News of the Weird
Weirdnuz.M432, July 19, 2015
Copyright 2015 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved.
Among the protesters at New York City’s Gay Pride Parade on the Sunday after the Supreme Court’s historic gay-marriage decision were a group of men outfitted in Jewish prayer garments and representing the Jewish Political Action Committee, carrying signs reading, for example, “Judaism prohibits homosexuality.” However, the men were very likely not Jewish but in fact Mexican laborers hired for the day. A representative of the Committee told the New York Times that the men were supplemental”--necessary because the Committee’s rabbis would not permit their students (who normally staff such protests) to be exposed to the sights of same-sex exuberance typical for the parade. [New York Times, 6-28-2015]
Government in Action
WOOD-TV of Grand Rapids, Mich., seemingly uncovered an antiquity--if not a potential vulnerability--in the Grand Rapids public school system in June when it reported that the heating and cooling systems at 19 schools are controlled using a Commodore Amiga computer (released in the 1980s, about the same time as Windows 2.0), operating on an early Internet modem. It had been installed by a computer-savvy student, and according to the maintenance supervisor, still works fine. Fortunately, the supervisor said, the student still lives in the area and is available if problems arise. [WOOD-TV, 6-11-2015]
Recurring Theme: Government officials who insist on such “bells and whistles” as re-designing their department’s logo are often ridiculed for wasting taxpayer money (yet design consultants continue to sell the illusion that a new logo can give a bureaucracy a refreshing rebirth). In May, Tennessee officials unveiled a new state logo (which cost only $46,000--not counting the expense of changing signs, cards, stationery, etc.), which consists of the letters “TN” in white inside a red box with a blue trim underneath. (A Watchdog.org critic suggested a contest to design a superior one, but open only to kids age 12 and under, with the prize a $50 Amazon.com gift certificate.) [WSMV-TV (Nashville), 5-22-2015]
Adultery is illegal in Japan--except, as a Tokyo District Court judge ruled in a “psychological distress” lawsuit filed by the jilted wife, when it is done by a company to retain a good customer. A night club hostess who had carried on with the married man proved that she did so only as “makura eigyo,” or “pillow sales tactic.” Said the judge, “As long as the intercourse is for business, it does not harm the marital relationship at all.” (The ruling, from 2014, was first publicized this year.) [Japan Times, 6-10-2015]
New World Order
In 1993, the owner of the iconic 5Pointz building in New York City began allowing graffiti artists to use the walls for their masterpieces, but by 2013 had grown weary of the building’s look and had the walls whitewashed. In June 2015, nine of the artists filed a federal lawsuit demanding that the owner compensate them, substantially, for destroying their creations--and they stand a good chance of collecting (under the Visual Artists Rights Act) if they prove their particular works are of “recognized stature” and not merely art of an “ephemeral nature.” At its height, 5Pointz attracted more than 350 artists’ works from around the world. [New York Daily News, 6-12-2015]
A June entry in Wired.com’s “Absurd Creature of the Week” series warned of the Beaded Lacewing that preys on termites by first immobilizing them with a “vapor-phase toxicant” released from its anus. The silent-but-deadly gas is reportedly powerful enough to disable six ordinary termites for up to three hours (plenty of time for a sumptuous meal of termite) and weaken several more that might get caught in the backdraft. Wired.com also learned of the related species Chrysoperla comanche, whose “anal weaponry” is in solid form, wielded by “master contortionists” who lift their abdomens in order to directly contact their victims’ head. [Wired.com, 6-24-2015]
Suspicion Confirmed: In June 2015 research, scientists from Britain’s University of Exeter and Queen Mary University of London warned that owners of “domestic” cats seem not, on average, to appreciate what vicious killers their pets are and urge, for instance, that they be kept indoors more often lest they decimate the neighborhood’s bird and small-mammal populations. Estimates of the yearly death toll generated by housecats are “in the magnitude of millions” in the UK and “billions” in the U.S. [Ecology and Evolution, 6-19-2015]
The “parasitic ways” of the cuckoo bird were remarked upon “as far back as Aristotle,” wrote a Wall Street Journal book reviewer in May, but some biologists may not have believed the behavior because it was so cold-blooded. The bird, according to Nick Davies’s book “Cuckoo: Cheating By Nature,” lays its eggs in other species' nests to trick those birds into incubating the cuckoos, who then hatch and kick the eggs of their host out of the nest." The mother cuckoo, it is said, times her mating schedule so that her eggs mature just before the victims’ eggs would. Hence, according to Davies, she is “nature’s most notorious cheat.” [Wall Street Journal, 5-30-2015]
