Odd jobs and animals

 

THE NATION

Attention, unemployed daredevils: Jobs are opening up for athletic non-acrophobics. It helps if you’re the kind of risk-taker who thinks repairing the giant blades of a wind turbine sounds like good clean fun, in a blowy sort of way. The catch: The 122-foot arms don’t lower to the ground for tune-ups; instead, blade technicians have to go up to meet them, hovering in the air while they repair cracks or other damage to a turbine’s silvery blade. The pay is good at $80,000 or so a year, reports the Billings Gazette, and when the weather is bad, workers even get paid to wait for it to clear up, since that’s “less expensive than the $1.5 million cost of a new blade.” Still, sanding a blade or replacing part of its fiberglass while on a platform that’s lowered from the windmill’s head has got to be more than “tricky.” Reporter Tom Lutey pulls out all the stops to describe 20 mph winds that can “bounce the dangling platform like a drunken puppeteer,” while at the same time, the blade of a windmill “quivers in the breeze like the 6 1/2 ton fin of a wounded whale.” But while WindCom crews in Montana do their jobs on platforms, a crew called Rope Partner, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., has turned a weekend sport into a job. Eschewing scaffolding, skilled mountain climbers working for this company rappel down a turbine’s giant blade, reports the New York Times; then the men clip on to the blade wherever they need to inspect, clean or repair a section — especially any part struck by lightning or damaged by ice. Doing scary maneuvers high above the ground is business-as-usual for climbers Matt Touchette and Sequoia Haughey, who specialize in niche jobs such as  inspecting big dams and cleaning the faces of the rock-star presidents on Mount Rushmore. A basic one-day job by two turbine workers starts at $2,000, says Haughey –– pretty good money for what he calls “dirtbag climbers.” Even better, no rope expert has been killed or seriously injured on wind turbines so far.

THE WEST

Charles Dickens, where are you? Somebody blew the whistle at the Department of Labor, and after investigating, the federal agency found that kids as young as 13 were illegally working for a market research company in Orem, Utah. The company, Western Wats, seemed to specialize in the kiddie labor pool. It hired 1,479 teenagers — all 14 or 15 years old — to question people about politics and other issues from centers in seven Western states, including Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. The “sheer volume of children the company was hiring” was unusual, said the Labor Department, which found that violations ranged from paying the children less than minimum wage to allowing teens to work longer hours than the law permits. Western Wats, which said it would fight the charges, has already received a $550,000 fine — “one of the highest of its kind ever assessed against a U.S. company,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

OREGON

It’s not fun and it’s not right, said PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, about a wildlife park in Winston, Ore., that uses elephants to wash cars. “It’s the threat of the pain that those bullhooks will cause that makes the elephants do what they’re told,” said a PETA spokesperson. Wildlife Safari officials reply that the elephants haven’t been trained through threats or abuse; instead, the animals spray cars to collect treats like carrots or yams: “These are 2-ton animals,” curator Dan Brands told the Seattle Times. “You can’t force them to do anything they wouldn’t want to do.”

ARIZONA

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took the unusual step recently of blasting two universities in his home state — Arizona State and the University of Arizona — for taking a total of nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money to study ant behavior. “We have serious economic problems, and we’re going to spend money on ants?” asked an incredulous McCain. The money will create 3.46 jobs, and Leslie Tolbert, a vice president at the University of Arizona, pointed out that stimulus money helps keep good scientists. “You don’t think of it every day,” she added, “but ants are really good at the division of labor.” The Arizona Daily Star noted several other projects among the 100 nationwide that McCain cited as highly dubious. They include $390,000 to the State University of New York at Buffalo to study young adults who drink malt liquor and smoke marijuana, and $1.2 million to a horse park and museum in Lexington, Ky., that’s dedicated to “man’s relationship with the horse.”

COLORADO

There’s no doubt about it: It’s too easy to get an initiative on the ballot in Colorado. The latest burning issue for voters to decide: Whether a commission is needed to collect evidence that extraterrestrials and their “UFO vehicles” have been visiting Earth, reports the Denver Post.

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