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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

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

Tax protests: Voters in Castlewood, Virginia, 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 Phoenix, Arizona, Larry Naman was scheduled 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. Berti said the town would qualify for more government-funded programs if its population increased.

Cultural Diversity

In September the Economist excerpted an interview with the chairman of Chechnya's Islamic supreme court that originally ran in a Russian magazine. 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."

The Vegetarian Festival, held each year in October on the island of Phuket, Thailand, is the scene of spectacular demonstrations of self-mutilation as tributes to Chinese gods and spirits. A popular look this year was a quarter-inch steel rod through one cheek; other objects used to pierce the body included 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 supreme court in Australia refused to release aborigine Steven Barnes, 28, to his tribe and instead continued to hold him for the murder of a 23-year-old nephew. Tribal elders had secured Barnes's consent to the traditional punishment for his crime, which includes 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 feature the "Great Gastronomic Kitty Festival," a cat-tasting event, but animal-lover organizations won a last-minute appeal. However, cats remain a delicacy in the town. One citizen told a reporter, "The street cats are the best. They have more flavor."

In a survey published in an Italian psychology journal in July, 70 percent of the people polled admitted to telling between five and ten 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 June an article in Bangkok's largest English-language newspaper, the Nation, lamented how far Thailand is behind the West in performance art, owing to Thais' cultural inhibitions. The article mentioned two exceptions: 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 Inson Wongsam, who in the 1960s sculpted an elephant out of a block of ice by urinating on it.

Francine Patterson, president of the Gorilla Foundation, was quoted in a November New York Times story on ape art, saying that while ape paintings of the 1950s resembled abstract expressionism, recent works by Koko and Michael, two apes who live in Woodside, California, "represent things in the real world," such as birds or balls. Patterson says she knows this because the gorillas tell her in modified sign language. Said noted chimpanzee expert Roger Fouts, "It is part of ape nature to paint." Koko 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, artist Jay Critchley of Provincetown, Massachusetts, outfitted an old septic tank in his yard with carpeting, a table, a chair, and a television. Entry is through a narrow hole in the ground. Critchley was making the point that this is about the only kind of housing the nonrich can afford. Wrote 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, Tennessee, 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. In November Rich filed a lawsuit to get Jewel both 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 "unrecognizable" animal noises. Said Jewel to a reporter, "I can see the headline now: 'Lawyer sues lawyer for oinking like a pig,'" a headline that did indeed appear the next day in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

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

According to a September Boston Globe story, a feud has developed between two organizations that advocate different remedies to battle head lice. The National Pediculosis Association of Needham, Massachusetts, supports removal of lice by hand and the use of pesticide shampoos. Sawyer Mac Productions of Weston, Massachusetts, says lice can be smothered with olive oil and that the NPA is beholden to pharmaceutical firms.

In June a judge in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ordered the Covey family and the Rosencutter family to jointly operate the 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 at the graveyard.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration by Shawn Belschwender.

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