News of the Weird

Week of February 5, 2012

LEAD STORY

Your Government Knows Best: A 2007 federal energy- independence law required companies that supply motor fuel in the U.S. to blend in a certain cellulose-based ingredient starting in 2011 -- even though (as the Environmental Protection Agency well knows) the ingredient simply does not now exist. A New York Times reporter checked with the EPA in January and found that the companies will still have to pay the monetary penalties for noncompliance (and almost certainly the even-stiffer penalties for 2012, since the ingredient is still two or three years from development). "It belies logic," said a petrochemicals trade association executive.

-- Two dozen religious leaders in India's Karnataka state are, as usual, protesting the annual, centuries-old Hindu ritual in which lower-caste people roll around in food leftovers of upper-caste people. "Hundreds" performed the exercise at temples, according to a January Times of India report, believing that contact with sophisticates' food will alleviate pernicious skin conditions.

-- Far away from Karnataka, in the urban center of Calcutta, India, engineers are trying to save the historic Howrah Bridge from collapsing due to corrosion from spit. A half-million pedestrians (aside from the frenzied vehicle traffic) use the bridge every day and frequently spit their guthka and paan (half-chewed betel leaf and areca nut and slaked lime) onto the steel hangers that hold up the bridge -- thus reducing the hanger bases by 50 percent in just the last three years. (Engineers' immediate remedies: cover the bases in washable fiberglass and conduct an education campaign in which "gods" implore pedestrians to hold their saliva until they've crossed the bridge.)

-- On Nov. 5, the 220 inhabitants of Coll, an island off the coast of Scotland, endured the first "crime" that any of the residents could remember. Someone vandalized the public lavatories at a visitors' facility, doing the equivalent of about $300 damage. A constable was summoned from a nearby island to investigate, but seas were rough, and he had to wait for two days for the ferry to run. One Coll resident vaguely recalled an incident at a pub once in which a man threatened to throw a punch (but didn't), and another remembered that someone took whale bones left on a beach by researchers (but later gave them back). According to a Daily Telegraph report, the culprit is "still at large."

-- The U.S. Air Force Academy last year installed an $80,000 rock garden/fire pit on its campus for use by several "Earth-based" religions (pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and various Native American faiths). For the current year, only three of the 4,300 cadets have identified themselves in that group, but the academy is sensitive to the issue after a 2005 lawsuit accused administrators and cadets of allowing too-aggressive proselytizing on behalf of Christian religions. For the record, the academy currently has 11 Muslim cadets, 16 Buddhists, 10 Hindus and 43 self-described atheists.

-- In separate incidents during one week in December in Polk County, Fla., four church pastors were arrested and charged with sex-related crimes involving children, including Arnold Mathis, 40, at the time working for the Saint City Power and Praise Ministry in Winter Haven, but who has moved on to the Higher Praise Ministries in Lake Wales and who was allowed to work for the church despite a sex-crime rap sheet.

-- Just two weeks before the January worldwide Internet protest against proposed copyright-protection legislation, the Missionary Church of Kopimism in Sweden announced that it had been granted official government status as a religion (one of 22 so recognized), even though its entire reason for being is to celebrate the right to share files of information -- in any form, but especially on the Internet. Swedish law makes such religious recognition easy, requiring only "a belief system with rituals." The Kopimism website demonizes "copyright believers" who "derive their power by limiting people's lives and freedom."

According to recent consumer-protection rulings by the European Food Safety Authority, sellers of prunes are prohibited from marketing them as laxatives, and sellers of bottled water are forbidden to offer it as preventing dehydration. In both cases, the commissioners referred to the underlying science of the body to defend their decisions, but the rulings were still widely derided as anti-common-sense. Members of the European Parliament complained, especially given the current precarious state of the European Union itself. One parliamentarian challenged an EFSA policymaker to a prune-eating contest: If it's not a laxative, he said, let's see how many you can eat and not have your "bowel function" "assisted."

(1) In December in Yamaguchi prefecture, Japan, a group of luxury car enthusiasts gathered and began a caravan to nearby Hiroshima, but one of the drivers, changing lanes, hit a median barrier and spun across the highway, resulting in a chain-reaction pileup involving 14 cars, including eight red Ferraris, a Lamborghini and two Mercedes-Benz. Drivers suffered only cuts and bruises, but "some" of the vehicles were reported "beyond repair." (2) David Dopp of Santaquin, Utah, won a fundraising raffle sponsored by the non-profit organization "teamgive" in November -- a Lamborghini Murcielago, valued at about $380,000. He picked up his prize on Dec. 17, but six hours later, he spun out of control, knocked over several fence posts, and disabled the Murcielago's front end.

Logan Alexander, 63, a school security guard in Trenton, N.J., who was fired after pleading guilty in 2007 to twice inappropriately touching students, was later sued by a third girl for similar behavior but settled that lawsuit in 2010 by agreeing to pay the girl $12,500. Recently, according to a December report in the Trenton Times, Alexander filed a lawsuit against the Trenton Board of Education, demanding that the board pay the $12,500 to the girl because, after all, Alexander was "on duty" when he committed the inappropriate touching.

In Bennington, Vt., in December, Adam Hall, 34, was accused of vandalizing his ex-girlfriend's car, including scratching the word "slut" into the hood (except that the word was spelled s-u-l-t). Hall initially denied any involvement until an officer handed him a sheet of paper and asked him to write the sentence, "You are a slut." Sure enough, Hall spelled slut "sult" and was promptly charged with malicious mischief.

-- In November, the Washington Times reported that the Washington, D.C.-area Metro transportation agency had hired, as a financial consultant, a woman with multiple convictions for bank fraud and who had been implicated in one of Washington's largest heroin rings. Furthermore, even when the agency learned of her record, it neither disciplined her nor removed her from her finance responsibilities. According to the Times, Metro has other lax management issues. A Maryland state attorney recently revealed that a Metro employee had been "storing" 70 unaccounted-for pieces of Metro property (including computers and televisions) at his home for years, and following that news, according to the Times, other employees began sheepishly returning similar property.

-- Update: Hon. Marion Barry, 75, former four-term mayor (and one-time famous cocaine user), is now in his second post-prison term as a Washington, D.C., Council member and announced in January that he will run for another four years. In December, the Internal Revenue Service filed a new lien on a home Barry owns in Washington, based on unpaid income taxes from 2010. Barry is currently making payments out of his council paycheck for D.C. and federal taxes back to 1999 after pleading guilty in 2005 to failure to file tax returns at all for the previous six years. The very next year, 2006, he failed to file for 2005, and after getting caught then, he subsequently failed to file for 2007. On the D.C. Council, Barry is a member of the finance and revenue committee.

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