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News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
It’s Snot Hygienic
• The manager of the agency in Louisville, Kentucky, responsible for, among other things, development planning, zoning changes and historic landmarks revealed in November that his headquarters has a “boogers” problem and ordered users of the third-floor men’s room to stop hocking them onto the walls adjacent to the urinals. According to an internal memo cited by InsiderLouisville.com, Metro Planning and Design Services manager Joe Reverman called the mucus buildup “a very serious situation” and had his executive administrator post signs instructing restroom users on the basics of proper disposal of “anything that comes out of or off a person’s body.”
• The 1968 Cy Twombly “blackboard” painting sold for $70.5 million at New York City’s Sotheby’s auction in November (higher than experts’ estimate of $60 million). The painting consists of six horizontal lines of continuous circular swirls (white chalk on a “blackboard”)—perhaps the same swirls that might be made by an extremely bored, aggressive first-grader given a supply of chalk and the absence of the teacher.
• The Baltimore-based “experimental music” creators Matmos announced the release of their new album, Ultimate Care II, consisting entirely of “music” made by a Whirlpool washing machine (the Ultimate Care II model). According to a November report in Time magazine, the machine’s 38-minute wash cycle will be “sampled and processed” to lighten the original sound. (Matmos previously “played” canisters of helium on stage at Radio City Music Hall and a cow’s uterus at the San Francisco Art Institute.)
• In an enterprise somewhat resembling American Idol, amateur performers in China become self-supporting online not by soliciting money directly, but through virtual gifts from enthralled fans, with performers getting a cut of each sale. Beijing’s YY.com hosts original performances, and two of the site’s favorites, Mr. Earth and Ms. Cloud, earned the equivalent of about $160,000 last year from their universe of 1.8 million fans (according to a November Wall Street Journal report). In an ancillary industry (led by 9158.com), hard-core fans can purchase access (think “virtual limousines,” shown “arriving” at a “concert”), giving them bragging rights. (A simple “applause” icon after a song costs about a penny.)
• The exasperated drug enforcement chief of Indonesia told reporters in November (following confiscation of a massive quantity of methamphetamine from China) that the ordinary death penalty was insufficient for drug runners, who should instead be forced to overdose on their own shipments. Budi Waseso also mused that crocodiles would make better prison guards than humans because crocs can’t be bribed and later added tigers and pirhanas to the proposed guard roster. Even so, Waseso’s boss reiterated that the government is committed to rehabilitation over punishment.
New World Order
• Watch Your Language: (1) Recently added to the list of words and phrases to be officially discouraged on campus, according to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s website: “political correctness.” The phrase is said to be a “microaggression” that might make some students feel uncomfortable or unsafe if they hear it or read it. (2) In November, the University of Vermont held a (voluntary) three-day “retreat” open only to students who “self-identify as white,” so that they can study the implications of “white privilege” in society (e.g., “what does it mean to be white?” and “how does whiteness impact you?”).
• The Queens (New York) Redbird Tourist Information Center was finally ordered to close in July following an extraordinarily unsuccessful seven-year run in which, possibly, not a single tourist ever walked through the door. The New York Post, interviewing neighbors in Kew Gardens, found no one who ever saw a visitor, and the center’s lone staff member said she recalled only lunchtime drop-ins from jury duty at the criminal court building down the block.
The Continuing Crisis
• Marshall University (Huntington, West Virginia), seeking a “star free agent” for its medical faculty, hired neurosurgeon Paul Muizelaar in July despite controversy from his previous work at the University of California, Davis. There, Dr. Muizelaar and colleagues, in a daring experiment, introduced live bowel bacteria into the brain—on lab rats—supposedly to stimulate the immune system when other remedies had faltered. However, Dr. Muizelaar, emboldened, also introduced the bacteria into brains of a man and two women who had highly malignant glioblastoma tumors (each patient having consented). However, two died within weeks, and although the third survived more than a year, UC Davis found numerous protocol violations. Dr. Muizelaar’s new supervisor told the Associated Press that he nonetheless felt lucky to land him because “not everybody wants to move to Appalachia.”
• Deputy sheriff Michael Szeliga of St. Petersburg, Florida, in Fort Lauderdale for a weekend training session in July, was to receive a commendation at the formal banquet, for exemplary DUI enforcement, presented by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (This is News of the Weird; you’ve already guessed the outcome.) He, escorted by two fellow deputies, arrived for dinner “staggeringly drunk” (though he did not drive), according to an internal affairs investigation, and he was ordered to go sleep it off. (Szeliga wrote an apology and was transferred out of DUI work. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Szeliga was a good deputy but that the incident was “one of the most ridiculous things” he’d ever heard of.)
People With Issues
• Social science professor Dr. Jeff Justice resigned from the faculty at Tarleton State University (Stephenville, Texas) in October to head off an investigation into whether he supplied alcohol to students and proselytized at least one to undergo a self-mutilation practice. Justice admitted, post-resignation, that he was a devotee (since age 13) of the “Sundance” ritual, in which he would hang from a tree in his backyard by hooks connected to stakes in his bare chest and that he demonstrated it to some students but apparently interested none. He attributed the incidents to “severe depression.” (Bonus: He had won a Faculty Excellence award in 2015.)
Least Competent Criminals
• Kaleb Alexander, 25, was shot and killed in October as he emerged from a United Dairy Farmers convenience store in Columbus, Ohio, still with his gun defiantly drawn after he had just then robbed the clerk. A Columbus police SWAT team was waiting outside the store because Alexander had robbed the store the previous two nights, as well, and somehow must have thought that the police would not catch on to his cunning robbery strategy.
• Are We Safe? As News of the Weird chronicled in 2010 and 2011, Iraqi police (either corrupt or sincerely unsophisticated) continued to purchase worthless bomb “detectors” to use at checkpoints in Baghdad, instilling residents with a false sense of security, with the result that hundreds of people died in supposedly safe neighborhoods. Briton James McCormick, the most successful con man/seller, is serving a 10-year sentence for the “ADE 651” (which, somehow, Baghdad police continued to buy long after the U.S. had warned of the scam). Since then, more bogus detectors have been peddled to Thailand and other governments. In November 2015, London’s The Independent, in a dispatch from the Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheikh, reports that luxury hotels’ security officers are now using similar bogus detectors to reassure tourists frightened by the recent terrorism-suspected Russian plane crash in Egypt.
A News of the Weird Classic (March 2011)
• Mental health practitioners, writing in the January (2011) issue of the journal Substance Abuse, described two patients who had recently arrived at a clinic in Ranchi, India, after allowing themselves to be bitten by cobras for recreational highs. Both men had decades-long substance-abuse issues and decided to try what they had heard about on the street. One, age 44, bitten on the foot, experienced “a blackout associated with a sense of well-being, lethargy and sleepiness.” The other, 52, reported “dizziness and blurred vision followed by a heightened arousal and a sense of well-being,” and apparently was so impressed that he returned to the snake charmer two weeks later for a second bite.
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