Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008

Look, Ma: I Can Fly!

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In July, a parachutist taking part in an Army ceremony at Fort Riley, Kan., was blown 50 yards off course and crashed into the band, injuring three musicians and destroying two tubas. And in August, as Duke University’s football team was preparing for the kickoff against James Madison University in Durham, N.C., two men parachuted into the stadium with the game ball. It was an impressive feat, but they were supposed to have delivered the game ball to a stadium 10 miles away in Chapel Hill, where the University of North Carolina was hosting McNeese State.

The Brinkle Nation
Donna and Joel Brinkle of Deltona, Fla., raised a family and held respectable jobs until the 1990s, when they declared themselves to be a sovereign nation and stopped paying taxes. After the county took their home, they began filing property liens against government officials who failed to recognize their independent authority. They once tried to buy a $700,000 house with a “money order” drawn on homemade currency. Even though the Brinkles’ game plan has failed at every turn—and Joel even did some jail time—the couple remains certain that some higher official will soon vindicate them, according to an October Orlando Sentinel report.

Least Competent Criminals
Not Ready for Prime Time: (1) What started as a “strong-arm” street robbery in Warren, Mich., in October, ended when the victim turned out to be stronger than the perp. When it was over, the victim had gotten his money back, plus $30 that belonged to the man who attempted the robbery, according to a police report in The Macomb Daily. (2) In October in Bristow, Va., as a woman stood near her car with the engine running, a stranger jumped in and started to drive off, even though the woman’s 6-year-old daughter was still in the car. The incident ended quickly, however, as the child kicked and pinched the man, and screamed until he bailed out and fled, according to a report on WRC-TV (Washington, D.C.).

News That Sounds Like a Joke
At the annual Grape Festival in Marino, Italy, it’s become tradition for white wine to cascade through the famous fountains in the center of town. During this year’s festivities in October, however, a plumbing error instead sent the wine flowing through the taps of about a dozen nearby homes.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit!
Street-begging has become so sophisticated that some Web sites and blogs offer tips and “market research” for panhandlers, according to the summer 2008 issue of City Journal. Current begging techniques suggest humor (e.g., “I won’t lie to you. I need a drink”) and specificity of amount (e.g., “I need 43 more cents for a cup of coffee”), which often produce larger donations.

Science on the Cutting Edge
British engineer Ken Walters had already been living with severe pain and depression following a car accident when, in 2005, he suffered a stroke. After a lengthy recovery, however, Walters discovered that he had a new-found gift for art. After drawing some sketches to demonstrate his new ability, he was hired by the giant Electronic Arts company and is now flourishing, according to an August Daily Mail story. His doctors said that the brain typically rewires itself for protection after an injury and that previously untapped consciousness can emerge.

Leading Economic Indicators
At Ada Barak’s spa in northern Israel, patrons can pay for a session in which large and small snakes crawl over their bodies, massaging and even nibbling them. The treatment costs about $80, but it’s “deep and peaceful,” wrote a Time magazine reporter in October.

People Who Need to Control Themselves
(1) In August in Northern Territory, Australia, motorist Brendon Erhardt, 39, was arrested for abusing both the speed limit and himself. Allegedly, Erhardt used a camera on the front seat to record a lewd act while driving. (2) In September, Chiu Yu-kit, a reporter for Hong Kong’s Asia Television, resigned after admitting to a judge that he was indeed masturbating while standing atop a downtown double-decker bus.

Recurring Themes
Recent Heroic Dogs: (1) A German shepherd named Buddy, who was trained to dial 911 on a special phone, came through in the clutch in September when owner Joe Stalnaker of Scottsdale, Ariz., had a seizure. Stalnaker said it was the third time Buddy had saved him. (2) Cash, also a German shepherd, remained at the side of his 25-year-old owner for six weeks after the man committed suicide in the Colorado prairie, until the body was found in August. Cash apparently strayed from the body only to catch mice and rabbits for food.

2008 Chuck Shepherd