News of the Weird

Week of December 21, 1997

-- Allegheny High School in Clifton Forge, Va. (which is 17 percent black), suspended two boys and a girl (all white) who wore Ku Klux Klan outfits to school as their Halloween-day costumes this year. However, in Saybrook, Ill., the Lions Club awarded its prize for best schoolkid Halloween costume to Virginia Payne, 14, for her KKK costume, which contained the slogans "White Power" and "Kill Them All." (The Lions later apologized, and Virginia said her costume was an antiracism statement, in that she had a teardrop painted on her cheek.)

-- Tax Protests: Voters of Castlewood, Va., fed up with a local tax increase, voted 749-622 in November to disband the town and return $88,000 in taxes to residents. And in October in Phoenix, Larry Naman was bound over for a psychiatric hearing after he shot and wounded County Supervisor Mary Wilcox, allegedly because she supported a tax to build a new ballpark.

-- In November, Mayor Elcio Berti of the southern Brazilian town of Bocaiuva do Sul banned the sale of condoms and birth-control pills, for the sole purpose, he said, of increasing the population so the town would qualify for more government-funded programs.

CULTURAL DIVERSITY

-- From an interview by a Russian weekly magazine in September with the chairman of Chechnya's Islamic Supreme Court, as reported in The Economist: Interviewer: "(Chechnya's president) has said that touching a woman is, for Chechens, the worst crime of all. Even when doing traditional dancing, the Chechen male must not touch his female partner. But under sharia (Muslim) law, (as punishment) you beat young girls and cut their hair off." Supreme Court chairman: "We don't beat them with our bare hands. We use sticks."

-- In October, on the tourist-haven island of Phuket, Thailand, the puzzlingly named Vegetarian Festival is held each year as the scene of spectacular demonstrations of self-mutilation as tributes to Chinese gods and spirits. This year, the typical piercer took a quarter-inch steel rod through one cheek; others were pierced through the cheek and other parts of the body with such objects as a samurai sword, an umbrella and a lamp. Participants usually abstain from meat, alcohol and sex for nine days before the piercing, then try to put themselves into trances to block out the pain.

-- In October, a justice of the Northern Territory (Australia) Supreme Court refused to release Aborigine Steven Barnes, 28, for tribal justice, instead holding him under Australian law for the murder of a 23-year-old nephew. Tribal elders had secured Barnes' consent to the traditional punishment for his crime, including having members of his own family punch him in the face, then club him with heavy hunting boomerangs, then sling the boomerangs at him, and finally spear him in both thighs four or five times.

-- A celebration of Saint Efigenica in the small town of Canete, Peru, in September was to include the "Great Gastronomic Kitty Festival" (a cat-tasting event), but animal-lover organizations won a successful last-minute appeal. Cats remain a delicacy in town, though; as one citizen told a reporter, "The street cats are the best. They have more flavor."

-- According to a survey published in an Italian psychology journal in July, 70 percent of people in that country admitted telling between five and 10 lies a day. The most common lie was, "Don't worry; it's all been taken care of," but the traditional, "I'll always love you," and "How nice to see you," ran close behind.

GREAT ART!

-- In a feature article in June, Bangkok's largest English-language newspaper, The Nation, lamented how far Thailand is behind the West in performance art, owing to Thais' cultural inhibitions. Nonetheless, given brief mentions in the article were a woman named Mink who coats the floor with toothpaste and wallows in it, to signify, she said, that we all have to wriggle out of difficult situations in order to survive, and the father of Thai performance art, Inson Wongsam, who in the 1960s sculpted an elephant out of a block of ice by precision urination.

-- According to Francine Patterson, president of the Gorilla Foundation, quoted in a November New York Times story, ape-painted art of the 1950s mostly resembled the Abstract Expressionist genre (e.g., bold splotches), but 1990s ape art, exemplified by the works of Woodside, Calif., apes Koko and Michael (also largely bold splotches), "represent things in the real world," such as birds or balls. Patterson says she knows this because the gorillas tell her in the modified sign language that they know. Said noted chimpanzee-art expert Roger Fouts, "It is part of ape nature to paint." (Koko's and Michael's work can be viewed at www.gorilla.org.)

-- In June, to dramatize the dwindling amount of middle-income housing on prestigious Cape Cod, Provincetown, Mass., artist Jay Critchley outfitted an old septic tank in his yard (six feet in diameter, five feet high) with carpeting, table, chair and television set, with entry through a narrow hole in the ground. His point was that this is just about the only kind of housing the non-rich can afford. According to a Boston Globe reporter, "Burning incense almost masked the telltale aroma."

FEUDS

-- George B. Rich and Gary L. Jewel, law partners for six years in Memphis, Tenn., ended their joint practice in 1996, but neither wanted to give up the offices. Since then, according to Rich, Jewel has been purposely annoying him in order to drive him out, and he filed a lawsuit in November to get Jewel to stop and to erect a soundproof partition. According to Rich, Jewel bounces a basketball, drums the walls with his hands, eats smelly lunches, barks like a dog, and oinks like a pig, in addition to making many other animal noises "which are unrecognizable." Said Jewel to a Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter, "I can see the headline now: 'Lawyer sues lawyer for oinking like a pig,'" a quote which indeed did appear the next day in the Commercial Appeal under the headline, "Lawyer sues lawyer for oinking like a pig."

-- In Singapore in October, Tan Ah-bah, 49, was sentenced to three months in jail for assaulting a 37-year-old man at a popular lover's lane. The men are both admitted peeping toms and had fought over control of the choicest spot to watch a certain couple making out in a car.

-- According to a September Boston Globe story, an intense bitterness has developed between two organizations that advocate different remedies to battle pervasive head lice. The National Pediculosis Association of Needham, Mass., argues for removal of lice by hand, along with pesticide shampoos. Sawyer Mac Productions of Weston, Mass., prefers smothering the lice with olive oil and says the NPA is beholden to pharmaceutical firms.

-- In June, a judge in Tulsa, Okla., ordered the Covey family and the Rosencutter family jointly to operate the 357-grave cemetery that bears both their names and to which both families have legitimate claims. The decision follows a May 25 fistfight and hair-pulling wrestling match engaged in by as many as 150 from both sides at the graveyard.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or Weird@compuserve.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)

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