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Friday October 31st 2014

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News of the Weird 1/10/13

by Chuck Shepherd

Fragrance of War Updating “The Smell of Napalm in the Morning”: A cosmetics company in Gaza recently began selling a fragrance dedicated to victory over Israel and named after the signature M-75 missile that Hamas has been firing across the border. “The fragrance is pleasant and attractive,” said the company owner, “like the missiles of the Palestinian resistance,” and comes in masculine and feminine varieties, at premium prices (over, presumably, the prices of ordinary Gazan fragrances). Sympathizers can splash on victory, he said, from anywhere in the world.

Government in Action The Philadelphia Traffic Court has been so infused with ticket-fixing since its founding in 1938 that a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court report on the practice seemed resigned to it, according to a November Philadelphia Inquirer account. One court employee was quoted as defending the favoritism as fair (as long as no money changed hands) on the grounds that anyone could get local politicians to call a judge for him. Thus, said the employee, “It was the (traffic) violator’s own fault if he or she didn’t know enough” to get help from a political connection. Traffic Judge Christine Solomon, elected in November 2011 after a career as a favor-dispensing “ward healer,” said the ticket-fixing was “just politics, that’s all.”

• More than 200 school districts in California have covered current expenses with “capital appreciation bonds,” which allow borrowers to forgo payments for years — but at some point require enormous balloon payments. A Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that districts have borrowed about $3 billion and thus are on the hook for more than $16 billion. “It’s the school district equivalent of a payday loan,” said California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a former school board member who said he’d fire anyone who sought such loans. (Some defenders of the loans pointed to schools’ occasional need for immediate money so they could qualify for federal matching grants — which, to the districts, would be “free” money.)

• One of the principal recommendations following the Sept. 11 attacks was that emergency and rescue personnel have one secure radio frequency on which all agencies that were merged into the Department of Homeland Security could communicate. In November, the department’s inspector general revealed that, despite $430 million allotted to build and operate the frequency in the last nine years, it remains almost useless to DHS’ 123,000 employees. The report surveyed 479 workers, but found only one who knew how to find the frequency, and 72 percent did not even know one existed (and half the department’s radios couldn’t have accessed it even if employees knew where to look).

• Remember Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere”?: In November, the Anchorage Daily News reported the Army Corps of Engineers is building a harbor on the Aleutian native community’s island of Akutan, even though there is no road away from it. Thus, reported KUCB Radio, the only way to get into or out of the harbor is by boat. Any connector road to the only town on the island is “likely years in the future,” according to the Daily News. As well, there is no assurance that the largest business in the area, Trident Seafoods, would ever use the harbor.

Great Art! In October, Austrian artist Alexander Riegler installed a one-way mirror in the ladies’ room at a cafe in Vienna to allow men’s room users to peer inside (in the name of “art,” of course). Riegler said he wanted to start a “discussion of voyeurism and surveillance.” Men could see only the faces of women standing at the lavatories, and he said then that in January, he would reverse the process and allow women to peer into the men’s rooms. (The cafe had posted a sign advising restroom users that they would be part of an “art” project.)

Police Report Anthony Johnson, 49, was convicted in October in Hartford, Conn., of stealing an improbably large amount of money — as much as $70,000 a weekend, off and on for five years — by crawling on the floor of darkened theaters and lifting credit cards from purses that movie-watching women had set down. The FBI said Johnson was careful to pick films likely to engross female viewers so that he could operate freely. He was often able to finish up, leave the theater, and make cash-advance withdrawals from ATMs before the movie had ended.

Perspective Human rights activists have for years deplored the preferences for male offspring in India and other nations — ranging from cultures that marginalize female babies to some that practice discreet infanticide of girls. Increasingly, though, because of “advances” in science, Westerners can buy expensive in vitro fertilization procedures that use a laser to breach a fertilized embryo to determine whether it contains XY chromosome pairs (i.e., males) or larger XX ones so that only the desired-gender embryos are chosen. Noted Slate.com in September, such procedures are illegal in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom (except for bona fide medical reasons), but legal in the United States.