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News of the Weird 12/05/13

by Chuck Shepherd

Something in the Air Is the signature smell of Texas A&M University more “Italian lemon, bergamot and iced pineapple” (that open into “a body of vivid florals, raw nutmeg and cinnamon”) or more “bat feces” and “chilifest stink”? The two commentaries were contrasted in a November Wall Street Journal report on the introduction of Masik Collegiate Fragrances’ Texas A&M cologne (one of 17 Masik college clients) at around $40 for a 1.7-ounce bottle. Louisiana State University’s scent conjures up, insisted one grad, the campus’s oak trees, but so far has pulled in only $5,500 for the school. (To a football rival of LSU, the school’s classic smell is less oak tree than “corn dog.”) The apparent gold standard of fan fragrance is New York Yankees cologne, which earned the team nearly $10 million in 2012.

Recurring Themes Among America’s most prolific “fathers” (in this case, perhaps better considered “egg-fertilizers”) are Nathaniel Smith, age 39, who claimed on TV’s “Divorce Court” in September that he is the father of 27, and the late Samuel Whitney, whose grown stepdaughter Lexie Woods learned that he claimed 54 before he died in July at age 87. Smith (known in Dayton, Ohio, as “Hustle Simmons”) insisted that he is a fine father (doesn’t smoke or drink, keeps contact with most of the kids, has “only” 21 child-support orders out), and besides, he told WHIO-TV, “I know of people who have even more than me.” (Among Whitney’s belongings, said Woods, were a “pile” of birth certificates and a stash of maximum-strength Viagra. “He was a likable man, a ladies’ man.”)

• Latest Collateral Damage: (1) In October, a 28-year-old man, reeling from a domestic argument in Port Richey, Fla., put a gun to his head and, against his girlfriend’s pleas, fired. As a neighbor across the street stood on her porch, the suicide bullet left the victim’s head and made three wounds on the neighbor’s leg, sending her to the hospital. (2) About a week later, on the Norwegian island of Vesteroy, a moose hunter missed his target but hit an obscured cottage in the distance, wounding a man in his 70s as he answered nature’s call. He was airlifted to Ullevaal University Hospital in Oslo.

• Animal Sacrifice—in America: In September, Orthodox Jewish communities once again staged traditional kaparot, in which chickens are killed in a prescribed way for the purpose of “transferring” a believer’s latest sins over to the chicken (whose death banishes the sins). (In many such ceremonies, the chickens are donated for food, but protesters in Los Angeles criticized rogue practitioners who simply tossed carcasses into the trash.) In November, Miami-Dade County animal services found a severely injured chicken with a family’s 4-by-6 photograph protruding from its chest, having been haphazardly “implanted,” along with a note containing several hand-written names, apparently a casualty of local Santeria services.

• Some Americans still believe that stock market sales are typically made human-to-human, but the vast majority of buys and sells now are made automatically by computers, running pattern-detecting programs designed to execute millions of trades, in some cases, less than one second before rival computer programs attempt the same trades. In September, a Federal Reserve Board crisis involved, at most, seven milliseconds’ time. The Fed releases market-crucial news typically at exactly 2 p.m. Washington, D.C., time, tightly controlled, transmitted by designated news agents via fiber optic cable. On Sept. 18, somehow, traders in Chicago reportedly beat traders elsewhere to deal an estimated $600 million worth of assets—when theoretically, access to the Fed’s news should have been random. (In other words, the drive to shave milliseconds off the “speed of light” has become quite profitable.)