NEWS OF THE WEIRD: 12.16.15

By on December 15, 2015

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 “DECOR” 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.”

Leading Economic Indicators

Art Basel, the annual weeklong festival for “One-Percenters” in Miami Beach, is scheduled for Dec. 1 to Dec. 6, and among the many excesses is the sale of on-demand caviar, available by text message, to be delivered in person within the hour, at $275 for a 125-gram tin. Miami New Times calls Art Basel “ComicCon for the world’s moneyed elite,” and among the extravaganzas is an “exotic dance club sheltered inside a greenhouse.” Four thousand artists, from 32 countries, are participating.

• New World Order: “Crowdsourcing” start-ups (such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter) raise money online for projects such as underappreciated entrepreneurial ventures or families needing help with medical expenses. Day-trading dabbler Joe Campbell went online in November to beg for assistance after being crushed by a bet of the type that many say wrecked the U.S. economy in 2007-08. He held a pessimistic “short” position in his account on KaloBios Pharmaceuticals (KBIO)—hoping to exploit traders overly optimistic about the company. However, overnight NASDAQ trading awakened him with news that KBIO’s price had skyrocketed in frenzied trading and that Campbell now owed his broker $131,000—and Campbell’s new GoFundMe post stoically asks strangers to please help him pay that off.

Government in Action

— Charles Smith, 62, is set to drive municipal buses for Broward County, Florida, until he retires in 2020, even though his record includes 14 accidents in a recent five-year period (not enough for discipline, in that, according to contract rules, not more than four were labeled “preventable” in any two consecutive years). The bus drivers’ union president told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that he “can’t figure out why” some drivers just get into more accidents than others. Elsewhere in transit news, notorious serial New York “joydriver” Darius McCollum, 50, commandeered yet another bus and was arrested on Nov. 11. He faces jail time, just as he has already served for more than two dozen bus- and train-”borrowing” incidents. (Based on news reports of McCollum over the years, he nonetheless might be a better bus driver than Charles Smith.)

• 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 governments 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

(1) Carrie Pernula, 38, was arrested in Champlin, Minnesota, in October after a perhaps too-aggressive strategy for quieting raucous neighbor kids. According to the police report, Pernula, at wit’s end, apparently, wrote the kids’ parents by mail: “(Your) children look delicious. May I have a taste?” (2) Robinson Pinilla-Bolivar, 24, was arrested in Midland, Texas, in November, accused of threatening a woman at knifepoint because (according to the police report) she would not “smell his arm pit.”

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

Recurring Theme: The job market in Wayne County, Michigan, is apparently tough to crack, which led John Rose, 25, to the county sheriff’s office looking for a job. He finished the paper application in November and was awaiting his interview when deputies called him back. As he walked through the door, he was arrested, since a routine check had turned up numerous outstanding charges in Kentucky including multiple counts of rape, sexual abuse and sodomy.

• Not Ready for Prime Time: A crew of masked home invaders struck an Orlando, Florida, 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

Inexplicable: He was a “well-traveled professional with close to seven figures in the bank,” according to a November New York Times profile, who had recently, gradually given $718,000 to two Manhattan psychics who had vowed to help reunite him with a former love (even though she is dead and, said one, reachable only if he built an 80-mile bridge of gold past her “reincarnation portal”). Though the psychics have been identified, a private investigator said the very personality problems that made the man a victim will also make him a “terrible witness” in court.

Thanks This Week to Lisa Robinson and Joel Sullivan, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

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