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Calendar: Dec. 17, 2008
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The Entrepreneurial Spirit.

Street-begging has become so sophisticated that some Web sites and blogs offer "market research" for panhandlers, with tips from wizened "pros," according to the Summer 2008 issue of City Journal. Current begging techniques (which apparently spread nationally, at least for those non-homeless, non-mentally-ill beggars) suggest humor (e.g., "I won't lie to you. I need a drink") and specificity of amount (e.g., "I need 43 more cents for a cup of coffee"), which often produces a larger donation. Local TV reporters in Memphis, Tenn., and Salt Lake City, among other cities, have found panhandlers to routinely earn $10 an hour and sometimes substantially more.

Science on the Cutting Edge

- Studs of the Animal World: (1) An August conference presentation by a University of Central Florida researcher touted the frolicking, profligate mating of male South African squirrels, enhanced, the researcher hypothesized, by the fact that "they're hung." The typical proportional equivalency for human male genitals, she said, would be 13 inches. (2) Indiana University researchers reported in September that male Australian dung beetles differ from U.S. dung beetles in that evolutionary diversion of nutrients has given the Australians small horns but large penises and the Americans the opposite. Thus, noted the researchers, big-horned American males tend to fight each other for females, while Australians rely more on sneakiness.

- British engineer Ken Walters became disabled from an auto accident and was living on government assistance to persevere through pain and long-time depression when, in 2003, he suffered a stroke. After a lengthy recovery, Walters discovered, while doodling, that he seemed to have a newfound gift for art. After drawing up some demonstration software, he was hired by the giant Electronic Arts company and is flourishing, according to an August Daily Mail story. His doctors said the brain typically rewires itself for protection after injury and that previously untapped consciousness can emerge.

- In September, scientists at Emory University's primate research center reported that chimps seem to remember other chimps through "whole body" integration. That is, seeing part of another chimp causes them to envision the entire body. The researchers came to this conclusion because chimps shown photos of an acquaintance-chimp's butt could, more often than random chance would predict, identify the face that went with it.

Leading Economic Indicators

- Unlike their American counterparts, debt collectors in Spain are legally allowed to humiliate deadbeats in front of relatives and neighbors, and are thus quite successful, according to an October Wall Street Journal dispatch from Madrid. One collector's employees make flamboyant house calls in "top hat and tails" and another's are dressed as Franciscan friars, and yet another collector sends bagpipe players to announce the debt to the entire neighborhood. One debtor hurriedly paid off his daughter's wedding tab when the collector found the ceremony's guest list and began billing each attendee for his or her "share" of the debt.

- Leading Middle East Economic Indicators: (1) At Ada Barak's spa in northern Israel, patrons (for a fee of around $80) can relax for a session in which snakes, large and small, crawl over their bodies, massaging and even nibbling. It's "something deep and peaceful," wrote a Time magazine reporter in October. (2) U.S.-educated Palestinian Nadim Khoury is introducing Taybeh (Arabic for "delicious") lager from a microbrewery in the West Bank, according to an October Agence France-Presse dispatch, and so far has encountered little resistance from the 98 percent Muslim population. "(E)veryone drinks beer," he said.


Skydives Ending Badly: A parachutist who was part of an Army ceremony at Fort Riley, Kan., in July was blown 50 yards off course and crashed into the band, injuring three musicians and destroying two tubas. And in August, as Duke University's football team was preparing for the kickoff against James Madison University in Durham, N.C., two men parachuted into the stadium with the game ball. That was impressive, but they were actually supposed to have delivered the game ball to the stadium in Chapel Hill, 10 miles away, where North Carolina was hosting McNeese State.

People Who Need to Control Themselves

(1) Ronald Miller, 56, was arrested in Fort Wayne, Ind., in August and charged with lewdness visible to neighbors through his front window (he was nude and accessorized, police reported, with a "claw hammer" and "motor oil"). (2) A few days earlier, in Northern Territory, Australia, motorist Brendon Erhardt, 39, was arrested for abusing both the speed limit and himself (by committing, and recording with a front-seat camera, a lewd act while driving). (3) In September, Chiu Yu-kit, a reporter for Hong Kong's Asia Television, resigned after admitting to a judge that, in July, he was indeed masturbating while standing atop a downtown double-decker bus.

Least Competent Criminals

Not Ready for Prime Time: (1) What started as a "strong-arm" street robbery in Warren, Mich., in October, ended when the victim turned out to be stronger than the perp. When it was over, the victim had gotten his money back, plus $30 of the mugger's as the man fled, according to a police report in the Macomb Daily. (2) In Bristow, Va., as a woman stood nearby with her car running, early one October morning, a stranger jumped in and started to drive off, though the woman's 6-year-old daughter was still in the car. The incident ended quickly, though, as the child kicked the man, pinched him, and screamed until he bailed out and fled, according to a report on WRC-TV (Washington, D.C.).

Recurring Themes

Recent Heroic Dogs: (1) Buddy, the German shepherd trained to punch 911 on a special phone and bark, came through in the clutch in September when owner Joe Stalnaker of Scottsdale, Ariz., had a seizure. (Stalnaker said it was the third time Buddy had saved him.) (2) Cash, a German shepherd, remained at the side of his 25-year-old master, in the Colorado prairie, for six weeks this summer after the man's suicide, until the body was found in August. Cash apparently strayed only to catch mice and rabbits for food but then returned.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

A plumbing error in October at the annual Grape Festival in Marino, Italy, stymied the traditional hook-up in which white wine cascades through the famous fountains in the center of town. Instead, water continued to run in the fountains, but "10 to 12" nearby homeowners must have thought it glorious divine intervention, briefly, when they opened their taps and found white wine flowing freely.