News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
• Fourteen employees of a Framingham, Massachusetts, pharmacy were indicted in December for defrauding the federal government by filling bogus prescriptions (despite an owner’s explicit instructions to staff that the fake customers’ names “must resemble real names,” with “no obviously false names” that might tip off law enforcement). Among the names later found on the customer list of the New England Compounding Center were: Baby Jesus, Hugh Jass, L.L. Bean, Filet O’Fish, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Harry Potter, Coco Puff, Mary Lamb, all of the Baldwin brother actors, and a grouping of Bud Weiser, Richard Coors, Raymond Rollingrock and, of course, Samuel Adams. The indictments were part of an investigation of a 2012 meningitis outbreak in which 64 people died.
• Two recent innovations to the generations-old Middle East sport of camel racing boosted its profile. First, to cleanse the sport of a sour period in which children from Bangladesh were trafficked to use as jockeys, owners have begun using “robot” jockeys—electronic dummies that respond to trainers tracking the races with walkie-talkies (growling encouragement directly into camels’ ears) and joysticks (that trigger a whip at an appropriate time). Second, the firm Al Shibla Middle East of United Arab Emirates has introduced lycra-style, whole-body camel coverings that are believed to enhance blood circulation and, perhaps, racing speed (although the fashions are now used only in training and transportation, to lessen camels’ “stress”). Ultimately, of course, the coverings may carry advertising.
The New Normal
• “It’s not fair! There is not justice in this country!” shouted the mother of Franklin Reyes, 17, in a New York City courtroom in January after a judge ordered the son tried for manslaughter as an adult. Reyes, an unlicensed driver fleeing a police traffic stop, had plowed into a 4-year-old girl, killing her, but had initially convinced the judge to treat him as a “youthful offender.” Reyes’ mom was so enraged at the judge’s switch that she had to be escorted from the room. (After the judge’s generous youthful offender ruling, Reyes had violated his bail conditions by getting arrested three more times.)
• In Phoenix in early 2014, Kevin (last name withheld), age 5, was viciously mauled by Mickey, a pit bull, necessitating multiple surgeries, leaving him with lingering pain and disfiguring facial scars, and he still requires extensive care. While Kevin’s trauma makes him live in gloom, Mickey has become a Phoenix celebrity after an outpouring of support from 75,000 people kept him from being euthanized for the assault. He lives now in a “no-kill” shelter, where his many supporters can track him on a 24-hour Internet “Mickey cam.” KSAZ-TV reported in December that Kevin’s mom had to quit her job to care for him and struggles to pay medical bills.
• In October, vandals in Paris destroyed the large, inflatable “Tree” by U.S. artist Paul McCarthy in the city’s Place Vendome square, but not before it became widely characterized as a gigantic green “plug” of the type used for anal sexual stimulation. Paris’ news website The Local reported in December that the controversy has been a boon to the city’s sex shops. “We used to sell around 50 (plugs) a month,” said one wholesaler. “Since the controversy, we’ve moved more than a thousand” (at the equivalent of $23 to $45, in materials ranging from glass to stainless steel to silicone).
• Overthinking It: It was billed as the first-ever art exhibition expressly for nonhuman appreciation—specifically, for examination by octopuses. England’s Brighton Sea Life Center featured the five-tank shared display in November (including a bunch of grapes, a piece of Swiss cheese and a plate of spaghetti—exhibits made of ceramic, plastic, wood and rope) that the center’s curator promised would, according to an ITV report, “stimulate an octopus’s natural curiosity about color, shape and texture.”
• The Territorial Seed Co. of Cottage Grove, Oregon, introduced a plant in 2014 that sprouts both tomatoes and potatoes, the aptly named “Ketchup ‘n’ Fries” plant. Grafting (rather than genetic modification) splices the tomato onto potato plants (to create single plants capable of harvests of 500 red cherry tomatoes and 4.5 pounds of potatoes each).
• Jihadist Toddlers: Britain’s Home Office directed in January that the U.K.’s nursery school staffs report pupils “at risk of becoming terrorists,” but gave little guidance on what teachers and managers should look for. According to a description of the directive in the Daily Telegraph, staffs must “have training that gives them the knowledge and confidence to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and challenge extremist ideas.”
• “All I’m looking for is what’s rightfully owed to me under the (corrections department) contract,” said Westchester County (New York) corrections officer Jesus Encarnacion, after having drawn $1.2 million in disability salary for the last 17 years as a result of slipping on a leaf of lettuce on a stairway. When he fell, he jammed his wrist and several surgeries ensued, and when he was finally ready for “light duty” a few years ago, he re-injured the wrist on the first day and never returned. Encarnacion now seeks a full disability retirement from the state, but officials maintain that “disability retirement” is for injuries resulting only from the rigors of the job.
• When a dump truck and a municipal bus collided around 1 p.m. on Jan. 5 in downtown Phoenix, it of course drew the attention of the passengers, bystanders, motorists and nearby construction workers. According to a report in the Arizona Republic, an unidentified man then immediately seized the moment, ran out from some bushes to the center of the commotion and flashed the crowd before running away.
Least Competent Criminals
• Not Quite Clever Enough: (1) Police quickly tracking two assault suspects in Holland Township, Michigan, in December arrived at a residence at just the moment that suspect Codi Antoniello, 19, was starting to shave his head to alter his appearance. Antoniello’s now-Internet-famous mugshot shows him with a full head of hair, minus the perhaps one-fourth on top shorn by electric clippers (shown at http://goo.gl/ofDFQR). (2) When the wife of James Rivers, 57, of Kent, Washington, was about to bust him for his alleged child-porn collection in October, he shipped his laptop to a technician to have the hard drive erased—but with explicit instructions that if the techie encounters a “hidden” file, he must not look at the photos “under any circumstances.” (The techie, of course, found the file, looked and notified authorities, and Rivers was arrested.)
• (1) The most recent incident of a fire breaking out on the grounds of a crematorium occurred in December at the Innisvale Cemetery and Crematorium in Innisfil, Ontario. Firefighters put out the blaze and “rescued” the 15 dead bodies that were awaiting cremation. (2) When a small plane over Lake Taupo in New Zealand developed engine trouble in January, the pilot ordered evacuation. Fortunately, the six passengers were skydivers on a training mission and landed safely, even rigging the plane’s crew members to the divers’ own parachutes so that there were no casualties (except the plane). (Working skydivers also survived a November 2013 crash of two planes over Wisconsin by making an “unscheduled” jump.)
A News of the Weird Classic (June 2011)
• The Belly Button Biodiversity project at North Carolina State University has begun examining the “faunal differences” in the microbial ecosystems of our navels, to foster understanding of the “tens of thousands” of organisms crawling around inside (almost all benign or even helpful). An 85-year-old man in North Carolina may have “very different navel life” than a 7-year-old girl in France, according to a May Raleigh News & Observer report. So far, only the organisms themselves and the host’s demographics have been studied; other issues, such as variations by hairiness of navel, remain.
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