The Exploding Whale and the explosion of weird news

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy called Oregon, the local Empire decided to used tons of explosives to blow up a whale on their beach. It did not go well. But it was a prophecy, foretelling the explosion of weird news we see today.

Why is the exploding whale footage such a harbinger of things to come?

Maybe I just like to use the words harbinger and prophecy in nearby sentences.

Maybe I’m a trained journalist who loves to collect, analyze and dissect weird news stories.

And maybe, just maybe, I have a theory that explains the whole glorious Florida Man-style mess.

A Grand Unified Theory of Weird News

First: Weird news is omnipresent.

You’ll find it on an Oregon beach, in the middle of Alaska or on every acre of this land I call Florida.

There are strange people and bizarre bits of mayhem anyplace you look.

While my wife was in law school, I worked in this small-town paper in a place you can’t pronounce.

And listen, you would not believe the amount of mayhem I witnessed and wrote about, and not because the little town was a war zone.

Massive floods, with houses floating down the river. At least two serial killers. Political scandals. A man who died when a mobile home fell on him as he installed it. A sniper who shot at me (and everybody in sight) until the county sheriff deputies rolled up in a tank.

Here’s a little taste: The killer beside you

But if you look, there are always crazy stories happening locally.

Second: Weird news is not related to the crime rate.

This seems counter-intuitive. Criminals and criminally idiotic people make up the majority of weird news. 

Take away petty crime and Florida Man stories would wither and die.

Yet the numbers are nuts, when you look at them. Crime is down and has been going down for years.

Things were actually wilder and crazier before today’s explosion of weird news. I mean, the late ’70s and early ’80s were Animal House.

You just didn’t know about every single thing that happens like you do today. Why is that?

Third: Weird news lives on the interwebs

Without the speed and reach of the Series of Tubes, you’d never hear about 99.9 percent of weird news.

Before, the only real way crazy news would spread was by newspapers, so feeding your need for Florida Man stories would require serious resources. Because your local paper would not devote a full page to random wire stories about crazytown happening far away.

There are entire sites devoted to the daily collection and curation of funny and bizarre stories. 

Fourth: Weird news is intensely visual

This is the most essential ingredient. As a writer, it’s hard to fully describe the insanity of what you see.

Photos help.

Video is better. There is no substitute.

This is why Russian dash cam footage goes so viral. It’s raw, it’s real and the cameras are on all the time, so they capture all kinds of crashes and cray-cray.

Fifth: Smart phones, smart phones and more smart phones

Now that everybody has iPhones or Samsungs in their pockets, weird news is constantly being not only captured, but shared with the world.

All day and night. Everywhere.

You don’t need to have a TV crew on site, or watch the broadcast at 11 p.m.

So get out there and keep your phone handy. Florida Man doesn’t just hang out in Florida–he’s everywhere you look.

Hot tub crime machine

No, I did not make up that headline. That’s the real deal, word for word.

Shockingly, this did not happen in Florida.

Let’s break it down, journalism-style.

WHO: A female inmate, 34 years old.

WHAT: An escape from custody while she was getting booked on a drug possession charge.

She was later found hiding in the hot tub of a senior center, still wearing her orange jumpsuit from the jail.

WHEN: December 19, 2018. It took police hours to find her after the escape.

WHERE: Waverly, Ohio.

WHY: That’s the mystery.

Hiding in a senior center could make sense. It’s not like the cops have to show up there every Friday night to break up bar fights. But to make that plan work, you’d have to change your clothes and pretend to be a visitor, or a janitor, that sort of thing. You don’t hang out in the hot tub, where you’ll (a) get spotted by all kinds of people who (b) maybe want to use that hot tub and (c) will definitely call the cops when they see your orange jail gear.

And for those who don’t get it, the headline is a great riff on the movie HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, brought to you by the same geniuses now doing COBRA KAI.

However, this story is only the latest entry into the proud historical record of Criminals Who Stink at Hiding.

Florida Man takes the top spot in my book, with a man running from the police late at night getting the bright idea that he’ll hide in a pond. True, the 5-0 didn’t find him. That’s only because an alligator did first.

There are hundreds of other stories of criminals hiding in stupid places: in a dumpster, a manure lagoon, the lion cage at a zoo–you name it, some idiot has done it.

So I salute you, Hot Tub Crime Machine Woman–you get an F for achieving your goal but an A+ for style.

Why the Hot Duck of Central Park went so viral

There’s nothing unusual about seeing a duck paddling around the ponds of Central Park–or any pond, lake or stream. But one duck has caught the attention of Gotham and the world.

