Frontiers of Science
Large kidney stones typically mean eye-watering pain and sudden urinary blockage until the stone “passes” (often requiring expensive sound-wave treatment to break up a large stone). Michigan State University urologist David Wartinger told The Atlantic in September that he had recently happened upon a pain-free—even exciting!—way to pass stones before they become problems: the centripetal force from a roller coaster ride. In a 200-trip experiment preparing for a validating “human” trial, he successfully passed stones in his hand-held, silicone model kidney (using his own urine) about two-thirds of the time when sitting in a rear seat at Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
With about 30 states having adopted some form of “stand your ground” defense to assault (or murder) charges, five membership organizations, charging up to $40 a month, have signed up a half-million gun owners concerned that law enforcement treat them fairly should they someday be forced to shoot—providing instructions and a “hot line” to coach members on what to tell police, plus liability insurance and help getting a lawyer. Critics say such organizations are also useful to those who might be prone to shooting people and want advice on how best to get away with it. The U.S. Concealed Carry organization’s wallet-sized card, to give to police, asks that the shooter under suspicion be given the same consideration as the officers might give to their own colleagues under suspicion.
In a dozen YouTube videos recently released, Syria’s Tourism Ministry praised the country’s sandy, fun-filled beaches as ideal vacation spots and its many World Heritage Sites as renowned tourist exhibits — attempting to distract world travelers from the country’s daily bloodshed (and the wartime destruction of those priceless historical sites). Before civil war broke out in 2011, Syria was a fashionable, $8 billion-a-year destination (and the now-devastated city of Aleppo was known worldwide for its food).
Diego the giant tortoise, believed to be more than 100 years old, now lives in semi-retirement on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, but from 1976 to 2010, Diego brought an almost-extinct species back to life by fathering about 800 babies in the captive breeding program on Espanola, another of the Galapagos Islands. Biologists did not realize Diego’s prowess until 2010 when DNA tests identified him as the father of 40 percent of all tortoises on the island. Even on Santa Cruz Island, Diego keeps busy, with a “harem” of six females. (Another Galapagos tortoise species did die out in 2012 when the last male, the centenarian Lonesome George, maintained his celibacy until death.)
The New York City Council, grilling police officials in September about their practice of freely seizing money from detainees under suspicion, asked for a thorough accounting of that money (suspecting that innocent victims rarely get it back unless aided by high-powered lawyers). Though (in “crime-fighting” hyperbole) NYPD routinely boasts of its half-million annual seizures, an NYPD official told the council it would be “impossible” to account for everything—that keeping track of it all would cause its computers to crash.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is bureaucratically at the epicenter of the state’s drought crisis, but in September KCBS-TV aired video of the department actually using sprinklers to water the artificial lawn at a substation in South Los Angeles. A DWP spokesperson said such watering is routine at substations to “clean” the plastic (and wash off any dog urine, for example).
Things You Thought Didn’t Happen
Wanda Witter, 80, had been living on Washington, D.C., streets for 10 years, but insisting to anyone who would listen that the Social Security Administration owed her sums that recently reached $100,000, and that she had documents to prove it. However, given her circumstances, most regarded her as just another luckless person confused by homeless life. In June, though, after social worker Julie Turner took a closer look and found, improbably, that Witter was indeed owed $100,000 and even more improbably, that all of her paperwork was carefully organized among the unimpressive possessions she hauled around daily, SSA paid her $999 on the spot, and the remaining $99,999 arrived in August.