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Chuck Shepherd's News Of The Weird

Jun. 10, 2013
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Recurring Themes

  • Creative Smuggling: Abdullah Riyaz, 50, was arrested at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, India, in April after he appeared to be uncomfortable sitting in the waiting area. Officials found four "biscuits" of solid gold in his socks but obviously thought there might be more, and after a cavity search, found Riyaz to be one of those rare humans with the ability to brag that he once excreted gold (eight more "biscuits").
  • Accountability: The chairman of the National Showcaves Centre in a Welsh national park, aiming to halt a recent downturn in tourism business, threatened in April to sue the U.K. National Weather Service for its "all too (frequent)…gloom and doom reports." The NWS had called for snow and cold weather over Easter weekend, but no snow fell, and the cold weather was tempered by sun and blue skies. (He also suggested adding "health"-type warnings to forecasts, e.g., beware that weather reports might be wrong.)
  • In New Haven, Conn., in March, police had trapped two car-theft suspects in a multifamily building whose occupants were hiding from the suspects, thus necessitating urgency in ending the siege. Officers ordered a K-9 unit but were told it would be delayed. In a tactic departments occasionally employ, officers still threatened to release the dogs immediately, and to make the threat credible, available officers began barking. The suspects quickly surrendered rather than face the vicious canines.
  • Detectives' New Best Friend (Facebook): Christopher Robinson, 23, became just one of many recent suspects whose addiction to Facebook did him in. Robinson had never made a single child support payment in the three years since a court order was issued in Milwaukee, Wis., and the case had languished over how to prove that he was hiding money. Using other evidence for probable cause, the prosecutor got a warrant to search Robinson's private Facebook information and discovered a candid photograph of him, laughing over a pile of cash.
  • The annual Chinese "tomb sweeping" celebration has been mentioned several times in News of the Weird, but has experienced a resurgence since 2008 when the government reinstated it as an official holiday. The theory is that people bring valuable items (such as jewelry) to ancestors' gravesites and bury them with the body, which will upgrade the relative's afterlife. Now, however, practitioners seem convinced that paper images of items are sufficient (and, of course, less expensive). Many simply leave signed (and generous!) checks for the dead, according to an April New York Times dispatch, and others bury representations of "mistresses" to accompany presumably frisky corpses.

  • News of the Weird first learned of kopi luwak in 1993—coffee beans sold as gourmet because they had been swallowed by certain Asian civet cats and recovered from feces and washed. Since then, as Internet news of kopi luwak has spread, it has become no longer obscure, and in April, the environmental activist website mongabay.com warned that, based on increased demand, civet "farms" had sprung up in Indonesia and that civets were being caged for their entire lives solely for access to their poop. While none of the main kopi luwak civet species is formally "endangered," activists warned that populations are dwindling for, said one, "the most ridiculous threat…to any wildlife I have seen yet."
  • "Recovered memory" was a popular psychotherapy diagnosis in the 1980s, ultimately responsible for jail sentences for priests, parents and school officials after patients suddenly somehow "remembered" long-suppressed bizarre and vicious (and sometimes "satanic") sex crimes that never actually happened. Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, of the University of California, Irvine, and other skeptics have since proven that false memories can be created and are now concentrating on fashioning them for beneficial purposes—to lose weight, to stop smoking, to curb drinking. An April report in Time magazine noted that "up to 40%" of people could be convinced that they had had bad experiences with a certain behavior and that, properly identified, those people could be taught to avoid it. Said Dr. Loftus, "We do have a malleable memory."         



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