Check out the video:

OK, that is one spectacular duck, and it’s nice to see a weird news story that doesn’t involve Darwin Award winners or Florida Man.

So why did this story spread so far and wide?

Amazing images drive coverage 

The shots are amazing. It’s far, far easier to get media coverage when the visuals rock–and a lot tougher when you have zero visuals.

TV stations live and die on good visuals. And this duck makes for great shots. 

Once you get TV coverage, that drives newspaper, radio and web stories, too.

Plus it’s a lot easier to share a story that has all kinds of videos on YouTube already, whether shot by an NYC station or amateurs using their iPhones.

Mysteries make people curious and give a story legs

Nobody knows how the Hot Duck got to Central Park in the first place. This species of duck isn’t native. It should be halfway around the world in Japan, where these ducks are common.

Was it a pet somebody let go or an escapee from a zoo?

How far could a duck fly, if it wanted to?

Another mystery happened when the Hot Duck disappeared. Did it get eaten, trapped, run over by a car or sucked into the engine of a Boeing 787? People care about this duck now, and they got worried.

Turns out the duck took a side trip. Maybe he went on vacation.

Then when he returned, that was a big happy story, too.

Unlikely animal friendships are always a good story

The Hot Duck has good manners, making friends with the local ducks and some of his biggest human fans.

If he was a loner, or a jerk, this story wouldn’t have legs. People would root for the evil show-off duck to beat it.

His good manners make you root for the Hot Duck, to hope he keeps on making friends and thriving.

It’s just a sweet little story that makes people smile. Kind of like red pandas, genetically engineered by mad scientists to be the most heart-melting animals ever.

P.S. If you’re interested, here are 21 facts about Mandarin Ducks.

Great food, beautiful beaches and giant man-eating reptiles

Technically, I live in a temperate rainforest, which is a fancy way of saying we get 100+ inches a year, which feeds our giant trees and keeps everything green. 

Costa Rica is home to some of the best tropical rainforests in the world. And since tourism is the country’s No. 1 business, they work hard to protect their forests, beaches and wildlife.

The wildlife is what really impressed me. We were lucky enough to have two naturalists show us around, and both of them could spot a rare bird, insect or monkey long before we did. Some of these shots (especially the ones of birds) are actually using my phone through a spotting scope, which is tricky. 

 

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As a kid, I loved monkeys and would spend hours at the monkey section of zoos in Germany, Holland, New York–wherever we lived. So for me, Costa Rica was amazing, because you couldn’t step outside without seeing monkeys: capuchins, squirrel monkeys and howlers.

The howlers make scary noises and are bigger than the others, and they don’t come close to people, but they’re not aggressive. Vegetarians with a bark far worse than their bite.

The capuchins are pretty common and aren’t afraid of people. You’re not supposed to feed them, though some people still do, but even if you follow the rules, the capuchins hang around waiting for people to (a) drop food or (b) leave fruit or other goodies unattended. Because they will jump in there and steal your fruit.

Squirrel monkeys were a special treat. They travel in packs of up to 90 members and the males try to impress the females by jumping insanely large distances between the trees. Like the capuchins, they aren’t afraid of people and would come down on lower branches to check us out. Not to beg or steal food, just to be curious. Beautiful little guys.

The crocodiles were intense–and you don’t swim in the rivers anywhere near where they are.

For folks thinking about traveling here, two things stand out: the food was amazing, regardless of what restaurant we visited. World rankings right now: Costa Rica, Greece then Japan, I kid you not.

The second thing is the level of service. Prices aren’t as insanely cheap as you’ll find elsewhere, but I’ve never seen such good service, top to bottom, from the naturalists on tours to the hotel staff to the bus drivers. Maybe it’s because tourism is their No. 1 industry and they make it a focus instead of an after-thought. Everything ran smoothly.

It’s a clean, safe country. 11/10 would recommend. 

Real geniuses dressing up as ninjas to rob gas stations

ninja

For some reason, criminal geniuses like to (a) dress up like ninjas when they (b) rob a gas station. There was a rash of trailer park ninjas robbing 7-Elevens in Florida, which is very on point for Florida.

Then a gas station robber in Utah used a Klingon sword, which is both bizarre and epic, since those things are ginormous and impossible to conceal. Even weirder: the clerk who got robbed knew the actual name of that Klingon sword-like object and told the cops how to spell it or whatever.

So what’s the hidden connection between gas stations and ninjas? Maybe the not-so-hidden fact that gas stations seems to decided they are ninja superstores, with a glass case full of $9 throwing stars, $16 nunchucks and ginormous fantasy knives with three blades or whatever. Maybe these criminal masterminds get the idea to rob the place at 2 a.m. when they’re in line at 6 p.m. to stock up on Mountain Dew, Cheeotos and insanely cheap weaponry.

