Chuck Shepherd's News Of The Weird
Is the signature smell of Texas A&M University more “Italian lemon, bergamot and iced pineapple” (that open into “a body of vivid florals, raw nutmeg and cinnamon”) or more “bat feces” and “chilifest stink”? The two commentaries were contrasted in a November Wall Street Journal report on the introduction of Masik Collegiate Fragrances’ Texas A&M cologne (one of 17 Masik college clients) at around $40 for a 1.7-ounce bottle. Louisiana State University’s scent conjures up, insisted one grad, the campus’s oak trees, but so far has pulled in only $5,500 for the school. (To a football rival of LSU, the school’s classic smell is less oak tree than “corn dog.”) The apparent gold standard of fan fragrance is New York Yankees cologne, which earned the team nearly $10 million in 2012.
- In November, barely two weeks after a small plane carrying 10 skydivers left no survivors when it crashed on the way to an exhibition near Brussels, Belgium, nine skydivers were able to dive for safety when two planes headed for a tandem jump collided near Superior, Wis. News stories did not address how experienced skydivers escaped one plane but not the other.
- Some Americans still believe that stock market sales are typically made human to human, but the vast majority of buys and sells now are made automatically by computers, running pattern-detecting programs designed to execute millions of trades, in some cases, less than one second before rival computer programs attempt the same trades. In September, a Federal Reserve Board crisis involved, at most, seven milliseconds’ time. The Fed releases market-crucial news typically at exactly 2 p.m. Washington, D.C., time, tightly controlled, transmitted by designated news agents via fiber-optic cable. On Sept. 18, somehow, traders in Chicago reportedly beat traders elsewhere to deal an estimated $600 million worth of assets—when theoretically, access to the Fed’s news should have been random. (In other words, the drive to shave milliseconds off the “speed of light” has become quite profitable.)
- In November, Michael Brown, 19, became the most recent person with poor decision-making skills forced to report to a police station (this, in College Station, Texas) in the middle of the night to ask that officers please remove the handcuffs he had been playing around with. (Following the officers’ mandatory records check, it was learned that Brown had an arrest warrant for criminal mischief, and following a mandatory search, that he also had two ounces of marijuana in his pocket.)
- Can’t Possibly Be True: Twice again, in November, men wrongfully convicted of major, chilling crimes, who were finally freed after serving long sentences, claimed upon release that they were—somehow—not bitter. Ryan Ferguson was released in Missouri after serving almost 10 years for a murder he surely knew nothing about (convicted because a prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence). Derrick Deacon was freed in New York after nearly 25 years—served because the eyewitness (who finally recanted) had identified Deacon out of fear of retaliation by the Jamaican gang member she actually saw.
A formal investigation into the strange death of British intelligence code-breaker Gareth Williams concluded in November with a police judgment that the death was an accident, despite the body's having been discovered inside a zippered and padlocked garment bag in an otherwise unused bathtub in his London apartment. An earlier inquest into the 2010 death had unsatisfactorily failed to rule out foul play, setting up the police examination, but two facts stood out, according to the officer in charge: The key to the padlock was found within easy reach of the bag, and, according to experts, even though no usable fingerprints or DNA was found in the apartment, it had not been “deep-cleaned” (as might be expected in a death with intel-op implications).
© 2013 CHUCK SHEPHERD