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News of the odd and strange with Chuck Shepherd

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The New Grade Inflation

They are simply “’spas’ designed to attract teenagers,” according to one university official — plush, state-of-the-art “training” complexes built by universities in the richest athletic conferences to entice elite 17-year-old athletes to come play for (and, perhaps, study at?) their schools. The athletes-only mini-campuses include private housing and entertainment (theaters, laser tag, miniature golf) — but, actually, the schools are in a $772-million-plus “arms’ race” (according to a December Washington Post investigation) because soon after one school’s sumptuous, groundbreaking facility opens, some other school’s more-innovative facility renders it basically second-rate. And of course, as one university official put it, the “shiny objects” have “nothing whatsoever to do with the mission of a university.” (Donors and alumni provide much of the funding, but most schools by now also tap students’ “athletic fees.”)

Redneck Chronicles

— Police in Monticello, Kentucky, charged Rodney Brown, 25, with stealing farm animals and equipment from a home in December — but offering to return everything if the victim (a man) had sex with him. Brown allegedly took 25 roosters, a goat and some rooster pens and other rooster-care equipment. (Because Brown also supposedly said he’d beat the man up if he called police, a “terroristic threatening” count was added to “promoting prostitution.”)

— Made in Heaven: William Cornelius, 25, and his fiancee, Sheri Moore, 20, were arrested at the Bay City (Michigan) Mall in January, charged with theft. Police found a pair of earrings and a necklace swiped from Spencer Gifts on her, but she refused to “snitch” on Cornelius, who had minutes earlier proposed to her via a Wal-mart loudspeaker and given her a ring, to applause from onlooking shoppers as she accepted. Cornelius, holding $80.93 worth of goods (a watch, an edible thong, a vibrator and “BJ Blast” oral-sex candy), was apprehended at the mall food court, having apparently (according to the police report) “fallen asleep at a table while tying his shoe.”

Latest Religious Messages

— Islam Rising: (1) A geography class at Riverheads High School in Augusta County, Virginia, alarmed some parents in December when students were assigned to copy an Arabic script to experience its “artistic complexity.” However, the phrase the teacher presented for copying was the “shahada” (“There is no god but Allah”). District officials called that just a coincidence — that the phrase was presented only for calligraphy and never translated. (2) A Washington state uncle complained in December that a WolVol toy airplane he bought for his nephew on Amazon.com, instead of making engine noises, recited spoken words — which a Whatcom County Islamic Society spokesman said was actually a prayer that hajj pilgrims speak when they journey to Mecca. (Wolvol said it would investigate.)

— Wait, What? NPR’s “Morning Edition,” reporting on the violent tornadoes that hit North Texas on the night after Christmas, interviewed one woman who said she was luckier than her neighbors because of her faith. She was entertaining 10 relatives when she heard the “train-like” sound of the winds approaching and took everyone outside to confront the storm: “We … started commanding the winds because God had given us authority over … airways. And we just began to command this storm not to hit our area. We spoke to the storm and said, go to unpopulated places. It did exactly what we said to do because God gave us the authority to do that.”

Great Moments in Leadership

(1) In November, the president of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, in the stands but “bored” with his country’s “Super Cup” soccer final that had been tied, 1-1, for a long stretch, ordered officials on the field to stop play abruptly and proceed to a game-ending 10-kick “shootout.” (The Tevragh-Zeina team won.) (2) Jorge Servin, Paraguay’s head of indigenous affairs, was fired in November after he apparently kneed an indigenous woman in the stomach as she protested her people’s treatment by the government. (3) The head of Croatia’s human rights committee, Ivan Zvonimir Cica, posing alongside President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic to commemorate International Human Rights Day in December, had his pants inexplicably come loose and fall to his ankles.

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