Among the "10 Worst Jobs in Science" in Popular Science's annual November listing: Harvard researchers in Borneo who catch orangutan urine (in plastic sheets, the way firefighters catch jumpers) for studying reproduction-hormone levels; gear-packing monitors who run toward (not away from) the gases and molten rock of erupting volcanoes (dozens have been killed or wounded); U.S. Geological Survey workers at two picturesque California lakes monitoring "extremophile" microbes that thrive in the most putrid environments (work that one says resembles being surrounded by 100 "extremely flatulent people"); and "human lab rats" such as students employed in an industry-funded University of California at San Diego study for $15 an hour to have pesticides sprayed into their eyes.
FAT CATS GET FATTER
Chief executive officers at 367 top U.S. corporations were paid, on average, $431 last year for every $1 paid to their companies' average production worker, according to publicly available information jointly compiled in September by Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy. In 1990, the ratio was about $100-to-$1. (If the federal minimum wage had increased since 1990 by the same rate as the multiple for CEOs' pay, it would have risen from $5.15 an hour to $23.03, but, of course, it's still $5.15.)
Parents of McGovern Elementary School students in Medway, Mass., complained to the Boston Herald in October because Paul Trufant's septic-sewage service, located across from the school, boasts the identifying slogan on all its trucks: "Shit Happens." Trufant said he would advertise however he wants to: "This is America, not Iraq."
BRAIN TRUST HUNKERS DOWN
Shortly after Hurricane Wilma struck Florida in October, officials said 911 operators in Palm Beach County were flooded not only with storm-related calls but with self-imposed injuries. Some of the problems (according to an October Palm Beach Post story): brush-clearing chain-saw accidents; the old "cigarette-lighter-to-check-fuel-level-of-a-generator"; people falling off roofs while making repairs; setting up a generator too close to a window; cooking inside on a charcoal grill; pouring gasoline into a generator while it's running; failing to respect downed power lines; and stacking items atop a previously "on" electric stove so that, when power resumes, they catch fire.
SMELLS LIKE OBSCENE SPIRIT
Women's Wear Daily reported in October that rock star Marilyn Manson said he was finalizing a personal perfume deal with a "major" company, as a precursor to his own full cosmetics line.
Erica Salmon, originally a fantasy-football-league "widow" because of her husband's seasonal mania, has now become mogul of her own fantasy league: of famous fashion designers. According to an October report by the Des Moines Register, managers draft teams consisting of three clothing designers, plus one each designer of shoes, handbags, jewelry and celebrity clothing, and then three celebrities, and they get points daily for the number and quality of name-mentions in Women's Wear Daily and other fashion and style magazines. As with football leagues, trades are permitted once a week.
CRUISING FOR LOVE
In October, researchers said they had tagged a great white shark and tracked him 12,400 miles over nine months, from Africa to Australia and back again, ostensibly seeking to mate; according to the report in the journal Science, sex was the best explanation because food was so plentiful around Africa. Also in October, the journal Biology Letters reported that the male nursery web spider uses a cheap trick to get sex. According to the report, the male gives the larger female a dead insect, then collapses, feigning death, distracting the female, which turns to the insect, at which point the male springs back to life and mounts her. (On the other hand, the female sometimes just eats the male, after or instead of copulating.)
Police in Twin Falls, Idaho, confiscated almost $1 billion in counterfeit money in October in a doomed scheme in which the loot consisted only of bills of the denomination of $1 million; a man from Buhl, Idaho, had tried to give a bank that amount as collateral for a loan. And according to police in Lafayette, Ind., in September, Earl Devine's counterfeit money was not much better: Though a popular name for $100 bills is "Benjamins" (for the face of Benjamin Franklin), Devine's $100 bills still had the face of Abraham Lincoln from the $5 bill he allegedly used as a model.
In September, China's Guangzhou Haojian Bio-science Co. introduced new condoms whose names read phonetically as the "kelintun" and the "laiwensiji," which of course resemble the names of a former U.S. president and his acquaintance.
GOD SENDS A MESSAGE
In October, a 33-year-old pastor at the University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, standing in a baptismal pool in front of hundreds of congregants, mishandled a microphone and was electrocuted. On the same day in Johannesburg, South Africa, a pastor at the Jerusalem Apostolic Church drowned during a river baptism ceremony when he and the parishioner (who also drowned) lost their footing on rocks in the river bed.