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Friday December 15th 2017

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News of the Weird 8/4/16

By Chuck Shepherd

Frontiers of Fashion As Americans’ fascination with guns grows, so, too, does the market for protection against all those flying bullets. Texan John Adrain has introduced an upscale sofa whose cushions can stop up to a .44 Magnum fired at close range, and is now at work on bullet-resistant window blinds. Another company, BulletSafe, recently touted its $129 baseball caps (with protection against the same bullets, but only in front)—though the company admits the cap won’t prevent concussions. The Colombian suit and vest designer Miguel Caballero offers an array of bullet- and knife-resistant selections, made with Kevlar and Dyneema, which are also used by clothiers BladeRunner and Aspetto (maker of “ballistic tuxedos”).

Leading Economic Indicators Notorious French derivatives trader Jerome Kerviel was fired in 2010 after his employer (Societe Generale bank) discovered that he had made unauthorized trades worth about $55 billion and then, by forgery and fraud, covered them up. In June, however, Kerviel won a wrongful-discharge case when France’s Court of Cassation concluded the bank had “no real and serious” reason to fire him. Actually, the court ordered the bank to pay Kerviel about $500,000 in “performance” bonuses, based on the profit that his rogue trades eventually earned. Even though the bank had spent the equivalent of $5.5 billion unwinding Kerviel’s trades, they still made money (because, before the world economy collapsed in 2008, the derivatives business was very good).

Government in Action Montpelier, Vermont, has one solution to America’s well-known problem of ignoring infrastructure maintenance (and the high cost of asphalt). While other cities and states merely delay needed road work (though with harsh consequences to drivers), Montpelier has begun to unpave some of its roads, converting them back to cheaper, annoying gravel and dirt (and inevitably, dust). A recent report by Montana State University researchers expressed surprise that so many governments are choosing this option.

Latest Religious Messages No Wonder ISIS Is So Steamed: Last year, 3 million Muslims made the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca for the hajj and another 5 million for the slightly less sacred umrah, but awaiting them in the Saudi holy city would hardly have been the reverence many imagined: massive modern buildings; housing construction with worksites brightly lit around the clock; glittery, multistory shopping malls featuring familiar brands peddling opulence—capped by high-rise views of the city’s entire amusement-park-like setting from four- and five-star hotel rooms, where suites during hajj can go for $10,000 a night. (The malls, like the rest of Mecca, come to a standstill—or kneel-still—for prayers.)

Perspective Almost half of all produce raised by U.S. farmers is thrown out before it reaches a consumer’s plate, and though there are several contributing explanations, the most striking is American eaters’ “cult of perfection.” “It’s about blemish-free produce,” said one farmer, e.g., “sunburnt cauliflower” or table grapes not quite “wedge-shaped” enough. America’s “unyielding cosmetic standards,” according to a July report in The Guardian of London, even means that much of the annual $160 billion worth of imperfect food is simply left to rot on the vine, or sent directly to a landfill, because farmers anticipate retailers’ reluctance to stock it.

Wait, What? (1) In July, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to keep black-footed ferrets in northeastern Montana from dying out—with drones that shoot peanut butter M&Ms (coated with a vaccine). Before the drones, there were too few ferrets to justify, economically, hand-delivering the candy. (2) A Japanese researcher (working out of the University of Illinois at Chicago) recently announced a health-improving computer app that would require men to ejaculate on their cellphones. (The researcher’s sophisticated microscope lens would be capable of transmitting a highly detailed photo, able to be examined in a lab, thus freeing shy men from having to visit a doctor’s office.)

Compelling Explanations Anyone’s Fault but Mine: Lawyer Andrew Schmuhl, 32, ordered to trial in Fairfax County, Virginia, in May, declared that he was not responsible in 2014 when he invaded the home of a man who had recently fired Schmuhl’s wife. Using a Taser, he had held the man and his wife hostage for three hours and ultimately slashed the man’s throat and stabbed the woman repeatedly. However, Schmuhl claimed he should be found not guilty because he was “involuntarily” intoxicated at the time—cluelessly on pain medication that made him oblivious of his actions. (He was convicted.)

A News of the Weird Classic (October 2012) Brazil has a robust democracy but with very few controls on what candidates may call themselves on ballots. Among those running for offices this time, according to a September (2012) New York Times dispatch from Rio de Janeiro: “John Kennedy Abreu Sousa,” “Jimmi Carter Santarem Barroso,” “Ladi Gaga,” “Christ of Jerusalem,” five “Batmans,” two “James Bonds,” and 16 people whose name contains “Obama.” “It’s a marketing strategy,” said city council candidate Geraldo Custodio, who apparently liked his chances better with the ballot name “Geraldo Wolverine.”