news of the weird

by Chuck Shepherd

You Snooze (Even for a Split-Second), You Lose

In April, a research ship will begin surveying the Atlantic Ocean floor off of Nova Scotia as the first step to building, by 2013, a $300 million private fiber-optic line connecting New York and London financial markets so as to speed up current transmission times — by about five milliseconds. Those five milliseconds, though (according to an April report in Bloomberg Business Week), will enable the small group of firms that are underwriting the project (and who will have exclusive use of it) to earn millions of dollars per transaction by having their trade sales arrive five milliseconds before their competitors’ sales would have arrived.

Cultural Diversity

• Brazil’s safety net for the poor: Dr. Ivo Pitanguy, the most celebrated plastic surgeon in the country, apparently earned enough money from well-off clients that he can now “give back,” by funding and inspiring more than 200 clinics to provide low-income women with enhancement procedures (face lifts, tummy tucks, butt lifts) at a reduced, and sometimes no, charge. A local anthropology professor told ABC News, for a March dispatch, that “[i]n Brazil, plastic surgery is now seen as something of the norm” (or, as the reporter put it, “[B]eauty is [considered] a right, and the poor deserve to be ravishing, too”).

• In a March interview on Bolivian television, Judge Gualberto Cusi, who was recently elected to Bolivia’s Constitutional Tribunal from the indigenous Aymara community, acknowledged that occasionally, when deciding tough cases, he relied on the Aymaran tradition of “reading” coca leaves. “In moments when decisions must be taken, we turn to coca to guide us and show us the way.”

Latest Religious Messages

• Two lawsuits filed in Los Angeles recently against the founding family of the religious Trinity Broadcasting Network allege that televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch have spent well over $50 million of worshippers’ donations on “personal” expenses, including 13 “mansions,” his-and-hers private jets, and a $100,000 mobile home for Mrs. Crouch’s dogs. The jets are necessary, the Crouches’ lawyer told the Los Angeles Times, because the Crouches receive more death threats than even the president of the United States. Allegedly, the Crouches keep millions of dollars in cash on hand, but according to their lawyer, that is merely out of obedience to the biblical principle of “ow[ing] no man anything.”

Fine Points of Florida Law

(1) In April, the Tampa Police Department issued preliminary security guidelines to control areas around August’s Republican National Convention in the city. Although the Secret Service will control the actual convention arena, Tampa Police are establishing a zone around the arena in which weapons will be confiscated (including sticks, rocks, bottles and slingshots). Police would like to have banned firearms, too, but state law prevents cities from restricting the rights of licensed gun-carriers. (2) South Florida station WPLG-TV reported in March that vendors were openly selling, for about $30, verbatim driver’s license test questions and answers, on the street in front of DMV offices. However, when told about it, a DMV official shrugged, pointing out that test-takers still had to memorize them to pass the closed-book exam.

Questionable Judgments

• At a March town meeting in Embden, Maine, residents turned down proposals to rename its most notorious street “Katie Road.” Thus, the name will remain, as it has for decades, “Katie Crotch Road.” Some residents, in addition to being embarrassed by the name, also noted the cost of constantly replacing the street signs stolen by giggling visitors. (A Kennebec Journal report noted uncertainty about the name’s origin. It might refer to how the road splits in two, forming a “Y” shape. On the low side, the name might refer to an early settler who would sit on her front porch without underwear.)

• Lumpkin County, Ga., judge David Barrett, apparently frustrated by an alleged rape victim’s reluctant testimony at a trial in February, blurted out in court that she was “killing her case (against the accused rapist),” and to dramatize the point, pulled out his own handgun and offered it to her, explaining that she might as well shoot her lawyer because the chances for conviction were dropping rapidly. (Five days later, following news reports, Barrett resigned.)

No Spectators Allowed

• For the first time in years, there was no Easter bunny at Central City Park in Macon, Ga. this year because the county commissioner who runs the sponsoring organization said he was tired of violent parents hogging the Easter egg hunt by “helping” their kids. (Two years ago, Olney High School in Philadelphia barred players’ parents from its boys’ junior varsity basketball games unless they registered and vowed to obey a code of conduct. In February 2012, the president of the Egyptian Football Association similarly announced that the season would continue but without spectators, because of the probability of violence. Of course, Egypt, unlike Macon, Ga., and Olney High School, has just been through a bloody civil war.)

© 2012 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate