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News of the Weird 9/20/12

by Chuck Shepherd

And What Were Y-o-u Doing at Age 14? Among the students featured in Popular Science’s September list of young inventors was Fabian Fernandez-Han, 14, of Conroe, Texas, who invented a bicycle that, when pedaled, also desalinates seawater (via reverse osmosis) from replaceable 15-gallon canisters. One hour of pedaling produces 20 gallons of drinkable water. Jack Andraka, 15, from Maryland, created a test for pancreatic cancer that is demonstrably much faster and more accurate than current diagnostics (using carbon nanotubes that can be specially activated by applications of the signature pancreatic-cancer protein, Mesothelin).

Can’t Possibly Be True School officials in Grand Island, Neb., told Hunter Spanjer that the way he signs his name violates the schools’ anti-weapons policy and that he’ll have to abandon it. Hunter is 3 1/2 years old, deaf, fluent in the language Signing Exact English, and uses a hand flourish as his unique signature (registered with SEE), except that officials say the flourish looks like Hunter is threatening with a weapon. At press time, Hunter’s parents were still negotiating with officials.

• An unidentified mother of twins was photographed at the Thanksgiving Point Deli in Lehi, Utah, in September apparently toilet-training her toddlers at a table.  Another patron witnessed the mother’s bringing in what at first glance looked like booster seats, but then the mom undid the kids’ jumpsuits and placed them on the potties.  A spokesperson for the deli (located 10 miles south of Salt Lake City) said the incident was over by the time it was reported to her, but the witness put a photo on the Internet (picked up by TV stations) so that millions of people could disapprove of the mother’s parenting.

• Police in Seneca Falls, N.Y., arrested Dawn Planty in August and charged her with statutory rape. Planty came to officers’ attention when she called 911 to ask if the dispatcher knew the age of consent in the state because she had had sex with a 15-year-old boy recently and wanted to clear her conscience.

Cuddly Geopolitics (1) The Washington Post, reporting in August the existence of a newly declassified communication between a cooperating Guantanamo Bay detainee and his lawyer, revealed that the “high-value” prisoner had, without explanation, been rewarded with a pet kitty cat. (2) On July 4, two peace activists who own a small advertising agency in Malmo, Sweden, pulled off their most audacious stunt yet by hiring a small plane to drop 800 teddy bears emblazoned with democracy-promoting messages over the capital of Belarus. The country’s strongman president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, later fired two generals for their inability to prevent the breach of the country’s airspace.

Perspective Many Americans are still outraged that no major banking officials were punished for the malpractices that produced the 2008 financial collapse. However, in July, Richard Eggers, age 68 and with an otherwise-unblemished record, was fired by Wells Fargo—only because of a 49-year-old conviction for attempting to rig a laundromat machine by making a “dime” out of cardboard. Wells Fargo said its hands were tied by a new federal law requiring dismissal of anyone with past convictions for “transactional crimes” (aimed at identity theft and money-laundering). (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which administers the law, has a waiver procedure, but the process is complicated, and Wells Fargo said it feared being fined if it did not terminate Eggers promptly.)

The District of Calamity II Overtaking Washington, D.C., in Dysfunction:  (1) Ever since Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy found 11,000 “rape kits” lying idle on police shelves in 2009, she has been seeking funding to test them. In a progress report in August 2012, of the 400 kits deemed most likely to yield results, 21 “serial rapists” were identified. (Manpower to find the men is unavailable, and yet to be learned is whether any have committed additional rapes since 2009.) (2) Two hours after an early morning multiple-shooting in Detroit on Sept. 1, a 36-year-old man reported to a fire station to turn himself in. However, firefighters were unable to persuade police to come arrest him, and eventually, reported WXYZ-TV, the firefighters put the man in a taxi and sent him to a police station.

Least Competent Criminals Not Ready for Prime Time: (1) The two robbers who walked into the 7-Eleven in Arlington, Va., in August apparently neglected to coordinate in advance and thus left empty-handed. As the first man pulled a gun and demanded money, the second, a few steps behind, tossed a firecracker on the floor, apparently to intimidate the clerk. However, it mainly served to scare the gunman, who dropped his pistol and ran out the door. (2) A 40-year-old man swiped a cellphone while visiting a patient at the Kagadi Hospital in Uganda in August. The facility is currently treating the country’s Ebola virus outbreak, and the phone was in the room of an Ebola patient. Doctors urged the thief to return to the hospital for treatment. {in}