News of the Weird January 09 2008

Prison pole-vaulters, tollhouse torture and more

Lead Story: Great Art! At press time, two major pieces of art at galleries in London and New York City were basically holes in the floors of the buildings, yet were the subjects of glowing reviews. Doris Salcedo’s “Shibboleth,” a large crack in the floor of a hall at London’s Tate Modern (on which at least 15 people have suffered minor injuries after tripping) is said to symbolize racial and class divisions in society. Urs Fischer’s “You” at New York’s Gavin Brown Enterprise is actually just a crater, 38 feet by 30 feet by 8 feet deep, that, according to one reviewer, meshes “themes of transparency, transformation, disruption and destruction.”

Government in Action! It’s Good to Be a British Prisoner (continued): 1) The Portland Young Offenders’ Institute in Dorset recently began holding classes, for up to 30 inmates, in pole-vaulting (but reassured critics that even the most athletic inmates would only get about 13 feet high, whereas the prison walls are 20 feet tall, topped by razor wire). 2) Psychologist Susan Young was paid the equivalent of about $1,000 a day to counsel convicted murderer Barry George during his recent retrial in London, and among her duties, she said, was to massage his head periodically so that he could concentrate better, to assist his lawyers.

In January, the town of Herouxville, Quebec (population 1,300), famously enacted a “code” of expectations for immigrants, seemingly aimed at Islamic laws and rituals (for example, requiring gender equality, permitting alcohol, rejecting special diets for prisoners and reaffirming laws against stoning and female genital mutilation). In October, a town spokesman complained that the code had caused Herouxville residents to be called “morons, liars, xenophobes, fascists ... dictators, Nazis, racists ... idiots ... mentally deficient, intolerant, stupid, retarded.” Nonetheless, the town said it would campaign to have the code adopted nationally.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced with great fanfare in June that its repairs and upgrades of levees in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina, would allow the system to hold back a future storm’s flood waters even if the level rose more than 5 feet beyond the Katrina level. However, in November, the Corps announced that because of a mistake in calculation (an engineer had used a “minus” sign when a “plus” sign was called for), the expensive levee repairs would actually protect against flooding only 6 inches above the Katrina level.

Police Blotter: The New Torture: When three men stole drugs from a dealer in Edwardsville, Ill., the dealer and a partner allegedly snatched one of the men and roughed him up, seeking payment for the drugs. In November, police arrested the alleged dealers after the roughed-up victim reported that he had been held down, paddled, had some hair shaved off, and then deliberately burned on the neck and shoulders by having freshly baked cookies taken straight from an oven and held against his skin.

Just Can’t Stop: In recent incidents, two Wal-Mart customers were arrested for shoplifting after yielding to temptation while walking the aisles of stores in Mukwonago, Wis., and Okaloosa County, Fla. The Wisconsin man (reportedly sober for 16 months) impulsively downed seven 12-ounce bottles of Jack Daniel’s Lynchburg Lemonade that he saw on a shelf. Florida’s Christopher White said “the temptation was too great” when he spotted the White Rain hair spray, and that he removed the nozzles of two containers and drank the contents (and returned the empty containers to the shelf).

People Different From Us: Australian Wayne Scullino, 30, quit his telecom job in Sydney in early 2007, and, after convincing his wife, they sold their house and moved to Wisconsin for the sole purpose of rooting for the Green Bay Packers, about which he had enjoyed an almost inexplicable fascination since age 15. Said Scullino, “At some point, you’ve got to stop living the life you’ve fallen into, and start living the life you want to,” and he feared waiting even one more year, since quarterback Brett Favre might retire after this season. He told the Associated Press in October that the family would probably move back to Australia after the Super Bowl and start all over with a new house and new job.

Least Competent Criminals: Not Ready for Prime Time: 1) Francis Rocca, 24, was arrested in Pittsfield, Mass., and charged with robbing a gas station in November after being identified by his victim, who pointed out that Rocca’s distinctly pimpled face was easily visible underneath the clear plastic bag he wore as a “disguise.” 2) Michael Chatman, 35, and two others were arrested in Augusta, Ga., in November after Chatman, in a Target store, tried to return the laser printer the three had allegedly used for counterfeiting. However, they had accidentally left in the machine not only copies of the counterfeit bills but also the original $20 bill they had used as a model. Said a deputy, “People get wrapped up in the crime, and they forget things.”

Readers’ Choice: 1) Twins Jared and Justin Serovich, age 8, of Gables Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio, made it to the finals of a state inventors’ competition this year with their special boxer shorts. The twins’ knickers used fabric fasteners to hold the seams together, thus making it nearly impossible for the wearer to be given a “wedgie.” 2) As he crossed a field while walking his dog near his home in Brighton, England, in October, police Inspector Chris Poole, 50, was attacked by about 50 cows. He spent 11 days in the hospital, recovering from the butting and stomping, which cost him four broken bones, a severed artery and a punctured lung.