Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird
* The 1968 Cy Twombly “blackboard” painting sold for $70.5 million at New York City’s Sotheby’s auction in November (higher than experts’ estimate of $60 million). The painting consists of six horizontal lines of continuous circular swirls (white chalk on a “blackboard”)—perhaps the same swirls that might be made by an extremely bored, aggressive first grader given a supply of chalk and the absence of the teacher.
* The Baltimore-based “experimental music” creators Matmos released their second album, Ultimate Care II, consisting entirely of “music” made by a Whirlpool washing machine (the Ultimate Care II model). According to a November report in People magazine, the machine’s 38-minute wash cycle will be “sampled and processed” to lighten the original sound. (Matmos previously “played” canisters of helium on stage at Radio City Music Hall and a cow’s uterus at the San Francisco Art Institute.)
In an enterprise somewhat resembling “American Idol,” amateur performers in China become self-supporting online not by soliciting money directly, but through virtual gifts from enthralled fans, with performers getting a cut of each sale. Beijing’s YY.com hosts original performances, and two of the site’s favorites, Mr. Earth and Ms. Cloud, earned the equivalent of about $160,000 last year from their universe of 1.8 million fans (according to a November Wall Street Journal report). In an ancillary industry (led by 9158.com), hard-core fans can purchase access (think “virtual limousines,” shown “arriving” at a “concert”), giving them bragging rights. (A simple “applause” icon after a song costs about a penny.)
The exasperated drug enforcement chief of Indonesia told reporters in November (following confiscation of a massive quantity of methamphetamine from China) that the ordinary death penalty was insufficient for drug runners, who should instead be forced to overdose on their own shipments. Budi Waseso also mused that crocodiles would make better prison guards than humans because crocs can’t be bribed and later added tigers and piranhas to the proposed guard roster. Even so, Waseso’s boss reiterated that the government is committed to rehabilitation over punishment.
Deputy sheriff Michael Szeliga of St. Petersburg, Fla., in Fort Lauderdale for a weekend training session in July, was to receive a commendation at the formal banquet, for exemplary DUI enforcement, presented by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (This is News of the Weird; you’ve already guessed the outcome.) He, escorted by two fellow deputies, arrived for dinner “staggeringly drunk” (though he did not drive), according to an internal affairs investigation, and he was ordered to go sleep it off. (Szeliga wrote an apology and was transferred out of DUI work. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Szeliga was a good deputy but that the incident was “one of the most ridiculous things” he’d ever heard of.)
Least Competent Criminals
Kaleb Alexander, 25, was shot and killed in October as he emerged from a United Dairy Farmers convenience store in Columbus, Ohio, still with his gun defiantly drawn after he had just then robbed the clerk. A Columbus police SWAT team was waiting outside the store because Alexander had robbed the store the previous two nights, as well, and somehow must have thought that the police would not catch on to his cunning robbery strategy.
Are We Safe? As News of the Weird chronicled in 2010 and 2011, Iraqi police (either corrupt or sincerely unsophisticated) continued to purchase worthless bomb “detectors” to use at checkpoints in Baghdad, instilling residents with a false sense of security, with the result that hundreds of people died in supposedly safe neighborhoods. Briton James McCormick, the most successful con man/seller, is serving a 10-year sentence for the “ADE 651” (which, somehow, Baghdad police continued to buy long after the U.S. had warned of the scam). Since then, more bogus detectors have been peddled to Thailand and other governments. In November 2015, London’s The Independent, in a dispatch from the Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheikh, reports that luxury hotels’ security officers are now using similar bogus detectors to reassure tourists frightened by the recent terrorism-suspected Russian plane crash in Egypt.
© 2015 CHUCK SHEPHERD