by Chuck Shepherd

The Importance of Family

On Feb. 9 a single traffic stop in Alderson, West Virginia, resulted in the arrest of six people from the same family, trafficking in stolen power tools (including one man who traded a leaf blower, hedge trimmer and weed trimmer for Percocet pills). However, a month later, members of an even more charming family were caught in raids in Elyria, Ohio. Officers from three jurisdictions arrested 34 people — all related to each other — in connection with a $400,000 drug operation.

Government in Action

— The predawn line in March actually started forming at midnight, snaking around the building in Maitland, Florida, but it wasn’t for concert tickets. The dozens of people needed coveted visitor passes just to speak to an IRS agent — because budget cuts and personnel reductions have limited services. “I just came here to verify my identity,” said one frustrated taxpayer, who arrived at 8 a.m. and would not be served that day. The agency said its budget had been cut by $1 billion since the congressional “sequestration” in 2011.

— Nope, They Haven’t Grown Back Yet:

Canada’s Department of Veterans Affairs requires any vet receiving disability benefits to have a doctor recertify the condition annually — including people like Afghan war double-leg amputee Paul Franklin. He complained to Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News in March that he had been harshly threatened with loss of benefits he failed to file (even though the department told CBC News that it might perhaps relax the certification requirement to “every third year”).

Wait, What?

— Several theaters in Denmark reported in March that they had begun adding subtitles — to Danish-language films, because so many customers complained that the dialogue was incomprehensible. Apparently, it is widely known that spoken Danish is harder to understand than the written, but Copenhagen’s website The Local reported that actors had rebelled at improving their diction, claiming that their “mumbling” adds “realism” to the films.

— Attention to Detail: Major League pitcher Max Scherzer, new this season to the Washington Nationals, informed manager Matt Williams in March, according to a New York Times report, that he requires assistance when he warms up during daily practice sessions. He spoke of the importance of simulating actual game conditions, and since Scherzer is a starting pitcher, he needed someone to stand beside him and hum “The Star-Spangled Banner” before he begins his practice pitching.

Unclear on the Concept

Some states that rushed to enact systems to evaluate schoolteachers by the test scores of their students left the details of such regimens for later, resulting, for example, in absurdities like the Washington, D.C., public school custodians and lunchroom workers who a few years ago were being evaluated, in part, by student test scores in English and math. In March, a New York public school art teacher, writing in The Washington Post, complained that his coveted “effective” rating one year had dropped to “developing” simply because his school’s student math score had fallen. Furthermore, since he is now “developing,” he must file plans for improving his performance (i.e., how, from art class, he can raise math scores among students he does not teach).

Marketing Challenges

(1) Burger King Japan commenced an April rollout — limited in duration and only in Japan — of Burger King-branded cologne (mimicking the Whopper’s savory “flame-grilled scent”). Early reviews were favorable, even though the launch date, suspiciously, was April 1. (2) A small Virginia defense contractor won a $7 million job recently to help Pentagon analysts sift through supercomputer research, and according to the industry watchdog Defense One, the firm has decided to stick with its long-ago- selected original name. Even though events have overtaken that name, the company will still be known as Isis Defense.

Least Competent Criminals

Didn’t Go As Planned: (1) Surveillance cameras revealed a man with a gun inside the Circle K in Palm Bay, Florida, on Jan. 31. Since the clerk was in the back, with the cash register locked, the man decided to wait for him — for 17 seconds, according to the video — but then, impatient, fled empty-handed. (2) According to a February Ormond Beach, Florida, police report, Matthew Semione, 26, handed a holdup note (implying that he was armed) to a Sun Trust bank teller, who walked away to get money. Semione grew weary of waiting and left empty-handed, but was arrested minutes later.

A News OfThe Weird Classic (September 2010)

To most, the toilet is merely functional, but to brilliant thinkers, it can be the birthplace of masterpieces. Thus, the price tags were high this summer (2010) when commodes belonging to two creative giants went on sale. In August, a gaudily designed toilet from John Lennon’s 1969-71 residence in Berkshire, England, fetched 9,500 pounds (about $14,740) at a Liverpool auction, and a North Carolina collectibles dealer opened bids on the toilet upon which reclusive author J.D. Salinger spent many hours while at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. The dealer’s initial price was $1 million because, “who knows how many of Salinger’s stories were thought up and written while (he) sat on this throne!” !

‘© 2015 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate.