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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

Last month an Afghan physician told London's Sunday Telegraph that his patient Mullah Omar, the 43-year-old leader of the Taliban, suffers periodic brain seizures that incapacitate him for days at a time and bring on deep depression. During these spells he engages in such childish behavior as sitting in the driver's seat of a parked SUV, turning the wheel and making engine sounds. (Shortly after the story ran, the Pentagon announced that it had bombed a Chevrolet Suburban belonging to Omar, although he was probably not among the people inside at the time.)

In August political activists Susan Heitker and Matt Glass protested logging in Vinton County, Ohio, by constructing a platform in two stately trees near a patch of forest slated to be cut and staying there for a week. Finally the state's Department of Natural Resources had them arrested for trespassing, chopped down the two trees on the grounds that they contained the protesters' fingerprints and would be needed for evidence, and billed each of the protesters $152 for the cost of felling the trees.

Insurance of the Weird

In September, London's Goodfellows insured model Claire Roe against loss of beauty (charging a $350 annual premium and offering a $170,000 payout) and the male strippers Dreamboys against genital injury by fans ($15,000 premium, $1.2 million payout). Among the firm's most popular policies are the Alien All Risks package, which protects 40,000 people in the event of being abducted or impregnated by space aliens, and the Y2K immaculate-conception policy, which 15,000 women purchased in 1999 in case they were called upon to give birth to the Messiah.

Government in Action

On August 27 the U.S. Department of the Interior awarded historic landmark status to the municipal landfill in Fresno, California, because it pioneered certain methods of disposal. On August 28, after realizing that the landfill has long occupied the Superfund list of the worst-polluted land in America, the department rescinded its order.

In September, a member of the town council in Inari, Finland, promised to retire if the town's women raise the population by producing 80 babies next year and 85 the year after. At the other end of the spectrum, C.P. Thakur, health minister of India, told the national legislature in August that recreational alternatives were the key to halting procreation and agreed to explore the cost of government-subsidized TV sets.

Great Art!

In September, England's Wolverhampton Art Gallery presented "Fluid," a survey of work featuring human bodily fluids. Included were a brilliant red-and-yellow abstract photograph by Andres Serrano (mixed blood and urine), Mona Hatoum's representation of food being digested (with photographs of her own intestine-invasive procedures), and testaments to sweat and semen.

In July a 13-year-old girl failed in her attempt to obtain an injunction from Berlin's highest court to prevent Austrian performance artist Wolfgang Flatz from presenting his piece Meat. The artist hung from a crane in a Christlike pose, bloody and naked, while the headless carcass of a bull packed with fireworks was lifted by helicopter and dropped onto an abandoned building. (Previously Flatz has been a human doormat, a human dartboard, and a human bell.)

People With Issues

Julie Gable, a 43-year-old woman in Saint Pete Beach, Florida, recently filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the police department, alleging that it continues to employ 54-year-old community service officer Michael Mehill even though he's been stalking her for ten years. Two years ago a police captain showed her a notebook that had fallen out of Mehill's duffel bag and contained detailed records of his surveillance of her ("At 1343 [hours], was on a lawn chair, red halter top, white shorts. Waiting for someone?"). A court-ordered injunction prevents Mehill from entering her neighborhood unless he's on the job, which includes checking parking meters, but Gable wants him out of uniform.

Least Competent Criminals

In September the New York Post reported the story of Ildiko Varga, an au pair who was wanted for mistreating a toddler in her care and trashing her employer's home; shortly thereafter she was apprehended after stopping a police officer on the street, showing him the Post story, and asking him if she had a good case for a libel suit....And that same month Anthony Lopez, a corrections officer at Rikers Island in New York, ejected his wife from the family car during a fight; furious, she told police about his large collection of child pornography, and he was arrested.

Update

In August, News of the Weird reported on Steve Bennett, an amateur rocket scientist in Great Britain whose plan to launch himself to an altitude of 10,000 feet in a capsule made from a cement mixer was declared an exercise in instant death by several engineers. Last month Brian Walker of Bend, Oregon, a designer of aeronautical toys, told London's Independent that he was about a year away from launching himself 35 miles up in a homemade ship and booster, but Walker has the support of several aerospace engineers and Mercury 7 astronaut Gordon Cooper.

In the Last Month

The South African government provided its 100,000 census takers with condoms, fearing that the temptation of entering people's homes would be too much for them....Barry's Underground, a tavern near Omaha, was offered for sale; dairyman J. Gordon Roberts built the structure in 1961 as a bomb shelter for 250 head of his cattle....Jorge Briceno, head of the Colombian FARC rebels, decided that all 15,000 residents of Vista Hermosa, a village under the rebels' control, must be tested for HIV because he read graffiti on a wall about one resident who had AIDS....And doctors at University Hospital in Cardiff, Wales, removed a toothbrush from Vania Lucchesi's stomach after she tripped while brushing her teeth and swallowed it.

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

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