Either way, this combination makes for a constant stream of weird news stories, a river that I promise you will never run dry. Because gas stations and retail stores get targeted so often, they all have cameras recording 24/7, which means there’s tons of footage.

P.S. The last clip might be my favorite. Though it’s cheating to dress like a ninja while using a gun, this dude dressed up like a NINJA TURTLE to rob a store. Can you top that? No. 

 

Why I believe Dr. Ford

Listen: today was an extraordinary day, with people around the world watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify.

This was clearly terrifying to her. Death threats have forced her family out of their home and into hiding.

Nobody willingly signs up for that, or to have their life put under the microscope.

Dr. Ford had nothing to gain and everything to lose.

The same is true with the second and third women who came forward. They aren’t hiding behind anonymous accusations. The media revealed their names and they’re paying a price for speaking out.

So I watched today. I listened to Dr. Ford.

And I believed her.

The floor plans, maps and Evil Twin theories from the hired prosecutor didn’t convince me at all. Just in terms of tone, Dr. Ford was extremely polite and calm. She never lashed out. Brett Kavanaugh was angry, shouty and out of control. Not the kind of temperament you want for a judge. He kept interrupting senators, especially the female ones, even turning around to ask them questions instead of answering the ones they posed.  

The contrast between the two couldn’t have been more stark.

This is bigger than politics. Don’t take my word for it–listen to Chris Wallace on FOX News.

From covering crime as a reporter, I know how few rapists and sexual assault cases actually lead to a police report, an arrest or a conviction. It’s insane and it needs to stop, because the damage is deep and lasting.

That’s why you saw so many photos today of people in colleges, offices, bars and airplanes watching the live feeds.   

This has unleashed a stream of people I know telling their story on Facebook or Twitter–for the first time–of why they didn’t report. Because they didn’t think anyone would believe them. Or they did report it, to their father, to a teacher, to the police, and it didn’t matter. 

I read stories from people in their twenties to women in their seventies. They didn’t remember every detail, like the exact date, but they remembered the assault and the face of their attacker.

And I know friends and family with stories that are still too raw and painful, that they still won’t share. 

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We can do better.

Weird news headline of the century: Don’t Mess With Nana–Grandma Mayor Shoots and Kills 580-pound Alligator to Avenge Death of Miniature Horse

texas grandma kills alligator avenging death of her miniature horse

This is the finest bit of weird news I’ve seen in forever, featuring a giant alligator, a missing miniature horse and other bizarre ingredients, all adding up to deliciously gonzo weird news.

Strangely, this story doesn’t happen in Florida, despite the monstrous alligator. 

And the woman who slayed the beast, Judy Cochran, is actually a great-grandmother and the new mayor of her town.

Here’s the setup: years after her miniature horse went missing three years ago. Prime suspect? This giant alligator.

Except you can only hunt alligators in a 20-day window in September, and this was a big, big beast.

So she called in a professional, who tried all sorts of baited hooks this Godzilla-thing ignored, including pork liver.

Here’s the first bit that gives me joy: The bait that actually worked was a “well-seasoned raccoon.”

Cochran was at work in city hall when the gator got hooked, so the pro had to keep the beast on the hook until she finished up the for the day, grabbed her rifle and avenged her miniature horse with a single shot.

The alligator won’t go to waste. It’s head and tail are headed to the taxidermist, while the hide will turn into boots and the meat will get eaten.

Not sure if you can barbeque gator or not. Guess we’ll find out.

 
 
 
 
 
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🚨GATOR ALERT🚨: The mayor of Livingston took down this 12-foot, 580-pound monster! 🐊(These pics are unbelievable!) #alligator #Livingston #bigteeth

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The world explained by TWO COWS

the world explained by two cows

If you went to university, like me, and studied the philosophers and the political science and such, you learned that people far, far smarter than us violently disagree on (a) how the world works, (b) how the world SHOULD work and (c) who should run the world.

However: I can boil down all the major approaches to these worldly questions simply by using two cows. No joke. Won’t even charge you $30k for tuition and $25 for room and board. I’ll do it for free, and for fun.

Here we go:

ANARCHY: You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price — or your neighbors steal your cows and kill you.

FEUDALISM: You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.

PURE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors decide who gets the milk.

NIHILISM: You have no cows. Who really cares, anyway? They’re just gonna die some day, and so are you. And nobody’s going to remember you. And even if they did, you’d still be dead. It’s all so pointless. You might as well be dead now.

