News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
Dying to Get a Date
• Like many in society’s subgroups, people who work in “death” industries or professions in the U.K. may believe it difficult to reach “like-minded” suitors. Hence, Carla Valentine established Dead Meet earlier this year and told Vice.com in October that she has drawn 5,000 sign-ups among morticians, coroners, embalmers, cemetery workers, taxidermists, etc., who share her chagrin that “normal” people are often grossed out or too indiscreet to respect the dignity of her industry’s “clients.” We might, said Valentine, need a sensitive companion at the end of the day to discuss a particularly difficult decomposition. Or, she added, perhaps embalmers make better boyfriends because their work with cosmetics helps them understand why “many women take so long to get ready.”
Can’t Possibly Be True
• A passerby shooting video in November outside the Lucky River Chinese restaurant in San Francisco caught an employee banging large slabs of frozen meat on the sidewalk—which was an attempt, said the manager, to defrost them. A KPIX-TV reporter, visiting the precise sidewalk area on the video, found it covered in “blackened gum, cigarette butts and foot-tracked bacteria,” but the manager said the worker had been fired and the meat discarded. (The restaurant’s previous health department rating was 88, which qualifies as “adequate.”)
• India’s Orissa state has established “health camps” to facilitate mass sterilizations to help control the booming population, but procedures were halted in November when Dr. Mahesh Chandra Rout matter-of-factly told BBC News that camps routinely used ordinary bicycle pumps to inflate women’s abdomens. Orissa’s senior health official immediately ended the practice and ordered sterilizations only in hospitals. (Enlarging the abdomen helps the surgeon to operate, but the proper agent is carbon dioxide.)
• The Food and Veterinary Administration of Denmark shut down the food supplier Nordic Ingredients in November after learning that it used an ordinary cement mixer to prepare gelatin products for nursing home and hospital patients unable to swallow whole food. An FVA official told a reporter: “It was an orange cement mixer just like bricklayers use. There were layers (of crusty remains) from previous uses.” As many as 12 facilities, including three hospitals, had food on hand from Nordic Ingredients.
Government in Action
• Questionable Judgment: Assistant Attorney General Karen Straughn of Maryland issued an official warning recently for consumers to watch out for what might be called “the $100 bill on the windshield” scam. (That is, if you notice a $100 bill tucked under your wiper, do not try to retrieve it; it is likely there to trick you into opening your door to a carjacker.) When questioned by WJLA-TV of Washington, D.C., Straughn admitted there were no actual reports of such attempts—and that the story is a well-known urban legend—but nonetheless defended the warning.
• Lesson in Civics: North Hempstead, New York, enforces its dog-littering ordinance with steep $250 fines and street-sign warnings displaying the amount. However, insiders have long known that the signs are wrong—that the written regulation calls for fines of only $25—and officials have been discussing how to correct their error while still discouraging littering. According to a November WCBS-TV report, now that residents know the actual amount, the debate is whether to replace the erroneous signs (expensive) or just raise the fine 1,000 percent (to $250) and save money.
• A November order from China’s State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television appears to impose a ban on the use of all idioms—including puns—as part of the government’s crackdown on nonstandard language, especially since that discourages children from learning proper vocabulary and grammar. All mass media outlets must “avoid changing the characters, phrasings and meanings” of words—even though, according to the Beijing reporter for London’s The Guardian, Chinese culture is saturated with puns.
• As revealed in a spirited public meeting of the Huron Valley (Michigan) Board of Education in November, gun-carriers’ freedoms in the state appear complicated, in that a person with training and who submits to state licensing to carry a concealed weapon may carry it even on school grounds (despite the federal Gun-Free Zones Act of 1990). Michigan’s lawful exception to the act requires concealed permit-holders to carry the gun unconcealed, which many parents contend frightens younger children. Also, though it is illegal for anyone alcohol-impaired to carry a gun anywhere, the legal threshold for presumed impairment in Michigan is only .02 percent for a licensed permit holder, but probably .08 percent for unlicensed “open”-carriers (who are not covered by the “concealed” law).
The Continuing Crisis
• As young professionals have embraced urban neighborhoods, locally grown produce has proliferated in community (and even backyard) gardens and is thought to be healthier than pesticide-laden commercial produce. However, the New York Post revealed in November (based on state Health Department data) that such gardens in construction-dense New York City are vulnerable to astonishingly high levels of lead and other toxic metals. One community garden in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, for example, showed levels of lead nearly 20 times the safe level.
• In November, a clothing store on Yabao Road in Beijing came under criticism for posting a sign, “Chinese Not Admitted,” on its door. An employee told the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper that no one should believe that “we Chinese look down upon ourselves. But some Chinese customers are too annoying.” (A legal scholar told the newspaper that China, except for Hong Kong, has no law against racial or ethnic discrimination.)
Least Competent Criminals
• (1) Unclear on the Concept: A 34-year-old man was arrested at a Tesco supermarket in Bar Hill, England, on Nov. 12 when he entered the store and threatened employees—by showing them a photograph of a gun. (2) Recurring Theme: Two men were arrested easily in Silver City, New Mexico, in December. Thieves had broken into Javalina Coffee House downtown and dragged away the ATM behind their truck. With the help of a witness—and especially the gouge marks in the street running from the Javalina directly to the nearby residence of the men—police nabbed the two and were still searching for a third.
Armed and Clumsy (all-new!)
• Won’t Make That Mistake Again: (1) Ralik Hansen, 28, suspected in a dramatic New York City jewelry robbery, heard a knock at the door of a Brooklyn home in October, squeezed down under a couch and accidentally shot himself to death. (He thought he was hiding from police; it was a delivery man.) (2) Dennis Emery, 57, according to neighbors a frequent gun-brandisher at home in Pinellas Park, Florida, accidentally mishandled one during a November domestic argument and fatally shot himself in the face. (3) A 26-year-old woman in St. Louis, who had recently purchased a handgun to protect against potential violence in Ferguson, was waving it around while riding in a car with a friend, causing him to grab for it, and a shot fatally struck her. (However, police still have not closed that case.)
A News of the Weird Classic (January 2011)
• Two hundred boredom “activists” gathered in London in December (2010) at James Ward’s annual banal-apalooza conference, “Boring 2010,” to listen to ennui-stricken speakers glorify all things dreary, including a demonstration of milk-tasting (in wine glasses, describing flavor and smoothness), charts breaking down the characteristics of a man’s sneezes for three years, and a PowerPoint presentation on the color distribution and materials of a man’s necktie collection from one year to the next. Another speaker’s “My Relationship With Bus Routes” seemed well-received also. Observed one attendee, to a Wall Street Journal reporter: “We’re all overstimulated. I think it’s important to stop all that for a while and see what several hours of being bored really feels like.”
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