NEWS OF THE WEIRD

Perspective

ν In a dozen YouTube videos recently released, Syria’s Tourism Ministry praised the country’s sandy, fun-filled beaches as ideal vacation spots and its many World Heritage Sites as renowned tourist exhibits — attempting to distract world travelers from the country’s daily bloodshed (and the wartime destruction of those priceless historical sites). Before civil war broke out in 2011, Syria was a fashionable, $8 billion-a-year destination (and the now-devastated city of Aleppo was known worldwide for its food). [Washington Post, 9-2-2016]

Awesome!

■ Diego the giant tortoise, believed to be more than 100 years old, now lives in semi-retirement on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, but from 1976 to 2010, Diego brought an almost-extinct species back to life by fathering about 800 babies in the captive breeding program on Espanola, another of the Galapagos Islands. Biologists did not realize Diego’s prowess until 2010 when DNA tests identified him as the father of 40 percent of all tortoises on the island. Even on Santa Cruz Island, Diego keeps busy, with a “harem” of six females. (Another Galapagos tortoise species did die out in 2012 when the last male, the centenarian Lonesome George, maintained his celibacy until death.) [Fox News, 9-15-2016]

Compelling Explanations

■ The New York City Council, grilling police officials in September about their practice of freely seizing money from detainees under suspicion, asked for a thorough accounting of that money (suspecting that innocent victims rarely get it back unless aided by high-powered lawyers). Though (in “crime-fighting” hyperbole) NYPD routinely boasts of its half-million annual seizures, an NYPD official told the council it would be “impossible” to account for everything — that keeping track of it all would cause its computers to crash. [Village Voice, 9-16-2016]

■ The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is bureaucratically at the epicenter of the state’s drought crisis, but in September KCBS-TV aired video of the department actually using sprinklers to water the artificial lawn at a substation in South Los Angeles. A DWP spokesperson said such watering is routine at substations to “clean” the plastic (and wash off any dog urine, for example). [Reuters via msn.com, 9-18-2016]

Things You Thought Didn’t Happen

■ Wanda Witter, 80, had been living on Washington, D.C., streets for 10 years, but insisting to anyone who would listen that the Social Security Administration owed her sums that recently reached $100,000, and that she had documents to prove it. However, given her circumstances, most regarded her as just another luckless person confused by homeless life. In June, though, after social worker Julie Turner took a closer look and found, improbably, that Witter was indeed owed $100,000 and even more improbably, that all of her paperwork was carefully organized among the unimpressive possessions she hauled around daily, SSA paid her $999 on the spot, and the remaining $99,999 arrived in August. [Washington Post, 8-23-2016]The Passing Parade

■ A woman was arrested on Sept. 7 at the Italian Pizza Kitchen restaurant in Washington, D.C. She was chatting up a police officer she did not know, then playfully took a french fry from his plate. He asked her to stop, but she took another, and when the exasperated officer issued an ultimatum, she took yet another. The arrest report for second-degree theft, cited by WUSA-TV, included “property stolen” as “three” “French fried potato(es).”■  Six times since 2004, cars have left New Hope Road in Raleigh, North Carolina, and crashed into the home of Carlo Bernarte, and in September he desperately sought help from traffic officials (and indicated that it might be time to move). (He suggested the state install a barrier, but apparently that would block drivers’ line of sight.) [Miami Herald, 9-3-2016] [Greensboro News & Observer, 9-8-2016]

  At the seven-mile mark of the Allentown, Pennsylvania, marathon on Sept. 11, more than 100 runners were blocked off by an unanticipated, slow-moving train — causing the athletes one of their best chances to qualify for the gold-standard Boston Marathon (by posting fast times at Allentown). The train lingered for 10 minutes, though some runners climbed over couplings and continued on. [WUSA-TV, 9-9-2016] [Lehigh Valley Live, 9-13-2016]