Yes, This Is Really How They Do It: The Wolong Panda Training Base in Sichuan, China, released a series of photos to China Daily in October to mark the graduation from captivity, and into the wild, of the 2-year-old Tao Tao. Sure enough, Tao Tao and his mother, Cao Cao, were shown frolicking in the woods, accompanied by trainers each dressed in full-length panda suits, including panda heads, as they appeared to demonstrate climbing trees and searching for food.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
-- The Lost Art of Cuddling: (1) At the recently opened Soineya "cuddle cafe" in Tokyo, men buy hugging privileges (but no "sex" allowed!) with young women for from 20 minutes to 10 hours at prices (gratuity optional) ranging from the equivalents of $40 to $645, with surcharges for special services (e.g., foot massages, resting heads in each other's laps). (2) The Deluxe Comfort Girlfriend Body Pillow, which began as a boutique-only niche product, recently became available at Amazon.com and Sears.com at around $25. The bolster-like, cuddling-enabled pillow is augmented with two strategically placed mounds and a snuggle-up arm hanging to the side. (There's also an Original Soft and Comfy Boyfriend Pillow, without the mounds.)
-- "You have wrinkles," the inquiring customer was told, "and your left cheek is larger than your right," explained "Tata," the Bangkok-born woman who recently opened a salon in San Francisco to employ the supposedly traditional Thai art of face-slapping. Frown lines and droopy skin are curable with a 10-minute regimen of well- placed whacks across the cheek (and payment of the $350 fee), Tata told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in October. Masochists are warned that Tata deals in therapy, not punishment. "If you want someone to hit you, go on Craigslist."
-- Among the "Ig Nobel" prizes awarded to earnest academics in September by the Annals of Improbable Research was the one to Patrick Warren and colleagues who delved into excruciatingly detailed predictions (at the behest of a cosmetics firm) about how someone might ultimately look with a ponytail, based on hair characteristics. The team took into account the stiffness of the strands, the effects of gravity and the random curliness or waviness in the hair in a set formula to compute a "Rapunzel Number" for each head. Explaining his particularized work to reporters, Dr. Warren acknowledged (perhaps with underestimation), "I've been working on this for a long time."
-- A research team at Lund University in Sweden, led by neuroethologist Jochen Smolka, concluded that one reason dung beetles dance in circles on top of dung is to cool off, according to an October report on LiveScience.com. To arrive at their conclusion, the team went to the trouble of painting tiny silicone "boots" on some beetles to protect them from the ambient heat experienced by a control group of beetles, and found that the booted beetles climbed atop the dung less frequently. Explained Smolka, "Like an air-conditioning unit, the moist (dung) is cooled by evaporati(on)."
Leading Economic Indicators
-- While the U.S. recently nearly elected a multimillionaire as president, Uruguay's chief executive, Jose Mujica, declared his personal wealth in 2010 as the equivalent of about $1,800 and gives away 90 percent of his $12,000 monthly presidential salary in order to remain true to his political roots with the leftist guerrilla group Tupamaros. He has rejected the government-provided mansion and instead lives with his wife at her family's farmhouse, where he helps work the land, according to a November BBC News profile from Montevideo. "I have to do (this)," he told a reporter, "because there are many Uruguayans who live with much less."
-- Financial advisers charge the big bucks because of their sophisticated understanding of money and markets -- or maybe because they know how the stars align. A September Marketplace radio program highlighted the newsletters of "financial astrologers" Karen Starich and former Merrill Lynch stock trader Arch Crawford (who left the trading floor because, apparently, astrology is more lucrative). About 300 traders pay $237 a year to learn what Starich knows about Neptune and Saturn, and Crawford's 2,000 subscribers (at least a few of which prefer receiving copies in unmarked wrappers) learned that any new business venture goes south when Mercury is in retrograde.
-- The Continuing Decline of American Manufacturing: A Drug Enforcement Administration agent told the Associated Press in October that factories in Mexico have recently been supplying American markets with especially potent and inexpensive methamphetamine. "These are sophisticated, high-tech (businesses) ... that are operating with extreme precision," said agent Jim Shroba. The 90 percent-pure product offers "a faster, more intense and longer-lasting high." Many Americans, meanwhile, continue to make small batches of inferior meth in 2-liter soda bottles.
In 2011 only 75 worldwide shark attacks on humans were reported, with only 12 fatal, yet researchers writing recently in the journal Conservation Biology found that about 60 percent of all media reporting about sharks emphasized just the serious dangers that human swimmers face. By contrast, only about 7 percent of the reports were focused on shark biology or ecology, though the sorry state of shark survival would seem more important, in that an estimated 26 million to 73 million sharks are killed annually from the harvesting of their fins.
Taunting of Third-World Laborers: First, as News of the Weird reported more than 20 years ago, Indonesian coffeemakers made "Kopi Luwak," using only beans that had passed through the digestive tracts of native civet cats. More recently, Thailand's upscale Anantara Resorts began offering coffee using beans similarly excreted by elephants. In both cases, these digestive-tract coffee beans, picked and processed by laborers earning as little as $1 day, wind up as a drink sipped by (in the words of an NPR reviewer) "cat poop fetishi(sts)" who may pay upwards of $10 for a single cup.
People Different From Us
Maturity-Challenged: Attorney Thomas Corea of Palmer, Texas, was indicted in August for four felonies related to misuse of clients' trust accounts, and in October a panel of the State Bar of Texas voted to revoke his license. He apparently did not take the news well. On Oct. 31 (according to a judge's later findings), Corea vandalized his rented law office, resulting, said the landlord's representative, in "complete destruction," with "penis graffiti on every single wall throughout the building," with the representative's name written next to several of the penises. Furthermore, at the November sentencing hearing, the judge had to admonish Corea to stop making faces in the courtroom.
Least Competent Criminals
Recurring Themes: (1) In November, Jacory Walker, 19, pleaded guilty to one count of bank robbery in Waxahachie, Texas, and was sentenced to 37 months in prison. He had made the mistake of asking a teller at the 1st Convenience Bank to access his account (giving the teller his Social Security number), and only then, when realizing he had no money left, deciding to rob the place. (2) Almost No Longer Weird: Demarco Myles, 19, was arrested in Washington, D.C., for rape after he, as rapists sometimes fatuously do, decided that his second victim might have had eyes for him and left her his name and phone number, anticipating a follow-up rendezvous.
(1) Donna Giustizia lobbied the city of Vaughan, Ontario, in November to chop down all the oak trees in the vicinity of Stephen Catholic Elementary School, claiming that her children and others like them with nut allergies were in danger. She mentioned especially their "anxiety" from even glimpsing acorns on the ground and suggested that the allergic children could be easily bullied by acorn-wielding classmates. (2) In a parental-involvement program with 70 public schools and Walgreen Co., the City of Chicago announced in October that it would give previously uninterested parents $25 gift cards just to come by the schools to pick up their kids' report cards.