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Editorial: Short takes on a flat April Fools joke, oily pennies and Amazon survival

Editorial: Short takes on a flat April Fools joke, oily pennies and Amazon survival

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Volkswagen hoaxes media with fake statement on name change

A worker completes an electric car ID.3 body at the assembly line on Feb. 25 during a press tour at the plant of the German manufacturer Volkswagen AG in Zwickau, eastern Germany.

(AP Photo/Jens Meyer, file)

'Voltswagen' joke is funny as a flat tire

Most folks seemed to get the joke back in 1996 when Taco Bell published full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers announcing the company had purchased the Liberty Bell and was officially renaming it “The Taco Liberty Bell.” The first reaction was outrage. But then the publication date — April Fools' Day — made clear that this was just a prank. A really funny prank, once people figured it out.

Volkswagen tried something similar this week, but the joke fizzled badly — mainly because the German company was two days premature with its prank announcing that it was renaming itself “Voltswagen” to reorient its U.S. division toward production of electric cars. Following the announcement by General Motors that it would switch to sole production of zero-emission, mainly electric vehicles by 2035, business reporters took the VW announcement seriously. They had to quickly retract and correct their stories when a VW spokesman declared it a premature April Fools' Day joke. The company’s stock price tumbled and prompted speculation that Securities and Exchange Commission punishment could follow.

Penny foolish

When a Georgia auto shop worker quit his job and demanded his final pay, his boss responded by having 500 pounds of greasy pennies dumped on the man’s driveway. Andreas Flaten quit his job as a manager at A OK Walker Luxury Autoworks in Peachtree City, Georgia, last November because of what he told interviewers was a “toxic” work environment.

That allegation seems to have been confirmed by his former boss’ reaction after Flaten badgered him for his final $915 paycheck. Flaten says the boss had someone dump the mound of some 91,500 pennies, which were covered in what appeared to be used motor oil.

Social media has erupted over the story, with some commenters suggesting people avoid doing business with the company. As one put it: “If he does that to his own people he’s probably not worth trusting with your car.”

According to a New York Times story on the stunt, it’s not illegal for a business to pay its employees or former employees in pennies or any other form they might choose.

'Vaccine passports' in culture-war crosshairs

The GOP is at it again, politicizing yet another piece of the pandemic puzzle. The Biden administration is working on developing a standardized coronavirus vaccine passport program. These vaccine passports would allow private businesses to decide who can access their business or services based on customers' vaccination status. A growing number of travel and entertainment businesses have said they will require proof of vaccination.

“We are not supporting doing any vaccine passports in the state of Florida,” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday. “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society.”

Biden administration officials have repeatedly said there will be no national vaccine mandate and no national database showing who in the country has been vaccinated. But businesses have a right to set their own safety rules, and individual citizens have a right to carry proof of their vaccination status in a world still nervous about who's safe and who isn't.

Some conservative pundits have begun a campaign to politicize vaccine passports, calling them freedom-limiting government overreach and even comparing proof-of-vaccination with Nazi policies to identify Jews. There was a time when Republicans supported private industry. Now their only priority seems to be opening new fronts in the culture war.

When no news is bad news

The blank front page of Kansas City's Northeast News one day last week wasn't a printing error. It was a dramatic message to readers about what awaits them if newspapers are allowed to die out. Like larger newspapers, the small neighborhood weekly (circulation 8,500) was struggling with the downturn in the industry even before the pandemic. Then came the coronavirus-related economic shutdowns, which caused businesses that had advertised in the paper to cut back.

The blank page was an eye-catching way to dramatize to readers what’s at stake if newspapers die out. “That’s the message we wanted to send: What happens if we’re gone?” publisher and co-owner Michael Bushnell told The Washington Post

The Post cited data showing that fully 25% of the nation’s newspapers have closed in the past 15 years, leaving at least 1,800 communities that had local news outlets in 2004 without them today.

Survivor: Amazon 

A Brazilian pilot survived after his small plane crashed in the Amazon jungle. But that was the easy part. Surviving more than a month lost in some of the world's most dense wilderness was the real challenge. As reported in The New York Times, Antonio Sena was transporting fuel in his small propeller plane when the engine cut out, and he was forced to land in the unbroken wild of the forest below. He got clear of the plane and its cargo — 160 gallons of diesel fuel — just before it exploded.

Thus began a 36-day odyssey, stumbling lost through the forest, looking out for jaguars, anacondas and poisonous insects, being harassed by gangs of spider monkeys that didn’t want his makeshift shelters in their territory. (The monkeys may have saved his life, though, by alerting him to a food source: a small, pink fruit that he knew was safe only because he saw them eating it.)

After five weeks and the loss of 55 pounds, he was rescued when he stumbled upon a group of Brazil-nut collectors.

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