News of the Weird

Week of October 28, 2001

-- According to an October interview with one of his physicians in London's Sunday Telegraph, the Afghanistan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, 43, suffers periodic brain seizures that incapacitate him for days at a time and bring on a deep depression, during which he often engages in childlike behavior. One typical behavior, said the physician: sitting in the driver's seat of one of his SUVs, with the engine off, turning the wheel and making his own engine sounds. (Shortly after the story ran, the Pentagon announced it had bombed a Chevrolet Suburban belonging to Omar, although he was probably not among the people inside at the time.)

-- Both the U.S. and Afghanistan might seem to be heeding President Bush's call to act normal during these times of strife: Just a few miles up the road from the anthrax-shuttered National Enquirer offices in West Palm Beach, Fla., officials of the brand-new National Croquet Center staged a two-week series of matches in October, preparing for its grand opening in January. And Afghanistan's application to play in a prestigious cricket tournament in Pakistan, beginning about the same time as the U.S. bombing, was accepted (but the Afghan team eventually lost). Said one Afghan player, "Sport and war are two different things."

-- Susan Heitker and Matt Glass staged a week-long anti-logging protest in Vinton County, Ohio, in August, sitting on a platform they had constructed in two stately trees near a patch of forest to be cut, but the state Department of Natural Resources got in the last lick. The two were arrested for trespassing; the two trees (not part of the forest to be cut) were chopped down, also, on the grounds that they contained the protesters' fingerprints and thus would be needed for trial evidence; and the state billed the two protesters $152 for the cost of chopping down the two trees.

Insurance of the Weird

London's Goodfellows company made the news again in September by selling two more whimsical insurance policies: model Claire Roe's coverage (for about $350 a year) against loss of beauty ($170,000 payout), and the male strippers troupe Dreamboys' coverage (premium, about $15,000 a year) to pay off if their genitals are injured by fans ($1.2 million coverage). Among the firm's most popular policies: the Alien All Risks package (about $400 a year for $1.7 million coverage) for being abducted or impregnated by an alien, which Goodfellows has sold to 40,000 people. (Fifteen thousand women bought Y2K immaculate-conception insurance in 1999, fearful they would be called upon to give birth to the messiah.)

Government in Action

-- With great fanfare on Aug. 27, the U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Fresno (Calif.) municipal landfill an historical landmark on the National Register because of its pioneering methods of disposal. Later in the day, the department came to realize, thanks to its environmentalist critics, that the landfill also has a long-standing spot on the Superfund list of the worst-polluted land in America, and on Aug. 28, the department rescinded its order.

-- More Government Procreation Policies: In September, a pro-population town council member in Inari, Lapland (Finland), vowed to give up his political career if only the town's women produced at least 80 babies next year and 85 the year after. At the other end of the spectrum, India's Health Minister C.P. Thakur told the national legislature in August that the key to halting procreation was finding recreational alternatives and agreed to look into the cost of government-subsidized television sets.

-- In July, the Bloomington, Ind., City Council voted to renew Brown's Wrecker Service's towing contract, even though it had proposed to raise the per-car charge to the city from $8 to $20, and even though Joe's Towing (the city's heavy-truck contractor) proposed to tow cars at zero cost to the city. Also in July, it took a court injunction from a judge in Sacramento to stop California prison procurement authorities from awarding a sweetheart contract for peanut butter and jelly to a supplier who charges $175,000 a year more than its competitor; the prison skirted low-bid rules by claiming an "emergency" in that the higher-priced company's PB&J was necessary to prevent inmate riots.

Great Art!

-- England's Wolverhampton Art Gallery reopened in September (after extensive remodeling) with the exhibit "Fluid," composed entirely of artists' works that featured human bodily liquids. Included were a brilliant red and yellow abstract photograph by Andres Serrano (mixed blood and urine); Mona Hatoum's representation of the flow of her food during the hours following a meal (including photographs from her own intestine-invasive procedures); and testaments to sperm and sweat, among other subjects.

-- Austrian artist Wolfgang Flatz's July performance ("Meat") in Berlin came off as scheduled despite an attempted court injunction by a 13-year-old girl, who said the exhibit was too gross. Flatz suspended himself from a crane, crucifixion-style under a bloody sheet; then a helicopter lifted a dead, headless cow that he had packed with fireworks. The cow was dropped onto an abandoned building, blowing it up. (Previously, Flatz has been a human doormat, a human dartboard and a human bell.)

People With Issues

Julie Gable, 43, filed a $100,000 lawsuit recently against the police department of St. Pete Beach, Fla., because it continues to employ community service officer Michael Mehill, 54, who Gable says has been stalking her for 10 years, the last few with the full knowledge of the chief. The chief even allegedly found one of Mehill's notebooks, in which was written very detailed descriptions of his stalkings (e.g., "(August 5, 1998) At 1343 (hours), (Gable) was on a lawn chair, red halter top, white shorts. Waiting for someone?"). Gable said Mehill has an uncanny ability to arrive on the beach, with video camera, minutes after Gable does.

Least Competent Criminals

Au pair Ildiko Varga, 25, on the run and wanted for trashing an employer's home and mistreating the toddler in a New York City suburb, was finally caught when she stopped a police officer on the street to show him the article the New York Post had written about the crime and to ask him if he thought she had a good case for a slander lawsuit. And Rikers Island (N.Y.) corrections officer Anthony Lopez apparently stepped over the line when he ejected his wife from the family car during a fight on the way home from a Labor Day party; furious, she called the police and told them about Anthony's computer, which she happened to know was loaded with child pornography, and he was arrested.

Update

In August 2001, News of the Weird reported that amateur British rocket scientist Steve Bennett was continuing to develop the spaceship (capsule made from a cement mixer) and booster that would launch him 10,000 feet up in a test flight for a much more ambitious expedition (an exercise in instant death, according to several engineers who learned his plans). On the other hand, amateur Brian Walker of Bend, Ore. (who has gotten rich as a designer of aeronautical toys), told London's The Independent in October that he was about a year away from launching himself 35 miles up in his homemade ship and booster. Unlike Bennett's work, Walker's has the support of several aerospace engineers and Mercury 7 astronaut Gordon Cooper.

Also, in the Last Month ...

The South African government provided its 100,000 census takers with generous supplies of condoms, fearing that urges would be harder to control as counters went inside people's homes. Barry's Underground tavern near Omaha went up for sale; it had been built in 1961 by dairyman J. Gordon Roberts as a bomb shelter for 250 head of his cattle. Jorge Briceno, head of the Colombian FARC rebels (who by government compromise control a swath of land the government cannot encroach on), has decided that all 15,000 of the residents of the village of Vista Hermosa must be HIV-tested because he read graffiti on a local wall about one resident's having AIDS. Doctors at University Hospital (Cardiff, Wales) removed a regular-size toothbrush from Vania Lucchesi's stomach after she tripped while brushing and swallowed it.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Newsweird@aol.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like News of the Weird