CHANNELING GEORGE CARLIN
The head of U.S. Navy intelligence has for more than two years been prohibited from accessing classified information (as the Pentagon disclosed to The Washington Post in January). Vice Admiral Ted Branch came under investigation in 2013 in a corruption scandal involving a foreign defense contractor and various Navy personnel and might have been suspended from all duties–except that, given the political gridlock in Washington, no consensus candidate has emerged. No charges have been filed against Branch, but before he enters any room at the Pentagon, classified material must be stowed away.
BIG MAHJONG BUST
Overexcited police departments occasionally feel the need to safeguard towns by zealous enforcement of anti-gambling laws. In November, police in Altamonte Springs, Florida, raided the Escondido Community Clubhouse, formally shutting down the retirement village’s games of bingo, bunko, penny poker and–most controversially–the weekly sessions of the culturally venerated mahjong. Although none of the games is illegal under state law, advertising for-money games is, and the notices in the Heritage Florida Jewish News were such attention-getters that the pots for the games often grew to exceed the $10 legal maximum. (Given mahjong’s sociological significance, news of the bust was even reported in Jerusalem’s Times of Israel.)
On the heels of a similar program in Richmond, California, Washington, D.C.’s D.C. Council authorized funding in January to pay stipends to notorious criminals if they stop committing crimes. Police would identify up to 50 residents likely to violently offend again in 2016 and offer them periodic cash payments plus special training and educational benefits–as long as they stay out of trouble. Officials in Richmond (once overwhelmed by gun deaths) say their program, commenced almost 10 years ago, has produced a 76 percent drop in gun-related crime.
MMM… CAMEL URINE
Reports of the prominence of animal urine in various cultures’ health regimens have surfaced periodically in News of the Weird, and in December, in Al Qunfudhah, Saudi Arabia, a shop selling camel urine (with a long history of alleged medicinal qualities) was closed by authorities after they found 70 camel-urine bottles actually filled with shopkeeper-urine.
FAST FOOD PRANKS STRIKE AGAIN
About a decade ago, several fast-food restaurants (especially during evening shifts staffed by sometimes inadequately trained managers) were plagued by a prank phone-caller, posing as law enforcement requesting investigative help, asking managers to strip-search employees for “contraband” and to describe the searches in real time to the caller. (A suspect was arrested, and the calls stopped.) Managerial judgment was also on display at a Morro Bay, California, Burger King in January when a prank caller somehow convinced BK employees to begin shattering the store’s windows because of a purported “gas leak.” Several windows were smashed in, and an investigation of the call is ongoing.
NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED
In January, 15-year-old Anthony Ruelas, trying to rescue a classmate gasping from an asthma attack, became the latest casualty in public schools’ relentless insistence on “zero tolerance” of any deviation from rules. Gateway Middle School in Killeen, Texas, suspended Ruelas for two days for what others called his “heroic” assistance in gathering the girl in his arms and taking her to the nurse’s office–while the teacher, following “procedure,” waited passively for a nurse to email instructions. (Ruelas had defied the teacher, declaring, “[F-word] that–we ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse.”) The school district’s superintendent later cited a federal law that he interpreted as justifying the procedure.
AGE-OLD PRANK FAILS
Will Lombardi, 19, was charged with arson in Northampton, Massachusetts, in January after he acknowledged that “probably” he was the one who left a flaming box of excrement on the front porch of the family with whose daughter he was feuding. The fire was supposed to alarm the victim, who would try to stomp it out, thus spreading the feces and soiling the stomper’s shoes. In this case, however, the fire had spread a bit. (Bonus: Lombardi’s box selection was a used mailer with Lombardi’s name and address still readable.)
LEAST COMPETENT CRIMINALS
In January, a 27-year-old man in North Pole, Alaska, became the most recent forced to flee a crime scene on foot because he had locked his keys inside the getaway car. He was identified by surveillance video outside the two businesses he burglarized, but he was still at large. Also in January, David Boulet, in Tacoma, Washington, became the most recent to haplessly try to steal a police car. As officers chased him on an earlier charge, Boulet spotted a parked, marked squad car (with lights flashing), but apparently thought, in the night’s darkness, that the car was momentarily unoccupied. He climbed in–and landed on the lap of a Tacoma police sergeant in the front seat.