Lead Stories

During its tour of Britain in July, the Moscow State Circus told reporters that its insurers had warned that many of the circus’s performers–trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, jugglers–would risk losing their coverage if they didn’t comply with European Union safety rules by wearing hard hats or other protective headgear during their acts.

For 23 years Dennis Hope, 55, of Gardnerville, Nevada, has operated a business that sells deeds of title to land on the moon, Mars, and Venus. In September Hope told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he’s earned $6.25 million so far, or an average of $272,000 a year–the current price of an acre is $19.99 (plus $1.51 in lunar tax). The idea for the business arose from something he learned in college: specifically, that the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibited signatory countries from exercising sovereignty over celestial bodies but was silent about ownership by individuals. Hope claims to have written letters to the UN (and to the Soviet and American governments) explaining his plan and asking if anyone had a problem with it; he says no one ever wrote back.

Alternate Reality

Budget cuts in Alabama (and the recent failure of the governor’s tax-increase referendum) have sharply curtailed the number of troopers its department of public safety can assign to nighttime highway patrol–currently the level is down to five or six for the entire state. However, during college football season as many as 17 troopers spend all day every Saturday providing security for ten Alabama teams. According to an October report from the Associated Press, the schools have technically agreed to reimburse the state for the troopers’ expenses, but the government has yet to make a serious attempt to collect.

Weird Science

According to the August issue of Scientific American, Carl Hanson of Saint Paul, Minnesota, obtained a U.S. patent (number 6,457,474) in 2002 for his method of treating heart-related chest pain: drink two or three glasses daily of limeade from concentrate. In his patent application Hanson noted that the limeade has worked for him, then laid out the details of his “invention”: open a can of thawed concentrate, add water, stir, and introduce the juice into the body through the mouth. (The patent also covers intravenous administration.)

In August researchers at Panasonic’s Nanotechnology Research Laboratory near Kyoto, Japan, announced the development of a “bio-nano” generator that can create a small amount of electricity from blood (the theoretical maximum for a human body is about enough to power a lightbulb). The generator uses an enzyme to strip the glucose in blood of its electrons, and may soon be efficient enough to supply electricity to a pacemaker or other implanted device.

Crises in the Workplace

Among the worst jobs in science, according to the October issue of Popular Science: (15) fish counters, who watch the fish ladders built into dams in the Pacific Northwest for eight hours at a time, pressing a particular button every time they see a fish of a certain species swim past; (11) the two remaining government bureaucrats whose job it is to convince Americans of the merits of the metric system; (4) mosquito researchers in Brazil, who endure up to 17 bites a minute on three-hour shifts (the most troublesome species only responds to human bait) and hope not to get malaria; (1) flatus odor judges working for Minnesota gastroenterologist Michael Levitt, who feeds subjects pinto beans, gathers the resulting gases in plastic tubes, and then has the judges sniff more than 100 samples, rating them for noxiousness (the chief culprit seems to be hydrogen sulfide).

Least Competent Criminals

In September in New York City, 54-year-old Cyril Kendall was sentenced to at least 11 years in prison for swindling the American Red Cross and another organization out of more than $160,000 for funeral expenses and family grief counseling. He claimed to have lost an adult son in the World Trade Center attacks, but there are no official records that the son ever existed. (Kendall presented a birth certificate from Guyana, deemed a poor forgery by the court, and the family members who supported his story–including some of his 12 actual children–may be charged with perjury.) The money for grief counseling, billed at $425 an hour, went to a front company of which Kendall was the sole employee; he used it to buy a new car and pay off credit-card debt.

In the Last Month

In Montreal, Quebec, lawyer Christian Gauthier, who’d been defending a client accused of killing a police officer, was referred for disciplinary investigation after reporters overheard him singing the Bob Marley hit “I Shot the Sheriff” during a courtroom break. In Woodstock, Illinois, a 15-year-old in custody in connection with a burglary investigation was charged with theft after ordering $42 in pay-per-view adult movies through the jail’s cable television hookup. And in Marietta, Ohio, a candidate for city council president was arrested the morning of the election on a misdemeanor warrant (he owed $181.99 in city income tax) but went on to win the seat.

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