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News of the Weird 11/14/13

by Chuck Shepherd

Worth the Commute Downtown London residences are known to be staggeringly expensive, but media blogger Sam Cookney calculated in October just how much. Cookney said he can live in an upscale apartment in Barcelona, Spain, and commute almost every workday to London (700 miles away) for less money than a modest central London rental. (Sixteen commuter days over four weeks a month would run, in pound-dollar equivalents: $2,420 for a West Hampstead rental, $121 council tax, and $188 transit travel card, totaling $2,730. Barcelona, in euro-dollar equivalents: $938 for a three-bedroom flat with three balconies near transit, no tax, $47 daily round-trip on Ryanair, $32 a day in airport transportation, totaling $2,202—a savings of $528 a month.) Plus, he said, sunny Barcelona is on the Mediterranean. (On the other hand, Cookney luckily can work on the plane, for each flight is two hours long.)

Can’t Possibly Be True Lawyers for Radu Dogaru, who is on trial in Romania for stealing masterpieces last year from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands, said the heist was also the museum’s fault—for having such unimaginably lax security—and that if the museum did not admit that, Dogaru would sue. Museum officials said they had tracked some of the works to Dogaru’s mother, who is claiming ignorance, and the son’s lawyers hope to discount any insurance-company judgments against her by spreading the blame.
• The online retailer Amazon.com maintains a side business of operating massive Internet-capacity “cloud” farms and contracts out space to some of the world’s largest entities, including U.S. government agencies. In a case brought to light in October by a U.S. Court of Claims ruling, Amazon had won its bid against IBM for a cloud contract with the CIA, but had gone a step further by actually improving the CIA’s system and implementing a better plan. In the bizarre world of government contracts, that created a “fairness” problem, as IBM argued that its rights were violated because the specified contract work was no longer exactly what was being done (i.e., the client’s work was being done better). IBM lodged a time-consuming protest, but later dropped the suit.

• Update: Perhaps thousands of Baghdad residents have been killed by bomb couriers who had passed through supposedly secure checkpoints that were “equipped” with useless ADE-651 bomb “detectors,” but the devices were surely to be history following the April fraud conviction of the British scam artist who made $75 million selling them. (American officials had warned Iraqis for years that the ADE-651 was basically a novelty golf-ball finder.) However, despite the debunking evidence brought out at trial, Iraqi police continue to use them, according to an October dispatch in London’s The Independent, with the September death toll at nearly 1,000 from bombers who passed through checkpoints, past silent ADE-651s. Even Prime Minister al-Maliki vouches that the ADE works “up to 60 percent” of the time.

People With Issues Matched Pair: Prominent Los Angeles cosmetic surgeon David Matlock is himself a finely chiseled specimen of muscle and zero body fat, but he said that when patient “Veronica” came to him in 2007 for “vaginal rejuvenation” surgery, he instantly fell in love despite her somewhat-pudgy figure. He proposed marriage, she accepted, and with her consent, Dr. Matlock set out not only on the requested procedure but on what he called the “Wonder Woman Makeover”—diet, exercise, surgeries, suctions and injections, and by August 2013, reported Huffington Post, the sculpted couple were competing in matching bodybuilding contests. (However, Veronica’s daughter Isabella, 9, is not on board, remarking, “Healthy food doesn’t taste good.”)

Strange Old World In July, several foreign news sites publicized the current Guinness Book record held by Jemal Tkeshelashvili of the Republic of Georgia, who blew up ordinary drugstore hot water bottles to the point where they would explode—using only air from his nose. His record was three within one minute, but perhaps equally impressive, he subsequently dazzled Discovery Channel viewers by reportedly partially nose-inflating a hot water bottle being held down by a small car.)

Readers’ Choice (1) Researchers from Georgia Tech, working at the Atlanta Zoo recording various mammals’ urination habits (rats, dogs, goats, cows and elephants), have concluded that, regardless of size, each takes about 21 seconds to empty a full bladder. (Technically, reported New Scientist, the evacuation time is proportional to the animal’s mass, raised to the power of one-sixth.) (2) Her family wanted U.S. Army Sgt. Kimberly Walker (who was killed in a suspected domestic violence incident in February) to have a burial reflecting her delight at SpongeBob SquarePants and installed a 4-foot-high marker on her grave in the character’s likeness (at a cost of $13,000). However, the Spring Grove Cemetery in the family’s hometown of Cincinnati ordered it removed in October as inappropriate, and despite family and community pressure, is unyielding.