News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
Government in Action
• The National Security Agency is a “supercomputing powerhouse,” wrote ProPublica.org in July, with “machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second”—but apparently it has no ability to bulk-search its own employees’ official emails. Thus, ProPublica’s Freedom of Information Act demand for a seemingly simple all-hands search was turned down in July with the NSA informing ProPublica that the best it could do would be to go one-by-one through the emails of each of the agency’s 30,000 employees—which would be prohibitively expensive. (ProPublica reported that companywide searches are “common” for large corporations, which must respond to judicial subpoenas and provide information for their own internal investigations.)
• To commemorate its 500th “deep brain stimulation” surgery in May, UCLA Medical Center live-Tweeted its operation on musician Brad Carter, 39, during which he was required to strum his guitar and sing so that surgeons would know where in his brain to plant the electrical stimulator that would relieve his Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Carter had developed hand tremors in 2006, but the stimulator, once it is properly programed and the surgery healed, is expected to reduce his symptoms, restore some guitar-playing ability, and reduce his medication need. (And, yes, patients normally remain conscious during the surgery.)
• Firefighters are not infrequently called on to extricate adventurous men from sex toys, but one “armor-plat(ed)” device, six inches in diameter, into which the 51-year-old German entrapped himself in July in Ibiza, Mallorca, was especially challenging, according to the Diario de Mallorca newspaper, and took two hours and a dose of anesthesia toward the end. The saw blade the emergency workers used wore out during the rescue and had to be replaced, along with two sets of batteries. The man was kept overnight at Can Misses hospital, but was otherwise OK.
• Americans stage dog shows, and Middle-Easterners stage camel beauty contests, and in June, the annual German Holstein Show took over the city of Oldenburg, with the two-day event won by “Loh Nastygirl,” topping bovine beauties from Germany, Luxembourg and Austria. The event is also a showcase for the cow hairdressers, who trim cows’ leg and belly hair (to better display their veins). Said one dresser, “It is just like with us people—primping helps.” Groomed or not, cows with powerful legs, bulging udders and a strong bone structure are the favorites.
• Fruit of any kind retails for outlandish prices in Japan, but some, such as Yubari cantaloupes, are so prestigious that they are often presented as gifts to friends or colleagues, and it was only mildly surprising that a pair of the melons sold in May for the equivalent of about $15,700 at auction at the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market. The melons appeared to be perfect specimens, with their T-shaped stalk still attached. The record melon-pair price, set in 2008, is about $24,500 measured at today’s exchange rate.
• Still Unclear on the Concept: Briar MacLean, 13, of Calgary, Alberta, was reprimanded by school officials in May (and then also lost an appeal) after he stepped between two students because one, holding a knife, was bullying the other. The vice principal appeared to regard Briar’s action as equal to that of the bully, telling Briar’s mother later that the school does not “condone heroics,” and that it was “beside the point” that Briar might well have prevented a slashing (which could have occurred if he had left the boys behind to go find a teacher).
• Some crime-scene investigative techniques seem far-fetched, as News of the Weird has reported, but police use of “ear prints” might be approaching the mainstream. Britain convicted its first burglar based on an ear print in 1998, and in May 2013, investigators in Lyon, France, tied a 26-year-old man from the Republic of Georgia to a string of about 80 burglaries—by taking prints from doors the man had leaned against while listening for activity inside the home.
• First-World Crises: It is not quite to the level of the $15,700 Japanese melons, but the behavior of women descending upon New York City stores in June for the annual “sale” on designer shoes is nonetheless a spectacle. The event makes the city’s upscale commercial district look like “an insane asylum of very well-dressed women,” reported The New York Times. The shoes’ everyday prices require, wrote the Times, “the willful suspension of rational thinking.” The average transaction at Barneys is $850, still far below, for example, a pair of wicker-basket-like sandals ($1,995 by Charlotte Olympia) or a certain Christian Louboutin pump ($1,595—$4,645 if in crocodile). Prices are so unhinged, according to the Times, that standards from the iconic “Sex and the City” designer Manolo Blahnik are now low-price leaders, holding at about $595.
• Among the oldest classic stories in News of the Weird is the hapless burglar or bank robber who inadvertently incriminates himself at the scene of the crime. Recently, (1) Korey Harris, a defensive lineman for West Virginia University’s football team, was arrested in July for a home invasion he allegedly committed while wearing his practice sweatpants emblazoned with his jersey number (96). (2) Police in Boston are confident that Zachary Tentoni is the man who robbed a woman in the yard of Harbor Middle School in June because, as he grabbed her purse and fled, he dropped two bags he was carrying. Among the contents: Tentoni’s birth certificate and a letter from his mother.
• Zero-Tolerance Alive and Well: Second-grader Josh Welch’s two-day suspension in March was upheld on appeal in June by Park Elementary School officials of Anne Arundel County, Md., even though his offense was that he had nibbled a pastry into the shape of a gun, which he then waved around. Said Josh’s attorney: “If this (school system) can’t educate a 7-year-old without putting him out of school, how are they going to deal with 17-year-olds?”
• It took a year and a half of legal wrangling over a technicality, but Marshall University was finally dropped in June as one of the defendants in Louis Helmburg III’s lawsuit for his injuries when fellow party-goer Travis Hughes shot bottle rockets out of his posterior in 2011. Helmburg, some will recall, was so startled by Hughes’ stunt that he fell off the rail-less deck at a fraternity party staged by Alpha Tau Omega of Marshall University. Hughes and the fraternity remain as defendants in the January 2012 lawsuit.
• The Mexican economy has improved markedly since News of the Weird first mentioned the EcoAlberto theme park in the central state of Hidalgo in 2005, which offers an attraction simulating the rigors of border-jumping. In 2005, it was thought that many of the attendees were using the setup to improve their chances of sneaking into the U.S., but now park officials believe nearly all are being discouraged, with the improving economy (and stepped-up U.S. enforcement) helping. The ordeal is played out as a three-hour game, with “U.S. Border Patrol” agents using sirens, dogs and verbal threats, and chasing the players into the night.
• Final Chapter for America’s Most Overconfident Murderer: Anthony Garcia, 25, was convicted in July for a 2004 murder he had apparently gotten away with. He had been subsequently arrested in 2008 for driving on a suspended license, and a cold-case Los Angeles detective, perusing arrest reports, noticed Garcia’s unusual chest tattoo, which depicted a scene that reminded the detective of the crime scene in the cold-case murder, with Garcia (street name, “Chopper”) having labeled himself as the shooter. Garcia, previously home free, was arrested in his cell and now faces life in prison.blog comments powered by Disqus
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