— Can’t Possibly Be True: For a brief period in 1951 and 1952, an educational kit, the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab, was for sale in the United States even though it came with testable samples of four types of uranium ore and three different radiation sources (alpha, beta, gamma). A surviving copy of the kit has been on display recently at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but the radioactive materials had to be removed before the kit could be shipped to Belfast. (The kit had failed to sell well; kids apparently preferred the company’s erector sets.)
— In February, the Kansas Humanities Council, providing background to a current, traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit, posted a description of a 1925 baseball game in Wichita in which the professional, all-black Wichita Monrovians took on members of the local Ku Klux Klan. (Historians guessed that the KKK risked the embarrassment of defeat only because it needed the exposure to overcome declining enrollments.) The Monrovians (champions of the Colored Western League the year before) won, 10-8, and the Klan shut down in Kansas two years later.
A 37-year-old Lancashire, England, businessman (identified in later news reports as Duane Walters), fearing surgery for suspected bladder cancer, was discovered to be cancer-free, but on the other hand, he was found to have a uterus, ovaries and cervix — even though he has fully functioning exterior male genitalia. He was referred to Manchester University Hospital for a hysterectomy (to prevent the possibility of pregnancy) — and was counseled that he might eventually become menopausal. His condition, “persistent Mullerian duct syndrome,” is rare enough when diagnosed at birth but, according to experts cited by the Daily Telegraph, virtually unheard-of at age 37. Walters said he will continue living as a man.
War Is Hell
— Least Competent Terrorists: (1) A recent YouTube compilation of footage gleaned from, in some cases, unedited ISIS promotion videos, claimed to show jihadists accidentally killing themselves. Several fighters in a group photo appear to be blown up when one of them fumblingly detonates a captured bomb, and one man was killed when he apparently tried to reload a mortar launcher too quickly. (2) London’s Daily Telegraph reported in January that the “Darkshadow” jihadists from Tunisia and Ivory Coast, who had proclaimed their website-hacking would disrupt international travel, wound up taking down a site consisting merely of bus timetables in Bristol, England. Darkshadow’s English translator also misspelled Muslim (“Muslum”).
— Perspective: ISIS’ very public recent executions of a Jordanian pilot and two Japanese citizens were met with starkly different reactions. In Jordan, King Abdullah II led his nation in a call for bloody revenge. In Japan (according to a February Associated Press dispatch from Tokyo), feelings were mixed because of “meiwaku” — Japan’s cultural feeling that the dead victims (and their families) were “causing trouble” by placing themselves in harm’s way. Said one man cited by the AP, “In the old days, their parents would have had to commit hara-kiri to apologize.” In fact, both victims’ families did repeatedly apologize for inconveniencing the government, which had warned citizens to stay away from the war zone.
The Continuing Crisis
— Point Taken: At a February meeting in Geneva of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, regarding whether meetings should be open to the general public, the representative from Belarus expressed alarm because of potential problems for the security staff. “What if,” he asked (according to a Reuters report), “there were topless ladies screaming from the public gallery throwing bottles of mayonnaise?” (According to the official summary, the Mexican delegate apparently earnestly pointed out that some U.N. meetings were already open to the public, but as yet there had been no mayonnaise-droppings.)
— CSI Netherlands: Police in the Dutch town of Haarlem, near Amsterdam, raided an urban marijuana farm after a recent snowfall. In photographs of the neighborhood, all yards and roofs of houses are blanketed in white — except for a certain portion of the roof of one home, on which the snow had completely melted. Police, deducing that the attic was likely an illegal marijuana greenhouse, made arrests.
— News You Can Use: If you’re in pain, shouting “Owww!” has measurable therapeutic value. Writing recently in the Journal of Pain, researchers from the National University of Singapore hypothesize that the muscle movements in vocalizing somehow divert or confuse pain signals, which otherwise would go unimpeded to the brain. Of subjects who plunged their hands into extremely cold water, those who were allowed to vocalize kept their hands immersed for up to three minutes longer than those who were silent. (The “oww” sound is similar in many languages and is apparently instinctive from birth.)
First-World Problem Solved
A company called AudioQuest believes there are serious music listeners sufficiently grossed out by the imperfect sound delivered by ordinary ethernet cables (typically with plastic connectors on each end and selling for around $20) that relief is needed. The company recently introduced the Cat-6 Ethernet cable, whose connectors are made of silver. For those who require the reportedly richer sound, relief is only $10,500 away.