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News of the Weird

Channeling George Carlin

■ “Military Intelligence”: The head of U.S. Navy intelligence has for more than two years been prohibited from accessing classified information (as the Pentagon disclosed to The Washington Post in January). Vice Admiral Ted Branch came under investigation in 2013 in a corruption scandal involving a foreign defense contractor and various Navy personnel and might have been suspended from all duties—except that, given the political gridlock in Washington, no consensus candidate has emerged. No charges have been filed against Branch, but before he enters any room at the Pentagon, classified material must be stowed away.

Recurring Themes

■ New World Order: (1) Yet another woman gave birth to her own granddaughter in January. Tracey Thompson, 54, offered to be the surrogate mother for her fertility-challenged daughter, Kelley, and delivered a 6-pound, 11-ounce girl at The Medical Center in Plano, Texas. (2) After notable successes in the United States, Latin America claimed in December its first transgender pregnancy after Ecuadorean Fernando Machado announced he was expecting a child with his partner Diane Rodriguez. Fernando used to be “Maria”; Diane used to be “Luis”; and though both undergo hormone therapy, they have retained their birth organs.

■ Overexcited police departments occasionally feel the need to safeguard towns by zealous enforcement of anti-gambling laws. In November, police in Altamonte Springs, Florida, raided the Escondido Community Clubhouse, formally shutting down the retirement village’s games of bingo, bunko, penny poker and—most controversially—the weekly sessions of the culturally venerated mahjong. Although none of the games is illegal under state law, advertising for-money games is, and the notices in the Heritage Florida Jewish News were such attention-getters that the pots for the games often grew to exceed the $10 legal maximum. (Given mahjong’s sociological significance, news of the bust was even reported in Jerusalem’s Times of Israel.)

■ Perspective: On the heels of a similar program in Richmond, California, Washington, D.C.’s D.C. Council authorized funding in January to pay stipends to notorious criminals if they stop committing crimes. Police would identify up to 50 residents likely to violently offend again in 2016 and offer them periodic cash payments plus special training and educational benefits—as long as they stay out of trouble. Officials in Richmond (once overwhelmed by gun deaths) say their program, commenced almost 10 years ago, has produced a 76 percent drop in gun-related crime.

■ Reports of the prominence of animal urine in various cultures’ health regimens have surfaced periodically in News of the Weird, and in December, in Al Qunfudhah, Saudi Arabia, a shop selling camel urine (with a long history of alleged medicinal qualities) was closed by authorities after they found 70 camel-urine bottles actually filled with shopkeeper-urine.

■ About a decade ago, several fast-food restaurants (especially during evening shifts staffed by sometimes inadequately trained managers) were plagued by a prank phone-caller, posing as law enforcement requesting investigative help, asking managers to strip-search employees for “contraband” and to describe the searches in real time to the caller. (A suspect was arrested, and the calls stopped.) Managerial judgment was also on display at a Morro Bay, California, Burger King in January when a prank caller somehow convinced BK employees to begin shattering the store’s windows because of a purported “gas leak.” Several windows were smashed in, and an investigation of the call is ongoing.

■ Awkward: In January, Israeli television journalist Eitam Lachover became the latest to be injured in a high-profile test of a “protective” vest when he volunteered to be stabbed on camera for a news segment. Vest company officials’ faces turned quickly sour as the blade penetrated the vest (though the wound was described as “light”).

■ In January, 15-year-old Anthony Ruelas, trying to rescue a classmate gasping from an asthma attack, became the latest casualty in public schools’ relentless insistence on “zero tolerance” of any deviation from rules. Gateway Middle School in Killeen, Texas, suspended Ruelas for two days for what others called his “heroic” assistance in gathering the girl in his arms and taking her to the nurse’s office—while the teacher, following “procedure,” waited passively for a nurse to email instructions. (Ruelas had defied the teacher, declaring, “(F-word) that—we ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse.”) The school district’s superintendent later cited a federal law that he interpreted as justifying the procedure.

■ Age-Old Prank Fails: Will Lombardi, 19, was charged with arson in Northampton, Massachusetts, in January after he acknowledged that “probably” he was the one who left a flaming box of excrement on the front porch of the family with whose daughter he was feuding. The fire was supposed to alarm the victim, who would try to stomp it out, thus spreading the feces and soiling the stomper’s shoes. In this case, however, the fire had spread a bit. (Bonus: Lombardi’s box selection was a used mailer with Lombardi’s name and address still readable.)

■ Least Competent Criminals: (1) In January, a 27-year-old man in North Pole, Alaska, became the most recent forced to flee a crime scene on foot because he had locked his keys inside the getaway car. He was identified by surveillance video outside the two businesses he burglarized, but he was still at large. (2) Also in January, David Boulet, in Tacoma, Washington, became the most recent to haplessly try to steal a police car. As officers chased him on an earlier charge, Boulet spotted a parked, marked squad car (with lights flashing), but apparently thought, in the night’s darkness, that the car was momentarily unoccupied. He climbed in—and landed on the lap of a Tacoma police sergeant in the front seat.

■ Undignified Deaths: (1) A 47-year-old man in Saint-Marcel, Italy, fell to his death in January as he leaned over a balcony railing to shake crumbs off his tablecloth after breakfast. The tablecloth reportedly slipped from his hands, leading him to (unsuccessfully) reach for it. (2) A 58-year-old driver dressed except for pants was killed in January in Detroit when he was thrown from his car by a crash. A Michigan State Police spokesman reported that the man had been viewing pornography as he drove.


■ News of the Weird’s long-time super-creative serial litigant Jonathan Lee Riches filed yet another claim in January—against the Tennessee couple identified as winners in the recent $1.6 billion Powerball lottery. John and Lisa Robinson, Riches says, “owe” him half their winnings because he says he sent their daughter (and his pen pal), Tiffany, $20 to buy Powerball tickets. Riches’s lawsuit, written in longhand, claims that he and Tiffany were to be married and move to “a remote island full of milk and honey.” Riches had been serving a federal prison term for parole violation, but his current situation was unreported (except that he now claims an alias, “Jihadi Schitz,” and wrote from a Philadelphia mosque). It is expected that this lawsuit will suffer the same fate as his against, among others, George W. Bush, Britney Spears, Steve Jobs, Nostrodamus, Plato and the various Kardashians.

A News of the Weird Classic (October 2011)

■ A judge in Nice, France, ruled in September (2011) that Article 215 of the French civil code (defining marriage as a “shared communal life”) in fact requires that husband and wife have sex. A husband identified only as Jean-Louis B. had evidently lost interest years earlier, and his wife was granted a divorce. Apparently emboldened by her victory, she then filed a monetary claim against the husband for the value of his 21-year-long lack of service, and the judge awarded her 10,000 euros (then worth about $13,710—$653 a year).

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