News of the Weird

Week of December 23, 2001

-- The partly government-funded Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, acknowledged in December that it had provided a grant to Mexican performance artist Israel Mora, 33, for his recent exhibit, "Level 7," which consisted of his own semen in seven glass vials into which he had masturbated, in order, he said, "to examine the concepts of privacy and intimacy within contemporary society." The Centre's president subsequently apologized for its bad judgment in housing the exhibit.

-- Two professors recently quit West Virginia University in protest of its new-agey Sydney Banks Institute for Innate Health, an anxiety-reduction study organization named after a welder whose epiphany "catapulted him from a routine life of stress and insecurity into a state of deep peace, hopefulness, security and clarity." According to one professor in attendance at a recent Banks conference in Seattle, a Banks speaker presented photographs of "ice crystals formed in the presence of positive thoughts and (ice crystals) formed in the presence of negative thoughts," and then noted that the negative-thought ones "weren't as pretty," and then remarked, "I'm not a scientist myself, but this looks like evidence to me."

-- Rev. Jamyi Witch, a Wiccan, was appointed in December as one of the two official chaplains at the Waupun (maximum security) Correctional Institution, Waupun, Wis. She won the job over nine rivals despite the fact that only 30 of the 1,200 inmates are of Wiccan denomination and despite the fact that Wicca does not preach fear of eternal damnation, which many regard as a crucial message for that population.

The Severely Comparison-Challenged

According to the attorney for several Benicia (Calif.) High School students suspended for toilet-papering the school in November, principal Robert Palous, in meting out the punishment, described the kids' actions as the school's own World Trade Center attack. And in an October Associated Press story about turning the Miami house in which Elian Gonzalez lived into a shrine, one visitor said, "To us, (the day that Elian was taken away) was almost equivalent to the Twin Towers day." And in November, outgoing Frederick, Md., Mayor Jim Grimes, who for months had been trying to prevent the local newspaper from getting an arrested prostitute's files publicly disclosed (allegedly to protect some friends), reacted to a judge's finally releasing them by saying: "I absolutely feel that the same thing that happened at the World Trade Center has hit me. I was terrorized (by The Frederick News-Post)."

Government in Action

-- The city council of Edmonds, Wash., voted recently to toss out a 60-year-old, cheap-looking totem pole that had been donated to the city, but before it got to a landfill, demolition company employee Sydney Locke plucked it out of a trash bin and took it home. City officials for some reason resented Locke's action, and have filed a lawsuit against Locke to regain legal ownership of the totem pole, though not because they have found a use for it but rather to make sure it gets to and stays in the landfill.

-- According to a November Los Angeles Times report, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has issued 5 million "smart cards" to permanent residents since 1998 (containing all the unique personal information now being discussed to improve security against terrorism) but has not yet acquired any machines that can read the cards. Among other INS problems: INS's fingerprint system has been, and is still, unconnected to the FBI's fingerprint system; and its electronic database to track foreign students, created following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, now covers students in only 21 colleges.

-- To resolve a problem unknown in American governments, state authorities in Queensland, Australia, decided in October that local bureaucrats were taking too much time to process applications to open legal brothels and thus decided to adopt a fast-track program to jump-start the industry. The state government announced it would appoint an independent official to get more brothels up and operating, thus stymieing town officials who are opposed to having them in their neighborhoods.

-- In August, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection pleaded guilty to two felony counts, acknowledging that the agency itself had polluted the city's water (and that of Westchester County) with mercury and the suspected carcinogen PCB that leaked for years through its water-circulation equipment. According to testimony in federal court, the agency had known of several dozen leaks since 1988 but disregarded them. In one incident, six pounds of mercury was left in the system three years after the agency promised to clean it up, and the deputy director's excuse was that the area involved "is dark and is difficult to see."

-- A September Associated Press review of Department of Agriculture records revealed that more than 60 percent of federal farm subsidies given out last year went to just 10 percent of farmers, almost all of them well-to-do in the first place. Among the recipients were farms owned by David Rockefeller, Ted Turner, Sam Donaldson and basketball star Scottie Pippin. Asked one farmer, "Why are we giving millions of dollars to millionaires?"

People With Issues

In Singapore in September, Shahul Hameed Kuthubudeen, 17, had agreed to a favorable sentence on his conviction for obsessive hand-kissing of girls: He had been enrolled by his family into a religious school in India to break him of his habit, which in the latest case involved seven counts of extending his hand to girls, receiving her hand innocently in his, and then kissing the back of her hand repeatedly while refusing to let her go. Two weeks after the schooling was arranged but before he had left town, Kuthubudeen was arrested again for a similar attack on a 16-year-old girl in an elevator.

Recurring Themes

In November, the decayed body of a man who apparently died three years ago at age 46 was found in his apartment in Warminster, Pa. While this genre of news stories occurs often enough to be regarded as No Longer Weird, this story is different because of the number of people who had an opportunity during those three years to discover the body but did not. The regular postal carrier; the postal service supervisor; at least one neighbor; village officials who towed the man's car for expired registration; the condominium association president; the police (who received many calls from various people suggesting that something was amiss in the apartment); the condo association management company agent; and a sheriff's deputy (delivering a foreclosure notice, which he merely tacked up on the door) all failed to inquire seriously about the whereabouts of the resident or about the odor emanating from the apartment.

Least Competent Criminals

Fulton County (Ga.) police said the only reason Derrick Van, 36, got caught at all was because he dropped some coins in the course of a November home burglary. When he reached to pick them up, he locked eyes with the homeowner, who was hiding under a bed. Though the homeowner was originally hoping that Van would just leave, when their eyes met, he felt threatened and fired his .357 Magnum, wounding Van badly and sending him to the hospital.

Also, in the Last Month ...

A court in Sweden ordered a certified sperm donor to assume parental rights just because the lesbian couple he assisted have split up and the child needs support (about $265 a month more) (Orebro, Sweden). Yet another Swedish court, hearing a case of four teen-agers who threw a cake at King Carl Gustaf, found them guilty of high treason (but ordered only a fine, of about $370 each) (Stockholm). Police chased down and arrested a 42-year-old man suspected of shoplifting six packages of corn removers from a Wal-Mart, an easy collar because his corns slowed down his getaway (San Diego). Florida judge Joyce Julian, 44, was arrested at 2 a.m. at a resort's conference center after she, intoxicated and nude from the waist down, verbally challenged security officers and then fled (Amelia Island, Fla.)

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

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