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News of the Weird 12/13/18

By the Editors at Andrews McMeel

Seems Like an Honest Mistake John Stevenson of Inverclyde, Scotland, hit a bump in his plans to vacation in the United States on Dec. 3 when his visa was denied after he declared himself a terrorist while filling out a Department of Homeland Security online form commonly known as ESTA. One of the questions on the form asks, “Are you a terrorist?” Stevenson, 70, told The Independent that the website “must have jumped from No to Yes without me knowing,” adding that the site kept timing out and crashing as he and his wife, Marion, tried to answer the questions. “I even called the border control in the U.S. and gave them my passport details,” he said. “They looked up my ESTA number and said, ‘You’re a terrorist.’ The only time I’ve been in court was for jury service. Marion is sick about it. … I don’t know why that question is on the form in the first place.” (UPDATE: United Airlines refunded the Stevensons’ airline tickets and gifted them two free flights to New York once their visa troubles are all worked out.)

LOL The animal rights group PETA launched a new campaign Dec. 4 designed to remove some common animal-related idioms from the English language. CBS News reports the group tweeted suggested alterations to phrases it says are verbal vestiges of “speciesism” and perpetuate harmful messages. PETA offers these alternatives: For “bring home the bacon,” try “bring home the bagels.” “Take the bull by the horns” should be “take the flower by the thorns.” And “kill two birds with one stone” morphs into “feed two birds with one scone.” PETA likened the use of the original phrases to racist and homophobic language: “Phrases that trivialize cruelty to animals will vanish as more people begin to appreciate animals for who they are.” Reaction on social media was swift. Maybe PETA should have let sleeping bags lie.

Update In The Hague, Netherlands, motivational speaker Emile Ratelband, 69, will not turn 50 on his next birthday, as he had hoped. As reported earlier, Ratelband petitioned the court in November for an age change, saying he feels discriminated against both in the career realm and on Tinder. But the Associated Press reported that on Dec. 3, a Dutch court rejected his plea to become 49, saying he did not convince judges that he had been discriminated against and that “Mr. Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly,” but noting that changing his age would nullify any number of records from public registers. Ratelband hopes to appeal.

But, Cheesecake! Things got “a little hectic” in Clarendon, Virginia, on Dec. 5 when an unexpectedly large number of delivery drivers convened at the Cheesecake Factory in response to a 40th anniversary promotion offering free cheesecake slices. The sweet treats were available only to those who ordered on DoorDash, ARLnow.com reported, and a crowd of delivery drivers double-parked outside and jostled for position inside the restaurant as they picked up orders. Arlington County police and medics responded to reports of fights and disorderly conduct, resulting in one arrest but no apparent injuries.

Government in Action Yoshitaka Sakurada, 68, a 22-year member of Japan’s parliament, was named by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in October to two new posts: cybersecurity and Olympics minister for the country. But according to Reuters, at a committee meeting on Nov. 14, when a member of the opposition asked Sakurada a “gotcha” question about his computer literacy, he admitted: “I’ve never used a computer! … I’ve always directed my staff and secretaries to do that kind of thing.” He assured the lawmaker there would be no problems. Mmm-hmm.

Least Competent Criminals A successful heist at an electronics retail store requires careful planning and attention to detail — a fact that appears to have escaped three men in North Raleigh, North Carolina, on Nov. 12. That night, the News and Observer reported, an employee of the store called 911 to report that three men had entered the store with semi-automatic weapons and ordered workers into the stockroom. One of them was carrying a cardboard box, officers learned, which he used to load up mobile phones and smart watches. The men also filled two crates with merchandise, which totaled more than $26,000. When the robbers left through the back door, they took the crates with them, but forgot the cardboard box which, serendipitously, sported a shipping label with an address on it. Police used the address, along with a mug shot from a previous crime that matched an image in the store’s surveillance video, to track down Brian Lamonte Clark, 22, and arrest him for robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery.

• The Lucardo Escape Rooms in Manchester, England, were the site of a misguided break-in on Nov. 29 when two thieves ransacked a fake bank vault as if it were the real thing. The Manchester Evening News reported that more than 50 surveillance cameras captured the duo’s antics as they broke into fake safes and opened drawers that held only puzzles. “They must be Manchester’s stupidest burglars,” said Lucardo director Ian Pownall, 26. The business lost about 100 pounds in cash, but damage amounted to about 1,000 pounds — not to mention lost revenue while the business cleans up. “We’re a small, family-owned business, so even a couple of thousand pounds will have an effect on us, particularly before Christmas,” Pownall said.