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News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
Fine Points of the Law
• Shooting “upskirt” photos of a 13-year-old girl is not illegal in Oregon, declared Judge Eric Butterfield in February, thus acquitting Patrick Buono, 61, of the crimes of invasion of privacy and “encouraging child sexual abuse.” Buono’s behavior was “appalling,” Judge Butterfield noted, but since the girl was in a public place (a Target store) and no nudity was involved (she wore underpants), the specifics of Oregon statutes were not violated. Said Buono’s lawyer, “It’s incumbent on us as citizens to cover up whatever we don’t want filmed in public places.”
Is This a Great Country, or What?
• Felons, and those convicted of domestic assault, and those with a history of mental illness, cannot by federal law buy firearms or explosive devices, but Americans on the National Counterterrorism Center’s consolidated watch list can—and may possess an unlimited quantity. (In 2013 and 2014, 455 of 486 prospective purchasers on the list passed the background check, and going back to 2004, 2,043 of 2,233, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.) Legislation to add watch listees as a banned category was introduced again this year, but has failed several times in the past.
• The annual National Basketball Association All-Star game in February provided a windfall for the co-host arena’s proprietor, James L. Dolan, whose family owns not only Madison Square Garden but also the NBA’s richest franchise (the Knicks), hockey’s second-richest (the Rangers), and the New York region’s telecom juggernaut Cablevision. Among the government handouts Dolan receives is the 33-year (and counting) exemption from property taxes for the Garden’s four square blocks (“among the most valuable (plots of land) on Earth,” according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio)—a government gift, in 2014 alone, worth $54 million.
• The three-week February exhibition of Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera consisted of a blank wall in Chicago’s West Loop gallery—with the artist present only in the sense that he was residing in a narrow, 10-foot crawl space behind the wall with only a single sign alerting patrons (“I am here, but you will not see me”). Diaz-Perera’s “In the Absence of a Body” was designed, he said, to explore the boundary between presence and absence.
• (1) A motorist smashed into a power pole at 2 a.m. on Feb. 25 in Tukwila, Washington, because, he explained, he was “chasing an owl.” (Police somehow found him to be sober and did not charge him.) (2) Officials in Salem, Oregon, posted signs in February to warn joggers on a popular running path that they might be attacked by a rogue owl or owls, after four people were aggressively pecked at by dive-bombers. (One design for the sign came from cable TV personality Rachel Maddow.) (3) A bar called Annie the Owl was scheduled for a special one-week event in London in March, for patrons to sip drinks while domesticated owls perch on their shoulders. Interest was so keen that a lottery was required for tickets.
The Continuing Crisis
• America’s Least Interesting Couple: Bill Bresnan, 74, of Toms River, New Jersey, has written a love letter to his wife, Kirsten, also 74, every day for nearly 40 years—more than 10,000 in number—and continuing, according to a February ABC News report. “We’ve never had a fight,” he said. Their romance continues over, for example, playing “Boggle” at breakfast or having candlelit dinners with wine. (Bonus: Kirsten has hoarded all of the letters, filed by date, in 25 boxes.)
Latest Religious Messages
• Margurite Haragan, 58, was charged with two harassment counts against a Jewish woman in Boise, Idaho, in February after the victim complained of being screamed at and roughed up by Haragan, who was trying to pressure her to acknowledge a belief in Jesus Christ. After Haragan allegedly stepped on the woman’s neck and pulled her hair upward, the victim promised to become a Christian. Haragan then departed but returned two days later to continue the alleged harassment. (The genesis of the women’s relationship was unclear from news reports.)
• The “Pedophile Loophole”: The Mississippi Department of Education reported recently that federal student privacy law bars local schools from alerting the MDE about college-age student teachers who might be having inappropriate relationships with the K-12 students they teach. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act apparently controls regulation of the student teachers during on-the-job classroom training (or, as a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson wrote, “What happens in college, apparently, stays in college”). The MDE, which issues educator licenses, thus may never learn of the inappropriate behavior of the student teacher.
People With Issues
• “Mummy Maxine” and her husband, Derek Ventham, run adult baby nurseries (the current one, in North Liverpool, England), charging men the equivalent of $115 an hour to lounge in their cribs, in man-sized infant clothing, while being fawned over as if they were helpless pre-toddlers. (No sex play is allowed, but diaper-changing costs about $40 extra.) Even tamer is the “adult preschool” in New York City that Michelle Lapidos and a partner intend to start soon. A month-long course will allow grownups to “relive their pre-K days” with finger-painting, show-and-tell and nap time, she told the Village Voice in January, all while dressing in “your 4-year-old best.”
Least Competent Criminals
• Embarrassing: Surveillance video released in February by the Irish Independent showed a small-time burglar trying to break into a car at 1 a.m. in front of the Pheasant bar in Drogheda, Ireland, by smashing a window with a brick—but also showed that the brick rebounded and knocked the man out, bloodying him. Gerry Brady, owner of the bar, was just closing up and found the burglar dazed, but the man departed before police arrived. Only when Brady later viewed video of the front of his bar did he realize what the man had been up to.
• Least Industrious Criminals: (1) Deputies in Santa Rosa County, Florida, arrested Kevin Barbour, 37, after he fled, on foot, from a recent traffic stop. Deputies chased him awhile, then called for K-9 backup, and by the time the dogs arrived, a sound resembling a “snorting wild boar” saturated the area. A snoring Barbour was found asleep under a tree and arrested. (2) Michael Cassano, 38, was arrested in Lodi, New Jersey, in February, after allegedly robbing the Hudson City Savings Bank of about $4,000. He was spotted minutes later, a block away at a Dunkin Donuts, sipping coffee.
• News of the Weird has reported on joyous “fertility” festivals in South Korea and Japan in which uninhibited celebrants brandish artistic “penises” (from parade floats to souvenir phalluses as jewelry, flower pots, food, etc.—serving adults and little kids alike). It turns out that Greece, too, has such an annual spectacle, “Bourani,” in the town of Tirnavos, on the first day of Lent, with historic roots based on inspiring fertile crops as well as human fertility. Wrote Vice.com in its dispatch, “People keep kissing (the penises), taking selfies with them, and wearing them as earrings.”
A News of the Weird Classic
• Mark Seamands, 39, went to trial in May (2010) in Port Angeles, Washington, accused of second-degree assault and two lesser charges for the hot-iron branding of his three children, aged 13, 15 and 18. Each of the kids bore the mark “SK,” for “Seamands’ Kids.” At trial, however, the kids testified that they not only consented to the branding but thought it was cool (despite the second-degree burns), and as a result, the jury dismissed the assault charge and deadlocked on the two lesser ones.
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