News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
• The leader of the devout Sunni jihadist group Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, making a rare, solemn appearance in July, wore a flashy silver wristwatch that various video analysts described as either a Rolex or an Omega Seafarer or a feature-laden Saudi Arabian-made timepiece that sells for only about $560. A week earlier, a Syrian anti-government rebel leader was shown in a video exhorting his troops from notes he had made in his “Hello Kitty” notebook. And a week after that, a shopkeeper in North Waziristan, lamenting the loss of business when local Taliban fighters abruptly left the area, told a BBC reporter that the jihadists obsessively bought Dove soap, Head & Shoulders shampoo, white underwear (“briefs or Y-fronts”), and “Secret Love” and “Blue Lady” perfumes.
The Continuing Crisis
• Clinton Tucker, who is black, sued Benjamin Moore paints in Essex County, New Jersey, in June for wrongful firing—after, he said, he had tolerated years of workplace racial insults. In fact, Tucker said the company had introduced two new paint shades shortly after he was hired in 2011—“Tucker Chocolate” and “Clinton Brown,” provoking on-the-job ridicule.
• The African hippopotamus is not found in South America—except for the estimated 50-some that, confusingly to natives, roam the Colombian countryside between Bogota and Medellin. The animals are the progeny of the four smuggled in 30 years ago by cocaine king Pablo Escobar, who generously established a grand, exotic zoo for his neighbors’ enjoyment after his drug business took off (and before he was gunned down in 1993). However, as BBC News reported in June, hippo meat is inedible, and without their African natural enemies, they breed with astonishing prolificness—thus creating a “time bomb” for Colombia.
• Awesome Thievery: (1) A former city official in Ridgewood, New Jersey, pleaded guilty in July to stealing nearly 2 million quarters collected from parking meters with no one noticing for two years. Under a plea deal, Thomas Rica will likely be spared jail provided he repays half of what he stole. (2) In July, New York City prosecutors accused a former pharmacist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital of stealing nearly 200,000 oxycodone-strength pain pills over five years, despite his increasingly far-fetched explanations. Anthony D’Alessandro even boldly swiped 1,500 pills the day after investigators first challenged him.
• British lawyer Gary Stocker, 30, was headed to the top of the profession with an Oxford education and a six-figure salary—when he decided instead to become a circus’s human cannonball. He is now The Great Herrmann in Chaplin’s Circus under a 1,400-seat tent in the city of St. Albans. Stocker told the Daily Mail in May, “Being in a circus is what I was destined for” and that “Perhaps I only went to Oxford to please my mum.” Chaplin’s show tells the story of a failing circus revived by the invention of the first “human cannon.”
• Kimberly Williams, 46, was convicted in April in Will County, Illinois, of beating dominatrix Theresa Washington with a baseball bat. Williams conceded to the judge that she had hired Washington, but only because she wanted a “slave” to take pictures of her naked while she did housework. Instead, she said, Washington became aggressive, declared herself a “master” and dragged Williams around by the hair. Furthermore, according to Williams, Washington’s transformation happened abruptly after a phone call Washington made to “someone she met on the dating site Christian Mingle.”
• Update: U.S. obesity continues to grow—for pets as well as people—and exercise innovations for humans seem to trickle down to dogs. A July Associated Press report noted that fat Labradors and poodles now have Pilates (“pawlates”) and yoga (“doga”) and even play “Barko Polo” in the pool, while Morris Animal Inn offers five-day fitness camps for dogs ($249) in Morristown, New Jersey. (More cats than dogs are overweight, but getting cats to the gym is perhaps beyond human capability.)
The New Normal
• Since high-rise residents value their privacy, Lisa Pleiss of Seattle said she was frightened on June 22 when she saw a drone hovering outside her 26th-floor window: “You don’t expect to be walking around indecent in your apartment and then have this thing potentially recording you.” According to police, the drone was legal—helping a developer photograph downtown Seattle—but would not have been if the camera had been pointed at Pleiss’ window. (Drones are becoming so widespread that, for instance, the University of South Florida library owns several, for student check-out on certain research projects.)
• In June, as Elizabeth Neufeld, 85, was backing her car out of her driveway in Bel Air, California, it tipped on a curve and rolled onto its side. Elizabeth was not hurt, but was trapped inside while her husband, Benjamin, 87, got out on his own. As they awaited firefighters, she reportedly handed a cellphone to a passerby so that the Neufelds would have a “selfie” (which made the Internet, with Elizabeth having righted herself in the driver’s seat and Benjamin standing sheepishly alongside). (Dr. Elizabeth Neufeld, retired, is one of the world’s most prominent genetics researchers, having won numerous awards during stints at the National Institutes of Health, University of California, Berkeley and UCLA.)
Least Competent Criminals
• Failed to Keep a Low Profile: Jacob Close, 25, wanted after jumping bail in New York on a drug charge, but recently on Bloomsburg (Pennsylvania) University police’s radar screen after he was rumored to be in the area, was arrested by the campus cops in June. Close’s name and photograph had appeared in the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise’s “Your Opinion” feature. He apparently could not resist when a street reporter asked him the newspaper’s “question of the week”—whether the Washington Redskins football team should choose another nickname. (His vitally important opinion? No.)
• By now, many in the United Kingdom have such exaggerated concern for “health and safety” that they are sensitive to even the tiniest, most far-fetched risks. In June, organizers of a dog show in Keswick drew up a list of 25 tests for dogs to perform in competition, but two had to be scrapped (supposedly for fear of lawsuits): biscuit-catching by the dog (canceled unless sponsors can be assured that dogs will try to catch biscuits only while seated) and Frisbee-catching (canceled outright for fear that dogs could injure their backs). (Indeed, in a previous U.K. dog show, an out-of-shape dog did hurt its back leaping for a Frisbee.)
• District of Columbia government services have improved markedly since the 1990s when News of the Weird reported frequent misadventures as the “District of Calamity.” Still, things happen. Rose Preston called 911 on March 15, fearing a stroke because of a left-side numbness, and a crew arrived promptly and administered oxygen. However, the two crew members began “bickering” while Preston, in the ambulance, waited to get going. Finally she became so frustrated that she got out, walked to a Metro station and took a train to the VA hospital.
• (1) Bill Hillmann, 32, expert on Spain’s bull-running events and author of a chapter in “How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona” (the most famous festival), was hospitalized in July after being gored during the run, with the horn passing through one thigh, missing his femoral artery by a centimeter. He told the Chicago Tribune from his hospital bed that he would be back for the next one. (2) In June, an unnamed American exchange student visiting Tubingen University in Germany, exploring a large marble sculpture outside the school’s institute for microbiology and virology, was trapped inside and had to be rescued by firefighters. The sculpture was a giant vulva, and 22 responders arrived in five fire trucks to pull the man out of the “vagina.”blog comments powered by Disqus
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