Lead Story

In October in West Point, Kentucky, the three-day Knob Creek Gun Range Machine Gun Shoot, billed as the nation’s largest (with a separate competition for flamethrowers), attracted 12,000 visitors, 60 of whom had coveted spots on “the line,” a hundred-yard stretch of valley where machine gunners fire into cars, boats, appliances, and RVs, hoping to detonate hidden explosives or tanks of gasoline. (A single shooter might run through $10,000 in ammunition, and the waiting list is ten years long.) Among the champions: Samantha Sawyer, 16, who has won the women’s submachine-gun competition for the past four years. Architect David Michael, interviewed by Louisville’s Courier-Journal, said he and his wife had come to a Knob Creek shoot on their first date: “If she could accept flamethrowing as a hobby, she could accept anything.” Said Betty Murphy of Michigan, another visitor: “This is one of those times when you know [America] is the greatest place on Earth.”

Alternate Reality

In October a senior Vatican spokesman, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, repeated to a BBC radio audience the church’s claim that people in AIDS-ravaged countries should not use condoms to prevent the spread of HIV; contradicting widespread scientific consensus (and public statements by the World Health Organization), the cardinal insisted that the virus can pass through pores in the latex. In Kenya, where an estimated 20 percent of the population is infected with HIV, the archbishop of Nairobi has said, “AIDS…has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms.”

In October the New York Times reported that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s inspector general, dismayed by the “simplistic” questions on the final exam for airport screeners in training, had made much of the test public. One example: “How do threats get on board an aircraft? a. In carry-on bags; b. In checked-in bags; c. In another person’s bag; d. All of the above.” The inspector general also complained that 22 of the exam’s 25 questions had already been asked on lesson quizzes during training, and that screeners were often briefed on the exam in advance.

More Things to Worry About

In September customs officials in Amsterdam recovered a suitcase, apparently abandoned by a Nigerian passenger, that contained 1,500 to 2,000 baboon noses, which are used in traditional African medicines. (Authorities became suspicious due to the smell of decay.) And in October in Jupiter, Florida, 43-year-old David Deyo, a former volunteer Sunday school teacher and part-time professional clown (stage name: “Noodles the Clown”), pleaded guilty to possessing and manufacturing child pornography.

Government in Action

According to a September report in the Arizona Republic, 41-year-old paraplegic Steve Winter of Mesa has filed a lawsuit against the Veterans Administration, claiming it reneged on promises it made in 1983 when he agreed to undergo experimental electrode implantation to stimulate the muscles in his legs. Doctors allegedly assured him that the process was “reversible” and that “non-functional” electrodes would be removed, but Winter says that after the therapy failed and he left the program, the VA disavowed him: for 15 years it refused to examine him or remove what remained of the 180 electrodes, which had degenerated into a maze of broken and corroding wires. Winter has suffered multiple infections and is still at risk of a double amputation; he’s already had 30 surgeries in the past decade.

Fetishes on Parade

In October in Brisbane, Australia, police officer James Marriner, 43, was sentenced to five years in prison on 14 charges related to his long-running sexual harassment of fellow parishioners in a Bible-based community near Ipswich, Queensland. Marriner had requested nude photos, sexual histories, and samples of blood, urine, and pubic hair, in some cases from community members as young as 12, persuading his victims that he would make them “covert police informants” to help crack a pedophile ring (which apparently existed only in Marriner’s mind). Reportedly his status as a police officer and trusted church member–and the sheltered, unworldly culture of the parish–made his fabrications unusually persuasive.

Great Art!

In October two hunters on a remote mountainside in far northern Sweden came across 70 pairs of shoes filled with butter, according to an Associated Press report. Chinese artist Yu Xiuzhen is believed to be responsible, since he created a similar installation in the Tibetan mountains surrounding Lhasa, China, in 1996. (Swedish officials seemed less concerned with the shoes’ status as art than with figuring out how to retrieve them before the butter rots.)

In the Last Month

In Johannesburg, South Africa, 22-year-old Theuns Prinsloo, a white man who’d dressed as a bullfighter to emphasize his Spanish heritage, won the Mr. Africa pageant; an organizer insisted, “He epitomizes a young African in Africa today.” In Woodbury, New Jersey, a 39-year-old man was arrested for bank robbery ten days after fleeing the scene of the crime on an oversize tricycle. And in Salem, Oregon, a 24-year-old man armed with a pistol was arrested after ramming a car with his tricycle (knocking himself to the ground) and then stealing the car.

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