The Wolong Panda Training Base in Sichuan, China, released a series of photos to China Daily in October to mark the graduation from captivity, and into the wild, of the 2-year-old Tao Tao. Sure enough, Tao Tao and his mother, Cao Cao, were shown frolicking in the woods, accompanied by trainers each dressed in panda suits, including panda heads, as they appeared to demonstrate climbing trees and searching for food.Latest beauty treatment
"You have wrinkles," the inquiring customer was told, "and your left cheek is larger than your right," explained Tata, the Bangkok-born woman who recently opened a salon in San Francisco to employ the supposedly traditional Thai art of face-slapping. Frown lines and droopy skin are curable with a 10-minute regimen of well-placed whacks across the cheek -- and payment of the $350 fee, Tata told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in October. Masochists are warned that Tata deals in therapy, not punishment. "If you want someone to hit you, go on Craigslist."Cutting-edge science?
Among the "Ig Nobel" prizes awarded to earnest academics in September by the Annals of Improbable Research was the one to Patrick Warren and colleagues who delved into excruciatingly detailed predictions (at the behest of a cosmetics firm) about how someone might ultimately look with a ponytail, based on hair characteristics. The team took into account the stiffness of the strands, the effects of gravity and the random curliness or waviness in the hair in a set formula to compute a "Rapunzel Number" for each head.Advice in the stars
Financial advisers charge the big bucks because of their sophisticated understanding of money -- or maybe because they know how the stars align. A September Marketplace radio program highlighted the newsletters of "financial astrologers" Karen Starich and former Merrill Lynch stock trader Arch Crawford. About 300 traders pay $237 a year to learn what Starich knows about Neptune and Saturn, and Crawford's 2,000 subscribers have learned that any new business venture goes south when Mercury is in retrograde.Parsimonious president
Uruguay's chief executive, Jose Mujica, declared his personal wealth in 2010 as the equivalent of about $1,800 and gives away 90 percent of his $12,000 monthly presidential salary to remain true to his political roots with the leftist guerrilla group Tupamaros. He has rejected the government-provided mansion and instead lives with his wife at her family's farmhouse, where he helps work the land, according to a November BBC News profile from Montevideo. "I have to do [this]," he told a reporter, "because there are many Uruguayans who live with much less."Gift cards for parents
In a parental-involvement program with 70 public schools and Walgreen Co., the City of Chicago announced in October that it would give previously uninterested parents $25 gift cards just to come by the schools to pick up their kids' report cards.Dung beetle dance
A research team at Lund University in Sweden, led by neuroethologist Jochen Smolka, concluded that one reason dung beetles dance in circles on top of dung is to cool off, according to an October report on LiveScience.com. To arrive at their conclusion, the team went to the trouble of painting tiny silicone "boots" on some beetles to protect them from the ambient heat experienced by a control group of beetles, and found that the booted beetles climbed atop the dung less frequently. Explained Smolka, "Like an air-conditioning unit, the moist [dung] is cooled" by evaporation."Not so swift
In November, Jacory Walker, 19, pleaded guilty to one count of bank robbery in Waxahachie, Texas, and was sentenced to 37 months in prison. He had made the mistake of asking a teller at the 1st Convenience Bank to access his account and only then, when realizing he had no money left, deciding to rob the place.