Compelling Explanations

Chuck Shepherd Friday, November 18, 2016 Comments Off on Compelling Explanations
Compelling Explanations

— In September, Charles Lawrence III, 60, was sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted sexual assault despite his claim that it was just bad eyesight that caused the problem. He had arrived at a house in Fairfield, Conn., to have sex with a male he had met online. But the event turned out to be a “To Catch a Predator” sting. Lawrence, an accountant, claimed that, in text messages with the “boy,” he had seen “18” as his age, when, according to police evidence, the text read “13.” It turns out Lawrence knew “Predator” newsman Chris Hansen socially and commuted daily on the train with him, according to Lawrence’s lawyer.

— A 23-year-old woman on a bus in Istanbul, Turkey, was attacked by Abdullah Cakiroglu, 35, in September. He told police he had become “aroused” by her wearing shorts. Initially, he was not arrested, but after a protest on social media, police came to get him, but on a charge of “inciting,” not assault. He told police, “I lost myself” because she had “disregarded the values of our country,” and “my spiritual side took over, and I kicked her in the face.”

—British farmer Pip Simpson, who lost nearly 300 sheep to rustlers in recent years, recently sprayed his remaining herd of 800 sheep a bright luminous orange to make them less attractive to thieves.

Extreme Hobbies

John Weigel and Olaf Danielson are engaged in a frenzied battle of “extreme bird watching,” each hoping to close out 2016 as the new North American champ of the American Birding Assoc. A September Smithsonian piece had Weigel ahead, 763 to 759. Danielson is best known for doing much of his birding in the nude. The old one-year record for bird species sightings was 749. The association attributes the larger numbers this year to El Nino, which has disrupted food supplies and driven birds into unusual locations.

Fun With Pennies

Robert Napolitan, 34, was arrested in Taylor, Penn., and charged with theft of a drum containing 300,000 pennies from his employer, Pyne Freight Lines. That steel drum weighed several tons, but netted Napolitan only $3,000. By contrast, in New York City’s Diamond District in September, a brazen thief made off with a 5-gallon drum containing 86 pounds of gold flakes, valued at more than $1 million. He is still at large.

Bright Ideas

— According to a September report on, the “safety control” for a particular Volvo bus consists in progressively louder horn-honking that is intended to scare off pedestrians.

— Saudi Arabia switched to the 365-day Gregorian calendar on Oct. 2, in part to reduce government expenses. Bureaucrats had been using the Islamic lunar Hijri (354-day) calendar. They now must work a 3-percent longer year for the same salaries.

Latest Religious Messages

— In 2014, British entrepreneur Azad Chaiwala, 33, created the matchmaking service Second Wife — because, just as men have trouble finding that special person, some Mormons, Muslims and others have at least as much trouble finding that special additional person. Most clients, he said, are in the United States and the United Kingdom, though bigamy is illegal in both places. The service was so successful that Chaiwala inaugurated, which he adamantly defended as a moral alternative to adultery and one-night-stand services such as Tinder.

— Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared Oct. 13 Oilfield Prayer Day to cap a statewide initiative of mass prayers for improved performance of the state’s energy industry, which has been in the doldrums recently with the worldwide drop in oil prices. Though the initiative’s founders, and the associated Oil Patch Chaplains, were largely Baptist church leaders, the governor emphasized that all religions should be praying for a more prosperous industry.

Police Report

— Longtime criminal Darren Clinton, 48, was in the process of burglarizing a hotel room in Minneapolis when an occupant returned. Clinton escaped briefly. But the occupant summoned his nearby roommates — members of the visiting University of Arizona men’s cross-country team. After a chase that involved jumping several barriers, the runners steered a severely winded Clinton into the arms of a state trooper.

— Kerry Johnson, 52, was arrested in Charleston, W.V., and charged with robbing a City National Bank branch. Police said Johnson had been gambling at the Mardi Gras Casino in nearby Nitro when he ran out of money at the blackjack table. He left a $25 chip to preserve his spot, excused himself, went to the bank, and came back with more money.

