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News of the Weird

Modest Meat

• The International New York Times edition published in Kuala Lumpur on Jan. 22 carried a page-one story noting increased worldwide demand by meat processors for pigs raised in the fresh air rather than enclosed in pens—illustrated by a photograph of a cluster of pigs feeding in an outdoor stall. However, the Malaysian printer (who had downloaded the digital pages and set them to paper) had added black boxes to cover just the faces of each pig in the photo. “If there is picture of nudes or (the) like, this we will cover (up),” a publisher’s spokesman told the Malay Mail. “This is a Muslim country.” (The story, headline and photo were otherwise identical to the versions that appeared elsewhere in New York Times editions.)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit!

The convenience beverage market got jumbled recently when, first, Oregon-based Union Wine Co. announced in November that it would soon sell its Underwood pinot gris and pinot noir in 12-ounce cans and, second, the London department store Selfridges unveiled a champagne vending machine for New Year’s celebrations. (The French bottler Moet & Chandon offered bottles of bubbly behind glass doors for the equivalent of $29.)

• Marketing Challenges: (1) “Does Germany really need a gourmet restaurant for dogs?” asked Berlin’s Bild newspaper. Regardless, the Pets Deli in the Grunewald neighborhood of Berlin offers servings for the equivalent of about $4 to $6, either take-out or arranged in metal bowls on Pets Deli’s floor. Said owner David Spanier, lauding his upscale, healthful treats, “Junk food is bad for animals.” (2) Around Tokyo, “idle boredom is an impossible option,” wrote Vice.com in December, as a reporter described a resort just out of town where one could swim in a pool of green tea, coffee, sake or (the most popular treat) wine. “A giant bottle of merlot” spilled into a pond the size of a minivan, he wrote (while braving the Yunessun resort’s warnings not to drink from the pool). Though both-sex nudity is tolerated in Japan’s hot springs spas, Yunessun discourages it.

Weird Science

• The Joy of Researching: A team of Czech Republic researchers led by Vlastimil Hart, writing in Frontiers in Zoology in December, reported that dogs (among a few mammals), dealing with a nature’s call, spontaneously align their body axis with the Earth’s magnetic field. To reach that conclusion, the researchers said they observed 70 dogs of 37 breeds during defecation (1,893 observations) and urination (5,582) over a two-year period.

• If We Can Do It, We Should Do It: (1) ThinkGeek.com has introduced the Tactical Laser-Guided Pizza Cutter, at a suggested $29.95, for helping to achieve straight-line precision in those difficult four-cut (eight-slice) pizza formulations. (2) From the Japanese lingerie manufacturer Ravijour comes a bra whose front clasp can be locked unless its built-in heart-rate monitor signifies that the heartbeat is characteristic of “true love.” (Ravijour said it is still testing the bra.)

The Kingdom

• Man’s BFFs: (1) The Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in Fulham, England, admitted in December that a rescued Staffordshire bull terrier, Barney, had a ladies’ underwear-eating habit and that potential adopters should keep him away from laundry baskets. (In his first days at Battersea, officials say, he “passed” knickers three times.) (2) The Cairns (Australia) Veterinary Clinic warned in December of several reports of dogs becoming addicted to licking cane toads (which notoriously protect themselves by a venomous secretion that can be hallucinogenic). One vet told Brisbane’s Courier-Mail of individual “serial lickers” treated for cane toad poisoning several times a year.

• Who Knew That Racoons Were Easily Offended? The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals condemned a Pet Expo in Greenhithe, England, in October after reports emerged that a trainer had showcased “Melanie,” a racoon who rides a bicycle-like device, apparently to great acclaim. An RSPCA statement denounced the expo for “degrading” a “wild animal” in such a “demeaning light.”

Leading Economic Indicators

• Management Comes to the Terrorism Industry: (1) In November, the Army of Islam (Syrian rebels) announced, via a dazzling, fully functional website, that it had job “vacancies” in the fields of graphic design, photography, printing, journalism, reporting and media promotion and programming. The anti-Assad force already has a Facebook page featuring videos of alleged military victories. (2) Somalia’s coastal pirates, having peaked in 2009 in boat captures, may now be laying low only because of the familiar business problem of “inventory management.” A November analysis by Quartz (qz.com) showed the pirates with such a surplus of hijacked vessels (still with earnings potential) that they would likely wind those down before taking to the seas again.

• Mumbai, India, has its share of Western-style financial advisers using computer programs familiar to Wall Street—but with the additional layering of “financial astrologers,” who forecast successes and failures based on the alignment of the planets, among other indicators. According to a Business Week report in September, the GaneshaSpeaks service (with inspiration by the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, god of wisdom) claims 1,200 subscribers at the equivalent of about $80 a year. Said one astrologer, “Fund managers used to laugh at me.” During crises, he said, “I’m constantly crunching market and planetary data.”

• A group of (legal) prostitutes in the Netherlands began a campaign in December to have their occupation officially termed so dangerous and physically challenging that they should be allowed (as soccer players are) to save in tax-free pension funds. They carry out “difficult physical work,” their lawyer said, and their careers are likewise short-lived—much better-suited for the young. Furthermore, he pointed out, prostitutes are not able, post-career, to earn money coaching or by endorsements.

• American health-care reformers routinely decry the inability of consumer-patients to compare prices of services to help drive down the costs. Two doctors, writing for the Journal of the American Medical Association in December, illuminated the problem by surveying 20 hospitals in the Philadelphia area. Nineteen fully disclosed the prices for parking in the hospital garage (and potential discounts were shown), but only three of the 20 would disclose their prices for routine electrocardiograms ($137, $600, $1,200).

Perspective

• In ubiquitous public relations announcements around Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) proudly points to its 52,000-person workforce delivering high-quality care. However, when the government sought to collect payroll taxes on UPMC, the company claimed it owed nothing because not a single employee actually works for UPMC. All 52,000 are, technically, on the books of UPMC’s 40-plus subsidiaries, and a UPMC spokesman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in October that he not only did not know which subsidiary the UPMC CEO worked for but which one he himself worked for. (He also said he did not know how many of the subsidiaries paid payroll taxes, but a UPMC attorney said its arrangement is “widely practiced throughout the business community”).

Least Competent Criminals

• Two 16-year-olds tried to pull off a street robbery at a housing complex in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco in December, but one was arrested and the other is no longer with us. According to police, the victim cooperated fully with the two, but for some reason, one of the muggers fired his gun anyway. The bullet struck the victim (who was hospitalized, but will survive), ricocheted off his face and hit the shooter’s partner, who died at the scene.

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