To cover various general expenses (such as helping the indigent), the average hospital mark-up for patient care in the U.S. is about 3.4 times costs (according to a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report in June), but 50 of the nation’s 5,000 hospitals charge more than 10 times the cost, with the North Okaloosa Medical Center near Pensacola, Fla., billing at 12.6 times costs. According to the co-author (Prof. Gerard Anderson), the fifty “are marking up the prices because no one is telling them they can’t.” (Forty-nine of the 50 are for-profit hospitals, and 20 are in Florida.) [Washington Post, 6-8-2015]
People With Issues
Former British Navy sailor Alan Reynolds, 55, of Porthleven, England, was convicted in April of a burglary in which he stole items from the home of a colleague to pursue his fetish for waterproof clothing--to enrich his fantasy, he told a judge, of imagining himself a prisoner of war. Photos and videos taken from his home show him in bright yellow waterproof trousers and green waterproof poncho, removing layers of clothing from underneath and “smelling” them. [Western Morning News (Plymouth), 4-9-2015]
Least Competent Criminals
Confused: (1) Christopher Furay, 33, pleaded guilty in Pittsburgh, Pa., in April to six bank robberies--the first four in which surveillance video revealed him to have a reddish beard and the last two in which the video revealed him to be wearing a fake red beard covering his reddish beard. Furay did not explain. (2) In June, police in Roseville, Minn., quickly located J&J Construction’s missing equipment trailer (stolen from a work site)--parked at the courthouse in Roseville, where the thief apparently had left it while he answered a court summons. WCCO-TV reported that the man was soon jailed on a separate charge. [Associated Press via WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh), 4-21-2015] [WCCO-TV (Minneapolis), 6-30-2015]
Sy Allen, arrested in March in Colchester, England, on suspicion of possessing drugs with intent to sell, relied on a fairly common strategy: As officers burst into the room, he swallowed the “evidence.” As in the other cases, police decided to wait for nature to take its course in order to recover the suspected drugs. Unlike in the other cases, Allen managed to hold out, with no bowel movement, for 23 days--but not a 24th. He was arrested. [East Anglican Daily Times, 5-13-2015]
A News of the Weird Classic (November 2010)
In November , after her fourth-grade son was allegedly slapped by his teacher at a Kansas City, Mo., elementary school (son, black; teacher, white), Lisa Henry Bowen submitted a 40-page list of reparations she expects from President Obama and two dozen other officials, including: $1.25 million cash, $13,500 in Walmart gift cards, free college education, Disney World vacations, private tennis lessons, an African safari, her mortgage paid off, home remodeling, nine years of free medical and dental coverage, and a nine-year "consulting contract" with the school district at $15,000 a month. Anticipating criticism that she had taken it too far, she added that opponents can [original punctuation] "kiss my entire black [rear end]!!!!!! I haven't begun to go far enough!!!!!!!" [Pitch Weekly (Kansas City), 11-11-2010]
Thanks This Week to Rob Zimmer and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.
In 1948, the Continental Can Company ran a series of magazine ads presenting "uncanny" facts about the history of canning. One of these facts was the great technological achievement from 1852 of packing an entire sheep into a huge can.
The ad didn't bother to say who exactly did this, but after a bit of googling I figured out that it was the French inventor Raymond Chevallier-Appert (1801-1892). Before Chevallier-Appert, canned food kept spoiling. He figured out that it needed to be cooked at higher temperatures. Here's the rest of the story from the Stravaganza blog:
Studying the problem, [Chevallier-Appert] decided that higher degrees of heat were needed in cooking. The apparatus called the autoclave, a closed vessel in which steam under pressure gave heat much greater than boiling water, had never been used for cooking food, however, and there was danger of over-cooking, because it lacked apparatus to measure and regulate the heat. Chevallier-Appert equipped the crude autoclave with another crude device, a manometer, which had been used for measuring heat in boilers. It would measure differences of only twenty degrees. He made it an instrument of precision, capable of measuring half a degree, and patented the invention in 1852. With greater heat, and an instrument to measure and control it, the difficulties of canning were overcome to such a degree that in June, 1852, Chevallier-Appert exhibited to scientists a whole sheep that had been cooked and sealed in a huge can in his autoclave four months before.
When the Batman TV series first aired in 1966, not everyone was happy with it. The Automobile Legal Association issued a press release listing the various traffic violations that Batman was guilty of and denouncing him as a "vicious example" for youth. His violations included: U-turns in the middle of busy streets, crashing through safety barriers, crossing highway white line safety markers, parking illegally, speeding, and failing to signal even a single turn.
They didn't mention using parachutes to turn around the Batmobile at high speeds (which I'm sure can't be legal), or having "Bat Ray" weapons installed on the vehicle.
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
Chuck is the purveyor of News of the Weird, the syndicated column which for decades has set the gold-standard for reporting on oddities and the bizarre.
Our banner was drawn by the legendary underground cartoonist Rick Altergott.