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News of the Weird with Chuck Shepherd

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News Of The Weird

“Meals” 2.0

Silicon Valley code-writers and engineers work long hours — with apparently little time for “food” as we know it. Eating is “time wasted,” in the words of celebrity inventor Elon Musk, and normal meals a “marketing facade,” said another valley bigwig. The New York Times reported in May that techies are eagerly scarfing down generic (but nutrient-laden) liquids like Schmilk and People Chow, largely for ease of preparation, to speed their return to work. The Times food editor described one product as “oat flour” washed down with “the worst glass of milk ever.” “Pancake batter,” according to a Times reporter. (That supermarket staple Ensure? According to the food editor, it’s “fine wine” compared to Schmilk.)

Distracted Americans

Air travelers last year left $675,000 in (obviously) spare change in airport screening bins, reported the Transportation Security Administration in April. Of the cars reported stolen in 2014, 44,828 were with keys left inside them, according to an April National Insurance Crime Bureau release. American credit card holders fail to claim “about $4 billion” in earned “rewards” each year, according to’s 2015 Credit Card Rewards Report.

Our Least Hardy Generation

— (1) Nursing student Jennifer Burbella filed a lawsuit against Misericordia University (near Scranton, Pennsylvania) for not helping her enough to pass a required course that she failed twice. The professional caregiver-to-be complained of stress so severe that she needed a distraction-free room and extra time for the exam, but claims she deserved even more special treatment. (2) Four Columbia University students complained in May that courses in Greek mythology and Roman poetry need “trigger” warnings — advance notice to super-sensitive students that history may include narratives of “disturbing” events (that have somehow been studied without such warnings for centuries).

— In March, following the departure of Zayn Malik from the British band One Direction, an executive with the Peninsula employment law firm in Manchester told London’s Daily Telegraph that he had received “hundreds” of calls from employers seeking advice about workers who were requesting “compassionate” leave because Malik’s resignation had left them distraught. (Also, a spokeswoman for the charity Young Minds told the Telegraph she was concerned about Malik fans self-harming.)

Bright Ideas

Among recent inventions not expected to draw venture capital interest (reported by Popular Science in June): (1) A Canadian software engineer’s machine that unspools toilet paper exactly three squares at a time (but please keep fingers away from the cleaver!). (2) A Japanese shoulder-mounted tomato-feeder that provides nourishment to marathoners without their needing to catch tomatoes provided by supporters. (3) Google software engineer Maurice Bos’ whiteboard-mounted clock that writes down the exact time, with a marker, at five-minute intervals (after erasing the previous time).

Fine Points of the Law

Britain’s Home Office, judging requests for asylum by immigrants threatened with deportation but who fear oppressive treatment if returned to their home countries, recently turned down asylum for Nigerian lesbian activist Aderonke Apata, 47, apparently because the office doubted her orientation. Though Apata had submitted testimonials (and even photographs) “proving” her homosexuality, the Home Office was skeptical because she had children from a previous heterosexual relationship. On the other hand, an immigration court in England ruled in April that a Libyan man, identified only as “HU,” could not be deported since he is a career criminal and a chronic drunk who would be so unlikely to reform his drinking that he would surely face a lifetime of prison in Libya.

People Different From Us

Walter Merrick, 66, was charged with aggravated assault in the New Orleans suburb of Harvey, Louisiana, in March after an altercation with neighbor Clarence Sturdivant, 64, over the comparative merits of Busch and Budweiser beers. Bud-man Sturdivant fired the only shot, but a sheriff’s deputy said Merrick was the aggressor — since he had offered Sturdivant only a Busch. (In Tulsa, Oklahoma, in April, police found two blood-splattered men in an apartment parking lot at 1 a.m., the result of a dual stabbing spree with broken beer bottles — over whether Android phones are superior
to iPhones.)

Least Competent Criminals

Short-Attention-Span Thieves: (1) Alvaro Ortega, 34, was arrested for taking a uniformed police officer’s cellphone in the East Coast Catering deli in Bayonne, New Jersey, on May 18. The sleuthing was easy, in that Ortega was the only other person in the deli at the time and sheepishly admitted the theft. (2) Seattle’s KIRO-TV reported in May that a Seattle couple holding a Powerball ticket worth $1 million still has it, despite being theft victims. Someone smashed open a window in their car on May 14 and stole, among other items, a pair of sunglasses that was resting atop the lottery ticket, but left it undisturbed.

The Pervo-American Community

Footnotes: (1) Rusty Sills, 56, previously an “underwear bandit” in West Des Moines, Iowa, was arrested in Pinellas Park, Florida, in March and charged with stealing women’s shoes — sometimes “replacing” them with shoes he no longer fancied. (Police found about 100 pairs in his van.) (2) James Dowdy, 43, on parole for an earlier sock theft, was arrested once again in Belleville, Illinois, after police received reports of socks missing in burglaries. Authorities said Dowdy had been involved in “other types of sock-related incidents (and) using socks in an inappropriate and obscene manner,” but details were not reported. (Found in a search of Dowdy’s home were notebooks of children’s names, ages and types of socks worn.)

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