The Trees Started It, Your Honor

Chuck Shepherd Thursday, June 22, 2017 Comments Off on The Trees Started It, Your Honor
The Trees Started It, Your Honor

Wesley Pettis, 24, charged with damaging 60 trees in West Jordan, Utah, in 2016, was ordered to probation and counseling in March, stemming from his defense that, well, the trees had hurt him “first.”

Recurring Themes

– Henry Wachtel, 24, continues in legal limbo after being found “not criminally responsible” for the death of his mother in 2014, despite having beaten her in the head and elsewhere up to 100 times – because he was having an epileptic seizure at that moment and has no memory of the attack. A judge must still decide the terms of Wachtel’s psychiatric hospitalization, but Wachtel’s mind is clear enough now that, in March, he demanded, as sole heir, payoff on his mother’s life insurance policy (which, under New York law, is still technically feasible).

– In February, federal customs agents seized 22 pounds of illegal animal meat at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Among the tasty items were raw chicken, pig and cow meat, brains, hearts, heads, tongues and feet – in addition to “other body parts.” In a typical day nationwide, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seizes about 4,600 smuggled plant or animal products.

– Over the years, News of the Weird has covered the long-standing campaign by animal-rights activists to bestow “human” rights on animals. In March, the New Zealand parliament gave human rights to a river – the Whanganui, long revered by the country’s indigenous Maori. Within a week, activists in India, scouring court rulings, found two of that country’s waterways deserved similar status – the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, which were then so designated by judges in Uttarakhand state. (The Ganges’ “rights” seem hollow since an estimated one billion gallons of waste still enters it every day despite its being a holy bathing spot for Hindus.)

– Luu Cong Huyen, 58, in Yen Giao, Vietnam, is the most recent to attract reporters’ attention with disturbingly long fingernails. A March report, with cringe-inducing photos, failed to disclose their precise length, but Huyen said he has not clipped them since a 2013 report on VietnamNet revealed that each measured up to 19.7 inches. Huyen explained that his nail obsession started merely as a hobby and that he is not yet over it. (The Guinness Book record is not exactly within fingertip reach: 73.5 inches per nail, by Shridhar Chillal of India.)

– In February, a pet welfare organization complained of a raid on a home near Lockhart, Texas, that housed more than 400 animals (and, of course, reeked “overpowering(ly)” of urine). The inventory: 86 snakes, 56 guinea pigs, 28 dogs, 26 rabbits, 15 goats, 9 doves, 8 skunks, 7 pigs, 6 pigeons, 4 gerbils, 3 bearded dragons, 2 ducks and 1 tarantula – plus about 150 rats and mice (to feed the menagerie) and 20 other animals whose numbers did not fit the above lyric pattern.


– For more than a decade, an “editor” has been roaming the streets at night in Bristol, England, “correcting” violations of standard grammar, lately being described as “The Apostrophiser” since much of his work involves adjusting (or often obliterating) that punctuation mark. On April 3, the BBC at last portrayed the vigilante in action, in a “ride-along” documentary that featured him using the special marking and climbing tools that facilitate his work. His first mission, in 2003, involved a government sign “Monday’s to Friday’s” (“ridiculous,” he said), and he recalled an even more cloying store sign – “Amys Nail’s” – as “so loud and in your face.”

– A “locked” cellphone (tied to a particular carrier), though a nuisance to purchasers, is only a several-hundred-dollar nuisance. A more serious crisis arises, as News of the Weird noted in 2015, when farmers buy $500,000 combines that they believe they “own,” but then find that the John Deere company has “locked” the machines’ sophisticated software, preventing even small repairs or upgrades until a Deere service rep shows up to enter the secret password (and, of course, leaves a bill!). Deere’s business model has driven some farmers recently to a black market of fearless Ukrainian hackers (some of the same risky dark-net outlaws believed to pose online dangers), who help put the farmers back on track. Eight state legislatures are presently considering overriding Deere’s contract to create a “right to repair.”

– Paul Cobb (also known as Craig Cobb) continues to look for a tiny North Dakota town in which he (and, potentially, fellow white supremacists) can buy enough land to establish a Caucasian enclave. News of the Weird first noticed his work in 2013 when he was eyeing (unsuccessfully, it turned out) Leith (pop. 16) and Antler (pop. 28), but recently he purchased an old church in bustling Nome (pop. 61), likely renewing his quest. (His Leith plans ended badly after locals convinced him to prove his whiteness with a DNA test, which revealed him to be 14 percent “sub-Saharan African.”)

