Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009

A Whiff of Injustice

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 William Dillon was released in November after 26 years in prison when a DNA test ruled him out as the murderer. He was the second Florida man recently freed by DNA after being positively identified at trial by a star police dog, Harass II, whose trainer John Preston had sworn could amazingly track scents through water and after months of site contamination. In June, the Innocence Project of Florida said as many as 60 other convicts might have been "identified" by Harass II. According to an Orlando Sentinel report, only one judge (who's now retired) thought to actually test Harass II's ability in a courtroom, and he wrote that the dog failed badly.

 Great Art!

  • "If I had portrayed Hitler in his underpants," explained Belgian artist Jan Bucquoy at the opening of his museum in July in Brussels, "there would not have been a war." Bucquoy has displayed, in glass cases, the drawers of prominent Belgians, but also exhibits "Warhol-type" drawings of underwear-clad celebrities as he imagines them (like Margaret Thatcher). As Bucquoy told Reuters: "If you are scared of someone, just imagine them in their underpants. The hierarchy will fall." Whose knickers does the artist most covet? France's First Lady Carla Bruni's would be nice, he said, but, even better, the pope's. 

  • Another Belgian artist, Jacques Charlier, was rejected by the judges of the Venice Biennale gala when he submitted his poster-sized sketches of other artists' genitals idiosyncratically drawn to suggest whose belong to whom. For example, Charlier's representation of the artist Christo (famous for "wrapping" in cloth panels and ribbons such locations as New York City's Central Park) depicts genitals wrapped up to resemble a parcel. The artists are not named, and guessing their identities from the sketches is part of the show, with prizes for guests who can name 20 of the 100 pieces.

  • The British Broadcasting Corp. announced in May that it would "revive an art form" by dispatching a poet to the front lines in Afghanistan to embed with UK troops. BBC selected prominent poet Simon Armitage to mark "a new era in war poetry for the 21st century."

 Urban Legend Comes to Life

 In a decades-old American urban legend, cynical cops use a photocopier “connected” by a crude wire to the suspect, and a sheet of “He's Lying” paper in the output tray, as a “lie detector” test. But in July, the Tel Aviv, Israel, Police Department used a "memory machine" to change the mind of a murder suspect who swore he could not remember anything about the night of the crime. Hooked up to an “electrocardiogram machine,” the perp was “informed” that certain squiggles on the paper proved that he did indeed remember and must be hiding details. Andrei Polokhin, 47, then confessed and was charged with fatally stabbing his neighbor.

 Recurring Themes

 News of the Weird’s favorite animal was called "heroic" by Argentine researchers in a July issue of the journal Paleontology. Had it not been for high-performance South American scarab dung beetles, they wrote, gargantuan prehistoric mammals would have choked vast areas of the continent knee-deep in manure. The researchers found that, by burying tennis-ball-sized "food supplies" for their young, the beetles also improved surface sanitation by leaving less dung available for "disease-carrying flies." 

 The New District of Calamity

 For years, News of the Weird has touted the magnificently dysfunctional municipal government of Washington, D.C., as the "District of Calamity," but improvements have been made, and the nation's capital has been overtaken by the disaster that is Detroit. (1) A Detroit News investigation revealed in June that the police department has routinely downgraded obvious "murder" cases, to make the city seem less unsafe. (2) A Detroit Public Schools auditor reported in June that the system has been issuing regular paychecks to 257 nonexistent employees. (3) City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, the wife of a U.S. congressman, pleaded guilty in June to accepting a cash bribe for a council vote. (4) A May Detroit Free Press survey revealed that the population of three large Detroit jails has mysteriously declined, which it suggested was because police have simply stopped investigating certain crimes.

c. 2009 Chuck Shepherd

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