Lead Story

With small vineyards in the Languedoc region of southern France struggling to compete with cheaper imported wine, a group of extremist winemakers known as the Crav issued a video ultimatum in May: seven men in ski masks read a prepared statement warning new president Nicolas Sarkozy that “blood will flow” if the government doesn’t move quickly to raise wine prices. The Crav (in French an acronym for “winegrowers’ regional action committee”) has claimed responsibility for explosives attacks on government offices and supermarkets, and in 2005 a Crav unit allegedly used a shotgun blast to disable a tanker truck in the village of Clermont l’Herault and forced its drivers to empty thousands of gallons of Spanish wine into the street.

The March of Science

Researchers at Japan’s Tohoku University reported in June that they had used classical Pavlovian techniques to condition cockroaches to salivate upon smelling a specific odor, thus replicating results seen before only in vertebrates. Also in June Reuters reported on a research team in Temuco, Chile, that claims to have synthesized both a spermicide and a treatment for erectile dysfunction from the venom of the Chilean black widow spider. (Adult male victims of the spider’s bite can experience prolonged, painful erections and spontaneous ejaculation.) And in April scientists at Leicester University and the University of Warwick in the UK announced they had improved the performance of an electronic odor-sensing device by coating it with artificial mucus.

The Continuing Crisis

Last month professor Paul Worsey of the University of Missouri at Rolla conducted the fourth annual session of his Summer Explosives Camp, where high school students get to set off charges placed in quarry walls, ponds, tree stumps, watermelons, and dead chickens. Though his primary aim is to recruit majors for the school’s mining engineering department–and thus provide much-needed replacements for aging U.S. explosives experts–Worsey told the New York Times that he also hoped to persuade teenagers whose inclination to blow things up might otherwise get them in trouble to “hold off . . . until they get the opportunity to come to college and do it properly.”

Snakes to Town: Sorry We Asked

In June officials in Ledbury, England, denied 22-year-old Timothy Fry permission to take his snakes, Rose and Buddy, out for exercise in a public park. Fry said he’d been letting the snakes (neither of which is venomous) slither around the park under his close supervision regularly for about a year without any complaints but had grown concerned this might be illegal; he added that he likely would have stopped the park visits anyway, as the snakes didn’t like the increased attention they’d been attracting since he applied for the town’s approval.

People Who Lead Exciting Lives

On June 24 Pablo Castro of Decatur, Illinois, was taken to the hospital twice–once around noon, once at about 11 PM–after receiving stab wounds in arguments with two different people. And in the first week of July, Tony Hicks of Athens, Tennessee, received hospital treatment on three consecutive days for three unrelated injuries: early on Sunday, July 1, the day after his release following a year in jail, he was hit by a car; on Monday night, he reported that an intruder had hit him in the face with a coffee mug while robbing his apartment; and on Tuesday night, he was shot in the abdomen during a standoff with police investigating a convenience-store holdup.


A spokesperson for LG Electronics confirmed in June that the South Korean company had filed a U.S. patent application for a washing machine with a built-in MP3 player.

Least Competent People

Late one night in May Texas truck driver Gilberto Cantu drove a 13-foot-6-inch-tall semi rig loaded with plumbing fixtures into the New Jersey end of the Lincoln Tunnel, which has a posted clearance of 13 feet; after some time he emerged from the Manhattan end, a mile and a half away, with the entire top of the trailer stripped off and dragging on the roadway behind him. Authorities couldn’t explain why Cantu had ignored numerous cues to stop, which included stoplights inside the tunnel, instructions from police via loudspeaker, and the shrieking sound of the trailer being torn apart; the safety director at the trucking company said Cantu’s record had been “spotless” to that point and suggested he’d just made a “bad call.”

Now Appearing: Jesus

More places an image of Jesus is said to have turned up: icy door of grocery-store freezer case (Morton, Texas, January); trunk and branches of tree (Crystal City, Texas, February); surface of pancake (Conneaut, Ohio, March); ultrasound printout (Glasgow, March); baking sheet (Kamloops, British Columbia, March); wallpaper scorched in house fire (Sacramento, March). Bonus sightings: the word Jesus in swirling pattern of stone shower tile (Newnan, Georgia, January); image of Virgin Mary in stained bottom of pizza pan (Houston, February).

In That Case, Thanks for Smearing

In London in June 36-year-old Bonney Eberendu was sentenced to detention in a mental hospital for at least six incidents in which he had defecated on a passenger train and smeared the feces around the compartment. Eberendu explained he had done so in order to silence the voices in his head that were telling him to stab people.

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