- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2001

While the world awaits conclusive news from the war in Afghanistan, the global media has kept up with one old tradition: tracking news of the weird. Oddities, quirks, ironies, extremes such curious tidbits keep the public engaged until the next big story.
With much solemnity, Scotland's Daily Record reported this week that "Special Forces searching for Osama Bin Laden may use a special smell detector to track him down the Remote-Sensing Gas Detection Device."
The paper quoted a "Pentagon expert" who explained, "The sniffing device is so sensitive it can distinguish between the smells of each ethnic group caused by the different foods they eat."
Bin Laden would be caught, the paper reasoned, through his "B.O."
Things are not going so well for the terrorist's cronies either, at least according to the London Daily Telegraph, which reported Thursday that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the missing leader of the Taliban, is now living in the back of a car, and drives off to a new location every four hours.
Mullah Omar's new residence, the Telegraph said, is "a light grey Toyota Corolla."
"Extreme stories" are indeed part of the news mix, according to the Poynter Institute's Robert Steele, but it is no real gauge of overall media coverage.
"Yes, journalists reach for stories. They look for the new angle. But the public should focus on substantive, meaningful stories. The best kind of journalism is evocative and provocative," he said.
Whether shrimp are evocative remains debatable, but the little crustaceans have been called in "to fight terrorism in Yokohama," according to the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun on Friday.
City officials plan to place 40 fresh-water shrimp and 20 killifish in each filtration tank at the city's water plant to detect possible tampering. "If the fish and shrimp come into contact with poison and fall weak or die, the equipment will pick up the change in electrical current and set off an alarm," the newspaper said.
Reuters, meanwhile, reported some combat travails in intimate detail. U.S. Marine trucks armed with anti-tank weapons raced into the southern Afghanistan desert Wednesday to chase down an "unidentified vehicle" which turned out to be a camel.
"How come you can't tell a vehicle from a camel?" asked one Marine in a company control center.
"One has wheels, the other has legs," another Marine replied.
The U.S. Navy also garnered close coverage. Scripps Howard reported Friday that technicians aboard the USS Roosevelt use a 1932, handheld "Stadimeter" to help steer the 97,000-ton aircraft carrier during its bombing missions in Afghanistan. The device, "according to its paperwork, was last calibrated on Feb. 7, 1945," the news service noted.
For better or worse, researchers also add to the mix. One national poll released Monday found that 50 percent of those surveyed were more frightened of receiving an IRS tax audit notice in the mail than a letter containing anthrax.
A Pew Research Center survey released yesterday found that 73 percent of the respondents said the terrorist attacks were not "a signal that God is no longer protecting the United States."
The attacks also prompted Princeton University to offer obtuse "evidence of global consciousness" underlying world events. In a cyberspace coin toss, analysts used 37 computers around the world to toss theoretical "coins," which normally produce a 50-50 odds of heads-to-tails.
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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