Lead Stories

According to a December story in the Chicago Tribune, the nationwide anxiety over mad cow disease hasn’t affected business at a restaurant in Evansville, Indiana, that serves brain sandwiches, a traditional dish supposedly imported by the townspeople’s German ancestors; the most popular sandwich is fried cow brains on a bun. Said one hardy customer, “I believe in God and I think he’ll take care of me.”

The Sacred Institution of Marriage: In February in a drought-stricken village near Pondicherry, India, Hindu clerics performed a traditional ceremony intended to appease the god of rain–in the presence of hundreds of guests, they “married” a neem tree (the bride) to a peepul tree (the groom). Also in February in Nice, France, 35-year-old Christelle Demichel wed her sweetheart Eric, becoming at one stroke both bride and widow: Eric, a former police officer, had been killed by a drunk driver in 2002, but French law allows posthumous marriages if the couple filed paperwork while both were alive indicating their intent to wed (and if the president approves, which Chirac did).

News That Sounds Like a Joke

In December the sheriff’s office in Galveston, Texas, admitted that Louis Radzieski, 20, had escaped from lockup by simply walking out the front door. According to Sheriff Gean Leonard, Radzieski crouched behind a woman being legitimately released and remained in step with her as she passed the two officers at the booking desk. And in January in a Miami courtroom, while a prosecutor in the case of Raymond Jessi Snyder demanded that Snyder be incarcerated prior to sentencing because his record indicated he was a “flight risk,” Snyder slowly eased from his seat and bolted out the door. (He was apprehended only minutes later.)

According to a December story from the Associated Press, the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology has assembled a 40th-anniversary exhibit in its Virginia headquarters (appropriately enough, it’s not open to the public). Spy gadgets on display include a listening device for Asian jungles that resembles a heap of tiger droppings (in order to discourage anyone from inspecting it too closely) and a tiny camera designed to be strapped to a pigeon’s chest, an early version of which was too heavy and forced the test bird to walk home.

A Nation of Wimps

Donald Johnson, 64, sued a Shoney’s restaurant in West Palm Beach, Florida, seeking $55,000 for a 1995 incident in which he mistook its clam chowder for potato soup and suffered an allergic reaction; he claimed the episode had provoked psychiatric and sleep disorders, but in January he won a mere $407 in damages. And William Tremmel, 68, filed a lawsuit in September against the company that had been repairing the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, Virginia, when he used its employees’ portable toilet without permission in August 2001; some of the construction workers, fed up with strangers using their facility, blocked Tremmel inside with a bulldozer for what he claims was 25 minutes, and for his “mental suffering” he wants $100,000.

Great Art!

In December in Stockholm, Sweden, the owner of the gallery exhibiting the work of Ukrainian-born artist Nathalia Edenmont defended her against animal-rights protesters by claiming that she kills the animals in her photos humanely, and that art (unlike, for example, cosmetics testing) provides “food for the soul.” Among Edenmont’s artistic statements: A hand wearing the gutted front halves of five white mice like finger puppets represents the former Soviet Union (whose flag had five stars), which Edenmont believes was responsible for her mother’s murder, and several dead mice all pointing in the same direction represent the “cowardice” of Swedish society.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s current New York City installation, “The Empty Museum,” is a scratch-built room-within-a-room meant to look like a 19th-century art gallery with nothing on display. According to a January New York Times review, “The blank walls and the spotlights suggest the cruel Minimalist reduction and dematerialization of art, and most specifically, perhaps, the death of painting.” The piece will be up through April.

More Bright Ideas

In January in Houston, Pennsylvania, police arrested David Winniewicz, 36, for allegedly using subliminal sleep messaging to encourage his ten-year-old stepson to kill the boy’s four-year-old brother. Winniewicz’s wife claims to have discovered an audio recording of her husband’s voice instructing the sleeping ten-year-old in murder techniques (strangulation, smothering with a pillow, et cetera).

In December teachers working on contract in 11 California prisons sued the state over security restrictions (implemented January 5) that require them to give lessons from outside inmates’ cells–sometimes by hollering through meal-tray slots, which are often the only openings in the doors. Said a prison official, “It’s kind of like modified distance learning.”

In the Last Month

A team led by a University of Wisconsin-Madison veterinary ophthalmologist reported that a great horned owl in its care was recovering nicely after surgery to implant artificial lenses in its eyes; the bird had been starving in the wild because it’d gone blind and could no longer hunt. In Taipei, Taiwan, relatives of a kidnapping victim tossed about $600,000 in two sacks off of a highway overpass in an attempt to satisfy a ransom demand, but the money fell on a 57-year-old man riding a motorcycle and sent him to the hospital. And in Beaufort County, South Carolina, a 28-year-old woman driving on a rural road after dark struck and killed a pygmy hippopotamus that had escaped from a nearby plantation owned by Hollywood producer Joel Silver.

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