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Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird

Jul. 17, 2012
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For Your Protection

In May, two members of the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee requested the total number of U.S. citizens who have been legally spied upon (by phone calls, email, etc.) since 2008 by the National Security Agency (NSA), but the NSA's inspector general said he was prohibited from answering. To go back through agency records, he said, would violate the privacy rights of those spied-upon U.S. citizens.

Latest Science from Japan

(1) Researchers at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Information Science and Technology have developed goggles that can enlarge the image of a bite of food so that the eater might fool himself into thinking he has consumed more than he has (and thus, that his hunger might dissipate sooner). The software is so sophisticated, they said, that the food carrier (a fork, or the eater's hand) is not transformed and appears at normal size. In basic tests, according to a June Agence France-Presse report, a 50% increase in imagined cookie size reduced actual consumption by 9%. (2) Prolific inventor Nobuhiro Takahashi announced in May that he had created a silicone-and-foam "buttocks robot" that can clench, twitch or protrude when probed (for training proctology students to deal with patient anxiety, as well as improving nonverbal communication among robots).


  • Airbags have been credited with saving many lives, but one apparently took the life of Ronald Smith. According to a coroner's inquest in Darlington, England, in May, jagged glass cut open Smith's airbag while it deployed, which forced a rush of the bag's gas and talcum powder (used as a lubricant by many manufacturers) into his lungs. Soon afterward, Smith developed fatal bronchial pneumonia from inhaling the substances.
  • Car Karma: Jerry Patterson suffered a road-rage pummeling on June 12 at the hands of two men who beat him into unresponsiveness on the side of Interstate 5 in Los Angeles. A passing motorist captured video of the incident, which became widely viewed on the Internet. Less than 10 days later, Patterson was arrested for a May 25 incident in which he allegedly administered his own road-rage beating of another motorist, who suffered two black eyes.

The Way the World Works

  • Sentencing statutes and guidelines generally assign heavier penalties to those more culpable for criminal enterprise—but not always. Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, then 53, was convicted in 2009 of conspiracy to smuggle a ton of cocaine from Mexico and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole (a penalty authorized by statute), despite substantial evidence that she was a minor figure and despite her previously clean criminal record. According to a May Houston Chronicle investigation, several higher-up drug smugglers, including those on law-enforcement's "most wanted" lists, have received much lighter prison terms than Castillo's, precisely because, being so high up, they have inside information that they can use to bargain with prosecutors. Castillo, relatively insignificant, apparently had nothing to trade.
  • As the court-appointed trustee seeking as much of Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff's ill-gotten gains as possible to pay back Madoff's victims, Irving Picard has secured, according to a May New York Times report, $330 million to distribute. During the same time, Picard and his associates have billed the court (in fees that run as much as $850 per hour) $554 million. (The Ponzi scheme "earned" around $65 billion, but much of that consisted of the fantasy "profits" that had so impressed clients to invest with Madoff in the first place.)

Readers' Choice

When Cats Fly: In June, Dutch artist Bart Jansen showed off his latest creation, which quickly became an Internet sensation: He had his pet cat Orville, who had recently been run over by a car, stuffed with arms spread like an airplane (a "helicopter," Jansen said). Jansen then mounted radio-controlled propellers on the carcass so that he could control its flight. Jansen showed off Orville at the KunstRAI art festival in Amsterdam in June.

© 2012 Chuck Shepherd


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