News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
Fragrance of War
• Updating “The Smell of Napalm in the Morning”: A cosmetics company in Gaza recently began selling a fragrance dedicated to victory over Israel and named after the signature M-75 missile that Hamas has been firing across the border. “The fragrance is pleasant and attractive,” said the company owner, “like the missiles of the Palestinian resistance,” and comes in masculine and feminine varieties, at premium prices (over, presumably, the prices of ordinary Gazan fragrances). Sympathizers can splash on victory, he said, from anywhere in the world.
Government in Action
• The Philadelphia Traffic Court has been so infused with ticket-fixing since its founding in 1938 that a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court report on the practice seemed resigned to it, according to a November Philadelphia Inquirer account. One court employee was quoted as defending the favoritism as fair (as long as no money changed hands) on the grounds that anyone could get local politicians to call a judge for him. Thus, said the employee, “It was the (traffic) violator’s own fault if he or she didn’t know enough” to get help from a political connection. Traffic Judge Christine Solomon, elected in November 2011 after a career as a favor-dispensing “ward healer,” said the ticket-fixing was “just politics, that’s all.”
• More than 200 school districts in California have covered current expenses with “capital appreciation bonds,” which allow borrowers to forgo payments for years—but at some point require enormous balloon payments. A Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that districts have borrowed about $3 billion and thus are on the hook for more than $16 billion. “It’s the school district equivalent of a payday loan,” said California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a former school board member who said he’d fire anyone who sought such loans. (Some defenders of the loans pointed to schools’ occasional need for immediate money so they could qualify for federal matching grants—which, to the districts, would be “free” money.)
• One of the principal recommendations following the Sept. 11 attacks was that emergency and rescue personnel have one secure radio frequency on which all agencies that were merged into the Department of Homeland Security could communicate. In November, the department’s inspector general revealed that, despite $430 million allotted to build and operate the frequency in the last nine years, it remains almost useless to DHS’ 123,000 employees. The report surveyed 479 workers, but found only one who knew how to find the frequency, and 72 percent did not even know one existed (and half the department’s radios couldn’t have accessed it even if employees knew where to look).
• Remember Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere”?: In November, the Anchorage Daily News reported the Army Corps of Engineers is building a harbor on the Aleutian native community’s island of Akutan, even though there is no road away from it. Thus, reported KUCB Radio, the only way to get into or out of the harbor is by boat. Any connector road to the only town on the island is “likely years in the future,” according to the Daily News. As well, there is no assurance that the largest business in the area, Trident Seafoods, would ever use the harbor.
• In October, Austrian artist Alexander Riegler installed a one-way mirror in the ladies’ room at a cafe in Vienna to allow men’s room users to peer inside (in the name of “art,” of course). Riegler said he wanted to start a “discussion of voyeurism and surveillance.” Men could see only the faces of women standing at the lavatories, and he said then that in January, he would reverse the process and allow women to peer into the men’s rooms. (The cafe had posted a sign advising restroom users that they would be part of an “art” project.)
• Anthony Johnson, 49, was convicted in October in Hartford, Conn., of stealing an improbably large amount of money—as much as $70,000 a weekend, off and on for five years—by crawling on the floor of darkened theaters and lifting credit cards from purses that movie-watching women had set down. The FBI said Johnson was careful to pick films likely to engross female viewers so that he could operate freely. He was often able to finish up, leave the theater, and make cash-advance withdrawals from ATMs before the movie had ended.
• Things That Almost Never Happen: In October, a 34-year-old man being detained by Port St. Lucie, Fla., police on an indecent-exposure complaint convinced the officer to free him based on showing the officer his testicles. (A woman had complained that the man was masturbating in public, but the man apparently demonstrated an impressively severe rash that he said he could not avoid scratching.)
• Niles Gammons of Urbana, Ill., apparently did some partying on Saturday night, Nov. 3, because he managed a rare DUI daily double. He was first cited for DUI at 1:08 a.m. Sunday and then, 60 minutes later, he was again cited for DUI at 1:08 a.m. (The first was during daylight saving time; the second was after the changeover.)
• Human rights activists have for years deplored the preferences for male offspring in India and other nations—ranging from cultures that marginalize female babies to some that practice discreet infanticide of girls. Increasingly, though, because of “advances” in science, Westerners can buy expensive in vitro fertilization procedures that use a laser to breach a fertilized embryo to determine whether it contains XY chromosome pairs (i.e., males) or larger XX ones so that only the desired-gender embryos are chosen. Noted Slate.com in September, such procedures are illegal in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom (except for bona fide medical reasons), but legal in the United States.
People With Issues
• Justin Jedlica, 32, of New York City, bills himself as the “human Ken doll” after a 10-year odyssey of cosmetic surgery (90 procedures) to achieve the “perfect” body. “I love to metamorphosize myself, and the stranger the surgery, the better,” he told ABC News in October, even though the amount of silicone in his body, say doctors (when told of Jedlica’s various implants), has reached a dangerous level. He dismisses actually “earning” the body, through gym workouts, as just “not exciting, not glamorous.” (Of course, the “perfect” body is never perfect, Jedlica acknowledged, as illustrated by his recollection of his first surgery—to get a perfect nose—which is still not done after three follow-ups. “Just got to get that nose up a few more millimeters,” he said.
• Emerging democracies have experienced brawls and fisticuffs in their legislatures as they learn self-government, with Ukraine perhaps the most volatile. When some legislators rose to change party affiliations in December, a fracas broke out and, according to Yahoo News, “Images ... showed a scene that resembled a WWE pay-per-view event, with parliament members using full nelsons, choke holds and other moves familiar to American wrestling fans.” In fact, a man with the same name as a WWE heavyweight (“Rybak”) had just been elected speaker, and the country’s well-known boxing champion Vitali Klitschko was in attendance (as a member of a minority party called “Punch”). (One 2010 brawl in the Ukrainian legislature sent six deputies to the hospital with concussions.)
• This, the 1,300th edition of News of the Weird, marks birthday No. 25. So, what was happening in 1988 in that first batch of stories published by that first adventurous editor? Well, there was the Alton, Ill., woman who died with a will specifying that her husband, who was an enthusiastic transvestite, was to receive not a penny of her $82,000 cash estate—but all of her dresses and accessories. And there was Hal Warden, the Tennessee 16-year-old who was granted a divorce from his wife, 13. Hal had previously been married at age 12 to a 14-year-old, who divorced Hal because, she told the judge, “He was acting like a 10-year-old.” Happy Birthday to News of the Weird.blog comments powered by Disqus
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