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News of the Weird 9/27/12

by Chuck Shepherd

Roach Responders At a conference in August, researchers from North Carolina State University demonstrated their latest technological advance in aiding “first responders” to peacetime and wartime disasters: cockroaches. Outfitting Madagascar hissing cockroaches with electronic backpacks that include antennas, batteries, cameras and microphones, the scientists hacked the bugs’ nervous systems to steer them remotely into the tiniest of openings—a crucial step toward finding survivors of earthquakes or bomb damage in densely built-up and populated areas. Said one researcher, to ABC News, “(S)omewhere in the middle (of tons of rubble) your kid is crying,” and huge machines are “not very efficient” at finding him.

The Continuing Crisis Cue the Black Helicopters: A website that tracks sometimes-obscure federal government purchases disclosed in August that the Social Security Administration had recently requested a price for 174,000 hollow-point bullets and that the National Weather Service had requested a price for 46,000 rounds of ammo for semi-automatic pistols. (The latter was subsequently corrected; it was actually the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Office that needed bullets.) Both agencies told reporters that they have armed officers investigating potential crimes.

• Weapons for the 21st Century: Thousands of farmers in the northeastern India state of Assam are growing the world’s hottest chili peppers and selling them to the army to make weapons, reported London’s The Guardian in a July dispatch. One expert said a “few drops” of “bhut jolokia” “could make you senseless.” Blasting a container of it into a terrorist hideout, he said, would “make them all drop their guns” after “just one breath.” (Bhut jolokia has also been used traditionally to repel elephant attacks.)

• In a tactical risk, Russian gay rights leaders went to court in Moscow in March to demand the right to hold a rally not only this year but, daring the city to oppress them, also a rally every year for the next 100 years. However, the city did not blink. It rejected the demand, and in August, a Moscow city court ruled that the city could be gay-rights-rally-free until the year 2112.

• Because the words were not those ordinarily used by vandals keying a car’s paint, Newcastle, England, police looked immediately to a better-educated vandal and arrested University of Newcastle professor Stephen Graham, who had been a prominent critic of neighborhood parking rules that allowed outsiders to use the few spaces on his street. Scratched into several outsiders’ luxury cars’ exteriors were words such as “arbitrary” and “really wrong” and “very silly” (as opposed to the usual crude vandal references to anatomy and maternal promiscuity).

Not the Usual Suspects (1) Arrested in New York City in August on charges that he used a tiny camera in a folded newspaper to crudely peek up female subway riders’ skirts: Dr. Adam Levinson, assistant professor at the prestigious Mount Sinai school of medicine. (2) Arrested in Beverly Hills, Calif., in July and charged in a string of vandalism incidents (shooting metal marbles from a slingshot at windows of dozens of businesses and homes): investment banker Michael Poret, 58, of the Rodeo Drive office of UBS Financial Services.

Courtroom Follies Carl Funk, 58, told Broward County, Fla., judge John Hurley (on a video feed from jail to a courtroom) that he is innocent of the seven-year-old charges (trespassing and open-alcoholic-container counts) and that, besides, he is now wheelchair-bound in pathetic medical condition and should be allowed to go home. The judge was skeptical, but finally, according to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel report, he offered to fine Funk only $50 on the charges, and Funk agreed to plead guilty. “Good luck, Funk,” said Judge Hurley. At that point, Funk rose from his wheelchair and quickly walked away. Wrote the Sun-Sentinel: “Raising both hands, Judge Hurley declared, ‘He’s been cured.’”

• Missouri Associate Circuit Judge Barbara Peebles was suspended in September and recommended for removal by the state judicial commission for various offenses, including being late for work and destroying a court document in order to avoid embarrassment. The most serious charge, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, was that she allowed her “clerk,” Whitney Tyler, who was Peebles’ personal friend and hairdresser (and apparently without formal legal training), to dispose of as many as 350 cases as Tyler saw fit. Said one lawyer, “Until the judge (showed up), (Tyler) was the judge.”

Perspective A sign at the entrance of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor asks that visitors “conduct yourself with dignity and respect at all times. Remember, this is hallowed ground.” However, as the New York Post reported in September, visitors to the National September 11th Memorial in New York City show no such restraint, with some treating that hallowed ground more like a “Disney attraction.” They sit (or worse, lie down) on the bronze-plaque names of the dead, and lay (and spill!) their drink cups on them, creating an “almost cheerful” atmosphere, the Post said. The head of New York City’s retired association of emergency medical service firefighters said the elegant memorial more resembled a visitor’s “kitchen table.” {in}