As the saying goes, "variety is the spice of life."

This week I bring you a variety of oddities from around the world, courtesy of the Associated Press and accompanied by my highly clever and intuitive commentary.

And if you believe that last part, I've got a bridge to sell you ...

Rome's mangy Christmas tree to be carved up into souvenirs

ROME (AP) — Rome's pathetic Christmas tree, so droopy and dried out that residents nicknamed it "The Mangy One," will be carved up and turned into souvenirs and a lactation hut for mothers and babies, city officials said Tuesday.

In giving the downtrodden tree a new life, Rome's cabinet moved to close an embarrassing chapter in which the holiday decoration came to symbolize the city's degradation and dysfunction under its 5-Star mayor, Virginia Raggi, and the years of neglect and corruption before her.

Raggi insisted Tuesday that the tree ended up capturing the hearts of Romans and visitors alike, and that its future life would show Rome as a model of recycling.

But not even its removal went as planned. Workers on cranes started taking down ornaments Tuesday, only to put them back after getting word that a formal farewell ceremony was planned for Thursday.

The 70-foot-high tree, which was lit on Dec. 8, earned its moniker soon after it was hoisted up in the middle of Rome's main square, Piazza Venezia, and started dropping its needles at an unusually fast clip.

Raggi ordered an investigation into why the needles fell off so soon, given the tree was alive when it was selected and cost $57,000 to transport from South Tyrol, an Italian Alpine region, to the capital.

The "Spelacchio" saga was the latest headache for Raggi, who was recently indicted on charges she lied about a City Hall appointment. The trial is due to start in June. Raggi says she's innocent.

The case involves the appointment of Renato Marra as director of Rome's tourism department. Marra's brother, Raffaele Marra, headed City Hall's personnel office until his arrest in an unrelated corruption probe.

Raggi has said she alone decided on the tourism appointment, but text messages indicate Raffaele Marra had a hand in both it and the resulting salary increase for his brother.

On Tuesday, Raffaele Marra was indicted in the case for alleged abuse of office, Italy's ANSA news agency said.


I guess Rome hasn't heard of ceramic Christmas trees. The one I have is about 6 inches tall. It looks pretty when plugged in, with ornament-looking portions lighting up, and I didn't have to haul it in my truck or clean up the needles after Christmas was over.

In fact, I didn't even get it out this year. Even less work.

Yeah. It's still in the box. I'm all ready for next year.


Maine whale biologist says whale protected her from shark

BRUNSWICK, Maine (AP) — A marine biologist believes a humpback whale shielded her from a 15-foot tiger shark in the South Pacific.

Nan Hauser said she didn't understand the actions of the 25-ton whale that she met face-to-face in the Cook Islands. Then she saw the shark.

She's heard on a video telling the massive mammal, "I love you!"

The encounter took place in October, but Hauser didn't upload the video until Monday. It quickly spread via social media.

Hauser, president of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, tells the Portland Press Herald that whales are "altruistic" and often hide seals from predators, but she has never experienced or read about anything about a whale protecting a human. "If someone told me the story, I wouldn't believe it," she said.

The Brunswick resident said she was oblivious to the shark during the tense, 10-minute encounter. The whale started to nudge her, and appeared to push her with its head. The animal also appeared to shield her with its pectoral fin.

Her research companions turned off an underwater video drone, fearing she was going to be mauled to death.

But Hauser kept her video rolling.

She suffered some bruises and scratches from the encounter, but was otherwise unscathed. She said that after she swam back to her boat, the whale surfaced nearby as if to check on her.

While Hauser credits the whale for protecting her, she acknowledges she can't know what the whale was thinking.

James Sulikowski, a marine biologist and professor at the University of New England who has studied tiger sharks, said he's not convinced that the whale saved her life. "The shark could have just been hanging around," he said. "There's really no way of knowing the whale's motivation."


Just how do you test the motivation of a whale? Do they like hotdogs? Perhaps you could wave a piece of hotdog in front of them and see if they're motivated by that.

Reasons aside, the creature did a whale of a job staying between Hauser and all the sharp teeth of the shark. Who'd have thought?


Finally, here's one in the ever-popular "dumb crooks" category:

Bank theft suspect nabbed applying for police dispatch job

PHOENIX (AP) — A former Bank of America worker suspected of theft chose the wrong employer when applying for a police dispatch job.

The Cottonwood Police Department in central Arizona's Yavapai County says the case involving 32-year-old Alberto Lopez of Phoenix popped up in law enforcement records when he applied to be a dispatcher.

Police spokeswoman Sgt. Monica Kuhlt said Monday Lopez was suspected of stealing $5,000 from a Bank of America branch in Yavapai County between July and September 2016. He quit and moved to Phoenix and refused to cooperate, missing appointments and refusing to answer phone calls.

After Lopez applied for the dispatch position in December, officers had him come in for an interview last week and arrested him on a felony theft warrant.

He didn't get the job.


I guess Lopez needed a whale to protect him from the cops. At least the good guys won the day.

Have a good day, everyone, and remember: Life is short -- eat dessert first.

Penny Weaver is the associate publisher and editor of the JG-TC. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of the JG-TC. Contact her at or 217-238-6863, and follow her on Twitter @PennyWeaver.


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