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News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
From Cuba, With Love
• One of the remaining 116 Guantanamo Bay prisoners (a man suspected of having been close to Osama bin Laden) has a dating profile on Match.com captioned “detained but ready to mingle,” the man’s lawyer Carlos Warner told Al Jazeera America in September. Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani has relentlessly proclaimed his innocence, and Warner released a series of charming letters from his client intended to humanize him. Al-Afghani commented on Lebron James, Caitlyn Jenner, the Ashley Madison website and, for some reason, South Dakota, but with the recent publicity, Match.com appears to have suspended the account.
The Continuing Crisis
• “Let me get this straight,” wrote an incredulous commenter in September. “(T)hose who oversee” the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan, have the park “populated with snakes that can bite and inflict serious wounds.” The remark was in response to a visitor’s having been bitten by one of at least 27 rattlesnakes loose (by design) on the grounds. (The Eastern Massasauga rattler is protected by state law.) On the other hand, the park has posted many snake warning signs, and the woman who was bitten had removed her shoes to walk in the lush grass.
• Aluminum Foil Makes a Comeback: (1) City officials in Tarpon Springs, Florida, scrambled in May to find an ordinance that artist Piotr Janowski might have violated when he covered two palm trees, and then three sides of his rented home, in heavy-duty aluminum foil, to the consternation of neighbors. Janowski is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and his work has been shown in that city’s Polish Museum of America. (2) National Forest Service officials announced success in fire retardation in August by protectively sealing a remote structure near an Idaho wildfire in multi-ply foil. (3) And then there is Arthur Brown, 78, also “successful” in having kept his house in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, free of “aliens” by sealing it in foil (although neighbors griped in September about falling property values).
Latest Self-Declared Right
• Officials in Carroll County, Maryland, finally released a woman in August after she had been detained for 67 days -- just for declining to give her name to a traffic patrolman (who had stopped her for a broken taillight). In her idiosyncratic understanding of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, to “not be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against (herself)” means keeping her identity hidden from police. Eventually, sheriff’s deputies captured her fingerprints, and since they matched no outstanding warrants, she was released.
Leading Economic Indicators
• Adam Partridge Auctioneers in Liverpool announced in September that the equivalent of $10,000 would be the starting bid on a two-pound mass of whale vomit (hardened into a chunk by aging in ocean waters) picked up by a beachcomber in Wales. BBC News reported that a six-pound hunk once sold for the equivalent of $150,000; when aged into “ambergris,” the putrid waste product turns waxy and sweet-smelling and proves valuable to “high-end perfume houses.”
• An international property rental service recently found a seven-bedroom castle on 200 acres in Ringuette, France, for the equivalent of $2,925 a month -- which San Francisco’s KNTV immediately contrasted with the listing of a 401-square-foot apartment in the city’s Lower Haight district, offered at $3,000 per month. Another French castle (six bedrooms, a pool, three-acre garden, “several lawns”) rents for the equivalent of $4,940 -- about what a three-bedroom on Collins Street in San Francisco goes for.
• Marie Holmes tearfully disclosed in March how the $88 million Powerball lump sum she had won would allow her to finish college and help her four kids (one with cerebral palsy). Right away, though, her boyfriend, Lamar “Hot Sauce” McDow, was charged with drug trafficking and needed $3 million bail, which she took care of. Then, in August, in Brunswick County, North Carolina, “Hot Sauce” was arrested again, for selling heroin, and reporters surmised that Holmes must have been the one who posted that $6 million bail. (Holmes addressed her critics on Facebook: “What Y’all need to be worried about is Y’all money ....”)
• Military veteran Gary Dixon, 65, has multiple medical issues, the worst of which is stage four lung cancer, which he says he got from Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. He takes from 10 to 15 meds a day, previously supplied by the Veterans hospital in Topeka, Kansas, but for post-traumatic stress and anxiety, he also smokes marijuana when he can get it. (Kansas has not legalized medical marijuana.) A recent policy change by the VA bars pain meds for marijuana users, leading Dixon to fend for himself for the meds (about $400 a month, he said), because he so badly needs the marijuana.
Can’t Possibly Be True
• An ovipositor is the organ that inserts or receives an egg (especially from parasites like bees -- and that thing in “Alien”). A spokesperson from a startup firm called Primal Hardwere (in an August interview with Vice.com) assumes a human market for ovipositors and is now selling two hollowed-tube models at $120 and $130 (along with advice on creating gelatin “eggs” for insertion). The product, acknowledged the Primal Hardwere rep (to the wary interviewer), “can be ... off-putting” to anyone who might not “fantasize about being the willing or unwilling host of alien beings inside them.”
• More than three-fourths of civil cases filed in the busy Tucson, Arizona, federal court in 2014 -- nearly 3,000 in a courthouse open only about 250 days a year -- were filed by one man, a prisoner named Dale Maisano, who was expressing disappointment with his health care as he serves his 15-year term for aggravated assault. Maisano said in July 2015 he was still getting little help for his valley fever, gallstones, sun sensitivity, leaky bladder and nerve problems in his feet.
• “We will not forget (rape victims). We will not abandon you.” So said Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a September self-congratulatory press conference along with Vice President Joe Biden, announcing $78 million in grants for testing rape kits that had been gathering dust for years around the country (surely allowing hundreds of rapists to have escaped punishment and some to re-offend) -- except that these victims have already been “forgotten” and “abandoned” for more than five years. Biden was vice president in 2010 when News of the Weird pointed out that Illinois was violating state law by ignoring 80 percent of its rape kits, and then in 2012 when Houston revealed it was sitting on 6,663 kits (and Detroit 11,000). (News of the Weird’s understated 2010 headline: “Things That Shouldn’t Get Backlogged”).
Least Competent Criminals
• Pamela Downs, 45, was arrested in Kingsport, Tennessee, in July and charged with using a counterfeit $5 bill at a gas station (a bill that was merely two photocopied sides poorly glued together, with one side upside down). Downs explained as she was being cuffed, “(A)ll these other bitches get to print money so I can too.” (She told officers later that she had read “online” that “President Obama” had “made a new law” allowing people to print money if they were on a fixed income.
A News of the Weird Classic (April 2010)
• The city health office in London, Ontario, created an online sex-education game that officials hope will appeal to teenagers in that its messages are delivered by a cast of iconic superheroes. According to a February (2010) report by Canwest News Service, the players are Captain Condom (who wears a “cap”), Wonder Vag (a virgin girl), Power Pap (“sexually active”) and Willy the Kid, with each fighting the villain Sperminator, who wears a red wrestling mask and has phalluses for arms. The characters answer sex-knowledge questions and, with correct answers, obtain “protection,” but a wrong answer gets the player squirted with sperm. (The game, still online as of April 2010, can be hard to find today, but Captain Condom lives on in Canadian sex education imagery.)
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