Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008

Nativity Relief

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For three centuries, the Nativity scenes in Spain’s Catalonia region have not only featured Mary and the Three Wise Men, but also the “caganer,” who is portrayed with pants down while answering a call of nature (and often so hidden in the scene as to popularize a game in which children try to be the first to spot it). The origin of the caganer (or “pooper”) is unclear, but some regard it as a symbol of equality, in that everyone has bowel movements. Catalonia is now home to a number of artists who craft statuettes of religious figures poised to relieve themselves, and the franchise has extended to similar renditions of sports figures and celebrities (including a squatting President George Bush). One family in Girona province sells about 25,000 figurines a year, according to a November dispatch in Germany’s Der Spiegel.

People Different From Us

In November, Larry and Diana Moyer headed out from Beaver Dam, Wis., in their oversized RV to spend some warm days in St. Petersburg, Fla. Since they travel with their pets, Jack (a “service” kangaroo for Diana) and Edward (an elderly goat that uses a cart for mobility because of front-leg paralysis), and some states have restrictions on “exotic” animals, their route south was circuitous. In fact, the RV broke down three times. In Florida, Larry had a minor stroke and was hospitalized for two days. Then, a fuse box short-circuited and set the RV on fire, torching their money and identification. Diana was hospitalized for smoke inhalation. With help from the Red Cross, they found a motel that accepted goats (but not kangaroos, so the animals went overnight to a wildlife facility). At press time, according to a Tampa Tribune report, the couple had bought a junk car and was headed home, with Jack curled up in Diana’s lap.

Leading Economic Indicators

Budget Relief for the California Government: Steven Butcher, 50, was convicted of starting fires in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara in 2002 and 2006 (the 2006 fire burned more than 162,000 acres). In November, he was sentenced to nearly four years in prison. When Butcher gets out, he has to start working on the other part of his sentence: He was ordered to pay the state for the cost of the fires, in the amount of $101 million.

When the Poway Unified School District near San Diego cut teachers' printing budgets this year, some instructors had to dip into their own pockets to keep their students supplied. In September, calculus teacher Tom Farber decided to sell ad space on the first page of his exams, at $10 for a quiz and up to $30 on the semester final. As of November, he told the San Diego Union-Tribune, only parent-sponsored inspirational messages have been bought, but he said he would welcome ads from certain retailers.

Economic Stimulus: A British surgeon will spend an estimated 250,000 pounds ($370,000) to equip her luxury home in Gloucestershire with a state-of-the-art, three-room suite for her two Great Danes. The suite includes cameras so that she can monitor them via the Internet while she is away. Instead of an ordinary dog door, a retina scanner will control entry, and rather than rely on human stewards, the big darlings will be dispensed filtered water and dry food automatically in self-cleaning bowls. A temperature-regulated saline spa is available for relaxing dips before turning in for the night on sheepskin-lined dog beds.

Least Competent Criminals

Robert Garrett, 33, and Jesse Dyer, 32, were arrested in Lincoln, Neb., in November and charged with burglary and the theft of a 55-inch TV, which they had taken to their car, only to realize that it wouldn't fit. When a next-door neighbor spotted them, they tried to bribe her by offering $100 to hold the TV until they could return with a bigger car, but she called the police.

In November, Joseph Barton, 62, and an associate were arrested in Hurley, N.Y., and charged with growing and distributing marijuana in a scheme of "epic scope and sophistication," according to a Middletown Times Herald-Record report. In addition to seizing 45 pounds of marijuana, officials found Barton’s self-made biographical DVD, which allegedly chronicles his business acumen and adventures in dealing drugs.

Recurring Themes

More people who put their brains on “standby” while using satellite navigation systems: (1) In July, a group of 10 children and 16 adults from California were stranded in their cars in the Utah wilderness because they mistakenly followed a navigation system there. Rescuers were able to talk them back the next day on their cell phones. (2) Also in July, a truck driver hauling a 32-ton load from Turkey wanted to navigate through several European countries to Gibraltar in the southern tip of Spain. Instead, he missed his destination by about 1,600 miles, winding up at a dead end in Skegness, England. (Both places have a “Coral Road,” which was the destination, but the driver followed the navigation system to the wrong one.)

2008 Chuck Shepherd


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