Was Moammar Gadhafi the last of the “buffoon dictators,” asked BBC News in October. His legend was earned not merely with his now-famous, dirty-old-man scrapbook of Condoleezza Rice photos. Wrote a BBC reporter, “One day (Gadhafi) was a Motown (backup) vocalist with wet-look permed hair and tight pants. The next, a white-suited comic-operetta Latin American admiral, dripping with braid.” Nonetheless, Gadhafi had competition, according to an October report in the journal Foreign Policy. For example, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s dictator owns, among other eccentric luxuries, a $1.4 million collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia. North Korea’s Kim Jong Il owns videos of almost every game Michael Jordan ever played for the Chicago Bulls.
Leading Economic Indicators In March, William Ernst, 57, owner of the QC Mart chain of Iowa convenience stores, excitedly announced a company-wide employee contest with a prize of $10 for guessing the next worker that Ernst will fire for breaking rules. “Once we fire the person, we will open all the envelopes (containing the entries), award the prize, and start the contest again.” Ernst added, “And no fair picking Mike Miller from (the Rockingham Road store). He was fired at around 11:30 a.m. today for wearing a hat and talking on his cellphone. Good luck!!!!!!!!!!” (After firing a cashier who had complained about Ernst’s attitude, he challenged the woman’s unemployment-compensation claim, but in October, a judge ruled in her favor.)
• Even in a flagging economy, Christie’s auction house in New York City was able to attract a record sales price for a photograph. In November, a 1999 photo by German artist Andreas Gursky, of a scenic view of the Rhine River, sold for $4.3 million. (It is possible, of course, that buying the actual waterfront property that Gursky photographed from—to enjoy the same view every day—would have been less expensive.)
• Unfortunately, Manulife Financial Corp. is a Canadian firm, and thus it had a very bad year. If exactly the same company had been magically relocated to anywhere in the United States, it would have had an outstanding year. Under Canada’s hard-nosed accounting rules, Manulife was forced to post a loss last year of $1.28 billion. However, under the more feel-good U.S. accounting rules, according to the company, it would have shown a profit of $2.2 billion and been flush with $16 billion more in shareholder value.
Wait . . . What? In the course of an October story on an ill-fated Continental Airlines flight during which all restrooms in coach were broken, the reporter for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis sought reactions from experts. Calling the toilet failures a “bad situation that hasn’t been addressed” was Robert Brubaker, a spokesman for something called the American Restroom Association, “a Baltimore-based advocacy group for toilet users.”
Our Animal Overlords An Oxford University researcher reported in August on the African crested rat, which is so ingenious that it slathers poison, from chewing the A. schimperi plant, onto an absorbent strip of fur on its back as protection against predators many times larger. The researcher observed first-hand a dog quivering in fear after just one failed mouthful of a crested rat’s fur in his laboratory. The noxious goo is also used by African tribesmen on their hunting arrows.
Researching the Itty-Bitty: In October, Popular Science dubbed researcher Gaby Maimon of Rockefeller University as one of its “Brilliant 10” for 2011 for his monitoring of neurons in the brains of fruit flies. Maimon first had to immobilize the flies’ brains in saline and outfit their tiny neurons with even tinier electrodes—so that he could track which neurons were firing as the flies flapped their wings and carried out other activities (work that he believes can be useful in treating human autism and attention-deficit disorder).
Oh, Dear! (1) An October Associated Press dispatch from New Orleans warned that “Caribbean crazy ants” are invading five Southern states by the millions, and because their death triggers distress signals to their pals for revenge attacks, up to 10 times as many might replace any population wiped out. Said a Texas exterminator, of a pesticide he once tried, “In 30 days I had 2 inches of dead ants covering (an) entire half-acre,” and still the ants kept coming, crawling across the carcasses. Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi are currently the most vulnerable. (2) Biologists found a shark fetus with one centered eye inside a pregnant dusky shark off the coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico, in October. A marine sciences lab in nearby La Paz confirmed that the unborn baby, which filled up a researcher’s hand, had the extremely rare congenital “cyclopia.”