COWS WITH GUNS: You are a cow, and humans want to turn you into hamburger. The only solution? A revolution.

DARWINISM: You have two cows. They develop opposable thumbs and milk you.

NORTH KOREAN COMMUNISM: We do not need cows. Those are the tools of the ruthless capitalist exploiters and rapists of the proletariat in the oppressed, feudal South. We will, in keeping with the principles of Juche, eat our own grass. Please do not pay attention to the mooing coming from the two large crates addressed to the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il.

DICTATORSHIP: You have two cows. The government takes both and drafts you into the army.

THE MATRIX: There is no cow.

poster for The Matrix
Spoiler: the first movie is perfect, while the two sequels put the S in Suck. Image via Wikipedia

REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors pick someone to tell you who gets the milk.

ROMANTICISM: You have two beautiful, majestic, elegant, bovine companions. You think about them daily.

PURE SOCIALISM: You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else’s cows. You have to take care of all of the cows. The government gives you as much milk as you need.

BRITISH DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. One of your cows has a small foot infection. The government orders you to burn both cows. All the cows in the surrounding area are also burned, roads and footpaths are closed and the media throws the country into a panic. You decide to protest about not being allowed to hunt foxes on public roadways.

PURE COMMUNISM: You have two cows. Your neighbors help you take care of them, and you all share the milk.

BERKELIAN ANALYSIS: You have two cows. You put your cows in a drawer and close it. Your two cows cease to exist.

RUSSIAN COMMUNISM: You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.

VEGANISM: You have two cows, and choose not to exploit them. Everyone is happy, especially the cows.

CANADIAN CAPITALISM: You have 2 cows. The government takes the milk and puts it in a bag. You get free health care.

YODAISM: Two cows you have, hmmm?

INDUSTRIALISM: You have two cows. You dissect them both and figure out how to build a milk-factory instead.

CONSERVATIVE CAPITALISM: The poor should give their cows to the rich so that the milk will trickle back down to the poor.

BIG BROTHERISM: You have two cows. Black is white. Eurasia is ungood. Eastasia is ungood. Oceania is plusgood. BB is doubleplus good. You have one cow.

SWISS CAPITALISM: You have 5000 cows, none of which belongs to you. You charge for storing them for others. If they give milk, you tell no one.

FREUDIAN ANALYSIS: You have two cows. You dream that they come to your bedroom at night, dressed in your mother’s clothes. On waking, you initially deny that this could mean anything. On further consideration, you move through phases of intellectualisation, displacement and projection, and finally determine that the cows represent a psychic compensation for the passive/aggressive treatment you received from your father during your adolescence. Also, you have a thing for mom.

RUSSIAN CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You drink some vodka and count them again — whoah, you have FIVE cows. The Russian Mafia shows up and takes however many cows you may or may not have.

GOVERNMENT COW-ER-UP: Cows never crash-landed in the New Mexico desert. In fact, cows never even existed. You never saw anything.

UTOPIAN LIBERTARIANISM: You have two cows. You sell one, buy a bull and grow a prosperous herd of cows.

HONG KONG CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt / equity swap with associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax deduction for keeping five cows. The milk rights of six cows are transferred via a Panamanian intermediary to a Cayman Islands company secretly owned by the majority shareholder, who sells the rights to all seven cows’ milk back to the listed company.

DARTH VADER: The two cows would be powerful allies. They will join us or die.

IDIOCRACY: You have two cows. One cow is stupid and breeds with other stupid cows, while the smart cow doesn’t try to mate. Eventually, you have lots of stupid cows.

NIGERIAN CAPITALISM: DEAR FRIEND, I AM SON OF FORMER NIGERIAN PRESIDENT SANI ABACHA. YOU WERE RECOMMENDED TO ME BY A COLLEAGUE. I HAVE A BUSINESS PROPOSITION FOR YOU. I HAVE TWO COWS…

PACIFISM: You have two cows. They stampede you.

CYNICAL LIBERTARIANISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull and grow a prosperous herd of cows that your neighbor steals. He may or may not shoot you first. But we don’t need a government or police — your survivors can always sue the evil neighbor for damages.

PROTECTIONISM: You have two cows. You can’t buy a bull from another country.

FRISBEETARIANISM: You have two cows. One of them flies up on the roof and gets stuck. You hope the government provides cow ladders.

SURREALISM: You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

The sleeper cells have awoken

Who wrote the anonymous oped in the Times?

Donald Trump and every other carbon-based lifeform who cares about politics is frantically trying to figure out which senior White House official wrote this oped in The New York Times.