– For the 31st consecutive Easter in the Philippines, Ruben Enaje, 57, was among the throngs of devout Christians who slashed their own torsos bloody, then flogged themselves repeatedly as they marched through the streets to demonstrate homage to God. And dozens of men in San Pedro Cutud, Santa Lucia and other villages replicated the crucifixion of Jesus by having sterilized 4-inch nails driven into their own arms and legs. When News of the Weird first encountered the Philippine phenomenon in 1989, the crucifixions had built a 40-year history and still listed, as an official sponsor, the Philippines Department of Tourism (but no longer). (The Catholic Church, as usual, “banned” the extreme acts, to little effect.)

Entrepreneurial Spirit

– A San Francisco start-up recently introduced a countertop gadget to squeeze fruit and vegetables for you so that your hands don’t get sore. However, the Juicero (a) requires that the fruit and veggies be pre-sliced in precise sections conveniently available for purchase from the Juicero company, (b) has, for some reason, a Wi-Fi connection, and (c) sells for $399. (Bonus: Creator Jeff Dunn originally priced it at $699, but had to discount it after brutal shopper feedback. Double Bonus: Venture capitalists actually invested $120 million to develop the Juicero, anticipating frenzied consumer love.)

Great Art

– Russian artist Mariana Shumkova is certainly doing her part for oral hygiene, publicly unveiling her St. Petersburg statuette of a frightening, malformed head displaying actual extracted human teeth, misaligned and populating holes in the face that represent the mouth and eyes. She told Pravda in April that “only (something with) a strong emotional impact” would make people think about tooth care.

– Artist Lucy Gafford of Mobile, Alabama, has a flourishing audience of fans, reported in March, but lacking a formal “brick and mortar” gallery show, she must exhibit her estimated 400 pieces online only. Gafford, who has long hair, periodically flings loose, wet strands onto her shower wall and arranges them into designs, which she photographs and posts, at a rate of about one new creation a week since 2014.

Bright Ideas

– Though complete details were not available in news reports of the case, it is nonetheless clear that magistrates in Llandudno, Wales, had ordered several punishments in April for David Roberts, 50, including probation, a curfew, paying court costs, and, in the magistrates’ words, that Roberts attend a “thinking skills” course. Roberts had overreacted to a speeding motorcyclist on a footpath by later installing a chest-high, barbed-wire line across the path that almost slashed another cyclist. (A search did not turn up “thinking skills” courses in Wales – or in America, where they are certainly badly needed, even though successful classes of that type would surely make News of the Weird’s job harder.)

– Preschoolers at the Elves and Fairies Woodland Nursery in Edmondsham, England, rough it all day long outside, using tools, burning wood, and planting crops. Climbing ropes and rolling in the mud are also encouraged. Kids as young as age 2 grow and cook herbs and vegetables (incidentally absorbing “arithmetic” by measuring ingredients). In its most recent accreditation inspection, the nursery was judged “outstanding.”


A one-bedroom, rotting-wood bungalow (built in 1905) in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, Calif., sold in April for $755,000 ($260,000 over the asking price). (2) Business Week reported in April that Wins Finance Holdings (part of the Russell 2000 small-company index) has reported stock price fluctuations since its 2015 startup – of as much as 4,555 percent (and that no one knows why). (3) New Zealand officials reported in March that Apple had earned more than $4.2 billion ($2.88 billion in U.S. dollars) in sales last year, but according to the country’s rules, did not owe a penny in income tax.

Compelling Explanations

To protest a disorderly conduct charge in Sebastian, Fla., in March, Kristen Morrow, 37, and George Harris, 25 (who were so “active” under a blanket that bystanders complained), began screaming at a sheriff’s deputy – that Morrow is a “famous music talent” and that the couple are “with” the Illuminati. (The shadowy “Illuminati,” if it exists, reputedly forbids associates to acknowledge that it exists.) Morrow and Harris were arrested.

Leading Economic Indicators

– Legendary German Engineering: The state-of-the-art Berlin Brandenburg Airport, originally scheduled to open in 2012, has largely been “completed,” but ubiquitous malfunctions have moved the opening back to at least 2020. Among the problems: cabling wrongly laid out; escalators too short; 4,000 doors incorrectly numbered; a chief planner who turned out to be an impostor; complete failure of the “futuristic” fire safety system, e.g., no smoke exhaust and no working alarms (provoking a suggested alternative to just hire 800 low-paid staff to walk around the airport and watch for fires). The initial $2.2 billion price tag is now $6.5 billion (and counting).


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