Government in Action
— Because Congress and presidents often change their minds, NASA recently continued to build on a $349 million rocket testing tower in Mississippi for a “moon” project that had been canceled back in 2010. The now-idle tower sits down the road from a second rocket testing tower being built for its “replacement” mission — an “asteroid” project. Critics, according to a December Washington Post examination, blame senators who believe it smarter to keep contractors at work (even though useless) because, Congress and the president might change their minds yet again. Said a high-profile critic, “We have to decide … whether we want a jobs program or a space program.” NASA’s inspector general in 2013 identified six similar “mothballed” projects that taxpayers continue to maintain.
— Un-Government: About 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts claim their SWAT and other specialty operations are not “government” services, but rather not-for-profit corporate activities and are thus entitled to avoid certain government obligations. Even though their officers have the power to carry weapons, arrest people and break down doors during raids, these “law enforcement councils” refuse to comply with government open-records laws for civilian monitoring of SWAT activities. The latest refusal, by the 58 police agencies of the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, was filed in state Superior Court in December.
— DIY Policing in Seattle: A Seattle Times columnist suffered a “smash-and-grab” break-in of his car in October, but was brushed off by the Seattle Police Department and told simply to go file an insurance claim. However, he and his energetic 14-year-old daughter located the perpetrators themselves by GPS and called for police help, only to be chastised by the dispatcher, warning that they could get hurt. Only when a local crime-fighting TV show adopted the case, along with the suburban Sammamish, Washington, police department, was the gang of thieves finally pursued and apprehended (resulting in charges for “hundreds” of smash-and-grab thefts). (Bonus: One alleged perpetrator was quoted as saying the thefts were undertaken “because we knew the police wouldn’t do anything.”)
— Ms. Connie Lay passed away in Aurora, Indiana, in November, leaving a last will and testament that calls for her German shepherd, Bela, to be promptly buried with her — even though Bela is still alive and peppy. Ms. Lay preferred sending Bela to a certain shelter in Utah, but if that “is not possible” or involves “too much expense” (judgments to be decided by a close friend, not publicly named), Bela is to be euthanized. At press time, the friend still had not decided.
— Mother of All Surgeries: After 15 months of faulty diagnoses, Pam Pope, 65, finally got the (bad) news: a rare, slow-moving cancer of the appendix, “pseudomyxoma peritonei.” The malignancy was so advanced that her only hope was the removal of all organs that she could possibly do without. In a six-surgeon, 13-hour operation in May 2014 at Hampshire Clinic in Basingstoke, England, Pope parted with her appendix, large bowel, gall bladder, spleen, womb, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix and most of her small bowel. She has endured massive chemotherapy, is on a nightly drip for hydration, and still remains frail, according to a December report in London’s Daily Mail.
— When someone swiped the iPhone of Adam Wisneski, 31, on Jan. 2, he rode his bicycle to Chicago’s Shakespeare District police station to file a stolen-property report. He parked the bike inside the door, filled out the form, prepared to leave — and noticed the bike was missing. He told an amused officer he needed another form. (Officers on duty said perhaps a homeless man who was in the station took it and are “making an effort,” said Wisneski, to find it.)
What Researchers Do
— The natural enemy of the “hawkmoth” (for 65 million years) is the bat, but thanks to a recent study by biologists at Boise State University and the University of Florida, we know the reason why so many hawkmoths are able to avoid their predator: They signal each other by rubbing their genitals on their abdomens, which somehow mimics bats’ own high-frequency sounds, thus jamming the bats’ aural ability to detect the hawkmoths’ locations. Professors Jesse Barber and Akito Kawahara, working in Malaysia, tethered a hawkmoth to a wire and then tracked a bat, using slow-motion cameras and high-definition microphones, painstakingly examining the results for a 2014 journal article.
— Bringing the Total Number of Cow Sounds to Three: A team from Britain’s University of Nottingham and Queen Mary University of London found (according to a December BBC News report) that cows make two “distinctly different” call sounds to their calves, depending on whether the calves are nearby (low-frequency mooing, with mouth closed) or separated (higher frequency). The team said it spent 10 months digitally recording cow noises, then a year analyzing them by computer.
Least Competent Criminals
Not Nearly Ready for Prime Time: (1) A potential robber was turned away from a store on East Harry Street in Wichita, Kansas, on Dec. 11 after he demanded cash, explaining to the clerk that he “had six children and needed the money.” The clerk told the man he had too many kids. The man, apparently chastened, fled the store empty-handed. (2) A masked man approached a clerk at Sam’s Mart in New Haven, Connecticut, on Nov. 29 and passed a note demanding money while pointing his finger at the clerk (perhaps an inept attempt to feign having a gun in his pocket). According to police, the clerk grabbed the finger and threatened to break it, sending the man fleeing into the night.