First Amendment Blues: (1) Horry County biker bar Suck Bang Blow filed a lawsuit in May challenging the county's new ordinance prohibiting motorcyclists' "burnouts" (engine-revving with back-tire-spinning, creating smoke -- and enormous noise). The bar claims that burnouts are important expressions of its customers' "manliness and macho" and as such are protected by the First Amendment. (2) Luigi Bellavite complained to reporters in Mountain View, Colo., in July that the theft of his "Vote Satan" yard sign ought to be prosecuted as a "hate crime" under state law -- as he is a member of the Church of Satan. Police called it an ordinary theft.
Government in Action!
-- Miniature golf is remarkably simple to play, requiring neither experience nor much exertion, and even toddlers can negotiate their own brand of fun on the course. However, in March, a set of "accessible design" standards went into effect, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, governing such things as the "slope" of courses (maximum 1:4 rise on some holes), the maximum length of the blades if artificial turf is used, and the minimum area of the "tee-off" landing (48 inches by 60 inches, with a slope not steeper than 1:48).
-- The only unlimited-issue U.S. visa allowing fast-lane entrance for certain foreign workers is the O-1, available to those (e.g., scientists, technology engineers) who, in the opinion of the State Department, demonstrate "extraordinary ability." Reuters reported in June that an O-1 recently went to British journalist Piers Morgan, whose extraordinariness seems limited to replacing Larry King on his CNN interview program, and another to Shera Bechard, Playboy's Miss November 2010, whose other accomplishment seems to be the creation of an online photo-sharing experience called "Frisky Friday."
-- Canadian rap singer Manu Militari was, until earlier this year, sufficiently patriotic to have received more than $100,000 in government grants that originated with the Canadian Heritage department. However, a June video released ahead of his new album "L'Attente" portrayed Afghan Taliban fighters targeting a convoy of Canadian soldiers, planting a roadside bomb and aiming their rifles at the Canadians' heads. Over 150 Canadian soldiers have died fighting the Taliban and their insurgent allies.
-- Forgetful: (1) USA Today, quoting a Pentagon official, reported in July that, during the last decade, the Pentagon had paid "late fees" totaling $610 million for not returning leased shipping containers by the due dates. (2) A Government Accountability Office report in July revealed that the federal government's vast properties include about 14,000 offices and buildings that are vacant (or nearly so), but which the government still pays to maintain (at about $190 million a year). (A large building in Washington, D.C.,'s Georgetown -- among the most valuable real estate in the city -- has sat mostly unused for more than 10 years.) (3) The Miami-Dade County, Fla., government confirmed in April that it had discovered, in storage, 298 brand-new vehicles that had been purchased in 2006-2007, but which had never been used.
-- New Mexico is an "open carry" state, with otherwise-law-abiding adults authorized to display loaded handguns in public. However, in the town of Vaughn (pop. 500, located mid-nowhere), perhaps the only ones not authorized to carry are the town's two police officers. Chief Ernest Armijo had been convicted in 2011 of criminal nonsupport of a wife and two sons, and among the conditions of probation was the prohibition on gun possession. Deputy Brian Bernal has his own domestic issue: a conviction for family violence that bars him, under federal law, from carrying.
-- Most people who call an FBI field office would be in serious trouble if they left an answering-machine message for a named agent, along with the caller's name and telephone number, in a message consisting of at least 13 F-word epithets threatening to "break (the agent's) (F-word) neck." However, when Thomas Troy Bitter left the message at the San Diego field office, according to a July report in OC Weekly, the agency, after initially charging Bitter, quietly dropped the prosecution with no further repercussions. OC Weekly speculated that Bitter is a confidential informant whom the FBI was late in paying.
-- Specialist Perps: (1) In May, Chicago police arrested a man they believed had just minutes earlier used a Bobcat front-end loader to crash through the window of a Family Dollar store and steal two cans of deodorant and a handful of gift cards (and nothing else) and walk away. (2) Police in Lorain, Ohio, were looking in June for a black man about 18-years-old who had been seen on surveillance video breaking into the same Sunoco convenience store several times recently and taking up to $600 worth of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Paris designer Jean-Emmanuel "Valnoir" Simoulin's latest project combines his boyhood fascination with jacket patches and the societal fascination with body modification. He said he will sew patches featuring his band's next album directly onto the skin of his own back. "It's a nostalgic project about my teenage-hood, when I had an iron faith (in) black-metal (music)."
People With Too Much Money: The dogs could not care less, but the luxury doghouse market is thriving, according to a June New York Times report. "Many of them have carpeting, heating and air-conditioning, indoor and outdoor lighting, elaborate ... entertainment systems," wrote the Times, and some even have solar panels. But, said one owner, "Maggie's never been in (hers). She's a house dog." Although walmart.com offers upscale houses for $4,400 to $4,600, the more tony ones can go for more than $25,000. Top-shelf interior designers have created dog beds suspended from the ceiling and houses in which the music kicks on only as the dog enters (meaning that it almost never kicks on).
It has been reported variously as an urban legend and a true story, but a well-documented July report in Chinese media, picked up by CNN, looks unfortunately authentic. A 13-year-old boy in Shandong Province was severely injured by a prank at an auto repair shop at which he worked. Doctors at Bayi Children's Hospital in Beijing confirmed that the co-workers had inserted the nozzle of an air pump into his rectum and shot air into the intestines, inflating his belly, damaging his liver, kidneys and stomach, and sending him into a coma for eight days. Doctors deflated him, but at press time, he remained in intensive care.
Least Competent Criminals
(1) Police in Lewiston, Idaho, discovered in July that someone had passed a counterfeit $1 bill recently. A veteran officer told the Lewiston Tribune that counterfeiting a $1 bill is so stupid that he had seen only one in his life, made by a junior-high student to pay off a bully. (2) In June, firefighters were called to a trolley stop in National City, Calif., to free the arm of a 17-year-old boy after he got it stuck when he reached up a vending machine slot to try to steal a soda. The rescuers employed axes, crowbars, an air chisel and a rotary saw.
(1) Rodney Valentine, 37, was released from jail in Wentworth, N.C., on July 21 about 8 a.m., but adamantly refused to leave until deputies agreed to drive him to a local motel. They declined, and by noon, Valentine had been re-arrested and charged with trespassing in the jail. (2) TSA Meets Its Match: Jonah Falcon told Huffington Post in July that he had recently survived a pat-down at San Francisco International Airport. Falcon was named in a 1999 HBO documentary as having the largest penis on record, and apparently the "suspicious" bulge drew the attention of the TSA screener, who patted him down and dusted him with explosive-detecting powder before releasing him.
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