Government in Action
-“Consider all the ways we're taxed,” wrote Maryland's community Gazette in April — when we're born, die, earn income, spend it, own property, sell it, attend entertainment venues, operate vehicles and pass wealth along after death, among others. Maryland has now added a tax on rain. To reduce stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, the Environmental Protection Agency assessed the state $14.8 billion, which the state will collect starting in July by taxing “impervious surfaces” — any land area in its 10 largest counties that cannot directly absorb rainwater, such as roofs, driveways, patios and sidewalks.
-The Washington Post reported in April that the federal government is due to spend $890,000 this year to safeguard ... nothing. The amount is the total fees for maintaining more than 13,000 short-term bank accounts the government owns but which have no money in them and never again will. Closing the accounts is easier said than done, according to the watchdog Citizens Against Government Waste, because the accounts each housed separate government grants, and Congress has required that, before the accounts are closed, the grants must be formally audited — something bureaucrats are rarely motivated to do, at least within the 180 days set by law (though there is no penalty for missing the deadline).
-It's good to be the county administrator of Alameda County, Calif. (on San Francisco Bay, south of Oakland). The San Francisco Chronicle revealed in March that somehow, Susan Muranishi negotiated a contract that pays her $301,000 a year, plus “equity pay” of $24,000 a year so that she makes at least 10 percent more than the next highest paid official, plus “longevity” pay of $54,000 a year, plus a car allowance — and that she will be paid that total amount per year as her pension for life (in addition to a private pension of $46,000 a year that the county purchased for her).
-The Way Washington Works: (1) Congress established a National Helium Reserve in 1925 in the era of “zeppelin” balloons, but most consider it no longer useful (most, that is, ranging from President Reagan to the Democratic congressman who in 1996 called it one program that, if we cannot undo it, “we cannot undo anything”). The House of Representatives recently voted 394-1 to continue funding it because of “fears” of a shortage that might affect MRI machines and, of course, party balloons. (2) In rare (these days) bipartisan action, congressional military “experts” of both parties are about to force the Army to continue building Abrams tanks — when the Army said it doesn't want them and can't use them. The tank manufacturers, of course, have convinced Congress that it needs the contracts, no matter what the Army says (according to an April Associated Press analysis).
-The Jewish Museum in Berlin is currently staging what has become popularly known as the “Jew in the Box” exhibit to teach visitors about Judaism — simply featuring one knowledgeable Jewish person who sits in a chair in a glass box for two hours a day and answers questions from the curious. Both supporters (“We Germans have many insecurities when it comes to Jews”) and critics (“Why don't they give him a banana and a glass of water (and) turn up the heat?”) are plentiful.
-The weather in Hong Kong on April 25 wreaked havoc on American artist Paul McCarthy's outdoor, 50-foot-tall piece of “inflatable art” in the West Kowloon Cultural District. “Complex Pile” (a model of an arrangement of excrement) got punctured, which mostly pleased McCarthy's critics since his recent work, reported the South China Morning Post, has often centered around bodily functions.
-News of the Weird has reported several times on the astonishing control that inmates have at certain prisons in Latin American countries, with drug cartel leaders often enjoying lives nearly as pleasurable as their lives on the outside. However, according to an April federal indictment, similar problems have plagued the City Detention Center in Baltimore, where members of the “Black Guerrilla Family” operated with impunity. Between 2010 and 2012, corruption was such that 13 female guards have now been charged, including four women who bore the children of the gang's imprisoned leader, Tavon White. Cellphones, drugs and Grey Goose vodka were among the smuggled-in contraband, and the indictment charges that murders were ordered from inside. (Baltimore City Paper had reported 14 stories in 2009 and 2010 on the gang-related corruption at the center, but apparently state and federal officials had failed to be alarmed.)
-Frequent Flyers: (1) Chicago police have arrested Ms. Shermain Miles, 51, at least 396 times since 1978, under 83 different aliases, for crimes ranging from theft (92 times) to prostitution and robbery. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, she is a virtuoso at playing “the system” to delay her proceedings and avoid jail time. (2) Alvin Cote, 59, passed away in February of poor health in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, following a “career” of 843 public-intoxication arrests.
-Somewhat Backwards DUI: Danielle Parker was hospitalized and awaiting DUI charges after a crash near Gaston, N.C., in March, even though she had been in the passenger seat of the car. She had handled the wheel momentarily because Brittany Reinhardt, 19, in the driver's seat, was busy texting. (Reinhardt, apparently sober, was charged with “aiding and abetting” a DUI.)
The Weirdo-American Community
The biggest news out of Newtown, Conn., recently — not involving the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School — came when local environmental officials announced on April 29 that they were investigating the finding of “200 to 300 one-gallon plastic jugs” filled with urine in a home “in a state of disrepair.” No charges were filed against the homeowner, but officials sought to assure neighbors and users of the property that no health hazard was present. (The average person, reported the Connecticut Post, produces about six cups of urine a day.)
Strange Old World
Mr. Datta Phuge perhaps overly personifies India's national obsession with the beauty of gold. For special occasions, he outfits his “knuckles, neck and wrists” with golden “signet rings, chunky bracelets and a medallion,” wrote BBC News in April after Phuge had also purchased a crinkly gold tailored shirt made for him for about $250,000. The 7-pound shirt (from Rankar Jewellers in the city of Pune) has a velvet lining to keep it from irritating his skin, and he must, of course, always travel with a bodyguard.
(1) Stan Worby, 39, made headlines internationally in February when, dressed as Batman, he hauled fugitive Daniel Frayne, 27, into a Bradford, England, police station. It turns out he was just helping his friend Daniel turn himself in (on an outstanding arrest warrant). In a separate incident in April, the two “friends” were arrested together and charged with burglarizing a garage in Bradford. (2) In a confessional in the April GQ magazine, the sportswriter Buzz Bissinger (creator of TV's “Friday Night Lights”) admitted that his later-in-life fame had enabled a narcissism that caused him to impulsively buy 81 leather jackets in a three-year period, plus 75 pairs of boots, 41 pairs of leather pants, 32 pairs of upscale jeans, 10 evening jackets and 115 pairs of leather gloves, among other extravagances and aberrations.
Thanks This Week to Hal Dunham, Thomas Wyman, David Henshaw, and Thomas Goodey, and to the News of the Weird Senior Advisors (Jenny T. Beatty, Paul Di Filippo, Ginger Katz, Joe Littrell, Matt Mirapaul, Paul Music, Karl Olson, and Jim Sweeney) and Board of Editorial Advisors (Tom Barker, Paul Blumstein, Harry Farkas, Sam Gaines, Herb Jue, Emory Kimbrough, Scott Langill, Steve Miller, Christopher Nalty, Mark Neunder, Bob Pert, Larry Ellis Reed, Rob Snyder, Stephen Taylor, Bruce Townley, and Jerry Whittle).