Chuck Shepherd's News of The Weird
The leader of the devout Sunni jihadist group Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, making a rare, solemn appearance in July, wore a flashy silver wristwatch that various video analysts described as either a Rolex or an Omega Seafarer or a feature-laden Saudi Arabian-made timepiece that sells for only about $560. A week earlier, a Syrian anti-government rebel leader was shown in a video exhorting his troops from notes he had made in his Hello Kitty notebook. And a week after that, a shopkeeper in North Waziristan, lamenting the loss of business when local Taliban fighters abruptly left the area, told a BBC reporter that the jihadists obsessively bought Dove soap, Head & Shoulders shampoo, white underwear (“briefs or Y-fronts”), and “Secret Love” and “Blue Lady” perfumes.
The Continuing Crisis
■ The African hippopotamus is not found in South America—except for the estimated 50-some that, confusingly to natives, roam the Colombian countryside between Bogota and Medellin. The animals are the progeny of the four smuggled in 30 years ago by cocaine king Pablo Escobar, who generously established a grand, exotic zoo for his neighbors’ enjoyment after his drug business took off (and before he was gunned down in 1993). However, as BBC News reported in June, hippo meat is inedible, and without their African natural enemies, they breed with astonishing prolificness—thus creating a “time bomb” for Colombia.
■ Awesome Thievery: A former city official in Ridgewood, N.J., pleaded guilty in July to stealing nearly 2 million quarters collected from parking meters with no one noticing for two years. Under a plea deal, Thomas Rica will likely be spared jail provided he repays half of what he stole.
■ British lawyer Gary Stocker, 30, was headed to the top of the profession with an Oxford education and a six-figure salary—when he decided instead to become a circus’ human cannonball. He is now The Great Herrmann in Chaplin’s Circus under a 1,400-seat tent in the city of St. Albans. Stocker told the Daily Mail in May, “Being in a circus is what I was destined for” and that “Perhaps I only went to Oxford to please my mum.” Chaplin’s show tells the story of a failing circus revived by the invention of the first “human cannon.”
The New Normal
■ Since high-rise residents value their privacy, Lisa Pleiss of Seattle said she was frightened on June 22 when she saw a drone hovering outside her 26th-floor window: “You don’t expect to be walking around indecent in your apartment and then have this thing potentially recording you.” According to police, the drone was legal—helping a developer photograph Downtown Seattle—but would not have been if the camera had been pointed at Pleiss’ window. (Drones are becoming so widespread that, for instance, the University of South Florida library owns several, for student checkout on certain research projects.)
■ In June, as Elizabeth Neufeld, 85, was backing her car out of her driveway in Bel Air, Calif., it tipped on a curve and rolled onto its side. Elizabeth was not hurt, but was trapped inside while her husband, Benjamin, 87, got out on his own. As they awaited firefighters, she reportedly handed a cellphone to a passerby so that the Neufelds would have a “selfie” (which made the Internet, with Elizabeth having righted herself in the driver’s seat and Benjamin standing sheepishly alongside). (Dr. Elizabeth Neufeld, retired, is one of the world's most prominent genetics researchers, having won numerous awards during stints at the National Institutes of Health, University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA.)
Bill Hillmann, 32, expert on Spain's bull-running events and author of a chapter in How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona (the most famous festival), was hospitalized in July after being gored during the run, with the horn passing through one thigh, missing his femoral artery by a centimeter. He told the Chicago Tribune from his hospital bed that he would be back for the next one.
© 2014 CHUCK SHEPHERD