A News of the Weird Classic

Gary Medrow, 68, has periodically surfaced in News of the Weird since 1991 for his unique behavior of using a false identity to persuade Milwaukee-area strangers over the phone to lift other strangers off the ground. It’s behavior for which he has occasionally been jailed and been ordered to get psychiatric care. After a period of calm, Medrow slipped in November, 2012, and was charged with impersonating a photojournalist in order to convince two Cedarburg, Wisc., High School students to hoist each other on their shoulders. At an earlier hearing, Medrow said his “addiction” to making people lift each other helps him relieve tension and anxiety.

Pot For Pets

A new customer base for marijuana — pets — was highlighted in an October New York Times report. Dogs and cats are struck with maladies similar to those that human beings report in cannabis success stories: seizures, inflammation, anxiety, arthritis and other pain. The high-producing THC element cannot be used because it is notoriously toxic to dogs. But other elements in the drug seem to work well not only for dogs and cats but, according to anecdotal evidence, pigs, horses and domesticated wild animals.

Government In Action

Kevin and Tammy Jones opened their guns-and-coffee store in an old bank building in Hamilton, Va., in August. Their Bullets and Beans shop has had a harder time pleasing government regulators about the coffee than about the firearms. Kevin told Washingtonian magazine that there were no problems in getting gun-shop and firearms-instruction permits from state and federal agencies. But several local government roadblocks delayed the coffee-sales permit — the property being zoned for “retail” but not food or drinks; the permission needed to open certain businesses near residences; and a coffee shop’s need to have adequate parking.

Cultural Diversity

In September, a court in Paris upheld France’s government ban on people smiling for their passport and identity photos. One official had challenged the required pose (“neutral,” “mouth closed”), lamenting that the French should be encouraged to smile to overcome the perpetual “national depression” that supposedly permeates the country’s psyche.

Too Much Time On Their Hands

In an October profile of tech developer and start-up savant Sam Altman, The New Yorker disclosed that “many people in Silicon Valley have become obsessed with the simulation hypothesis,” which proposes that “what we experience as reality” is some dark force’s computer simulation. “Two tech billionaires,” the magazine reported, are “secretly engaging scientists” to break us out of this alternative universe we might be trapped in. One prominent member of the tech elite remarked at a Vox Media conference in June on how the “simulation hypothesis” seems to dominate all conversation whenever the elites gather.

The War on Drugs 

— In September, police in Thurmont, Md., announced the culmination of a two-month-long undercover drug operation at a Burger King with two arrests and a seizure of five grams of marijuana and two morphine pills.

— On Sept. 21, as part of a six-target raid with military-type helicopters by the Massachusetts State Police and the National Guard, the criminal enterprise of Margaret Holcomb, 81, of Amherst, was halted. The police and National Guardsmen seized the one and only marijuana plant in her yard. She had planned to harvest it soon for relief of her arthritis and glaucoma.

The Passing Parade

— A massive, mile-long traffic jam on the Austrian A2 highway was caused by a huge flock of starlings crashing into cars and falling to the road. Ornithologists told reporters that the birds must have earlier feasted en masse on fermented berries and were navigating under the influence.

— In September, an unnamed woman was detained at the airport in Graz, Austria, because her suitcase held two plastic containers with her late husband’s intestines. She had come from Morocco seeking doctors’ opinions whether he had been poisoned. But doctors told local media they would have to examine the entire body to determine that. Police said no laws had been broken.

— Jeffrey Osella, 50, was arrested in August in Westerly, R.I., after allegedly firing corncobs at his neighbor’s house with a PVC potato gun. It was part of their long-running feud. When Osella answered the door, officers said he was shirtless, with corn kernels stuck to his chest.

— On Oct. 1, Michael Daum, 55, began his year in residence as the town hermit of Solothurn, Switzerland, having been chosen from among 22 applicants. The hermit will be required to maintain the town’s isolated hermitage, but also, paradoxically, be called on at times to engage with arriving tourists.

Eating Well on Death Row

— In September, 2012, condemned Ohio inmate Ronald Post, 53, asked a federal court to cancel his upcoming execution on the ground that, after almost 30 years of prison food, he was too fat to execute. At 480 pounds, “vein access” and other issues would cause his lethal injection to be “torturous,” he said. He won the sentence-commutation, but he died in prison in 2013.

— British murderer-sadist Graham Fisher, 39, is locked up in a high security hospital in Berkshire, England. But he, too, has been eating well (at about 325 pounds). In August, 2012, he was approved for gastric-band surgery paid for by Britain’s National Health Service at an estimated cost of $25,000.

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