[news of the weird]
Seeing Isn’t Believing Japanese scientists, overperforming: (1) Researchers at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology have developed goggles that can enlarge the image of a bite of food so that the eater might fool himself into thinking he has consumed more than he has (and thus, that his hunger might dissipate sooner). The software is so sophisticated, they said, that the food carrier (a fork, or the eater’s hand) is not transformed and appears at normal size. In basic tests, according to a June Agence France-Presse report, a 50 percent increase in imagined cookie size reduced actual consumption by 9 percent. (2) Prolific inventor Nobuhiro Takahashi announced in May that he had created a silicone-and-foam “buttocks robot” that can clench, twitch or protrude when probed (primarily for training proctology students to deal with patient anxiety). Compelling Explanations • In May, two members of the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee requested the total number of US citizens who have been legally spied upon (by phone calls, e-mail, etc.) since 2008 by the National Security Agency, but the NSA’s inspector general said he was prohibited from answering. To go back through agency records, he said, would violate the privacy rights of those spied-upon US citizens, which the agency cannot do without judicial warrant. • Well-put: Pushing for an Oklahoma state senate bill authorizing the open carrying of guns (which eventually passed), Sen. Ralph Shortey explained in a March committee hearing that it was an incident from his past that convinced him of the need to carry a gun openly. “I was in oil and gas. I was out on a lease at one time, and I got attacked by a turkey. Wait until you get attacked by a turkey. You will know the fear that a turkey can invoke in a person. And so I beat it with a club. That was all I could do. And [then] I started carrying a gun in my truck after that without a license because I didn’t want to get attacked by a mountain lion.” Ironies • Car karma: Jerry Patterson suffered a road-rage pummeling on June 12 at the hands of three men who beat him into unresponsiveness on the side of Interstate 5 in Los Angeles, with the incident captured on cellphone video by a passing motorist. Six days earlier, Patterson had himself been arrested for allegedly administering his own road-rage beatdown of another motorist, who suffered two black eyes. • Generally, airbags save lives, but apparently not Ronald Smith’s. According to a coroner’s inquest in Darlington, England in May, Smith’s airbag deployed, but in the process was cut open on jagged glass, which forced a rush of the bag’s gas and talcum powder (used as a lubricant by many manufacturers) into his lungs. Smith soon afterward developed fatal bronchial pneumonia from inhaling the substances. The Way the World Works • Sentencing statutes and guidelines generally assign heavier penalties to those more culpable for criminal enterprise — but not always. Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, then 53, was convicted in 2009 of conspiracy to smuggle a ton of cocaine from Mexico and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole (a penalty authorized by statute), despite substantial evidence that she was a minor figure and despite her previously clean criminal record. According to a May Houston Chronicle investigation, several higher-up drug smugglers, including those on law-enforcement’s “most wanted” lists, have received much lighter prison terms than Castillo’s, precisely because, being so high up, they have inside information that they can bargain with prosecutors over. Castillo, relatively insignificant, had nothing to trade. • As the court-appointed trustee seeking as much of Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff’s ill-gotten gains as possible to pay back his victims, Irving Picard has secured, according to a May New York Times report, $330 million to distribute. During the same time, Picard and his associates have billed the court (in fees that run as much as $850 per hour) $554 million. (The Ponzi scheme “earned” around $65 billion, but much of that consisted of the fantasy “profits” that had so impressed clients to invest with Madoff in the first place.) We Take Care of Our Own (1) After Nechemya Weberman, prominent in the Brooklyn, NY ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, was accused of 88 counts of sexual misconduct against underage girls and others, the district attorney arrested four men and charged them with using extortion and bribery ($500,000 worth) to silence one accuser and her boyfriend. The Hasidic community is deeply split on whether “outsiders” (like district attorneys, for example) should judge its members. (2) British officials perhaps have the opposite problem, having been recently accused of failing to prosecute alleged pedophiles in a Greater Manchester Asian gang — for fear of offending Asians. Police told the Daily Telegraph that as many as 50 girls had been recruited for sex by the gangs, but one victim’s advocate said police were “petrified” at being called racist and thus “reverted to… political correctness.” Hyper-Sensitive Litigants • Donnell Battie was in a Wal-Mart two years ago when a teenage boy commandeered the store’s public address system and, as a prank, ordered all black people to leave. The boy was arrested days later on harassment and bias intimidation charges, but Battie, who is black, claimed in May 2012 that the boy’s announcement still haunts him. He filed a $1 million lawsuit against Wal-Mart in Camden, NJ claiming that he has required medical care due to the “severe and disabling emotional and psychological harm” of the boy’s words. • Myron Cowher, who claims he was harassed by workers as a truck driver for Carson and Roberts Site Construction and Engineering of Lafayette, NJ filed a lawsuit in 2010 against his supervisors for making anti-Semitic comments about him — even though he is not Jewish. After the trial court tossed the case out, an appeals court reinstated it in April 2012, ruling that Cowher deserves the opportunity to show how he felt persecuted by the comments even though they did not apply to him. Update When last we left America’s most prolific litigant, Jonathan Lee Riches (in October 2010), he was serving 10 years in prison for stealing credit card numbers after achieving Guinness Book notoriety for having filed at least 3,800 fanciful lawsuits, mostly involving public figures. He was released on April 30, and apparently rehabilitation is out of the question. Within days, he had sued the Kardashian women for a variety of imagined ills including their forcing Riches to steal clothing for them from Saks Fifth Avenue and Target. Kim Kardashian was also sued for having spilled Riches’ McFlurry drink on his head, and Khloe would have to answer for stealing Riches’ Whopper sandwich and ramming Riches’ Aston Martin car with her Volvo. Other post-release litigation initiated by Riches implicated Kanye West, Bruce Jenner, Charlie Sheen and an al-Qaeda training camp in West Virginia. Recurring Themes Once again, there has emerged an alleged child-pornography trader who does not fit the profile. Wealthy Dallas socialite Erika Perdue, 41, was arrested in June, and in a search of her “mansion,” police found hundreds of images and videos, including some depicting what authorities consider the worst kind of child porn. WFAA-TV reported that Perdue confessed to having traded child porn online since 1999. Readers’ Choice When cats fly: In June, Dutch artist Bart Jansen showed off his latest creation, which was quickly an internet sensation: He had his pet cat Orville (who had recently been run over by a car) stuffed with arms spread like an airplane (a “helicopter,” Jansen said) and mounted a radio on the carcass so that he could control its flight. Jansen showed off Orville at the Kunstrai art festival in Amsterdam in June.