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The Top Ten Most Bizarre Stories of 2018

by Kitty Testa

If you look back at all the news of 2018, it seems as if everything centered around Trump’s tweets and Russia! Russia! Russia! The news cycles spun so fast that it was hard to remember what happened the week before. We moved from one hysteria to another as the never-Trumpers kept warning that the president would be arrested or impeached or would resign at any moment. Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti dominated for much of the year, but things really got crazy with the Brett Kavanaugh SCOTUS hearings. We had a parade of accusers, a chorus of Handmaids, legions of defenders, and finally a vote.

While we watched the partisan divide in the US grow deeper and more visceral in 2018, we also saw peace breaking out between North and South Korea. We last bombed Syria on April 14, and it looks like that may be the last time. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi unexpectedly led to an acknowledgement of U.S. assistance in the war in Yemen, and a Senate vote to end it this month.

Trump launched a trade war. We argued about The Wall. We had mid-term elections and recounts that lasted weeks. “Deep State” became a common way to refer to hidden, powerful forces within the government that answer to no one. Many of us are a little more cynical and suspicious about our institutions after 2018. We have good reason to be.

When I started looking into compiling this list, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit. I could have filled this list with the war on colloquial language, social media purges, and SJW theatrics. Some of the stories I included were those even I had forgotten about until I started reviewing news stories from 2018. Some events were unexpected, some strange, some unprecedented, and some were just funny.

1. The Great Crypto Crash of 2018

Cryptocurrencies were all the rage in the second half of 2017. Everyone was getting in. By October 2017, cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, had more users than Charles Schwab. Coinbase added another 100,000 users in one day after the Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) announced that it would launch Bitcoin futures by the end of 2017.

Prices soared to almost $20,000 on December 17, 2017. It was crypto-euphoria with amateur investors rushing in for fear of missing out. But FOMO was quickly replaced by FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in early 2018. The first Bitcoin futures contract expired on January 16, at $10,900.

Despite the chorus of Bitcoiners, such as John McAfee and Max Keiser, touting a glorious rise to new heights in the price of Bitcoin, it couldn’t recover from a sideways trajectory and ultimately tanked. By year’s end it has lost 72% of its value in 2018.

A family from the Netherlands sold everything in 2017 and bought Bitcoin. Didi Taihuttu, his wife and three daughters, are now known as The Bitcoin Family. Despite the fall in the price of Bitcoin, they travel all over the world and report their experiences on their blog. The Taihuttus are now living a “minimalist stressless lifestyle.” It is a far cry from the Lamborghini dreams of many crypto investors.

I’m still a believer in Bitcoin. It offers people a chance to possess sound money and escape the control of the global financial system. And it’s on sale, at about $3,800 as of this writing.

 

2. Elon Musk sold 20,000 NOT A FLAMETHROWERs

Elon Musk has made a lot of headlines this year, and many could qualify as news of the odd and weird. I could almost devote an entire list to Musk’s 2018 antics.

After selling $600,000 in hats—yes, hats—with his Boring Company logo on them, he tweeted, “Hats sold out, flamethrowers soon!”

Many thought it was a joke. Then Boring Company sold 20,000 NOT A FLAMETHROWER flamethrowers in early 2018, raising $10 million.

But in the end, the $500 NOT A FLAMETHROWER was really not a flamethrower. It was sort of a blowtorch, really.

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You may be thinking that those who spent $500 on a blowtorch got, well, burned. But not so fast. The Boring Company’s NOT A FLAMETHROWERs are now collector’s items and were selling between $3,000-$5,000 on eBay by mid-2018, making them a much better short-term investment than Bitcoin.

3. Elon Musk launched a Tesla Roadster into space with a dummy called Starman

On February 6, SpaceX launched a Falcon Heavy rocket with a test payload consisting of his own Tesla Roadster and a dummy in the driver’s seat. The payload was headed for Mars. It was the maiden voyage for the most powerful rocket on earth.

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Some called the Starman-in-a-Tesla event a publicity stunt, including the CEO of Boeing. One could excuse the executive for a little professional jealousy after watching the Falcon Heavy’s side rockets return to earth and land upright as if in a choreographed dance.

Some predicted that the car and its “driver” would be torn to bits within a year.  Yet, in November, nine months after launch, Starman and the Roadster passed Mars. They are expected to settle into an orbit around the red planet, which Musk hopes will one day be colonized by humans.

If you want to know where they are right now, you can visit https://www.whereisroadster.com/ .

4. Attempted Break-In (or Break-Out?) at the NSA

You may have forgotten about or never even heard this story because it happened the same day as the Parkland school shooting, February 14.

According to the National Security Agency, an unauthorized vehicle tried to enter the NSA campus in Fort Meade, MD just after 7:00 AM.

