NEWS OF THE WIERD

Wait, What?

— Surgery on a 16-year-old Japanese girl, reported in January by New Scientist, revealed that her ovary contained a miniature skull and brain. Doctors say that finding rogue brain cells in ovaries is not that uncommon, but that an already-organized brain, capable of transmitting electric impulses, is almost unheard-of. [New Scientist, 1-6-2017]

— The neonatal intensive care unit of Texas Health Fort Worth disclosed in January that the secret to keeping the most fragile prematurely born babies alive is to quickly stick them into Ziploc freezer bags to create, according to a clinician, a “hot house effect.” (It turns out that merely raising the temperature in the delivery room had only marginal effect.) [KXAS-TV (Dallas-Fort Worth), 1-11-2017]

can’t possibly be true

Reporting from Mbyo, Rwanda, in January on the success of a “reconciliation” program following the country’s bloody genocidal wars, London’s The Guardian found, for example, Laurencia Niyogira living peacefully and forgivingly alongside neighbor Tasian Nkundiye — even though, 22 years ago, Nkundiye murdered Niyogira’s entire family (except for her and her siblings, left barely alive). (Over a 100-day span in 1994, 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were systematically slaughtered by Hutus.) A survey by the country’s national unity commission showed that 92 percent of Rwandans have come to accept reconciliation. [The Guardian, 1-12-2017]

Least Competent Criminals

— Driver Joshua Concepcion-West, 27, was arrested in Apopka, Florida, with an ingenious license-plate cover that he could raise and lower remotely from his key chain (thus avoiding identification by cameras as he passed through turnpike checkpoints). On Jan. 11 at a $1.25 toll plaza, he had neglected to check his rear-view mirror before lowering the cover — and failed to notice that right behind him was a Florida Highway Patrol car with a trooper watching the whole thing. [WFOR-TV (Miami), 1-13, 2017]

Perspective

Right to Be Grumpy: Trader Joe’s has gained popularity among grocery shoppers in large part by having relentlessly sunny employees, but now that the firm has expanded from mellower California to more brusque New York City, it is learning that cheerfulness is harder to find. The company fired Thomas Nagle recently because, though he said he frequently smiled, he was told his smile was insufficiently “genuine,” and, backed by several colleagues, he has filed an unfair labor practice charge (and union organizers have taken notice). The National Labor Relations Board has already ruled (against another employer) that workers cannot be forced to convey that all-important “positive work environment” because they are entitled to have grievances. [New York Times, 11-3-2017]

The Way the World Works

— Settlement of a class-action lawsuit against a group of dairy co-ops was announced in January with milk producers agreeing to pay $52 million on charges they had conspired to fix the dairy supply for years to get top-dollar prices. Among the producers’ primary tactics, allegedly, was using what the industry calls “herd retirement,” which is “retirement” only in the sense that 500,000 healthy young cows were slaughtered — just to drive up prices by eliminating otherwise-available milk. The $52 million will be for consumers in 15 states and Washington, D.C. [Washington Post, 1-19-2017]

WORK OF A RESEARCHER

“Field work is always challenging,” explained Courtney Marneweck of South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal in a recent journal article, but studying the sociology of a white rhino’s dung meant developing a “pattern-recognition algorithm” to figure out “smell profiles” of 150 animals’ feces — after tracking them individually to observe them in the act. Wrote Marneweck, “I think my record for waiting for a rhino to poo was 7 1/2 hours.” Conclusion: Rhinos use feces to send distinct social signals on genetically compatible herds, mating access and predator dangers. (Or, in the Los Angeles Times “clickbait” version of the story, rhino dung “has a lot in common with a Facebook post.”) [Los Angeles Times, 1-14-2017]