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Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird

Dec. 1, 2015
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Wait, What?        

After certain takeoffs and landings were delayed on Nov. 7 at Paris’ Orly airport (several days before the terrorist attacks), a back trace on the problem forced the airport to disclose that its crucial “DÉCOR” computer system still runs on Windows 3.1 software (introduced in 1992). DECOR’s function is to estimate the spacing between aircraft on fog-bound, visually impossible runways, and apparently it must shut down whenever the airport scrambles to find an available 3.1-qualified technician.                                 


Cultural Diversity            

Weird Japan (continued): Sony manufactured a robot dog (“Aibo”) from 1996 to 2006 for a legion of pet-fanciers, but now that supplies of spare parts and specialized repairers are dwindling, many of the beloved family “canines” are “dying” off. Not to worry, though, for many “surviving” owners are conducting elaborate, expensive—and even religious—burials with widely attended funerals for their Aibos. (A March 2015 Newsweek report offered a dazzling photographic array of Aibo funerals.) Aibo support groups proliferate online because, said one repair service director, “[W]e think that somehow, [Aibos] really have souls.”                                                               


Government in Action      

The federal government confiscated more property from citizens (through “civil asset forfeiture”) in 2014 than burglars did, according to FBI figures publicized by the independent Institute for Justice (and that did not count state and local government seizures, which are not uniformly reported). None of the government is bound by law to await convictions before exercising seizure rights. (Some of the seized assets must eventually be returned to private-party victims, but news reports abound of suddenly enriched police departments and other agencies being “gifted” with brand-new cars and other assets acquired from suspects never convicted of crimes.)                                        


More Things to Worry About          

Carrie Pernula, 38, was arrested in Champlin, Minn., in October after a perhaps too-aggressive strategy for quieting raucous neighbor kids. According to the police report, Pernula, at wits’ end, apparently, wrote the kids' parents by mail: “[Your] children look delicious. May I have a taste?”                              


People With Issues            

Author Richard Brittain, 28 (and a former champion at the popular British Scrabble-like “Countdown” TV show), pleaded guilty in Scotland’s Glasgow Sheriff Court in November for his 2014 response to an unfavorable literary review by an 18-year-old supermarket worker posting on an Internet site. Brittain had acknowledged some criticisms of his book The World Rose in a blog, but said other critics had compared him to Dickens, Shakespeare and Rowling. However, he confessed, when he read the clerk's review, he searched for her online, found where she worked, traveled 500 miles to the store and knocked her out with a wine bottle to the back of the head. (She was treated and released at a hospital.)                                 


Least Competent Criminals                           

Not Ready for Prime Time: A crew of masked home invaders struck an Orlando, Fla., family in October and were preparing a haul of about $100,000 in cash and property when one of the perps got testy with the family’s barking dog. “Back up, Princess,” the masked man said, inadvertently revealing that he was on a first-name basis with the dog and therefore a family acquaintance. The victims, piecing together other clues, identified Christopher Jara, who was soon arrested.                                      


Recurring Themes                           

Readers’ Choice: Massachusetts became perhaps America’s most religiously advanced state in November when its Registry of Motor Vehicles implicitly granted official recognition to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (whose adherents believe, generally, that hard evidence of God’s existence is no stronger than that of FSM’s existence). Lindsay Miller of Lowell proudly displayed her driver’s license, whose photo is of Miller wearing a metal colander on her head—since a “religious” head covering is the only type permitted in official ID photos. (FSM-ers are known as “Pastafarians.”) (As News of the Weird has reported, the Czech Republic issued at least one official “colander” ID in 2013, and in January 2014, Pastafarian Christopher Schaeffer took his seat on the Town Council of Pomfret, N.Y., decked out in his finest colander-ware.)





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