A National Security Agency police officer opened fire Wednesday morning on a vehicle at an entrance to the intelligence agency’s campus in Maryland, law enforcement sources told CBS News. Three people were injured when the SUV slammed into a security barrier.

A local news chopper was on the scene, and some familiar with the campus immediately noted that the crashed and bullet-riddled SUV was in fact headed for the exit, not trying to enter.

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The suspects were described only as men and not terrorists by the FBI.

And that’s all the media had to say about that. The Parkland shooting happened only a few hours later and dominated headlines for weeks afterward, launching yet another gun control debate and a few Parkland students to celebrity status.

But I still wonder, were the people in that black SUV breaking in or breaking out? And if they were breaking out, what did they have with them that required they be stopped with bullets?

The world may never know.

5. The FBI used Geek Squad employees as paid informants

Last March, we learned that the FBI had been using some of Best Buy’s computer techs to search private computers for child pornography.

 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to determine whether personal devices were being searched without a warrant.

While in many states reporting the discovery of child pornography on a personal computer is legally mandatory, if computer techs are actively searching personal computers on behalf of law enforcement, and getting paid to do so, this can easily be seen as a 4th amendment violation.

A key question is whether Best Buy employees “go fishing” in customers’ devices with the goal of helping the FBI.

While most everyone is sympathetic to the goal of eradicating child pornography, the potential of searches into personal computers is problematic. Such searches could be used to investigate personal finances, personal communication and political activism. Using computer techs in this way also invites the temptation of planting evidence, especially if techs are being paid by law enforcement.

6. Every Catholic bishop in Chile offered to resign over sex abuse scandal

In January, Pope Francis defended Chilean bishop Juan Barros, who was accused by victims of covering up sex abuse they suffered at the hands of a Chilean cleric. The cleric, Fernando Karadima, was convicted for sexual abuse by the Vatican in 2011. Francis dismissed the accusations against Barros as slander.

Four months later, after the Vatican investigators compiled 2,300 pages reporting that bishops in Chile covered up and protected pedophiles, all 34 of Chile’s bishops, including Barros, offered (or were asked to offer) their resignation to Pope Francis.

The Church’s sex abuse scandal has been global, but at no time in the past has an entire conference of bishops offered to step down.

In Pennsylvania, a grand jury report said that more than 300 priests sexually abused over 1,000 victims over a period of 70 years.

In Australia, Archbishop Philip Wilson was sentenced to home confinement for covering up abuse.

Sexual abuse of children is not confined to the Catholic Church, however. There were many horrifying stories in 2018, including Oxfam’s sexual exploitation in Haiti, and the story of Joel Davis, who, ironically, founded an organization called Youth to End Sexual Violence.  He was charged with attempting to arrange sexual encounters with victims as young as two years old.

2018 may well be remembered as the year that child sex abuse was finally publicly acknowledged as an ongoing problem to be addressed. It seems there’s much more of it going around than most of us had ever thought.

7. New York Supreme Court threw a 30-year-old out of his parents’ house

Last May, Michael Rotondo became the poster boy for Failure to Launch stories. According to his parents, he didn’t contribute to the household, he refused to do his chores, and his room was a mess. So they demanded that he leave.

Michael refused to move out of his parents’ house when they gave him an eviction letter. His parents took him to court. As it turns out, only a Supreme Court judge can evict a family member in New York, so Michael found himself facing the highest court in the state. Michael argued that he should be given a six-month notice for eviction, but Supreme Court Justice Donald Greenwood disagreed.

Michael was ordered to move out by June 1 by 12:00 noon, and did make the deadline with a couple of hours to spare. But in one final act of what might appear to be vengeance, Michael called the police. Why? He wanted to get some Legos in the attic that belonged to his son.

The moral of the story is this: if your parents are magnanimous enough to keep you at home in your adult years, get a job, contribute to the household, do your chores, and clean your room. Don’t be like Michael.

 

8. Airport maintenance guy steals plane, flies around, performs aerobatics, then crashes on tiny island after being chased by fighter jets

This, for me, was one of the strangest and inexplicable stories of 2018.

On August 10, Richard Russell, an employee of Horizon Air at SeaTac airport, stole a Q400 aircraft with no one else on board. He made an unauthorized take-off at 7:33 PM and started flying around the Seattle area. The 28-year-old had no pilot’s license and no formal training, but was somehow able to fly the plane. According to the FBI, Russell had made Internet searches for flight instruction videos.

Russell was in contact with air traffic control as he flew the plane.  Through much of the interactions with air traffic control, Russell sounds calm, casual and conversational, even joking that he didn’t need much help because he had played video games.

But Russell never offered a motive or any reason that he stole the plane. At times he seemed to regret what he’d done and made it clear he didn’t want to hurt anyone.

