Lead Story

An article earlier this month in the Cincinnati Enquirer reported on 12-year-old David Valentine’s fight to keep his pet goats, D.J. and Blessing, with whom he often bounces on a trampoline in the backyard of his suburban home. Responding to complaints, Miami Township officials have ruled that goats are not permissible household pets under local zoning laws. Now the Valentines have filed a federal lawsuit, saying the ban constitutes discrimination against the disabled because the goats are needed to help David manage his attention deficit disorder.

Bad Work

Among those with “The Worst Jobs in Science,” according to the annual listing published in October’s Popular Science: researchers in Borneo who catch falling orangutan urine (in bags mounted on poles or in plastic sheets, firefighter-style) to study hormone levels; volcano monitors, who must run, laden with gear, toward the poisonous gases, molten rock, clouds of ash, glacial avalanches, etc associated with eruptions (dozens have been killed or wounded over the years); U.S. Geological Survey teams harvesting “extremophile” microbes that thrive in vile-smelling arsenic-saturated mud (imagine, one worker suggests, being “tightly surrounded” by 100 “extremely flatulent people”); students participating in a pesticide-industry-funded study at the University of California at San Diego, who get $15 an hour to have chloropicrin (used as a nerve gas in WWI) sprayed into their noses and eyes; manure inspectors at the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety (pig and chicken are the worst, apparently); and high school biology teachers in Kansas.

Last year, chief executive officers at 367 top U.S. corporations were paid, on average, $431 for every dollar paid to their companies’ average production worker, according to information compiled and released in September by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy. If the federal minimum wage had increased at the same rate as CEOs’ pay since 1990, the study pointed out, it would now be $23.03 an hour.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has reported several times on kopi luwak, the super-high-end coffee–up to $50 a cup–made with beans that have been eaten and excreted by the Indonesian palm civet. According to an October dispatch in the New York Times, Berbers in the Moroccan town of Tiout have for centuries made an oil, prized for cooking and in cosmetics, from pits excreted or spit up by goats after eating the fruit of the increasingly rare argan tree. (The goats actually climb into the branches of the trees to graze on the fruit and leaves.)


In a ten-day period in October, a 13-foot Burmese python swallowed a 6-foot alligator in the Everglades but was killed when its stomach was ripped open by the gator’s death throes; a 12-foot Burmese python ate an 18-pound cat in Miami Hills; and a 10-foot African rock python was caught after it got into a coop in southwest Miami and ate a turkey, becoming as a result too large to slither back through the fence. Pythons aren’t native to North America; the hundreds roaming south Florida (a Miami-Dade County snake control team picks up a few each week) are all abandoned pets or their descendants.

Least Competent Criminals

In Lafayette, Indiana, 22-year-old Earl Devine was arrested in late July and again in early August for allegedly trying to pass $100 bills bearing a picture of Benjamin Franklin but a watermark of Abraham Lincoln. And in October, police in Twin Falls, Idaho, confiscated $999 million in reasonably high-quality counterfeit bills, all unfortunately in the nonexistent denomination of $1 million. A man from nearby Buhl had gone to a local bank and tried to use a few of them as collateral on a loan.

Gas, Brake, Whatever

More accidents in which elderly drivers apparently stepped on the wrong pedal: Age 90, crashed into another vehicle in funeral procession; eight injured (Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, May). Age 78, crashed into large crowd and other vehicles at auto auction; about 20 injured (Yaphank, New York, July). Age 77, crashed into operating room at eye clinic, narrowly missing surgeon and sedated cataract patient; no injuries (Newark, New Jersey, August). Age 83, drove through garage wall while parking; driver killed (Chicago, September). Age 87, crashed into hospital lobby; five taken to emergency room (Bismarck, North Dakota, October). Age 80, backed through four parked cars and out of parking lot, jumped curb; no injuries (Rockford, Illinois, November). Age 89, severed pedestrian’s leg, then plowed into supermarket; seven injured (Lakeland, Florida, November). Age 82, drove through facade, four or five interior walls, and steel rear door of security company; one injured (Anderson, South Carolina, November).

Readers’ Choice

In October, a 33-year-old pastor at University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, mishandled a microphone while standing in a baptismal pool, preparing to immerse a parishioner in front of about 800 congregants, and was electrocuted. On the same day in Johannesburg, South Africa, a pastor and a parishioner of the Jerusalem Apostolic Church drowned during a river baptism ceremony when they lost their footing on rocks in the riverbed.

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