News of the Weird: Hello, My Name is Isis Harambe

The word “Isis” arrived in Western dialogue only after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as an acronym for the Islamic State, and the Swahili word “Harambe” was known to almost no one until May 2016 when the gorilla “Harambe” (named via a local contest) was put down by a Cincinnati zoo worker after it had dragged an adventurous 3-year-old boy away. In April, a Twitter user and the website Daily Dot happened upon a 19-year-old California restaurant hostess named Isis Harambe Spjut and verified with state offices that a driver’s license (likely backed by a birth certificate) had been issued to her. (“Spjut” is a Scandinavian name.)

Sweet, Sweet Revenge

It is legal in China to sell electric “building shakers” whose primary purpose apparently is to wreak aural havoc on apartment-dwellers’ unreasonably noisy neighbors. Models sell for the equivalent of $11 to $58 — each with a long pole to rest on the floor, extending ceiling height to an electric motor braced against the shared ceiling or wall and whose only function is to produce a continuous, thumping beat. Shanghaiist.com found one avenger in Shaanxi province who, frustrated by his miscreant neighbor, turned on his shaker and then departed for the weekend. (It was unclear whether he faced legal or other repercussions.)

Can’t Possibly Be True

Mats Jarlstrom is a folk hero in Oregon for his extensive research critical of the short yellow light timed to the state’s red-light cameras, having taken his campaign to TV’s “60 Minutes” and been invited to a transportation engineers’ convention. In January, Oregon’s agency that regulates engineers imposed a $500 fine on Jarlstrom for “practicing engineering” without a state license. (The agency, in fact, wrote that simply using the phrase “I am an engineer” is illegal without a license, even though Jarlstrom has a degree in engineering and worked as an airplane camera mechanic.) He is suing to overturn the fine.

Last year, surgeons at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), for only the second time in history, removed a tumor “sitting” on the peanut-sized heart of a fetus while the heart was still inside the mother’s womb — in essence successfully operating on two patients simultaneously. The Uruguayan mother said her initial reaction upon referral to CHOP’s surgeons was to “start laughing, like what, they do that?” (The baby’s December birth revealed that the tumor had grown back and had to be removed again, except this time, through “ordinary” heart surgery.)

News You Can Use

Earn $17,500 for two months’ “work” doing nothing at all! France’s space medicine facility near Toulouse is offering 24 openings, paying 16,000 euros each, for people simply to lie in bed continuously for two weeks so it can study the effects of virtual weightlessness. The institute is serious about merely lying there: All bodily functions must be accomplished while keeping at least one shoulder on the bed.

Government in Action

Sidewalk Wars: 1.) Thirty-four residents of State Street in Brooklyn, New York, pay a tax of more than $1,000 a year for the privilege of sitting on their front stoops (a pastime which, to the rest of New York City, seems an inalienable right). (The property developer had made a side deal with the city to allow the tax in exchange for approving an architectural adjustment.) 2.) The town of Conegliano, Italy, collects local taxes on “sidewalk shadows” that it applies to cafes or businesses with awnings, but also to stores with a single overhanging sign that very slightly “blocks” sun. Shop owners told reporters the tax felt like Mafia “protection” money.

Finer Points of the Law

“Oh, come on!” implored an exasperated Chief Justice Roberts in April when the Justice Department lawyer explained at oral argument that, indeed, a naturalized citizen could have his citizenship retroactively canceled just for breaking a single law, however minor — even if there was never an arrest for it. Appearing incredulous, Roberts hypothesized that if “I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone,” but was not caught and then became a naturalized citizen, years later the government “can knock on my door and say, ‘Guess what? You’re not an American citizen after all’?” The government lawyer stood firm. (The Supreme Court decision on the law’s constitutionality is expected in June.

Wait, What?

Emily Piper and her husband went to court in January in Spokane, Washington, to file for a formal restraining order against a boy who is in kindergarten. Piper said the tyke had been relentlessly hassling their daughter (trying to kiss her) and that Balboa Elementary School officials seem unable to stop him.

A private plane crashed on take-off 150 feet from the runway at Williston (Florida) Municipal Airport on April 15, killing all four on board, but despite more than a dozen planes having flown out of the same airport later that day, no one noticed the crash site until it caught the eye of a pilot the next afternoon.

Least Competent Criminals

Didn’t Think It Through: 1.) Edwin Charge Jr., 20, and two accomplices allegedly attempted a theft at a Hood River, Oregon, business on April 23, but fled as police arrived. The accomplices were apprehended, but Charge took off across Interstate 84 on foot, outrunning police until he fell off a cliff to his death. 2.) Police said Tara Cranmer, 34, tried to elude them in a stolen truck on tiny Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, on April 22. Since it is an island, the road ends, and she was captured on the dunes after abandoning the truck.

The Aristocrats!

Variations of the Semen-Weaponization Fetish: 1.) Timothy Blake, 28, faced several charges in January after admitting to a spree of semen incidents at a Wal-mart in Marietta, Ohio. The liquid was his semen, he finally admitted, but he squirted it at his female victims only from a syringe rather than the old-fashioned way. 2.) Brian Boyd, 27, was charged in January with squirting women from a syringe in a similar series of incidents at a Tampa Target store. However, though Boyd had simulated masturbation, the syringe itself contained only white liquid “hair conditioner.”

Update

Italian Surgeon Sergio Canavero (notorious as the world’s most optimistic advocate of human brain transplants) now forecasts that a cryogenically frozen brain will be “awakened” (“thawed”) and transplanted into a donor body by the year 2020. His Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group claimed success in 2016 in transplanting a monkey’s head, with blood vessels properly attached (though not the spinal cord). Canavero promised such a head transplant of humans by 2018, though problematic because, like the recipient monkey, the recipient human would not long survive. Of the subsequent brain transplant, one of the gentler critics of Canavero said the likelihood of success is “infinitestimal” — with harsher critics describing it in more colorful language.

A News of the Weird Classic (September 2013)

The question in a vandalism case before the U.S. Court of Appeals in July (2013) was whether Ronald Strong’s messy bowel movement in a federal courthouse men’s room in Portland, Maine, was “willful” or, as Strong claimed, an uncontrollable intestinal event. Three rather genteel judges strained to infer Strong’s state of mind from the condition of the facility. A cleaning lady had described the feces as “smeared,” but Judge Juan Torruella took that to mean not “finger smears,” but “chunks,” “kind of like chunky peanut butter.” Two other judges, outvoting Torruella, seemed skeptical that feces could have landed 2 feet up the wall unless Strong had intended it. (Torruella countered by imagining himself as the perpetrator, that surely he would sully the mirrors, but that all mirrors were found clean.)

Chuck Shepherd

Author: Chuck Shepherd

Editor of the Valley Advocate

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