“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose I guess. Never really knew it, until now.”

During this time, two military F-15s were corralling Russell, while people on the ground watched his flight and observed him performing loop de loop maneuvers.

After more than an hour in the air, and having been offered several landing opportunities, Russell crashed the plane near Tacoma into Ketron Island, with an area of 221 acres and a population of 17. Russell died, but no one else was harmed.

 

9. Houston, we have a problem: a sex robot brothel

A lot of technology ideas have come from science fiction. Computers, cell phones, rockets, trips to Mars—all of these were ideas from science fiction that ignited the human imagination to bring them into reality.

It’s not exactly the pinnacle of human achievement, but the human-like sex robots from yesterday’s sci-fi movies have been a reality for a few years now. KinkySdollS, a Toronto-based robot brothel business, announced that it planned to open a site in Houston, TX.

Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, wasn’t a fan of the idea, and wanted to find a way to prevent the brothel from opening.

A change.org petition against robot brothels has garnered over 13,000 signatures.

Houston is the only major city with no zoning regulations, and isn’t fond of excessive regulation. But the sex robot brothel was a bridge too far for the city council. They updated a local ordinance to ban patrons from having sex with a device resembling a human at a business, thus banning the sex robot brothel.

This is a win for sex workers—even those who are operating illegally in Houston. Sex robots are a new competitor in the space, and sex workers themselves are arguing against the rise of the sexbot, calling them dehumanizing. The arguments that sex workers make against their AI rivals are reminiscent of traditional arguments against prostitution—that it reduces a woman’s value, interferes with true intimacy, and promotes a lack of empathy.

Leave it to 2018 to find something even those most libertine can disagree with.

10. Qanon and the Great Awakening

By far the most bizarre story of 2018 has been Qanon.

You may have heard of Qanon, otherwise known as Q. You may be following Q. You may be a true believer in Q. You may say it’s a psyop directed at idiots, or you may think it’s a vast, Trumpian conspiracy. I’m a neutral observer of this phenomenon. It’s so over the top that I can’t look away.

Qanon started on 4chan late in 2017. A group of people (Q), wrote their first post on the board on Oct 28, 2017 stating that Hillary Clinton would be arrested between 7:45 AM and 8:30 AM EST on Monday, October 30.

Well, that certainly didn’t seem to happen.

Subsequent posts referred to all manner of Deep State activities: Operation Mockingbird, George Soros, Military Intelligence vs. CIA, FBI and CIA, Google CEO Eric Schmidt taking trips to North Korea, Clintons, Rothschilds, Saudis—you name it. Qanon hinted that their group was military intelligence, and painted a picture of a cabal of Luciferian elites running the world, which had to be stopped. The phenomenon has all of the classic tropes of traditional literature—heroes and villains, virtue and vice, good and evil in an existential battle.

When I first read the posts I dismissed it as a LARP, but an interesting one. So I kept reading. One of the metaphors used is following the White Rabbit from Alice and Wonderland down the rabbit hole. The Matrix became a common metaphor, and Qanon followers talked about being “red-pilled.”

Q asked questions—a lot of questions—and inspired readers (4chan/8chan “autists”) to research the questions posed. Some of the questions were actually pretty good ones. Where does foreign aid money really go? What is the Senior Executive Service? How do people in Congress get so rich? There’s something strange about a government psyop encouraging citizens to investigate the government, and a lot of Qanon followers are learning things they might never have known otherwise.

Qanon asserts a direct connection to POTUS, and that they are working at his direction. In late June, Q challenged reporters and followers to ask POTUS directly if Qanon were real.

When a journalist asked Sarah Sanders about Qanon on August 1, she skirted the question. Maybe Sarah’s not in on it?

How many people are following Q? No one really knows. The phenomenon has garnered enough attention to evoke news stories in major publications. The New York Times has run numerous stories about Qanon. The Washington Post, Vox, NBC News, Newsweek and others have all written about Qanon, but only as a conspiracy theory, which Qanon uses to suggest that the movement is a threat to the cabal.

Many of the articles written (too many to link to – an Internet search for “Qanon” will show you plenty) ridicule those who believe that military intelligence is running a message board communicating directly to civilians, giving them “breadcrumbs” of inside information about world events. Fair enough, but these are the same media outlets that have been pushing the Russia collusion conspiracy in which deep, dark international connections used Internet trolls to subvert American democracy. They tell their viewers every day that Trump’s presidency is over, the tipping point is here, impeachment is nigh, Trump resignation coming soon! We will rid our country of the orange menace!

Personally, I don’t see much of a difference.

I, for one, am happy to see the end of 2018. It was a wild ride, but somehow I don’t think that 2019 is going to be any saner. Happy New Year!

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