting increased worldwide demand by meat processors for pigs raised in the fresh air rather than enclosed in pens—illustrated by a photograph of a cluster of pigs feeding in an outdoor stall. However, the Malaysian printer (who had downloaded the digital pages and set them to paper) had added black boxes to cover just the faces of each pig in the photo. “If there is picture of nudes or (the) like, this we will cover (up),” a publisher’s spokesman told the Malay Mail. “This is a Muslim country.” (The story, headline and photo were otherwise identical to the versions that appeared elsewhere in New York Times editions.)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit! The convenience beverage market got jumbled recently when, first, Oregon-based Union Wine Co. announced in November that it would soon sell its Underwood pinot gris and pinot noir in 12-ounce cans and, second, the London department store Selfridges unveiled a champagne vending machine for New Year’s celebrations. (The French bottler Moet & Chandon offered bottles of bubbly behind glass doors for the equivalent of $29.)

Weird Science The Joy of Researching: A team of Czech Republic researchers led by Vlastimil Hart, writing in Frontiers in Zoology in December, reported that dogs (among a few mammals), dealing with a nature’s call, spontaneously align their body axis with the Earth’s magnetic field. To reach that conclusion, the researchers said they observed 70 dogs of 37 breeds during defecation (1,893 observations) and urination (5,582) over a two-year period.

• If We Can Do It, We Should Do It: (1) ThinkGeek.com has introduced the Tactical Laser-Guided Pizza Cutter, at a suggested $29.95, for helping to achieve straight-line precision in those difficult four-cut (eight-slice) pizza formulations. (2) From the Japanese lingerie manufacturer Ravijour comes a bra whose front clasp can be locked unless its built-in heart-rate monitor signifies that the heartbeat is characteristic of “true love.” (Ravijour said it is still testing the bra.)

Leading Economic Indicators Mumbai, India, has its share of Western-style financial advisers using computer programs familiar to Wall Street—but with the additional layering of “financial astrologers,” who forecast successes and failures based on the alignment of the planets, among other indicators. According to a Business Week report in September, the GaneshaSpeaks service (with inspiration by the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, god of wisdom) claims 1,200 subscribers at the equivalent of about $80 a year. Said one astrologer, “Fund managers used to laugh at me.” During crises, he said, “I’m constantly crunching market and planetary data.”

• A group of (legal) prostitutes in the Netherlands began a campaign in December to have their occupation officially termed so dangerous and physically challenging that they should be allowed (as soccer players are) to save in tax-free pension funds. They carry out “difficult physical work,” their lawyer said, and their careers are likewise short-lived—much better-suited for the young. Furthermore, he pointed out, prostitutes are not able, post-career, to earn money coaching or by endorsements.

• American health-care reformers routinely decry the inability of consumer-patients to compare prices of services to help drive down the costs. Two doctors, writing for the Journal of the American Medical Association in December, illuminated the problem by surveying 20 hospitals in the Philadelphia area. Nineteen fully disclosed the prices for parking in the hospital garage (and potential discounts were shown), but only three of the 20 would disclose their prices for routine electrocardiograms ($137, $600, $1,200).