News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
Crime Does Pay
■ When officials in Richmond, California, learned in 2009 that 70 percent of the city’s murders and firearms assaults were directly linked to 17 people, they decided on a bold program: to pay off those 17 to behave themselves. For a budget of about $1.2 million a year, the program offers individual coaching, health care coverage and several hundred dollars a month in stipends to former thugs who stick to their “life map” of personal goals and conflict-resolution training. According to an April report on National Public Radio’s “This American Life,” Richmond is no longer among the most dangerous towns in America, with the murder rate in fact having fallen from its all-time yearly high of 62 to 11 last year.
Can’t Possibly Be True
■ One might believe that a 6th-grader, suspended for a whole year after school officials found a “marijuana” leaf in his backpack, might be immediately un-suspended if authorities (after three field tests) found the leaf was neither marijuana nor anything else illegal. Not, however, at Bedford Middle School in Roanoke, Virginia, whose officials said they had acted on gossip that students called the leaf “marijuana,” and therefore under the state schools’ “look-alike-drug” policy, the 6th-grader was just as guilty as if the leaf were real. Formerly a high-achiever student, he has, since last September, suffered panic attacks and is under the care of a pediatric psychiatrist, and his parents filed a federal lawsuit in February.
The Job of Researcher
■ Biologist Regine Gries of Canada’s Simon Fraser University devotes every Saturday to letting about 5,000 bedbugs suck blood from her arm—part of research by Gries and her biologist-husband Gerhard to develop a pheromone-based “trap” that can lure the bugs from infested habitats like bedding. (She estimates having been bitten 200,000 times since the research began, according to a May Wired magazine report.) Regine holds each mesh-topped jar of bugs against her arm for about 10 minutes each (which Gerhard cannot do because he is allergic)—leading, of course, to hours of itchiness and swelling in the name of progress.
The Continuing Crisis
■ The three gentle grammar pedants (one an environmental lawyer calling himself “Agente Punto Final,” i.e., “Agent Period”) devoted to ridding Quito, Ecuador, of poorly written street graffiti, have been patrolling the capital since November 2014, identifying misplaced commas and other atrocities and making sneaky corrective raids with spray paint. Punto Final told The Washington Post in March that he acts out of “moral obligation”—that “punctuation matters, commas matter, accents matter.” As police take vandalism seriously in Quito, the three must act stealthily, in hoodies and ski masks, with one always standing lookout.
■ Almost half of the DNA collected from a broad swath of the New York City subway system matched no known organism, and less than 1 percent was human. Weill Cornell Medical College researchers announced in February that they had identified much DNA by swabbing passenger car and station surfaces, finding abundant matches to beetles and flies (and even traces of inactive anthrax and bubonic plague) but that since so few organisms have been fully DNA-”sequenced,” there was no cause for alarm. The lead researcher fondly compared the bacteria-teeming subway to a “rain forest,” deserving “awe and wonder” that “there are all these species” that so far cause humans relatively little harm.
Latest Religious Messages
■ “I’m doing what God wants,” Mike Holpin, 56, told British TV’s Channel 5 in April. “In the Bible, God says go forth and multiply,” said the unemployed former carny who claims to have fathered at least 40 children (now aged from 3 to 37) by 20 different women. Holpin has been married three times, and lives with his fiancee Diane and two kids in the Welsh town of Cwm. “I (will) never stop,” Holpin said. “I’m as fertile as sin...”
First Things First
■ (1) A 21-year-old man in Hefei, China, collapsed in May after 14 straight days of Internet gaming, yet when paramedics revived him, the man begged them to leave and put him back in front of the screen. (2) Then, two weeks later in Nanchang, China, a 24-year-old female gamer took only a minutes-long break at an Internet cafe, at 4 a.m., to head to a rest room and give birth—returning with her blood-covered baby in her arms to resume her place at the mouse pad. (London’s Daily Telegraph, reporting from Beijing in May, estimated that China has 24 million Internet “addicts.”)
■ It takes only four of the U.S. Supreme Court justices to accept a case for review, but it takes five to stay an execution. On January 23, the Court accepted the case challenging Oklahoma’s death penalty chemicals, but the lead challenger, Charles Warner, lacking that fifth “stay” vote, had been executed eight days earlier (using the challenged chemicals), during the time the justices were deliberating. (The case, Warner vs. Gross, was immediately renamed Glossip V. Gross, but Richard Glossip himself was scheduled to die on January 28. Then, without explanation, at least one other justice supplied Glossip’s missing fifth vote, and, with one day to spare, his execution was stayed until the challenge to the chemicals is resolved.)
■ Only 17 states have specific laws to protect against “revenge porn” (exposing ex-lovers’ intimate images online as retaliation for a break-up), but a possible solution in the other states, reported CNN in April, is for the victim to file a “takedown” demand under the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which would subject the avenger to penalties for not removing the images. However, to prove copyright, the victim must file copies of the bawdy images with the U.S. Copyright Office, increasing the victim’s trauma (though an office spokesman told CNN that only the copyright examiner would see them).
■ Drivers Hit With Their Own Cars Recently: (1) A 64-year-old woman was knocked down by her in-gear minivan in Lake Crystal, Minnesota, as she got out to retrieve something from her house (March). (2) A man in South Centre Township, Pennsylvania, was hospitalized after leaving his idling car to adjust something under the hood and apparently adjusted the wrong thing, sending the car thrusting forward (February). (3) Jamie Vandegraaf, 23, was slammed by his own car as he leaped from the driver’s side (not far enough to clear the door, apparently) to avoid South Portland, Maine, police and U.S. Marshals pursuing him concerning the robbery of a Shaw’s supermarket (April).
From the Third-World Press
■ Mohamed Nafiu was arrested in Lagos, Nigeria, in April and charged with robbery after he and his pet baboon intercepted a pedestrian leaving a bank and frightened him into fleeing, leaving his money behind. Police said the versatile baboon had also previously snatched victims’ valuables.
■ Police in eastern South Africa were searching in May for the three women who accosted a man in Kwazakhele Township, near Port Elizabeth, raped him in the back seat of a black BMW, collected his semen in a cooler, and sped away without him. Constable Mncedi Mbombo told the Sowetan Live website, “This is really confusing to us because we have never heard of such a thing before.”
A News of the Weird Classic (January 2011)
■ The Key Underwood Memorial Graveyard near Cherokee, Alabama, is reserved as hallowed ground for burial of genuine coon dogs, which must be judged authentic before their carcasses can be accepted, according to a December (2010) report in the Birmingham News. The Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association must attest to the dog’s having had the ability “to tree a raccoon.” (In March 2010, a funeral for one coon dog at Key Underwood drew 200 mourners.)
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