News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
San Francisco’s No. 1 Problem
• The ecology-conscious city (having recently encouraged routine composting of dinner leftovers) is now considering environment-friendly public urinals such as the PPlanter created by engineer Brent Bucknum. Users urinate into a ceramic basin and flush the waste with run-off hand-washing water into a bed of bamboo plants. Bucknum claims minimal maintenance and an odor-free experience, but on the other hand, only a user’s midsection area is blocked from public view—a concession necessitated by San Francisco’s sour experience with lockable public toilets, which shielded sex acts and crime. (A less-elaborate structure—the open-air, similarly privacy-challenging “pPod”—is currently being readied for deployment in the city’s Dolores Park.)
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
• Branko Bogdanov, 58, his wife, Lela, 52, and daughter Julia, 34, were arrested in March and charged in a 10-year shoplifting enterprise run out of their upscale Northbrook, Ill., home, which they allegedly used as a base while prowling stores in states as far away as Florida, stealing high-end toys and jewelry, which they resold on eBay and to their fences. Police estimate the Bogdanovs swiped as much as $7 million worth on their forays—many items being stashed in Lela’s customized flowing skirts with hidden pockets.
• A trauma victim arriving at a hospital emergency room but requiring specialized intensive care would usually be transferred promptly to a qualified “trauma center,” whose success rate with such patients is believed to be 25 percent better than that of ordinary hospitals. However, a recent study from Stanford University researchers found that, among 636 hospitals observed, there was a greater reluctance to make the transfer—if the patient was fully insured. (That is, the authors suggest, there is a tendency for hospitals to hang onto insured patients, even though their outcomes might be worse, but not to similarly hang onto the uninsured—who are more likely to be properly transferred.)
• Latest Female Beauty Products: Cosmetic surgery is expensive, but beauty-conscious Japanese girls and women (especially those obsessed with a more “Western” look) have low-priced workarounds to choose from—as uncovered in January by the fashion blogger Liz Katz: (1) the $63 Face-Slimmer Exercise Mouthpiece (insert it for three minutes a day, make vowel sounds and watch a “saggy” mouth turn taut); (2) the Beauty Lift High Nose nostril clip, which emits electronic vibrations to raise the proboscis’s profile; (3) an altogether different but similarly painful-appearing Nose Straightener (insert for 20 minutes a day for added “perkiness”).
• Technological Know-How at Work: Hard-core pornography fans are split (according to a January report on Salon.com) on whether they want male actors to use condoms, but California’s Falcon Studios has the technology to serve both audiences. Falcon’s actors wear them, but in some movies those condoms might be digitally “removed” during post-production. The major downside, said one renowned director, is the prohibitive cost—about $100,000 to re-digitize the estimated 90,000 frames in a typical “low-budget” porno film. The Falcon president said he is trying an alternative—using clever lighting during filming to de-emphasize the condom’s presence.
• Security and law enforcement agencies are looking beyond traditional biometric identification techniques (such as the accurate but obtrusive fingerprint and iris scans and unobtrusive yet questionably accurate facial-recognition) and, based on recent laboratory research, are now considering earwax and underarm odors. Work by Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center shows that ear secretions may reveal personal identity, ethnicity, health status and sexual orientation, among other information, and researchers at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (Spain) said their work demonstrates that recognizable patterns in body odor remain stable even through disease and diet change (although admitting that even the best odor technology is far inferior to a dog’s nose).
Leading Economic Indicators
• Farming continues to be a noble but grueling existence for rural residents of China, who work for the equivalent of only about $1,300 a year, but in one village (Jianshe, in southwest Sichuan province), farmers have established a co-operative capitalist model, and in January officials delivered residents their annual dividend in cold cash—the equivalent of about $2.1 million to split among 438 households. Authorities unloaded banknotes in stacks that constituted a 7-foot-high wall of money, requiring villagers to pull 24-hour shifts to guard it.
• With property values sky-high in posh London boroughs like Chelsea and Kensington, some super-wealthy residents desiring to expand—and who might ordinarily be forced to build up higher—are building down, constructing elaborate, multistory basements instead. CNN reported in January that additions are underway (one covering five floors below ground) for subterranean home theaters, gyms, golf simulators, bowling alleys and even swimming pools.
• Costs of Spain’s Economic Collapse: (1) London’s Daily Mail reported in March that Spain might have as many as 2,900 recently abandoned “villages” (swaths of land with clusters of houses) deserted by owners forced into cities to find work during the current recession—and that speculators were buying entire villages at single-house prices and turning them into vacation retreats. (2) A formal association of sex workers in Barcelona has introduced a four-hour “introduction to prostitution” class for women transitioning from other occupations due to layoffs. Course topics include tax-return help (prostitution is not illegal in Spain) and marketing, as well as sex tricks.
• News of the Weird has reported recently on the staggeringly large amounts of money to be made by financial trading firms that can execute buys and sells even a split-second before another firm. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the “race to zero” (“zero” being trades executed at the speed of light) now involves sophisticated lasers beamed between trading hubs (initially, East Coast data centers, but eventually linking nearly all U.S. stock exchanges) so that a firm’s automatically enacted trades (by self-actuating computer programs) can be further reduced from the current 0.004-second “lag” time.
People With Issues
• A more ornate, dedicated subset of cross-dressers—the “living dolls” or “maskers”—was captured for a British TV documentary in January (and likely to appear on U.S. television soon). “Secrets of the Living Dolls” follows ordinary men (one, a forklift operator by day; another, divorced and 70, whose daughter knows he’s a “doll” but otherwise maintains a “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship) who come alive several nights a month when they don expensive ($800 to $1,800), tailored, head-to-toe silicone bodysuits that feature breasts and genitalia, to party as young, glamorously dressed women. Two of the men lamented the dolls’ lack of full acceptance into the transvestite or transgender communities—though much of that distrust may stem from dolls’ use of masks (perhaps similar to the backlash faced by clowns).
Least Competent Criminals
• Christopher Fulton turned himself in in Midwest City, Okla., in March after seeing a surveillance photo of the robbery of an IBC Bank. He told police he indeed must be the robber, that he saw his body in the bank photo—although he insisted that his mind had no recollection of it. Police were about to arrest Fulton, anyway, because the robber’s holdup note was written on a blank check with the account holder’s name and address (Fulton’s mom’s) scratched out, except that police-lab technology easily read through the scratch-outs.
The New Normal
• (1) A plaintiff in an auto-accident lawsuit, who is claiming an injury that has impaired her inclination for “social activities,” was ordered by a judge in Nova Scotia to prove her loss by showing a reduction in the time she spent on Facebook. Justice Glen McDougall ruled that Joanne Conrod must disclose her log-in and log-out information but need not reveal her complete Facebook profile. (2) Arizona-based Christian “exorcist” Bob Larson, who claims to have performed more than 20,000 demon-expulsions, recently branched out by allegedly (in front of CNN’s Anderson Cooper) cleansing a client in Norway—via the Internet-enabled phone application Skype. (Given the fragility of computer operating systems, critics—including “mainstream” exorcists—find it puzzling that a demon could not disable Larson’s.)blog comments powered by Disqus
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