State-of-the-Art: A New York University Center for Justice study released in September warned that, unless major upgrades are made quickly, 43 states will conduct 2016 elections on electronic voting machines at least 10 years old and woefully suspect. Those states use machines no longer made or poorly supported, and those in 14 states are more than 15 years old. There are apprehensions over antiquated security (risking miscounts, potential for hacking), but also fear of Election-Day breakdowns causing long lines at the polls, depressed turnout and dampened confidence in the overall fairness of the process. The NYU center estimated the costs of upgrading at greater than $1 billion.
In a "manifesto" to celebrate "personal choice and expression" in the standard of beauty "in a society that already places too many harmful standards on women," according to a July New York Times report, some now are dyeing their armpit hair. At the Free Your Pits website, and events like "pit-ins" in Seattle and Pensacola, Florida, envelope-pushing women offer justifications ranging from political resistance to, according to one, "want(ing) to freak out (her) in-laws." Preferred colors are turquoise, hot pink, purple and neon yellow.
• Actress Melissa Gilbert (a star of TV's Little House on the Prairie), 51, announced in August that she would run for Congress from Michigan's 8th Congressional District—even though she is currently on the hook to the IRS and California for back taxes totaling $470,000. Gilbert, a former president of the Screen Actors Guild and member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, promised that she (and her actor husband) would pay off her tax bill—by the year 2024.
Men Are Simple
Update: Five years after News of the Weird mentioned it, Japan's Love Plus virtual-girlfriend app is more popular than ever, serving a growing segment of the country's lonely males—those beyond peak marital years and resigned to artificial "relationships." Love Plus models (Rinko, Manaka and Nene) are chosen mostly (and surprisingly) not for physical attributes, but for flirting and companionship. One user described his "girlfriend" (in a September Time magazine dispatch) as "someone to say good morning to in the morning and ... goodnight to at night." Said a Swedish observer, "You wouldn't see (this phenomenon) in Europe or America." One problem: Men can get stuck in a "love loop" waiting for the next app update—with, they hope, more "features."
• "Odette Delacroix," 25, of North Hollywood, Calif., is a petite (86 pounds) model who runs an adult fetish website in which people (i.e., men) pay to watch her tumble around, bikini-clad, with "plus-size" models, up to five at a time, squashing and nearly suffocating her in "pigpiles." "Odette" told London's edition of Cosmopolitan that her PetiteVsPlump.com website has so far earned her about $100,000.
The Job of the Researcher
Scientists at North Carolina State and Wake Forest universities have developed a machine that vomits realistically, enabling the study of "aerosolization" of dangerous norovirus. "Vomiting Larry" can replicate the process of retching, including the pressure at which particles are expelled (which, along with volume and "other vomit metrics," can teach the extent of the virus' threat in large populations). The researchers must use a harmless stand-in bacteriophage for the studies—because norovirus is highly infectious even in the laboratory.
Relentless Wannabes: 1. Authorities in Winter Haven, Florida, arrested James Garfield, 28, with the typical faux-police set-up—Ford Crown Victoria with police lights, uniform with gold-star badge, video camera, Taser, and business cards printed with "law enforcement." (Explained Garfield lamely, the "law enforcement" was just a "printing mistake.") 2. In nearby Frostproof, Fla., Thomas Hook, 48, was also arrested in September, his 14th law-enforcement-impersonator arrest since 1992. His paraphernalia included the Crown Vic with a prisoner cage, scanner, spotlight, "private investigator" and "fugitive recovery" badges, and an equally bogus card identifying him as a retired Marine Corps major. Hook's one other connection to law enforcement: He is a registered sex offender.
Buddhists Acting Out
1. Police in Scotland's Highlands were called in September when a Buddhist retreat participant, Raymond Storrie, became riled up that another, Robert Jenner, had boiling water for his tea, but not Storrie's. After Storrie vengefully snatched Jenner's hot water, Jenner punched him twice in the head, leading Storrie to threaten to kill Jenner (but also asking, plaintively, "Is this how you practice dharma?"). 2. A Buddhist monk from Louisiana, Khang Nguyen Le, was arrested in New York City in September and accused of embezzling nearly $400,000 from his temple to fuel his gambling habit (blackjack, mostly at a Lake Charles, La., casino).
An official of the Missouri Republican Party apologized in September for the "thoughtless" act of using an original Thomas Hart Benton mural in the state Capitol as a writing surface. Valinda Freed and a man were exchanging business cards, and Freed, needing to jot down information on the card, placed it directly on the mural to backstop her writing.
• During a break in a murder trial in Lima, Ohio, in September, a jailer apparently absentmindedly locked inmate-witness Steven Upham in the same cell with the accused murderer he was about to testify against (Markelus Carter, 46). Upham was set to squeal that Carter had confessed the murder to him. Deputies soon rushed to the cell to break up Carter's attempt, with his fists, to change Upham's mind. (At press time, the jury was still deliberating.)
Least Competent Criminals
Police in South Union Township, Pennsylvania, say David Lee, 46, is the one who swiped a Straight Talk cellphone from a Wal-mart shelf on Sept. 15 (but wound up in the hospital). After snatching the phone, Lee went to a different section of the store and tried to open the packaging with a knife, but mishandled it and slashed his arm so severely that he had to be medevaced to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh (and a hazmat crew had to be summoned to clean up all of the blood Lee had splattered).
No Longer Weird
Stories that were formerly weird, but which now occur with such frequency that they must be permanently retired from circulation: (1) Once again, in July, despite being handcuffed (by a King County, Washington, sheriff's deputy) and placed in the back seat of a squad car, the prisoner managed to drive off alone. Teddy Bell, 26, was apprehended a while later with the help of K-9 officers. (2) And once again (in July in Bergen, Norway) the accused was convicted of murder based on a telltale Internet-search history. Police discovered about 250 computer queries such as "How do you poison someone without getting caught?" (Ultimately, the woman confessed that she killed her husband by lighting a charcoal grill in his bedroom while he slept.)
A News of the Weird Classic (February 2009)
Life Imitates the Three Stooges: In January (2009), inmates Regan Reti, 20, and Tiranara White, 21, who had been booked separately for different crimes on New Zealand's North Island and were handcuffed together for security at Hastings District Court, dashed out of the building and ran for their freedom. However, when they encountered a street lamp in front of the courthouse, one man went to the right of it and the other to the left, and they slammed into each other, allowing jailers to catch up and re-arrest them. (A courthouse surveillance camera captured the moment, and the grainy video was a worldwide sensation.)
Thanks This Week to Richard Player, Richard Judkins, Duane Knight, and Scott Lichtenberg, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors. Read more weird news at WeirdUniverse.net; send items to WeirdNews@earthlink.net, and P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, FL 33679.