Lead Story

The New Zealand agricultural company Summit-Quinphos announced in March that it had developed a new system for countering the effects of nitrogen-rich cow urine on pastureland. Government-funded researchers will now refine the system, in which a tail-mounted sensor detects when the cow lifts its tail to urinate, causing a spray device attached to the cow’s ankle to emit a blast of nitrogen inhibitor at the ground below.

Least Competent People

In March an administrative law judge in Des Moines denied unemployment benefits to Barbara J. Dutton, ruling that her former employer had cause to fire her. According to an audit Dutton, as supply clerk for a 12-person staff, had ordered $230,000 in office supplies over an 18-month period, including $15,000 worth of Scotch tape, $5,300 worth of highlighters, 16,000 Bic pens, and $20,000 worth of ink for a printer the company didn’t have. Asked why she had bought all these things, Dutton replied, “I didn’t realize I was not needing them.”

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Calling Nowhere: TalkToAliens.com went on the air in February, charging customers $3.99 a minute to call a 900 number and have their voice beamed live into space via a parabolic dish antenna. And in December Agence France-Presse reported on German inventor Juergen Broether and his $2,000 system for talking to the dead: it consists of a one-way mobile phone and a battery-powered receiver/speaker to be buried near the coffin of the addressee.

In February the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on a theme park near Mexico City where visitors test their survival skills on an obstacle course that simulates an illegal U.S. border crossing. Also in February Switzerland restored the trademark for the name Bin Laden to Yeslam Bin Laden, a Geneva-based businessman and half brother of Osama. Bin Laden–who was granted the trademark in August 2001 only to see it revoked months later by Swiss authorities acting in the name of public order–said he had no immediate plans to use the name commercially. This presumably means that his brand of perfume, introduced in November, will continue to be sold as Yeslam.

Cutting-Edge Medical Research

Counterintuitive results from recent studies: (1) Mice that were given nonalcoholic beer suffered much less DNA damage after exposure to possible carcinogens than mice given only water (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, February). (2) A study of sets of twins in which one twin smoked and the other didn’t suggests that smoking may provide some protection against the onset of Parkinson’s disease (Annals of Neurology, January). (3) Overweight and obese patients seem to do better following coronary artery bypass surgery than patients of normal weight (American Journal of Cardiology, February).

Totalitarian Hijinks

The BBC reported in January on a propaganda drive in North Korea against men’s untidy haircuts. A five-part series on state-run TV claimed that long hair diverts nutrition from the brain, impeding “human intelligence development,” and demonstrated an array of government-approved haircuts, all a maximum of two inches long. (Men over 50 could grow their hair out to three inches to facilitate comb-overs.) In another series Pyongyang men with unacceptable hair were approached on the street, identified by name and address, and publicly chastised.

The Sacred Institution of Marriage

So far this year at least five children (three girls and two boys) in the Indian states of Jharkhand and Orissa have been married to dogs; under local custom a child whose first tooth appears in the upper jaw is thought to attract bad fortune to the family, and a dog marriage is the traditional remedy. According to villagers quoted in an April report by Agence France-Presse, the dental irregularities of one bride made her unusually susceptible to “being devoured by a tiger.”

In February a tribal council in the Pakistani village of Kacha Chohan ordered the betrothal of a 2-year-old girl to a 42-year-old man to punish the girl’s uncle for allegedly having sex with the man’s wife. (The marriage will take place when the girl turns 18.)

America’s Gun Problem

People who recently shot themselves by mistake: Off-duty sheriff’s deputy Melissa Baird, age not reported; loading gun prior to investigating noise; leg; lived (Brandon, Florida, March). Santiago Preciado-Alvarez, 54; trying to remove gun from waistband after allegedly deciding to scare off coyotes while drunk; buttocks, calf, and ankle; lived (Newark, Wisconsin, February). Adrian White-Wolff, 20; fooling around with friends in car; head; died (Tucson, Arizona, March).

Readers’ Choice

In March a state teachers’ commission charged Scott Reed, football and track coach and science teacher at Central Linn High School in Halsey, Oregon, with gross neglect of duty after reviewing allegations by parents that he had licked the bleeding wounds of school athletes.


A 59-year-old man drowned in a quarry near Hillsville, Pennsylvania, in March while testing his new depth finder. And on the eve of Bunny Days, the annual pre-Easter festival in Mission Viejo, California, the city council granted residents of a gated community the right to hire exterminators to shoot bothersome rabbits on sight.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.