News of the Weird

Week of August 4, 2002

LEAD STORIES

-- In June, after the British musical group the Planets introduced a 60-second piece of complete silence on its latest album, representatives of the estate of composer John Cage, who once wrote "4'33"" (273 seconds of silence), threatened to sue the group for ripping Cage off (but failed, said the group, to specify which 60 of the 273 seconds it thought had been pilfered). Said Mike Batt of the Planets: "Mine is a much better silent piece. I (am) able to say in one minute what (took Cage) four minutes and 33 seconds."

-- In July, a California Court of Appeal rejected as excessive an arbitration panel's award of about $8,800 per lawyer-hour in fees ($88.5 million total, all from taxpayer funds) "earned" by the attorneys who successfully challenged an unconstitutional state law. Also in July, David L. Brite of California told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times that the Florida lawyer he had hired to find his step-grandmother's will did only a few hours' work, at most, yet intended to keep $350,000 (a 25 percent fee) because the will turned out to be worth $1.4 million.

Ice Cream Rights

In the last four months, residents of four cities have confronted ice-cream truck drivers over allegedly excessive noise and late hours on residential routes, and especially over the repeated playing of "Turkey in the Straw" (although "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy" have also been mentioned). Drivers were ticketed in Brunswick, Ga., and Hartford, Conn.; a protest was being organized in Green Bay, Wis.; and in London, England, about 50 ice-cream truck drivers blocked a downtown street, blaring their theme music at full blast, in protest of the city's clamping down on their licenses.

Great Art!

-- The Pain of Performance Art: The annual "Fierce!" festival in London in May featured Mr. "Franco B" lightly slicing up his abdomen and keeping the wounds open for six hours, inviting patrons to observe the blood in order to "re-examine their own notions of what's beautiful and what's suffering." And in May, the Artspace gallery in Sydney, Australia, featured artist Mike Parr having his only arm nailed to a wall, for 36 hours, to show "the possibility of confloating the body." And performance artist Pierre Pinoncelli chopped off a pinky finger in June at a festival in Cali, Colombia, to symbolize the nation's loss after a popular politician was recently kidnapped by the revolutionary group FARC.

-- Russia's Culture Ministry changed its mind in April and decided to take Kasimir Malevich's 1913 "Black Square" painting off the block for an impending auction. Officials at the Gelos auction house in Moscow expected the 21-square-inch work (which is, in fact, only a black square) to bring in from $2 million to $10 million.

-- For three months this spring, New York City's New Museum of Contemporary Art displayed Belgian artist Wim Delvoye's "Cloaca," a room-sized mechanical rendition of a human intestine, which at announced times would take food input and process it into various components just as the body does, including the final waste product, which was then scooped up by an attendant and flushed. Said a German curator, Delvoye's "strength" "lies in his ability to engineer conflict by combining the fine arts and folk art, and playing seriousness against irony."

Government in Action

-- While health insurance plans have long been cut back drastically all over the country, the self-funded insurance of the county employees of Niagara County, N.Y., reimbursed more than $1.25 million since 1999 for its workers' purely cosmetic face peels, breast implants and liposuction; taxpayers finally realized what was going on when property taxes shot up by 20 percent this year. And San Francisco elections supervisor Tammy Haygood was fired in April for cost overruns and irregularities but continues to fight for her job so that her husband can maintain his transsexual treatment under the city government's liberal employee health-care plan.

-- In March, Fremont County (Mont.) officials passed a resolution prohibiting "the presence" of grizzly bears within the boundaries of the county. And in May, a Magistrate Anurag Rastogi of the Gurgaon district near New Delhi, India, issued an order forbidding the assembly of four or more pigs. (Both the Montana resolution and the Indian order had other sections directed at any humans responsible for introducing the animals into public space, but the above provisions stand alone, seemingly directed at the animals themselves.)

Least Competent Criminals

St. Petersburg, Fla., police arrested Calvin Calhoun, 25, Lavance Palmer, 22, and Kelvin Charles, 22, in July and charged them with using a stolen credit card in a ticket-scalping scheme. The men, from Miami, bought 180 Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball tickets for a weekend series against the Seattle Mariners, intending to resell them, but there was almost no demand because attendance at Devil Rays' games is among the poorest in the major leagues, and in fact there were 127,000 empty seats for the four games.

Almost Rehabilitated

In April in Fayetteville, N.C., Shirley Brigman Turriff, 63, was sentenced to six years in prison for embezzling $1.1 million from the law firm for which she had been office manager (Anderson Johnson), which had hired her shortly after she had been convicted for embezzling from her first employer. Anderson Johnson was fully aware that she was an embezzler when it hired her because one of its lawyers had defended her in that earlier case.

Update

In January 2001, News of the Weird reported that a 6-year-old boy had been removed from his mother's home in Champaign, Ill., because she insisted on continuing to breastfeed him. A judge later released the boy back to the mother, and in July 2002, the woman, Lynn Stuckey, 34, appeared on an ABC's "Good Morning America" videotape showing that she is still to this day breastfeeding him (every two weeks or so). Stuckey continues to call it "a perfectly normal practice": "We are your standard middle-class American family, and we're not doing anything wrong."

Attackers Playing for Keeps

A 26-year-old woman was charged with attempted murder for a vicious knife attack on her 25-year-old boyfriend that resulted in the nearly total mutilation of his buttocks and rectum (Carrollton, Ala., June). A 21-year-old disgruntled construction worker was charged with the pickax slaying of his loud-mouthed foreman (New York City, April), and another recently fired construction worker was charged with attempted murder for shooting his former boss in the chest with a 3-foot-long spear gun (Miami, April).

Also, in the Last Month ...

A 13-year-old boy was arrested after he allegedly pulled out a gun and robbed a convenience store of just a sex magazine (Martinsburg, W.Va.). Police officer Thomas Richmond applied mouth-to-snout CPR and revived an apparently dead pit bull that had been hit by a car (West Bridgewater, Mass.). A man in his 20s, identified only as Mr. Hsu, was rushed to a hospital from an Internet cafe‚ suffering paralysis after what was believed to be three consecutive days of playing a computer game (Chungho City, Taiwan). A 34-year-old man on his maiden sky dive let out a joyous whoop at 9,000 feet, which dislodged his false teeth, which fell and could not be found (Addison, Vt.).

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

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