Lead Story

In September the Colombian government provided television stations with copies of a videotape, apparently made at a Christmas party thrown by the National Liberation Army (ELN), that officials had recovered in a raid on a suspected rebel compound. On the tape were scenes from a mock beauty pageant, with male soldiers in bikini bottoms and improvised sashes strutting along a makeshift catwalk; a crowd of women laughed and heckled, and the emcee, wearing a ski mask, playfully chided the contestants (“Her measurements are: round, wide, and built like the back of a horse”). Following the pageant, though, was footage of four bound men who’d been kidnapped for ransom.

People Different From Us

According to a June New York Times profile, Ashrita Furman, 48, holds the world record for breaking world records (78 over the past two decades, 20 of which he still holds). He’s unicycled backward for 53 miles, jumped on a pogo stick 3,647 times while underwater in the Amazon River, and recently set a new record for the fastest mile run with a full milk bottle balanced on one’s chin. A celibate bachelor and vegetarian, he lives quietly in Jamaica, New York, where his guru, Sri Chinmoy, runs a meditation center. Furman believes the difficult physical tasks he undertakes help him experience inner peace, and at the time of the profile he planned to go the distance November 2 in the New York City Marathon not by running but by skipping.

The Continuing Crisis

In September the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Australia issued a warning to regulars of the club scene, apparently having identified a problem serious enough to require government intervention: if you’re trying to revive someone who’s unconscious from a drug overdose, the NDARC advised, it does him no good–in fact, it can cause seizures or a stroke–to insert ice cubes into his rectum.

In October in Shasta County, California, 45-year-old John Edward Knowles II was convicted of the attempted murder of two sheriff’s deputies, partly on the strength of a jailhouse recording made during a visit from his mother and girlfriend. Knowles, after shooting his way out of one deputy’s custody, had stolen his sister’s car, then exchanged gunfire with the second deputy; on the tape he discusses his crimes and laments his failure to achieve a longtime dream: “I always wanted to be on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. I would have made it if [my sister] hadn’t woke up and reported the car stolen.”

How to Drive a Conservative Nuts

In September in Sparks, Nevada, city attorney Chet Adams, influenced by recent legal challenges to an Alabama courthouse monument of the Ten Commandments, ordered an employee to scissor out the word “God” from the “God Bless America” signs that had been hanging in city hall since shortly after the September 11 attacks. (Mayor Tony Armstrong, who was among many baffled by the modified, anonymous blessing, immediately replaced the signs himself.)

In September a British charity, the Family Planning Association, distributed a cartoon booklet, produced with government funds, intended to teach 9-to-11-year-old children about healthy sexuality (one drawing depicts a little girl apparently masturbating in the bath). Also in September, the British community-service organization Connexions distributed a primer for teens on sensible marijuana smoking–actually a leaflet printed to resemble an oversize package of rolling papers. And for the fall semester the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor offered another section of its sociology course “How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation” (according to the professor, “initiation” refers to the enforcement of supposedly right and wrong ways to be gay, not to the recruitment of straight students).

Cries for Help

In June in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 23-year-old Ramon Garfield Gordon, who was scheduled to be a contestant on Canadian Idol, was arrested after an alleged public-masturbation spree: once he’d performed for oncoming traffic on a bridge, wearing nothing but a white T-shirt pulled over his head, and on another occasion he’d followed a woman down the sidewalk, nude, imploring her, “Look at me. Please look at me.” And in August in Barcelona, Spain, police arrested a man they believed to be the serial mugger who had been cornering women with a box cutter and then, once he had their money, telling them he knew what he was doing was wrong and that they should spit on him (according to an officer, several did).

In the Last Month

The inspector general’s office of the Colorado Department of Corrections reported that due to a state law banning smoking in prisons, inmates can reap profits of up to 450 times cost on contraband tobacco (compared to eight times cost for cocaine). And the residents of a remote mountain village in Fiji announced that they would formally apologize to the descendants of British missionary Thomas Baker, who’d been killed and eaten in the village in 1867 after supposedly pulling a comb out of a chief’s hair.

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