News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF MAY 8, 2005


Jeanette Hall, 29, one of the world's few female taxidermists, enjoyed a mainstream practice in Nevada (elk heads, bear rugs, even some novelties like deer testicles) until she decided recently to create sofa pillows with one side made from the actual fur of her clients' dogs and cats (horses and cows handled, also), for fees of $65 to $150. Though her customers were satisfied ("Most people," Hall said, "were happy that Fluffy was still on the couch"), Hall said others considered her work "sick," and she was deluged with "hundreds of hate e-mails from all over the globe," from "people threatening to burn down my house." (Consequently, she has temporarily retired her pillow work.)

Government in Action

-- Tattoo/piercing parlor owner Paul Collurafici lost a contentious race in April for mayor of the Chicago suburb of River Grove, Ill., the victim not so much of his opponent, Marilynn May, but of her ardent supporter, local official Raymond Bernero, who ranted publicly about Collurafici's work. Bernero disclosed that Collurafici's Web site previously displayed photos of genital and nipple piercings, among other examples of his craft. Said Bernero, "I'm a big fan of vaginas, but this is really gross," "with stuff stuck through there." Bernero later apologized for his candor and requested that people stop asking him if there was an actual "fan club" they could join.

-- Are We Safe? (1) Congress' Government Accountability Office reported in March that, mainly because of gun owners' privacy rights, the FBI or state officials were unable to stop 47 of the 58 gun purchases by people who were on the FBI's own terrorist "watch list" (during a nine-month period last year). (2) A February report of the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general accused the agency of intentionally disbursing seaport-security grant money widely across the country instead of greatly increasing inspections at the 10 ports through which nearly 80 percent of trade moves (a practice that resulted in maritime grants for Oklahoma, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Tennessee).

-- The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported in April that last year's hurricane season in Florida caused 123 storm-related deaths, but that 315 families managed to convince the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for their relatives' funerals as storm-related. And in April, the scheduled elections for town offices in Monticello, Wis., never took place because, as Town Clerk Walt Weber told Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel, "We forgot."

(According to Weber, none of the incumbents, including himself, would have been challenged anyway.)

Great Art!

-- To conceal an enormous open-cast mining operation about 10 miles from Newcastle, England, and to reduce the cost of carting away millions of tons of debris, the mining company recently hired artist Charles Jencks to incorporate the waste into a reclining female sculpture, a half-mile long, running along the A1 highway, with breasts forming peaks 100 feet off the ground. The "Goddess of the North" is expected to take three years to finish, will have footpaths over and around it, and be slightly larger than the "Angel of the North" metal sculpture 15 miles to the south.

-- German artist Winfried Witt has invited about 30 people to his latest installation, which will be to observe the late-May birth of his and wife Ramune Gele's first child, in Berlin's DNA-Galerie. Though more than 100 million babies are born every year on Earth, Witt promised that his viewers will participate in "an exceptional experience" in that "man, because he is unique, is an existential object of art." Witt wants to "show living people, perceived at the same time as object and subject, through a kind of magnifying glass and to expose man in the situations of his personal life."

Cutting-Edge Cow Research

Animal welfare professors at Britain's Bristol University, preparing for a June conference on Compassion in World Farming, said they will present research to show that cows experience pain, fear and happiness; can form friendships in a herd; are good problem-solvers (with encephalograph-measured brainwaves suddenly active when they searched for a path to food); and can hold grudges against other cows for months or years.

Least Competent Criminals

-- Travis Williams, 25, and his passenger, Brandon Calmese, 27, were arrested in March when sheriff's deputies decided to pull them over after seeing them driving on Interstate 380 near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at 55 mph with the hood up and both men craning their necks out the window to see where they were going. A week before that, in Hemet, Calif., a 21-year-old man was hospitalized (with DUI charges pending) after hitting two parked cars, a tree, a fence, and a bus, driving a car with the hood sticking up and deployed airbags flapping in the wind.

-- Joseph R. Holland, 23, who escaped in February from prison in Schuylkill County, Pa. (near Allentown), but who was captured the following day, wrote to a judge in March disputing the escape charge against him: (1) The warden never told him he couldn't escape, he said (in his syntax-challenged petition). "(I) was never provided with any orientation, a handbook or ever signed any contract ... I was never informed to follow any rules, cause I knew no rules!" (2) "I wasn't gone over 24 hours, and all my personal belongings were ever here. I had every intention of coming back, who's to say any different?" (3) And besides, he said, the guards actually opened the gate for him (even though it was really for another inmate coming in, with Holland managing to sneak out at the same time).


A News of the Weird icon, New York public-transit devotee Darius McCollum, 39, was sentenced in April to three years in prison for his latest commandeering of a train and subsequent joyride. Court records showed this was his 20th incident involving trains or buses, an obsession that has so far caused him to spend about a third of his life behind bars. "I just love trains," he had told arresting officers. (A week later, police in Melbourne, Australia, charged a 15-year-old boy with two recent incidents of commandeering municipal trams and acting out the role of transit driver, picking up and discharging passengers on the routes. He told police he hopes to be a tram driver when he grows up.)

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has reported several times on the celebratory but bloody Easter week crucifixions practiced in the Philippines, especially in San Pedro Cutud, which has become an international tourist destination for the exhibitions. This year, Pampanga province police officials decided to fold department discipline into the ceremonies by offering 20 wayward officers who had earlier been absent without leave to do penance by carrying wooden crosses in the festival and that officers with more than 120 absent days volunteer to be crucified, after which they would be reinstated.


(1) Manuel Fraga, a local official from Galicia in northern Spain, speaking in January in support of the Vatican's tough position on contraception: "I have spent my life telling the truth without condoms, and I plan to die without ever having worn one." (2) Science executive Douglas Carpenter (of the high-tech defense contractor Quantumsphere), on the difficulty of convincing the Pentagon to graduate to weapons made of "nanometals," which pack much more explosive power than current weapons: "Getting the government to change the way they kill people is difficult."

More Things to Worry About

In mid-April, the Arab-Israeli town of Shfaram (near Haifa), to promote peace and brotherhood, was scheduled to play host to the world's first international festival of mimes. And the following week, the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., was descended upon by about 300 practitioners in this year's Clowns of America International convention.

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