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Following the herd mentality



"Holistic herding," also known as "low-stress livestock handling," is "changing the whole face of the West," according to a U.S. conservation official who was quoted in Canada's National Post in December. Cattle are happier, healthier and more obedient, he said, if they are not shouted at or subjected to stress, and are instead allowed "to make up their own minds (where to go)," as one rancher put it. Not surprisingly, particularly rugged cowboys are said to avoid ranches that have adopted the change. And in January, nearly 8,000 cowboys attended the 16th annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev.; before submitting their verses, entrants had to prove to a screening committee that they are real cowboys.

Borden school

According to a February Wall Street Journal report, the annual "Milk Bowl" -- a national competition between college teams for championship honors in dairy sniffing -- crawls with corporate recruiters who seek to sign the nation's top flavor-evaluation talent at starter salaries of up to $40,000. Mississippi State's three-person squad won the 1999 contest in October, winning the "ice cream" category (by closely agreeing with professional judges as to the dessert's sensory qualities), finishing second in "cheddar" and "yogurt," third in "cottage cheese" and "milk" and fifth in "butter."

Eveready to defend

A U.S. government report in December revealed that a 1998 test of mock nuclear warheads failed because a contractor had accidentally installed dead batteries in them and was not able to detect the error.

The barter they come

Two undercover policewomen running a prostitution sting in Dothan, Ala., in October failed to arrest a pickup-truck-driving john (approximate age: 70), despite his three attempts to procure their services. He first offered to give the women the three squirrels he had just shot, but they ignored him. (Storing the evidence, they decided, would be too much trouble.) A few minutes later, he added the used refrigerator in his truck to the offer, but the officers again declined (for the same reason). On the third trip, he finally offered cash: $6, but without the squirrels and refrigerator. The officers again passed, but resolved to arrest him if he returned. He did not.

Big bong theory

In November, a patrol officer in San Antonio, Texas, confiscated two live bombs and nonchalantly took them across town in his squad car to the police department's drug-property room, having mistakenly identified them as elaborate marijuana bongs. Two weeks later, police in Cedar Park (near Austin), responding to a check-cashing store's report of a "pipe bomb," sent only an animal-control officer to the scene because the 911 operator had instead heard the word "python."

Mrs. Doubtful

Joshua Marete Mutuma, 32, was arrested in Modesto, Calif., in November on suspicion of impersonating his wife, who had a restraining order against him. Arriving at the Modesto courthouse dressed as a woman, wearing a long black wig and sporting a 5 o'clock shadow, Mutuma attempted to have the order dismissed. He responded to the clerk's questions in falsetto.

Copping some Z's

Little Rock, Ark., police officer Carlton Dickerson's 57-day suspension for dozing on the job was upheld by a city commission in October, despite his claim that he suffers from the disability sleep apnea. In his four years on the force, he has been caught asleep six times and has wrecked five patrol cars. In one incident, two fellow officers said they needed to rap on Dickerson's desk for 15 minutes to wake him; he denied to internal affairs investigators that he had been unconscious at the time.

The long arm of the law

In August a judge in Halifax, Nova Scotia, ruled that undercover police could legally touch prostitutes' private parts if it were necessary to effect the crime. And in November, the Arizona Republic newspaper revealed that police guidelines in Mesa, Ariz. -- contrary to virtually all departments' guidelines in the United States -- permit undercover officers to receive massages while nude if they are engaged in a prostitute-sting operation.

Soft-cell approach

After a yearlong study of correctional institutions around the world, Canadian prison officials in November recommended that nearly all of the country's penal facilities be made to resemble its most lenient. Among their suggestions: eventually removing razor wire, bulletproof glass and guards' guns from the grounds, as well as giving all but a handful of the most heinous inmates control over the keys to their cells, the better to establish "a culture of respect."

Nothing to fear but Freud himself

In a long-classified report on the World War II era that was released in October, Britain's Special Operations Executive office warned that spies should understand themselves better on a psychosexual level to avoid compromising their missions. For example, careless destruction of code materials shows a castration complex; getting captured reveals masochistic tendencies; parachuting is a sexual stimulant; failure to bury the discarded parachute denotes exhibitionistic leanings; and fear of parachuting signifies "the unconscious reproduction of the trauma of birth."

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