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NEWS OF THE WEIRD

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Recurring themes — Among America’s most prolific “fathers” (in this case, perhaps better considered “egg-fertilizers”) are Nathaniel Smith, age 39, who claimed on TV’s Divorce Court in September that he is the father of 27, and the late Samuel Whitney, whose grown stepdaughter Lexie Woods learned that he claimed 54 before he died in July at age 87. Smith (known in Dayton, Ohio, as “Hustle Simmons”) insisted that he is a fine father (doesn’t smoke or drink, keeps contact with most of the kids, has “only” 21 child-support orders out), and besides, he told WHIO-TV, “I know of people who have even more than me.” (Among Whitney’s belongings, said Woods, were a “pile” of birth certificates and a stash of maximum-strength Viagra. “He was a likable man, a ladies’ man.”)

— In November, barely two weeks after a small plane carrying 10 skydivers left no survivors when it crashed on the way to an exhibition near Brussels, Belgium, nine skydivers were able to dive for safety when two planes headed for a tandem jump collided near Superior, Wis. News stories did not address how experienced skydivers escaped one plane but not the other.

— Some Americans still believe that stock market sales are typically made human-to-human, but the vast majority of buys and sells now are made automatically by computers, running pattern-detecting programs designed to execute millions of trades, in some cases, less than one second before rival computer programs attempt the same trades. In September, a Federal Reserve Board crisis involved, at most, seven milliseconds’ time. The Fed releases market-crucial news typically at exactly 2 p.m. Washington, D.C., time, tightly controlled, transmitted by designated news agents via fiber optic cable. On Sept. 18, somehow, traders in Chicago reportedly beat traders elsewhere to deal an estimated $600 million worth of assets — when theoretically, access to the Fed’s news should have been random. (In other words, the drive to shave milliseconds off the “speed of light” has become quite profitable.)

— Can’t possibly be true: Twice again, in November, men wrongfully convicted of major, chilling crimes, who were finally freed after serving long sentences, claimed upon release that they were — somehow — not bitter. Ryan Ferguson was released in Missouri after serving almost 10 years for a murder he surely knew nothing about (convicted because a prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence). Derrick Deacon was freed in New York after nearly 25 years — served because the eyewitness (who finally recanted) had identified Deacon out of fear of retaliation by the Jamaican gang member she actually saw.

— Dwarfs formerly could volunteer to be playfully treated in American nightclubs, but such venues now appear limited to Europe. (1) A club in the German coastal town of Cuxhaven might be in trouble following a September incident in which a 42-year-old dwarf accidentally fell off of a podium before engaging in the club’s contest, “Lilliputian Action,” in which customers chase an elusive dwarf. (2) London’s Hippodrome Casino has reportedly run a series of ads seeking dwarfs (maximum height: 4 feet, 9 inches) for a special crew of bouncers and door guards to be unveiled in December.

— Chuck Shepherd

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