Equal justice under the law might just depend simply on whether a judge’s stomach is growling when he pronounces sentence, according to a study of 1,000 parole decisions during 50 courtroom days observed by students from Columbia University and Israel’s Ben Gurion University for an April journal article. The students found that, day after day, judges were increasingly stingy with parole as a morning or afternoon session wore on, but that dramatic spikes in generosity took effect immediately following lunch or a snack break. The lead researcher, Columbia professor Jonathan Levav, expressed satisfaction with the scholarship but disappointment “as a citizen” with the findings.
From time to time, News of the Weird reminds readers that bizarre human adventures repeat themselves again and again. Here are some choice selections of previous themes recently recurring:
n “Man’s best friend” sometimes isn’t, as when a playful dog hops onto a gun on the ground, causing it to fire a round. John Daniels, 28, took a bullet in the knee from his dog, for example, in Raleigh, N.C., in January.
n Dogs betray in other ways, too. Motorist Joel Dobrin, 32, was pulled over in a traffic stop in February in Moro, Ore., and rushed to hide his alleged drug stash, which was in a sock. However, his dog intercepted the sock for an impromptu game of dog-tug-of-war in the car. Dobrin won but lost his grip, and the sock flew out the driver’s window, right in front of the officer. Dobrin was cited, and later indicted, for drug possession.
n At least three jihadist groups in recent years have published full-color Arabic magazines lauding the Islamist struggle, with articles and essays to recruit fighters and offer personal advice for women on the importance of raising proper families and catering to mujahedeens’ needs. The latest, Al-Shamikha (“The Majestic Woman”), which surfaced in March, featured interviews with martyrs’ wives and advised women to stay indoors, both for modesty and a “clear complexion” (advice that earned the magazine its nickname “Jihad Cosmo”).
n Prevailing medical authority 20 years ago warned that few humans could survive blood-alcohol readings above .40 (percent), but in recent years, drivers have rather easily survived higher numbers (curiously, many from Wisconsin, such as the man in February in Madison, Wis., with a .559). (In 2007, an Oregon driver was found unconscious, but survived, with a .72 reading.) The plethora of high numbers might indicate mistaken medical teaching, or nonstandard machine measurements -- or an evolutionary hardiness in American drinkers.
n Snowmobilers fall through thin ice every season because the ice’s thickness is difficult to estimate, especially at night. Less understandable is that every season, when other snowmobilers come to rescue the downed snowmobiler, they drive their vehicles as close as they can to the spot of the fall -- which, of course, is right at the lip of thin-ice-break, thus virtually assuring that their vehicle, too, will fall in, such as the four people who fell through the ice in a pond near Holyrood, Newfoundland, in February.
n Young girls “grow up” prematurely, often aided by hungry retailers such as the U.S.’s Abercrombie & Fitch and the British clothiers Primark and Matalan, each of which this spring began offering lines of padded bras for girls as young as 7 (8 at Abercrombie & Fitch for the “Ashley Push-Up Triangle”), with Matalan offering one in size “28aa.” Child advocates were predictably disgusted, with one Los Angeles psychologist opining that permissive mothers were trying to compensate through their daughters for their own lack of sexual appeal.
n In 2002 News of the Weird mentioned a theme park near Mexico City in which potential emigrants to the U.S. could test their survival skills in an obstacle course mimicking the rigors one would endure sneaking across the border. Recently, Owlchemy Labs, a Massachusetts technology company, announced plans to release an iPhone/iPad app, “Smuggle Truck,” a video game in which players compete to drive a pickup truck full of illegals over rocky terrain from Mexico into the U.S. without too many passengers bouncing out (and with in-game “additions” consisting of pregnant women giving birth enroute). Special “green cards” are awarded to winners. (Update: At presstime, Apple rejected the app, and Owlchemy said it would alter the game to one of animals escaping from a forest.)
n Chutzpah! Thieves usually pick out easy jobs, but occasionally they go bold -- for example, breaking into the prison at New Plymouth, New Zealand’s North Island, in March (carrying off a large TV set) or breaking into a police station in Uddingston, Scotland, in April (carrying off uniforms and radios).
n Local councils that govern life in the United Kingdom seem overly frightened of liability lawsuits -- even from criminals who might get hurt while committing crimes. London’s Daily Telegraph and the Surrey Mirror reported in February that police in the counties of Kent and Surrey had been advising homeowners and merchants to avoid using wire mesh on windows because burglars could seriously gouge themselves while climbing through. Also, electrical engineer David Bishop said police seemed especially concerned that burglars could be electrocuted if they broke into his workshop and thus advised him to post a warning sign outside that could be seen in the dark.
n Carelessness sometimes begets tragedy, as when motorists survive terrible accidents but then, while awaiting help, they are hit and killed by emergency vehicles. In December, near Ocala, Fla., a 39-year-old driver survived a rollover but was accidentally run over and killed by a responding Marion County sheriff’s deputy, and in April in Baldwin Park, Calif., an arriving ambulance fatally struck a 22-year-old accident victim who was, until that moment, not seriously hurt.
n In 2007, Australian Wayne Scullino, then 30, quit his job in Sydney and somehow convinced his wife they should sell their house and move to Wisconsin for the sole purpose of rooting for the Green Bay Packers, about which he had enjoyed an inexplicable fascination since age 15. Said Scullino, “At some point, you’ve got to ... start living the life you want to.” After one season, the Scullinos returned home, but in February 2011, he was of course back in the U.S., on hand in Dallas for the Packers’ victory in Super Bowl XLV. Scullino says his Australian friends are still bewildered. “I try to talk to them about it,” he said, “but they just don’t get it.” [ABC News-AP, 2-6-2011]
n In January 2010, shortly after News of the Weird’s report, the U.K. government admitted that the British-made “magic wand” bomb-detector its own Department of Trade and Industry was promoting for export to police in Mexico and the Philippines was useless (no better than a Ouija board). Earlier, several British firms had sold thousands to Iraqi police at dollar equivalents of $16,000 to $60,000 (from a manufacturing cost of about $20 each). Furthermore, according to City of London police, “hundreds” of Iraqis had died in Baghdad after suicide bombers were mistakenly allowed into secure areas after being “cleared” by the wands. In January 2011, BBC News reported that a new British company, Unival, featuring a respected retired Army colonel as spokesman, had resumed selling the wands, to Bulgarian police.