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The Weird Week in Review

Fake Cop Pulls Over Real Cop

If you're going to impersonate a police officer, be careful who you confront! 20-year-old Israel Gomez used a siren and red flashing lights to pull over a car on Tuesday night in Hartford Connecticut. In that car was Lt. Ronald Bair, an off-duty officer with the Hartford police department. Bair called for backup, and Gomez was arrested, along with Esteban Cardona, who was in another vehicle. The two were charged with reckless driving, and Gomez is also charged with impersonating a police officer and improper use of flashing lights.

Horse Gets Head Stuck in Tree

Jason Harschbarger of Pullman, West Virginia was surprised to come across a horse with her head stuck in a tree. Gracie had put her head in the gap between two trunk sections and  become firmly wedged. Harschbarger, a neighbor of the horse's owner, used a chainsaw to carefully cut the tree around Gracie's neck. She suffered a few minor injuries but is now on the road to recovery.

Woman Jailed After Virtual Murder

An unnamed Japanese woman reacted in anger after her virtual husband divorced her in the interactive game "Maple Story". She reacted by killing him -not the player, but his online avatar. The player whose online persona was murdered complained to police, who arrested the woman on suspicion of hacking. She used information she got from the other player in order to destroy his avatar. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison.

Houseplant Has a Personal Blog

125bloggingplant.jpgMidori-san is a hoya kerrii, or sweetheart plant, that has its own personal blog. The plant lives in a cafe in Kamakura, Japan and has sensors attached to its leaves. The sensors send data abut the plant's physical state to a computer, which translates it into Japanese and posts it to the web. Information about weather conditions is also factored into the posts.
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"Today was a sunny day and I was able to sunbathe a lot"¦ I had quite a bit of fun today," it wrote on October 16 from its cafe in Kamakura, near Tokyo.

Woman Stalked by Man in Hearse

An Australian undertaker was sentenced this week for stalking a woman by following her in a hearse. 37-year-old Adam Lee followed Maureen Wyer through the streets of Sydney one night in December of 2004 while yelling and blowing the vehicle's horn. He was convicted of drunk driving, disobeying police orders, and driving in a menacing manner. Lee's attorney admitted that his client binge drinks on weekends.

Spider Eats Bird

125spidereatingbird.jpgA spider known as the Golden Orb Weaver was photographed in Atherton, Queensland, Australia eating a bird! The bird is a Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, which likely flew into the spider's web and could not free itself. The Golden Orb Weaver is known to grow larger than a human hand. Les Martin, the man who took the photographs stated that the bird was already dead when he snapped the pictures.

Naked Man Wedged in Chimney

Firefighters were called to the aid of a 22-year-old man stuck upside down in a chimney of a Tesco store in Wigan, England. He is being held on suspicion of burglary.

Police said that because the man was naked he was taken to hospital as a precaution but was treated and discharged before being arrested.

A GMP spokeswoman said: "It is believed some of his clothes came off as a result of him struggling to get out of the chimney."

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
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Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
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In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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The TSA's Top 10 Strangest Finds of 2017
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Airport security checkpoints are dull for everyone except Bob Burns, the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) witty social media lead. For the uninitiated, Burns—who’s also known as “Blogger Bob”—keeps track of the strange, hilarious, and dangerous things people try bringing on planes, and posts pictures of the more unusual items onto the organization's Instagram page. Among the many strange items Burns has encountered are countless knives and guns, a tiny dog trapped in a checked suitcase, a sandwich slicer, and even a life-size corpse prop from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Bob Burns, the TSA's social media lead
Courtesy of Bob Burns

To commemorate yet another year on the job filled with bizarre checkpoint finds, Burns recently created the video below. It highlights the top 10 weirdest TSA finds from 2017, which range from bladed metal knuckles Burns dubbed “Satan’s Pizza Cutter” to narcotics disguised as Christmas presents.

“We hate to tear open a perfectly wrapped gift, but as you can see from this [video], the contents of the gifts aren’t always sweaters, socks, and underwear,” Burns tells Mental Floss.

While making the video, Burns didn’t have pictures on hand of every single strange object he wanted to include. If so, he might have added a weaponized paint roller that was discovered inside a carry-on bag at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It “looks like something out of a Mad Max movie,” Burns says. “It’s as if Mad Max wanted to paint the Thunderdome with the blood of his victims. It’s a paint roller wrapped in sandpaper and wire with nails protruding.”

A weaponized paint roller discovered by the TSA in 2017
Courtesy of Bob Burns

Other items that weren't captured in Burns's video that piqued the social media guru’s interest included grenade-shaped salt and pepper shakers and a knife concealed inside a container of Dove men’s deodorant. “Now I get why [the label] reads ’48 hours of protection,'” Burns says.

A knife hidden inside a deodorant container, discovered by the TSA in 2017
Courtesy of Bob Burns

Watch the video below to view Burns’s entire top 10 list of unusual checkpoint finds, and when you're done, check out the TSA's Instagram for more of his signature hilarity.

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