News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
People With Too Much Money
• During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney caught criticism for his proposed California home with parking on an upper floor, requiring a car elevator. Much more elaborate elevator access will be available in the new Porsche Design Tower near Miami (opening in 2016 and already 80 percent sold out, according to a December report by Slate.com). The 132 oceanside units (in square footage from 4,300 to 17,000 and in price from $5.3 million to $32.5 million) include glass-walled, elevator-accessed spaces for two or four cars (for people who would rather admire their Bugattis and Maseratis than the Atlantic Ocean).
Can’t Possibly Be True
• Equality Under Law: (1) In December, Fort Worth, Texas, judge Jean Boyd sentenced teenager Ethan Couch to probation with no jail time for drunkenly killing four people in a car crash—apparently accepting Couch’s “defense” that his affluent, permissive childhood had taught him irresponsibility. (WFAA-TV turned up a 2012 case in which Judge Boyd sentenced a 14-year-old black kid to prison for punching another boy who then fell, bumped his head and died.) (2) New York City prostitute murderer Rasheen Everett got a 29-year sentence in December, despite his lawyer’s “defense” that the victim was merely a transgendered prostitute. (“Shouldn’t [29-year sentences] be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain [higher] classes of individuals?”)
• Tension over digital security is such that an alarming disclosure made in 2004 (and largely ignored) can resurface on a website in 2013 and appear even more astonishing. At the height of the Cold War in the 1960s (and largely because of Pentagon-White House contentiousness), “safeguards” were installed to prevent rogue generals from launching nuclear war on their own. What today would be a “PIN” number was assigned to each missile, but Strategic Air Command generals mocked the PINs by setting each one to “00000000”—a code that today would be ridiculed as naive. (Furthermore, “00000000” was then written out on each missile’s instructions, according to the former launch control officer who disclosed it in 2004.)
• Many medical professionals are certain that Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, 70, is a quack, treating cancer patients with expensive, FDA-unapproved substances, giving false hope to the terminally ill and in some cases diverting them from better-regarded treatments. However, according to a December USA Today investigation, Dr. Burzynski enjoys enthusiastic support from a small but dedicated group of patients, and neither regulators in Texas (where he is licensed) nor two juries (who turned back indictments against him) have been able to stop him. FDA regulators have been inconsistent toward him but appear to be gaining aggressiveness following recent inspections of his facilities. (Dr. Burzynski manufactures his own proprietary drugs, charging around $10,000 a month to patients who can pay.)
• One Rule Fits All: Jim Howe, father of two children at South Cumberland Elementary School in Crossville, Tenn., was handcuffed and briefly detained by a sheriff’s deputy in November after mistakenly believing that he could walk his kids home when class let out at 2pm. Actually, the school allows 2pm departure only for kids being picked up in cars; pupils who leave on foot must wait until 2:35. (Howe assumed that the waiting period was only to protect young pedestrians from pick-up traffic.) Deputy Avery Aytes said a rule is a rule and that if Howe failed to cooperate, he would be jailed.
• David Friehling, who was identified as Bernard Madoff’s accountant soon after Madoff’s 2008 confession to running his notorious Ponzi scheme, provided evidence in November that a certain Madoff associate knew all along that Madoff was running bogus numbers on his books—testifying that he dutifully certified all such falsified documents that the associate showed him. Friehling, who pleaded guilty in 2009 for his personal role in the scam, also revealed that somehow he had actually blown $4.3 million of his own money in the swindle (on behalf of his children and other family members).
• Overcompensation: Mr. Kelcey Nicholas, 28, was arrested, along with Lataura Jarrett, 21, in Mount Nebo, W. Va., in September and charged with having incestuous relations. Thus, West Virginia—a popular target for jokes about cultural tolerance for incest and inbreeding—appears to be boldly reversing course, since Jarrett is merely Nicholas’ step-daughter.
Unclear on the Concept
• Police finally arrested William Footman, 55, in October as the person who somehow managed to swipe inside-front-door mats from at least 37 New York City banks between March and May 2013. No money was ever taken, and some banks were slow to realize the thefts—unobservant that they had even had front-door mats in the first place. “I sell them to bodegas,” Footman said. “Their floors get wet.”
• Rodney Rotert of Tulsa, Okla., filed a lawsuit recently against Philadelphia Insurance Companies demanding the return of “his” classic 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, supposedly worth about $100,000. His case is complicated by the fact that he also recently pleaded no contest to possessing stolen property, i.e., that very same car, stolen from an Arkansas dealer in 2007. (Rotert claims he bought the car legitimately, but he also changed the Vehicle Identification Number to obtain a false title.) Rotert said his legal claim, especially with the “current” VIN, is superior to the insurance company’s claim.
• While many educators lament the mediocrity of American universities in encouraging study of science and engineering, U.S. colleges are surely among world leaders in one area: sensitivity to students questioning their gender. In the current school year, Bellevue (Wash.) College and Mills College (Oakland, Calif.) have offered students unprecedented choices of self-identification. “Male/female” is no longer useful at Bellevue, which offers “feminine, masculine, androgynous, gender neutral, transgender and other.” At Mills, students identify themselves as “agender, bigender, third-gender or gender-fluid,” and select the pronoun they wish to be referred to with (he or she or ze or sie or ve, or the agrammatical “they”).
The Continuing Crisis
• When a pickpocket shared a taxi ride with him recently in China’s Hunan province and somehow managed to lift Zou Bin’s iPhone, Zou was frightened that he had lost all of his beverage-industry business contacts and began text-messaging desperate pleas to the thief. Several days later, in the postal mail, Zou received a list of his contacts, apparently carefully copied from the phone, totaling 11 handwritten pages of names and numbers, and as the story broke on Chinese social media, the earnest thief was referred to as “the conscience of the [robbery] industry,” and compared to a member of the People’s Liberation Army as the model conscientious citizen that the Chinese should aspire to.
News That Sounds Like a Joke
• Iowa lawyer Robert Allan Wright Jr. was suspended for a year by the Attorney Disciplinary Board in December for mishandling client funds. One client had received a “Nigerian inheritance” letter in 2011, and Wright apparently jumped at the opportunity to receive “$18 million,” seemingly unaware of what almost everyone else in the developed world knows about unsolicited Nigerian business deals. By December 2013, Wright had looted accounts of other clients in order to pay the “fees” necessary to free up the $18 million. He was spared a more onerous punishment only because the board concluded that Wright “honestly…continues to believe” that the inheritance is real—that “one day a trunk full of…one hundred dollar bills is going to appear upon his office doorstep.”
• Tough Sell for the French, Even at Discount: The Petite Syrah cafe, in the city of Nice, France, began pricing its coffee differently in December to introduce greater politeness among the notoriously brusque French. If a patron orders by saying, “Bonjour, un cafe, s’il vous plait” (i.e., with “hello” and “please”), the price is 1.40 euros (about $1.90). “Un cafe, s’il vous plait”—not quite as polite—costs 4.25 euros (about $5.80). The price for “Un cafe!”—apparently the usual way of announcing one’s need for coffee—7 euros (about $9.50).blog comments powered by Disqus
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