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News of the Weird

by Chuck Shepherd

The US National Nuclear Security Administration recently postponed its crucial program to rejuvenate quartercentury-old Trident missile warheads because no one can remember how to make a key component of the weapons (codenamed “Fogbank”), according to a March 2 report of the Government Accountability Office. The GAO found that, despite concern over the bombs’ safety and reliability, NNSA could not replicate the manufacturing process because all knowledgeable personnel have left the agency and no written records were kept. Said one commentator: “This is like James Bond destroying his instructions as soon as he’s read them.” (The GAO report came two months after the German Interior Ministry reported to Parliament that over a 10-year period, it had lost 332 secret files that were in fact so secret that no one in the Ministry could recall what was in them.)

The frontiers of science

• Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute recently published findings of a cross-cultural study of people’s spit. “[W]e can get more insights into human populations [from saliva] than we would get from just studying human DNA,” the team’s leader told Reuters in February. The study’s main conclusion was that spit content does not vary much around the world, even given regional differences in diet.

• Spanish researchers at Autonomous University of Madrid reported in February that wolves (and almost surely dogs), when relieving themselves, deliberately seek out the most conspicuous places they can find (both as to sight and smell), to assure maximum territorial signaling. Male wolves prefer tall trees (and dogs, prominently located fire hydrants) and try to leave urine as high up as they can to increase its wind-carry, according to a Discovery Channel summary. • Biologist Michelle Solensky, of Ohio’s College of Wooster, reported late last year in the journal Animal Behavior that male monarch butterflies are such calculating inseminators that they even decide the optimal level of sperm necessary for reproductive advantage. While injecting fluid, the male can “selectively” determine how much of it will be fertility cells, depending on how much residual sperm the female holds from previous suitors (and thus to always inject more than the other guys did). Solensky told New Scientist magazine that the penis acts as a kind of “dip stick” to check the quantity already present.

Leading economic indicators

• Tight money: (1) As Italy’s banks (like so many others) curtailed lending during the global financial crisis, the country’s 180,000 small businesses had nowhere to turn for liquidity except to the Mafia, whose lending continued (at ridiculous interest rates, of course), unrestricted by the recession, according to a March Washington Post dispatch from Rome. Organized crime in Italy collects an estimate of the equivalent of $315 million a week. (2) In March, because of budget cuts, the Municipal Court in Mount Gilead, Ohio ordered its clerk to accept no new filings of any kind (including criminal cases) unless the filer brings his own paper for printing the legally required copies to be distributed. • London’s Daily Mail reported in March that among the recession-themed business start-up grants awarded by the Welsh Department of Work and Pensions was the equivalent of about $6,600 to the Accolade Academy of Psychic and Mediumistic Studies. One of the academy’s owners defended the award, noting that parents who have lost a child need to know that the child is safe.

The continuing crisis

• For the past two years, Britain’s Jean Driscoll, 72, has been studied by two doctors and three hospitals’ staffs, but so far no one knows why she belches constantly every day. “I don’t go out anymore,” she said. “People laugh and stare at me. One man said, ‘Can’t you control that?’”

• The Democratic process: (1) In March, George Snyder Jr., 39, was removed from the May election ballot in Westmoreland County, Pa. when a judge ruled that Snyder lived outside the county and not really in the garage storage room that he claimed was his main residence. (2) In December, John Kaye, a member of Australia’s New South Wales Parliament, proposed a remedy for the recent displays of immature partying by some of his colleagues: “Honestly,” he told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, “if you are going to have breathalyzers for people driving cranes, you should have breathalyzers for people [who pass] laws.”

People with issues

• Vinyl lust: (1) A 23-year-old man was arrested in February and charged with a series of break-ins at sex shops in downtown Cairns, Australia in which the intruder inflated plastic dolls, had sex with them and left messes. (In the break-ins at Laneway Adult Shop, the perp appeared to be sweet on “Jungle Jane.”) (2) George Bartusek Jr., 51, was arrested in February in Cape Coral, Fla. in his car in the parking lot of a Publix supermarket. He had parked next to the front door, apparently to obtain the optimal audience, and was having sex with two blow-up dolls in the front seat. He told police he had come to the shopping center to buy clothes for his gals.

Least competent criminals

• Not ready for prime time: In March, two men were seen on a backyard surveillance camera in St. Petersburg, Fla. attempting a home break-in during the day when no one was home. According to the police report, one of the men assumed a football stance, then ran the length of the yard and rammed the back door. However, the latch held, and the impact sent the man backward, leaving him on the ground, writhing in pain. The collision also triggered an alarm, and the men escaped before police arrived. (2) Two adults and three teenagers were arrested in Waterville, Maine in March and charged with arson, with all the evidence needed consisting of a video the five made, describing their crime, crafted with theme music and cast-and-crew credits.

Update

• Several Florida jurisdictions have restrictions on where convicted sex offenders can live, even those who long ago finished their sentences. As noted in News of the Weird in 2007, Miami-Dade, Florida’s most populous county, has only one spot far enough away from places where children roam: the approach to the Interstate 195 bridge to Miami Beach (the Julia Tuttle Causeway). Judges routinely give released sex offenders the choice of either leaving town or camping under the bridge. One man has been there so long that he now has a Florida driver’s license with his address as “Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge.” In March, the encampment of about 50 men welcomed its first female sex-offender, 43-year-old Voncel Johnson, who told the Miami Herald that she had so far been treated respectfully.

The Jesus and Virgin Mary World Tour

• Recent public appearances: Dade City, Fla., February (Jesus in a stain on the door of a car-dealer sales manager’s office). Huntsville, Ala., February (Jesus on a rock on the side of Keel Mountain Road). Near Helena, Mont., January (Mary on a translucent agate rock along the Yellowstone River). Sydney, Australia, January (Mary and Jesus in a lava lamp). Hamilton, New Zealand, December (Jesus on a pita bread). Melton, England, November (Jesus on a chocolate cookie). Fort Pierce, Fla., December (Mary in the MRI brain scan of a cancer patient).

A News of the Weird classic

• Inexplicable: Police in West Vancouver, British Columbia assured residents in April 2001 that they had stopped a threeyear petty-crime spree in an upscale neighborhood when they arrested multimillionaire Eugene Mah, 64, and his son, Avery, 32. Police said the two were responsible for stealing hundreds of their neighbors’ downscale knick-knacks, such as garbage cans, lawn decorations and even municipal recycling boxes, and hiding them at their own luxury home. Mah’s Vancouver real estate holdings are reported at about US$13 million, but among the recovered goods were such tacky items as one neighbor’s doormat and, subsequently, each of the 14 doormats the neighbor purchased as replacements.

Copyright 2009 Chuck Shepherd Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate

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