News of the weird: The new sex ed in England, a true Bronx fight club and a 1,500-year jail sentence top this week’s stories
The Nanny State
New York City officially began licensing professional fire eaters earlier this year, and classes have sprung up to teach the art so that the city’s Fire Department Explosives Unit can test for competence (if not “judgment”) and issue the “E29” certificates. In the “bad old (license-less) days,” a veteran fire eater told The New York Times in October, a “bunch of us” performed regularly for $50 a throw, largely oblivious of the dangers (though some admit that almost everyone eventually gets “badly burned”). For authenticity, the Times writer, a fire eater who dubbed herself Lady Aye, completed the licensing process herself (“as sexy as applying for a mortgage”), but declined to say whether she is awaiting bookings.
1. A major streetlight in the town of Pebmarsh Close, England, went out of service when a truck hit it a year ago, and despite pleas to fix it from townspeople — and Essex county councillor Dave Harris — no action has been taken. In October, Harris staged a “birthday party” on the site, formally inviting numerous guests, and furnishing a birthday cake — to “celebrate” the “age” of the broken streetlight. (The shamed county highway office quickly promised action.)
2. Prominent British radio host Dame Jenni Murray suggested in October that the U.K. scrap traditional “sex education” courses in school and instead show pornographic videos for classes to “analyze it in exactly the same way as (they analyze Jane Austen)” in order to encourage discussion of the role of sex. Younger students might explore why a boy should not look up a girl’s skirt, but older students would view hard-core material to confront, for example, whether normal women should “shave” or make the typical screeching moans that porno “actresses” make. Dame Jenni said simply condemning pornography is naive because too much money is at stake.
3. At a World Cup qualifier match in October in Quito, Ecuador, police arrived during the game to question star player Enner Valencia about an unpaid alimony complaint, and he saw them waiting on the sideline. Local media reported that Valencia then faked an on-field injury near the end of the match to “necessitate” being taken away by ambulance, thus outmaneuvering the police. (He settled the complaint in time for the next match.)
Are We Safe?
The security firm Trend Micro disclosed in October its “surprise” to find, in the course of a routine investigation, that firms in several crucial sectors (nuclear power, electric utilities, defense contractors, computer chip makers) send critical alert messages via old-style wireless pagers wholly unsecured against hacking. In fact, Trend Micro said the enormously popular WhatsApp message-exchange app has better security than the alert systems of nuclear power plants. (Infrastructure engineers defended the outdated technology as useful where internet access was unavailable.)
Life Imitates Art
Security experts hired by the investment firm Muddy Waters (which is being sued for defamation by St. Jude Medical Inc. over claims that St. Jude’s cardiac implant device can be hacked) disclosed in an October court filing that they agree the devices are anonymously and maliciously hackable. They found that a popular control device (Merlin@Home) could be remotely turned off, or jiggered to carry a dangerous electrical charge from up to 100 feet away. (A similar incident was part of a plot in Season 2 of the “Homeland” TV series, as the means by which the ailing U.S. vice president was assassinated.)
New York’s prestigious Bronx High School of Science enrolls some of the “best and brightest” students in the city — some of whom (perhaps rebelling against the “nerd” label) for the last two years have held unauthorized, consensual fistfights (a “fight club”) in a field near the school, according to an October New York Daily News report. Students at the school (which has produced eight Nobel Prize winners and eight National Medal of Science honorees) then bombarded the Daily News reporter by telephone and Facebook with acrimonious, vulgar messages for placing the school in a bad light.
Too Quickly Promoted
Nathan Lawwill, 32, from Lansing, Mich., was arrested in Tunisia in October after emigrating as a recent Muslim convert, speaking little Arabic — which did not restrain him (a one-time Christian) from now being the Islamic Messiah, the “gift to Muslims,” “Mahdi to Muslims and Messiah to the Jews.” “I am going to be the center of the world very quickly,” he wrote on Facebook. He and his brother Patrick were found by police on Oct. 25 “unwashed,” and were detained on suspicion of terrorism.
Least Competent Criminals
1. Ms. Cana Greer, 29, was arrested in Sacramento, Calif., in October when police responded to a call to help her remove handcuffs she had accidentally engaged while fooling around with a friend. Police, routinely checking her ID, discovered an outstanding felony burglary warrant. As per procedure, officers took her to a fire station for removal of the cuffs — to make room on her wrists for their own handcuffs.
2. A woman unnamed (because she has not been charged with a crime) almost produced major havoc at the Shuttle Car Wash in Titusville, Fla., in October when, while cleaning her car, she attempted to vacuum gas out of her trunk, causing the vacuum to explode.
Joining some classic cases of sentencing overkill that have populated News of the Weird through the years: In October in San Marcos, Texas, jurors apparently had enough of recidivist drunk driver Jose Marin, 64, who had just racked up conviction No. 8 and so sentenced him to spend the next 99 years in prison and (perhaps more horrifyingly) sober. And in Fresno, Calif., Rene Lopez, 41, convicted of raping his daughter over a four-year period beginning when she was 16, was sentenced by a Fresno Superior Court judge to prison until the year 3519 (1,503 years from now).
The Passing Parade
1. The world’s first constantly flowing (and free!) “wine fountain” opened in Abruzzo, Italy, in October, to help draw tourists and pilgrims who make the trek south from the Vatican to view the cathedral where remains of the disciple Thomas are kept. Operators said they hope the fountain will not become a home to “drunkards.”
2. In September, the world’s first (legal) beer pipeline opened, pumping 12,000 bottles’ worth an hour from the Halve Maan brewery in Bruges, Belgium, to its bottling plant two miles away (and thus sparing visitors to the historic city the sight of tanker trucks cluttering the cobblestone streets). The pipeline was partly funded by private citizens offered “free beer for life” for their donations.
A News of the Weird Classic (May 2012)
William Todd, traveling by bus, faced a nine-hour layover in Nashville, Tenn., and with time on his hands, managed to (allegedly) commit at least 11 felonies, one after another, while he waited: shooting up a restaurant, setting it on fire, robbing four people at a bar, carjacking, breaking into a law office and defecating on a desk, trolling hotel rooms seeking theft opportunities, and stealing a taxicab and robbing the driver. He was finally captured at Opryland, where he had hidden by submerging himself in water up to his nose.
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