Among the positions cited in Popular Science's "Worst Jobs in Science" list for 2007, from the magazine's July issue: whale-feces researcher (guided by trained dogs, teams locate floating fields of oily dung, scoop it up with nets, and pack the chunks in ice for later study), elephant vasectomist (to cut the appropriate tube veterinarians must first steer a giant laparoscope through a 16-inch-thick layer of elephant flesh and past the animal's testes, which are housed in the abdomen and each measure a foot in diameter), gravity research subject (to simulate the effects of space travel on muscle atrophy and blood flow, NASA volunteers are required to remain motionless for 21 days, tilted head-down at a six-degree angle; "After the first day you can feel your internal organs start to shift," one reported), and hazmat diver (one expert described an assignment at a factory farm where specialists had to retrieve a worker's submerged corpse from a waste lagoon containing not just liquid pig feces and urine but the needles used to inject the animals with hormones and antibiotics).
Government in Action
According to an ABC News report, an official charged with overseeing Al Hurra--the Arabic-language television network operated in the Middle East by the U.S. government--admitted to a congressional panel in May that one major reason the station keeps accidentally broadcasting overtly proterrorism messages was that no top Al Hurra supervisors actually speak Arabic. (Programming in December had included a 68-minute address by a Hezbollah leader advocating violence against Israel.) Meanwhile, following revelations in the same month that at least 58 Arabic-language specialists had so far been forced out of the military for being gay, a spokesperson for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network pointed out to Agence France-Presse that all of the discharged linguists were native English speakers who had been trained in Arabic by the military at considerable expense.
The Wichita Eagle reported in April on 74-year-old Thomas Wimberley, whose prior record of two misdemeanor theft convictions (from 1994 and 2000) meant that under Kansas law he had to be prosecuted as a felon when he was accused of stealing two hot dogs (cash value: $2.11) from a Wichita convenience store last summer. Wimberley, who lives on a $450 monthly Social Security check, spent more than a month in jail awaiting trial (at one point his bond was set at $100,000) even though he faced only probation if convicted. Finally, in April, a jury found him not guilty. One juror told the Eagle, "It was stupid."
Fetishes on Parade
Police in Guelph, Ontario, said in May that three women had recently reported similar incidents in which a man approached them and asked them to kick him in the groin. Though no crime had yet been committed, a spokesperson said, authorities were nonetheless "concerned." And in June police in Staten Island arrested 25-year-old Frank Ranieri, who they said had paid three underage girls a total of more than $6,000 to let him poke them in the buttocks with various sharp objects. In what was reportedly the initial encounter, Ranieri allegedly convinced one girl that before she began a job delivering newspapers he would have to prick her buttocks with a ballpoint pen to make sure she wasn't allergic to ink.
Over the years News of the Weird has reported periodically on the feces of the late Italian artist Piero Manzoni, which he sealed inside a limited run of 90 tins (labeled "merda d'artista," or "artist's shit") in 1961; since then, the feces' market value has easily outperformed that of gold, peaking in 1993 when a collector bought one of the 30-ounce tins for $75,000. Last month, however, Agostino Bonalumi, a collaborator of Manzoni's at the time the piece was conceived, told a Milan newspaper that the cans really contained only plaster. A spokesperson for London's Tate Gallery, which bought a tin in 2002 for about $33,000, assured reporters that the work would retain its subversive power regardless of the tins' actual contents.
Least Competent Criminals
In May 23-year-old Christopher Emmorey was sentenced to two years in prison for robbing a bank in Peterborough, Ontario. According to prosecutors, Emmorey initially demanded $5,000, but the apparently quick-thinking teller explained that not only could she give him no more than $200, she would also have to deduct a $5 transaction fee because he didn't have an account there. Emmorey, who had previously been convicted of attempted robbery and was wearing no disguise, reportedly stood patiently at the window until she finished filling out some forms and handed over his $195; police recognized him in security-camera footage and soon arrested him at his apartment.
While running to catch a bus in Oldham, England, in May, a 54-year-old man collided with a lamppost, fell into the street, and was killed when the bus ran over him.
According to authorities in Dodge County, Wisconsin, a man called 911 from a strip club in April to report that he had just given $20 to a woman in hopes of receiving a lap dance, whereupon the woman, who turned out not to be an employee there, simply left with his money.
In May a jury in Greeley, Colorado, found 64-year-old Kathleen Ensz not guilty of criminal use of a noxious substance. Ensz, a retired French professor, successfully argued that she was exercising her right to free speech when she took one of the numerous campaign flyers mailed to her by U.S. representative Marilyn Musgrave, wrapped it around some dog excrement, and left the bundle at Musgrave's office.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Shawn Belshwender.