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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

According to Time magazine, food workers at the UN's New York headquarters called a wildcat strike the morning of Friday, May 2, so that the building's five restaurants were unstaffed and shuttered at lunchtime; at 1 PM a "high-ranking UN official" ordered the facilities unlocked so that hungry staff members could take what they needed. What ensued instead was "Baghdad style chaos," with staffers allegedly stripping the cafeterias bare, looting food (including whole turkeys), bottles of wine and liquor, and even silverware--several "well-known diplomats" were reportedly seen helping themselves to bar drinks.

In January the prime minister of Latvia, Einars Repse, complained that there was "too much foolishness" in the country's government and announced the formation of an Anti-Absurdity Bureau to deal with it. The agency, intended to address the arbitrariness, disorganization, and laziness of the country's civil servants, now receives about ten complaints a day, according to a newspaper in Riga, Latvia's capital; though its office has only two employees, it has made 460 responses and referred seven cases to prosecutors.

Government in Action

In Tampa, Florida, bail proceedings for Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor accused of helping direct the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were still ongoing at press time; prosecutors have urged a federal magistrate not to grant Al-Arian bail on the grounds that he'll surely flee the country. In April, however, immigration authorities announced that they'd taken the first steps necessary, in the event Al-Arian is granted bail, to deport him.

Great Art!

In Boston in February, municipal inspectors threatened Russian emigre Konstantin Simun, 68, with fines of $50 per day if he didn't clean up the "junk" filling his yard--tires, traffic cones, plastic bottles, painted buckets, old golf bags, a broken trampoline--despite his protests that he's a sculptor who works with found objects. In his homeland Simun was a prominent artist, even designing a state war memorial, and in America his sculpture has been displayed at the prestigious DeCordova Museum near Boston. "It's my life's work," he said at a hearing.

On March 6 in Washington, D.C., 22-year-old Reena Patel and 32-year-old Olabayo Olaniyi were arrested inside the Capitol building as they sang and danced in costume. Olaniyi wore a ceramic mask, and both had objects (small sculptures, books, glass jars, wads of newspaper) duct-taped to their bodies--apparently enough to persuade authorities that the couple might be suicide bombers. Said Patel, "We like to make things beautiful, to uplift, to make people happy." Said Olaniyi, "Duct tape is a hot item in D.C. I wanted my art to reflect what was hot here."

Unclear on the Concept

In April surgeon Harry J. Metropol of Columbia, South Carolina, appearing before a state committee to argue in favor of caps on malpractice awards, minimized the suffering of a Wisconsin woman (not his patient) who'd had an unnecessary double mastectomy because of a mistaken cancer diagnosis. "She did not lose her life," Metropol said, "and with plastic surgery, she'll have breast reconstruction better than she had before. It won't be National Geographic, hanging to her knees. It'll be nice, firm breasts."

According to an April report in the Guardian, the Cadbury company has launched a promotional campaign in Britain called "Get Active," promising to help fight childhood obesity by donating sports equipment to schools if their students collect enough labels from Cadbury chocolate bars. (For example, the company will supply a volleyball net and poles to a school for 5,440 labels.) Consumer watchdogs and health organizations are furious, pointing out that if a ten-year-old boy actually ate all the candy he'd need to earn a basketball, he'd have to play for 90 hours just to burn off the calories.

Readers' Choice

Researchers at England's Plymouth University, given a modest Arts Council grant, could not test whether an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters could actually write the works of Shakespeare; instead they tested what six Sulawesi crested macaques at Paignton Zoo in Devon would do with a computer in four weeks. CNN reported in May that the monkeys produced about five pages of text, consisting mostly of the letter s. Said researcher Mike Phillips, "Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard."

In the Last Month

In Houston, members of an international organization of gay men that holds high-fashion drag shows to raise money for charity came to the rescue of several local high school students: through a program called the Fairy Godmother Project, the men donated prom gowns to girls who couldn't afford their own. And in Burt Township, Michigan, police determined that truck driver Brian Anderson, who'd rolled his log trailer on I-75, had lost control of his vehicle while making himself a bologna sandwich (no one was injured).

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

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