So yes, staffers in the White House are actually texting each other “the sleeper cells have awoken” as they huddle behind closed doors and speculate on who it might be.

Now, I write serious things all day and do this silly blog for fun, and for free. So in normal times I’d post something about weird news, why the third act of the latest DC movie doesn’t work or dissect the first page of novel.

But times are not normal. This is an important moment in history, not just for American democracy and the rule of law, but around the world, as Putin and Russia wage a secret and sustained war against the foundations of democratic countries in Europe and elsewhere.

Let’s talk about how conventional wisdom on the oped is wrong.

1) Unmasking the author doesn’t help Trump one bit

Here’s the thing: solving that mystery won’t help Trump.

The author of this oped is taking a big risk to their job, and career, to warn America.

That warning went out. Unmasking the author doesn’t reverse time and unpublish the oped. We’ve all read it.

The dam broke and the damage is done.

2) Punishing the oped author won’t fix a thing, either

If the author gets revealed, sure, they’ll get fired–if they haven’t resigned already and revealed themselves.

Won’t matter.

The author may not have a future in Republican politics, at least for a few years.

If the author is a staffer and not a cabinet official or former elected official, their name recognition and status will increase exponentially.

No matter who they are, they won’t starve on the unemployment line.

Whoever wrote that oped can write their own ticket with publishers. They’ll be booked solid on every political show when they’re not getting magazine profiles and interviews with newspapers.

3) The incentives are now reversed

Sure, everybody in D.C. leaks to reporters. The normal incentive, though, is for seniors staffers at the White House and cabinet officials to be loyal to the president, or the presidency, until they leave office for a job with a lower profile and higher salary. To keep their nose clean.

That’s why most standard leaks are self-serving and minor.

This oped isn’t self-serving or minor. It’s the nuclear bomb of leaks.

The Trump White House already had reversed incentives in many ways. President Barack Obama cultivated a culture of no drama, as it’s toxic and unproductive if you can’t trust your colleagues and boss.

Trump treats the White House like his old reality show. He likes teasing that a staffer or cabinet official might get fired, and they know from history it may well happen by a random tweet. Just like in reality shows, contestants have to deceive and betray just to survive in this White House.

Now, the incentives are fully reversed from normal. Loyalty isn’t helpful anymore in any respect.

This oped, and the new book by the legendary Bob Woodward, create a new incentive to leak more about Trump and get on the right side of history.

Because they know it’s a train wreck. They see it every day and there’s a distinct feeling that we’ve turned a corner, and the end is near.

If they can’t be quiet and loyal to wait for one of those cushy jobs, the other option—the new incentive—is to beat other leakers at the game and hope the history books make you look like a hero instead of a complicit villain.

4) This will paralyze an already paranoid Trump

Running the most powerful country on the planet is the toughest job on the planet. It takes a team that trusts each other and believes in the boss.

After this oped and the Woodward book, it’s clear they don’t believe in the boss and can’t trust each other.

Anyone could be the mole. Half the staff apparently talked to Woodward.

If you think the White House was dysfunctional before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

5) It’s a race now

The hunt for the identity of the author won’t scare other staffers into not leaking.

It will embolden them.

They know they’re not alone. Woodward’s new book shows how many senior staffers agreed to sit down, with the tape running, to tell the truth.

They know the incentives have flipped, and that subverting a dangerous and dysfunctional White House from within makes them look patriotic instead of disloyal.

And they know the first person to go public—like the oped author—will get far more press and attention than the seventh or tenth.

Leaks to the press will accelerate and escalate.

Expect more anonymous opeds, document dumps and secret tapes.

This week was incredibly awful for Trump, with the Woodward book and NYT oped two mortal blows that will continue to bleed and bleed.

And things will only get worse from here, since no staffer fears getting fired from a sinking ship.

The different types of coffee, explained

As a proud coffee addict, I see the humor and the truth in this.

Coffee is the sturdy foundation of the food pyramid, the baron of beverages, the high lord of liquids.

Writing and coffee go together like chocolate and peanut butter, Sonny and Cher, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t write anything serious without a fresh cup of coffee. IT IS REQUIRED.

As to the common explanations for Italian coffee terms, I can see the value in translating Coffee Snob into English.

This isn’t wine. You don’t need to sniff the stuff in a decanter and talk about notes of pear and tobacco. Yes, bad coffee is terrible, and a sin against humanity. There is coffee I refuse to drink.

But good coffee should be celebrated and accessible to all, not just an exclusive few.

So: I raise my mug to the good people who work at this coffee shop and came up with this list. Thank you.