News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
• British director Missouri Williams brought an adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear to the London Courtyard art facility in August for a one-week run, centered on a human actor struggling to stage the play using only sheep. The pivotal character, Lear’s daughter Cordelia, famously withholds flattering Lear (thus forgoing inheriting the kingdom), and her silence forever tortures Lear—and of course silence is something sheep pull off well. Actor Alasdair Saksena admitted there is an “element of unpredictability with the sheep,” but lauded their punctuality, calmness and lack of fee demands. Williams promised another Courtyard run for King Lear With Sheep in the fall.
• The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, has an award-winning “telework” program allowing patent examiners flexible schedules, leading half of the 8,300 to work at home full-time—despite a 2014 Washington Post report on employees gaming the system. In August, the agency’s inspector general exposed several of the most ridiculous cases of slacking off, including one examiner who was paid for at least 18 weeks’ work last year that he did not perform and that his manager did not notice. (The examiner, who had been issued nine poor-performance warnings since 2012 and who had flaunted his carefree “workday” to co-workers for years, abruptly resigned two hours before a meeting on the charge and thus left with a “clean” personnel record.) Wrote the Post, “It’s a startling example of a culture that’s maddening.”
• Only China and Iran execute more prisoners, but Saudi Arabia also has a soft side—for jihadists. Saudis who defy a ban on leaving the country to fight (usually against the common enemy, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad) are, if they return, imprisoned at a maximum-security facility in Riyadh, but with liberal short “vacations” at “Family House,” hotel-quality quarters with good food, playgrounds for children and other privileges (monitored through guest-satisfaction surveys). Returning jihadists also have access to education and psychologists and receive the equivalent of $530 a month with ATM privileges. The purpose is to persuade the warriors not to return to the battlefield once released, and officials estimate that the program is about 85 percent effective.
Highly Committed People
• Impersonating a police officer in a traffic stop is not uncommon, but Logan Shaulis, 19, was apparently so judgment-impaired on May 30 that he set up his own elaborate “DUI checkpoint” on route 601 near Somerset, Pennsylvania, complete with road flares, demanding “license, registration and insurance” from driver after driver. The irony of the inebriated Shaulis judging motorists’ sobriety was short-lived, as real troopers soon arrived and arrested him (on DUI, among other charges).
• A woman identified only as Zeng, age 39, was finally imprisoned in August in Urumqi, China—10 years after she was convicted of corruption. Availing herself of a traditional “probation” option in Chinese law for expectant mothers, Zeng had remained free by getting herself pregnant (and proving it) 14 times during the 10 years (although only some of the fetuses were carried to term).
New Hampshire Blues
• The president of the University of New Hampshire publicly complained in July about the “bias-free language guide” posted on the school’s website—since, he said, it denounces use of such words as “Americans” (as insensitive to South Americans), “seniors” (better, “people of advanced age”), “rich” (should be “person of material wealth”) and “poor” (change to “person who lacks advantages that others have”). (One state senator mockingly suggested changing the state’s “Live Free or Die” motto to “Live Free But Upset No One.”)
• Tough Love: Sexual assault is certainly punishable in New Hampshire by prison time, but pending legislation assumes prison is not enough. By House Bill 212, anyone who commits sexual assault while out hunting or fishing will also have his hunting or fishing license revoked.
The Americanization of China
• After five students drowned while swimming in a reservoir in China’s Yunnan province, parents of two of them sued the reservoir’s management company, complaining that it should have posted signs or barricades or, even better, guards to keep kids from frolicking in the dangerous waters. According to an August report, the management company has now countersued the parents, demanding compensation for the additional water-treatment measures it was forced to undertake because the reservoir had been “polluted” by their children’s corpses.
Adventures in Turtle Sex
• (1) A female Yangtze giant softshell turtle, believed to be the last female of her species, was artificially inseminated in May at Suzhou Zoo in China through the efforts of animal fertility experts from around the world. She is thought to be more than 100 years old (as was the last male to “romance” her, although their courtship produced only unfertilized eggs). (2) The Times of London reported in July that Briton Pamela Horner, seeking her “escaped” tortoise Boris (even though, as they say, he couldn’t have gone far), found “tortoise porn” on YouTube (mostly, mating sounds) to play in the yard and lure him back. A tortoise expert told The Times: “They make quite a lot of noise. We can hear them groaning for miles.”
• (1) Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Late one night in July, police in Phoenix were chasing a speeding truck whose driver eventually lost control and careened into a house near Mulberry Drive. As officers were checking for victims (it turned out no one was home), they discovered a large quantity of suspected marijuana—and opened an investigation of the super-unlucky residents. (2) Right Place, Right Time: Shane Peters’ cherished 2004 Dodge Durango broke down on the road in Livingston, Texas, in June, but before he could return to tow it, a thief hauled it away. About a month later, Peters’ wife spotted the familiar Durango in town and with the help of police got it back—with (courtesy of the thief) a newly repaired drive shaft and three new wheels (and the thief’s drug supply, but police seized that).
• The Michigan legislature and the state Court of Appeals (as News of the Weird reported in December) have, for some reason, given its concealed-carry gun licensees the additional right of openly carrying weapons on school grounds, and in August, a judge in Genesee County upheld that interpretation. Asked a lawyer preparing to appeal the decision, “If I’m a principal” and see someone “walking up to my building with a gun, what am I supposed to do?” He should, he said, “declare a lockdown ... call the police.” However, the open-carry parent who had been denied access to the school said the court ruling in his favor was just “common sense.”
• No. 1 in the News: Fukuoka Prefectural Police arrested two officials at a video company in June, along with three “actresses,” in the making of videos of the three seated on the floor of trains of the Nishi-Nippon Railroad and urinating. Police said they were acting on complaints of DVD customers (who, after all, had selected the disks from the video company’s “inappropriate urination” category, but nonetheless complained to the railroad).
News of the Weird Classic (October 2009)
• The human brain’s 100 billion neurons may have such specific functions that a few electrically charge only upon recognition of a single celebrity, such as Oprah Winfrey or Bill Clinton. UCLA researchers, studying the healthy cells of pre-op epilepsy patients, inadvertently discovered this property, which apparently varies with individuals but remains internally consistent (recognizing the celebrity’s name, picture or sound). Patients were presented “hundreds of stimuli,” one researcher told The Wall Street Journal in October (2009), but “the neuron would respond to only one or two.” For example, neurons were found that reacted only to Jennifer Aniston, only to Mother Teresa, only to characters on The Simpsons.blog comments powered by Disqus
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