News of The Weird
Cockroach Social Network
No insect is in greater need of a public relations boost than the cockroach, and Dr. Mathieu Lihoreau of Rennes, France, provided it in a recent issue of the journal Insectes Sociaux. Roaches are highly social, suffer when isolated, recognize members of their own families, and appear to make “collective decisions for the greater good” of their community, according to a review of the research in May by BBC Nature. They act in “emergent forms of cooperation” — “swarm intelligence.” Functioning mostly through chemical cues, they advise their homeboys where to find food and water, where the good crawl-into cracks are for sleeping, and how to stay attached to their social networks.
Challenging Business Models
• Dr. Jason Burke rolled out his “Hangover Heaven” medical bus fleet in Las Vegas in April, offering revelers a faster, clinically proper recovery from their night of excess drinking for a $90 to $150 fee. After giving their medical history, “patients” receive intravenous saline, with B and C vitamins and whatever prescription or over-the-counter drugs are appropriate, says Burke (a licensed anesthesiologist). No drunks are served; the patient must be in the “hangover” stage. One M.D., who hosts a radio show, told CBS News, “I think many doctors are kicking themselves because they didn’t think of this first.”
• No Trademark for You: (1) A restaurant set to open in April in West Palm Beach, Fla., named with a Japanese word suggesting “good fortune, wealth and prosperity,” was denied a trademark by the Florida Division of Corporations. The name in question: the Fuku. (2) In April, Alabama’s alcoholic beverage control agency rejected Founders Brewing Co.’s request to sell its Dirty Bastard beer in the state, even though Founders pointed out that the state already permits another company to sell Fat Bastard wine. The agency acknowledged the similarity, but said Fat Bastard was approved years ago and that no one at the agency now recalls why.
• In April, the Taiwan tabloid Apple Daily profiled a 27-year-old man who said he has tripled his previous salary by becoming a public snitch, turning in videos of litterers and spitters violating Taipei laws that reward informants a fee of one-fourth the amount of any fines. In the last two years, the man (“Chou”) said he has had 5,000 cases result in fines, for which he has been paid the equivalent of $50,000. He said he now teaches classes in snitching.
Cutting Edge Science
• Researchers Need to Believe: Surely the world’s longest-running science experiment is the 85-year-old continuing project to visually ascertain whether “pitch” (a tar) is liquid. Begun at England’s Cambridge University, the project is now housed at the University of Queensland in Australia, where the custodian believes the next drop (the ninth ever) will fall in 2013. The previous teardrop-shaped bead descended in 2000.
• Dung beetles are known to researchers to roll perfectly made balls with their back legs and to periodically mount the balls, pirouette and climb down to be on their way. Emily Baird of Lund University in Sweden explained why in a January issue of the journal PLoS One: The beetles are gathering celestial readings to help shepherd their balls home, away from predators. Baird’s specialty is learning how animals with tiny brains perform complex tasks, and to test the dung beetle, she patiently watched 22 of them guide their balls through an obstacle course her team created.
• People with the condition Alternating Gender Incongruity (AGI) say they periodically, but repeatedly, sense themselves as of the opposite gender, sometimes imagining to have “phantom genitalia” of that gender. Professor Vilayanur Ramachandran, of the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Brain and Cognition, tested 32 previously undiagnosed AGI sufferers and found mild correlations with multiple-personality disorder, bipolar disorder and, oddly, ambidexterity. His research appeared in April in the journal Medical Hypotheses and was reviewed by Scientific American.
Leading Economic Indicators
• Only about 16 percent of stock market transactions consist of what most people think of as buying or selling of company or mutual fund shares (“real” investors, interacting with actual brokers). The rest, according to analysis by Morgan Stanley’s Quantitative and Derivative Strategies group and covering October to December 2011, were performed by computers acting automatically, at staggeringly high frequency, using software algorithms, buying or selling mindlessly, based on what trading firms needed to fill out their portfolios’ profitably on a second-by-second basis.
• Two homeless, penniless men in Fresno, Calif., are setting a high bar for frequency, and expense, of ambulance trips to the hospital. A 41-year-old who says he has “a major problem with my liver” and a 51-year-old allegedly seizure-prone man called for a combined 1,363 trips in 2011, which at the market rate would have cost them $545,000 (apart from evaluations by the hospital, which would have additionally cost more than $500,000), according to a February investigation by the Fresno Bee. Taxpayers and the insured foot the bills (reduced somewhat because the ambulance company and the hospital take lower fees). Neither the ambulance company nor the hospital can refuse to serve the men, and attempts to talk the men out of the trips are either futile or too laborious for the emergency technicians to attempt.
• The expense of caring for a pet, at least among the affluent, appears to be recession-resistant, amounting to about $50 billion in the U.S. for 2011, according to a trade association. Much of that spending is on advanced medical services such as bone marrow transplants at North Carolina State University (65 already performed) and stent procedures to open clogged bladders or kidneys (630 last year) at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Said one man, who had paid about $25,000 to treat his 10-year-old dog’s lymphoma, “I wondered if I was doing this for selfish reasons. I asked myself, ‘If I were a 10-year-old dog, would I want to go through this?’“ (Unfortunately, considering dogs’ short life spans, cancer remissions are almost always short-lived.)
• But sometimes, the weird news is heartwarming. KTUL-TV, reporting in April on the Sooner Golden Retriever Rescue in Tulsa, Okla., profiled Tanner (a Golden Retriever blind from epilepsy and suffering seizures, incontinence and biting frenzies), who took a shine to the arrival of Blair (a homeless black Labrador with a gunshot wound). Almost immediately, noted Rescue personnel, Tanner became playful, as Blair led him around the grounds in much the way that assistance dogs guide blind humans. Both dogs have thus staved off being euthanized and are being considered for joint adoption.