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News of the Weird 1/30/14

by Chuck Shepherd

Going Postal America’s returning warriors continue to experience inexplicable difficulty after putting their lives at risk for their country. It took 13 years for Army Sgt. Maj. Richard Erickson to get his job back from his civilian employer after he took leave in 2000 to serve in the National Guard special forces. The employer soon fired him for taking “excessive military leave.” The employer? The U.S. Postal Service, for which Erickson worked as a window clerk (and which was forced to reinstate him after a January 2014 ruling awarding him $2 million in back pay). Erickson had won several interim victories, but USPS fought each one, extending the case, and said in January that it might even appeal the latest ruling.

Recurring Themes Happy New Year: (1) Once again, celebrants in France marked Jan. 1 by setting fire to 1,067 cars nationwide (down from 1,193 the previous Jan. 1). (2) In the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa, celebrants apparently decided to abandon a 20-year-old tradition and not hurl furniture from high-rise apartments. (The Hillbrow custom was highlighted on one social-networking website, along with the New Year’s graveyard gathering of relatives in Chile and Ireland’s banging bread on walls to dispel evil spirits.)

• Holy Mutations: Deformed animals born in developing countries often attract streams of pilgrims, seeking to touch a creature considered divinely blessed. In December, a five-legged cow in Raipur, India, had supposedly “caused” the last 30 women who touched it to give birth to boys. And a day after that report came one from Phuket, Thailand, in which a newborn gecko with six legs and two heads has become a magnet for visitors seeking clues to winning lottery numbers.

• In November the Journal-News of Hamilton, Ohio, examining various police union contracts in the state, learned that in several jurisdictions, officers are allowed to work their shifts even when less sober than some drivers whom they ticket for DUI. In Lebanon, Ohio, for instance, cops can work with a .04 blood-alcohol reading. In Butler County, a .04 reading triggers legal protections for officers that are unavailable to ordinary drivers. (However, in Lebanon, an officer’s right to suck on a breath mint before taking the test was recently removed from the contract.)

• Judges as Romantics: (1) In December, Italy’s top appeals court awarded a new trial to a man, 60, who had been convicted of having sex with an 11-year-old girl. Evidence had been excluded that the pair were having an “amorous relationship” with “feelings of love.” (2) Alabama Judge James Woodroof of Limestone County, given two separate chances in December to sentence Austin Clem, 25, to jail time for raping a girl beginning when she was 13, both times opted for probation. (The no-jail sentences perhaps reflected that Clem’s family and hers continued to socialize after the rapes.)

• News of the Weird has reported the emerging mainstream treatment (for various bowel disorders) of fecal transplants, in which a healthier relative “donates” via enema supposedly healthier microbes to a sickly patient to normalize intestinal activity. The process, still strange to many patients despite its apparent success, has become so popular that in October Canadian officials felt the need to warn patients not to perform amateur transplants. Said one mother, after successfully having her 10-year-old daughter treated, “I think one day … we will have fecal-matter banks like (blood banks and sperm banks).”

•  Unclear on the Concept: In December, after Carmen Reategui, 34, was arrested for DUI in Readington Township, N.J., and was too impaired to drive home, she called Nina Petracca, 23, who arrived at the police station impaired herself (and was arrested for DUI), and both women called Ryan Hogan, 33, to take them home, but he also arrived impaired and was arrested.