News of the Weird May 14 2008

Money for sex offenders, pet monkeys and more

Update: Experimental "natural orifice" surgery might be health care's next big thing following its U.S. introduction last year at Columbia University (as reported also in News of the Weird), where doctors removed a woman's diseased gall bladder not by an abdominal incision but through her vagina. In March, doctors at UC-San Diego Medical Center removed a woman's appendix through her vagina, and a man's through his mouth. (A microscopic camera must be inserted through the abdomen, however, to guide the surgeons.) Pain and healing time are usually less than half that of ordinary surgery, but the risk of internal infection is greater. The next step, doctors say, will be removing kidneys through the anus.

Government in Action! A Maryland governmental fund created to assist "innocent" victims of violent crime has paid out nearly $1.8 million since 2003 to injured (or deceased) "drug dealers, violent offenders and other criminals," according to an investigation by the Baltimore Sun published in March. Burial expenses were awarded for a carjacker, a victim of an intergang killing and a sex offender who was fatally beaten in prison. The Maryland courts have ruled that as long as the applicant was not committing a crime at the time he was injured, he must be considered for an award.

The Associated Press reported in March that "dozens" of locked-up sexual predators are receiving federal aid to take mail-order college courses through Pell grants, even though prison inmates normally are ineligible. Sex offenders who have completed their sentences, but are held for "treatment," are not technically "prisoners," and many have spent their stipends on "living expenses" such as DVD players, in that they have no "room and board" expenses.

Great Art! Graduate art student Matthew Keeney's latest piece of performance art, in February, called "The Waiting Project," had him standing on streets in Syracuse, N.Y., waiting for someone to ask him what "The Waiting Project" is. In previous pieces, Keeney had held a "Super Bowl party for one" on a park bench, had earnestly watched ice sculptures melt, and had walked from the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C., to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping each time he heard a car horn and then starting again when he heard another.

Two aggressive art pieces sexualizing Jesus' Last Supper were displayed earlier this year: Among the 74 plaster models shown in Gateshead, England, in January by British artist Terence Koh was one of Jesus and several disciples sporting generous erections. And in March, a retrospective of Austrian Alfred Hrdlicka went on display in the Cathedral Museum in Vienna, with the blessing of the archbishop of Vienna, even though it included a painting of the Last Supper as a "homosexual orgy," in Hrdlicka's description (because, he said, there were no women in the original Da Vinci painting that inspired it). (That piece was removed during the first week, after complaints.)

Last year, Montreal, Quebec, artist Michel de Broin created, as art, the hollowed-out shell of an old Buick powered only by a four-seater bicycle (with hand brakes, or, failing them, Fred Flintstone-type brakes). Nonetheless, when a group took the car out for a spin last October, an overzealous officer ticketed them for "driving" an unsafe "car," but in April, after a daylong court hearing, the charges were dropped.

Police Blotter: Latest Police Chases: 1) In Ocala, Fla., in March, Bret Wass, 28, scrambling from police investigating a sexual battery, commandeered a tow truck and drove away, even though the truck had a car hooked onto it; during the chase, he hit the patrol car and was captured on foot nearby. 2) Police in Osaka, Japan, mobilized in January to apprehend fugitive Hirofumi Fukuda, 27, who was wanted for assaulting an officer (which tends to get the attention of fellow officers). By the end of the two-hour episode, a helicopter and 460 patrol cars, involving 2,240 law-enforcement officers, were on the case.

What Goes Around Comes Around: Thirty years ago, before Wal-Mart became an international giant, a small video company made a "handshake" deal to shoot promotional footage of the firm's executives and was given free rein within the company. It made 15,000 tapes, including many, inevitably, showing Wal-Mart leaders in awkward situations. In 2006, an incoming Wal-Mart executive decided to end the relationship, devastating Flagler Productions' bottom line, and to compensate, the company began offering to research its library for historians and, more notably, litigants suing Wal-Mart on product safety, employment and union-busting issues. According to an April Wall Street Journal report, a treasure trove of embarrassing moments is available.

People Different From Us: Even though 20 states outlaw keeping monkeys as pets, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are 15,000 privately owned primates, with at least 200 Floridians licensed for pet capuchins, according to an April Orlando Sentinel report. Since experts warn that the animals are biters and scratchers and are very aggressive when agitated, the Sentinel asked what accounts for their popularity. Said the editor of Monkey Matters magazine, it's their humanlike features and owners' desires to dress them up. "Believe me," said the editor, "if people could get their cats into outfits, a lot of those cats would be wearing outfits."