News of the Weird November 05 2008

CORRECTION: Two weeks ago, News of the Weird mentioned a story from the Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner that accused school board candidate Bernard LeCorn of not having college degrees from the institutions he claimed. Subsequently, the Star-Banner corrected its story. LeCorn does have the degrees. The error was made by school personnel who initially responded inaccurately to the Star-Banner reporter.

LEAD STORY: Developing Democracies: Candidates for local office in Brazil can either register under their own names or make them up, and in the October election this year, three candidates chose “Barack Obama” (none won), and others registered under “Bill Clinton,” “Jorge Bushi” and “Chico Bin Laden,” but more than 200 offered themselves under the name of the country’s popular president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. And in July, when the government of India tried to push its historic nuclear pact with the United States through the parliament, it found six more votes among elected members who were serving prison sentences, and ordered them released so they could vote for the bill. (Nearly one-fourth of the 540-member parliament have criminal charges pending against them.)

News That Sounds Like a Joke: 1) Britain’s Bristol City Council warned residents in government housing in September to always leave their sheds unlocked. Otherwise, thieves would have to break the doors down to get inside, and taxpayers would be stuck with the repair bills. 2) Atlanta Pentecostal preacher Thomas Meeks told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in October that he was “in talks” to create a “Survivor”-type TV reality show in which the twice-divorced evangelist navigates a field of single women and selects a winner. “Holy Hook Up: Who Will Be the Next Mrs. Weeks?” will, he said, be a “very tasteful, five-star presentation.”

Great Art! Chilean-Danish artist Marco Evaristti is working with condemned Texas inmate Gene Hathorn, 47 (convicted killer of three in 1985), on an anti-capital-punishment exhibit to be staged after Hathorn’s execution. The murderer’s body would be frozen, then made into flakes that museum visitors could feed to goldfish. Evaristti is most noted for his 2000 exhibit in which he placed live goldfish in several electric blenders and invited museum-goers to turn them on.

An unfortunate burst of wind disrupted an outside art installation at the Paul Klee Center in Bern, Switzerland, in August, ripping an inflatable exhibit from its moorings and carrying it away. The exhibit, by American Paul McCarthy, was a sculpture titled “Complex Shit,” and the inflatable item was supposed to be a dog dropping the size of a house. Explained the Klee Center’s website (challengingly), the show features “interweaving, diverse, not to say conflictive emphases and a broad spectrum of items to form a dynamic exchange of parallel and self-eclipsing spatial and temporal zones.” (Or, wrote London’s Daily Telegraph in broken French, it is “what happens when la merde hits le ventilateur.”)

Sculptor Marc Quinn unveiled “Siren” in October at the British Museum, feting the model Kate Moss, who posed for him, though not quite in the position Quinn ultimately created. “Siren” is life-size, in 18k gold (that cost Quinn around $2 million), and treats the gaudiness of the so-called supermodel. As such, Moss is posed seated, holding her legs behind her head. (Some, but not all, news outlets chose to show “Siren” modestly, from the side rather than the front.)

Government in Action: Things Government Does When It’s Not Bailing Out the Economy: 1) The municipal transit company in Austin, Texas, unveiled a rider-education campaign in August, giving step-by-step instructions in how to stand up on buses without falling over. When the bus is accelerating, “lean forward and put your weight on your front foot.” (The introductory frame on the poster features a harried rider exclaiming, “Help! I’ll never figure it out!”) 2) A British government-funded poster campaign, also introduced in August, aims to encourage those waiting for municipal buses to do Pilates-type movements to improve physical fitness. Among the suggestions: standing on one leg, pointing the toes forward, clenching the buttocks.

Most workers who have retired in the last few years from New York’s Long Island Rail Road have also qualified for disability payments (though most did not claim such disabilities while working), according to a September New York Times investigation of state records. Lax union work rules, plus the astonishingly cooperative “Railroad Retirement Board” (which virtually never rejects a disability application), have resulted in nearly every worker drawing about as much money in retirement as he made on the job. In October, the Times also discovered that many of the same retirees were apparently so confident that their “disability” status would be approved that they also purchased private disability insurance to make retirement even more lucrative.

Police Blotter: Awesome: Police in Dortmund, Germany, arrested six Romanian men in June and charged them with stealing from trucks on the open highway. Allegedly, the thieves would drive their own truck carefully up behind a tractor-trailer at highway speed, and a man on the hood would reach out and open the back of the rig with a bolt cutter. He would climb in and loot the rig of computers and cell phones by passing them out to a partner sitting on the hood of the trailing truck.

Almost Awesome: Motorist Michael Mills Jr., 38, who was making a getaway from police in Chesapeake, Va. (who wanted him on identity-theft charges), broke through a drawbridge warning arm and tried to jump (“Dukes of Hazzard”-style) onto the span that was being lowered (but which wouldn’t be completely down for another several minutes). He missed, and the car plunged into the Elizabeth River, where it sank (but Mills was rescued and arrested).

Recurring Themes: Least Competent Criminals: 1) A 30-year-old man appears to be the most recent person (according to the account of police in Woodland, Calif., in August) to attempt to throw burning fireworks at a target while traveling in a car, but having the toss fail to clear the window and thus explode inside the car. He was hospitalized. 2) In another familiar scene, two 18-year-old men spotted police approaching their trailer-park home in Salina, Kan., in August, panicked, and tossed illegal drugs out a window. However, police spotted the flying drugs, even though cops had originally intended only to serve warrants on two of their neighbors. The men were arrested.

The estimated 1 million Japanese (almost all males) who suffer from the major anti-social funk called Hikikomori and confine themselves inside (typically, a bedroom in their parents’ home) for months at a time without live human interaction have been mentioned in News of the Weird in 2000 and 2005. In July, the Japanese software company Avex produced a video to help those men, simply featuring a series of young women staring into the lens, occasionally saying “Good morning,” so that Hikikomori sufferers can practice feeling the gazes of strangers.

Men Whose Sex Lives Are Worse Than Yours: 1) Police in Fort Myers, Fla., said Jonathon Guabello, 29, who was angry that his girlfriend had denied him sex when they came home from a bar in October, left the room, shot himself twice in the arm, fell, and hit his head on a kitchen appliance, knocking himself out. 2) In Anderson Township, Ohio, in July, another frustrated lover, angry that his girlfriend kept falling asleep one night during sex, retaliated, according to police, by attempting to set fire to her van. The 46-year-old man who couldn’t sustain his lover’s interest is named Gregory Smallwood.

Dignified Death: From the self-composed obituary in the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune of James William “Jim” Adams, who died Sept. 9: “Jim, who had tired of reading obituaries noting other’s sic courageous battles with this or that disease, wanted it known that he had lost his battle ... primarily as a result of ... not following doctor’s orders. ... He was sadly deprived of his final wish, which was to be run over by a beer truck on the way to the liquor store to buy booze for a date.”