Lead Story

In August in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Dale Doell lost his preaching parrot, a “hatched-again” African gray named Solomon, when the bird flew off during a photo shoot outside his father-in-law’s home. (According to his owner, Solomon has a “fire-and-brimstone” preaching style and a vocabulary of about 2,600 words, mostly scripture.) In September Solomon was still missing, and Doell told a reporter that he’d just have to “see what the Lord is going to do” about the parrot.


In July the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of South Africa, presumably in an attempt to broaden its support base, voted 19 to 2 to become the Death Penalty Party, with the original members forming a “lesbigay” subgroup. And in September, the government of Manitoba announced that it had ordered 40,000 condoms of “assorted flavors” (“strawberry, banana and vanilla”) for prisoners in the province’s ten jails–but after an indignant public response, officials cut back on the number and said that regular condoms would be fine.

Latest Religious Messages

Earlier this year, during filming in a remote area of Italy for the upcoming Mel Gibson film The Passion of Christ, the actor who plays Jesus was struck during a lightning storm, according to an October report in a supplement to the trade paper Variety. Also hit, by a fork of the same bolt, was assistant director Jan Michelini–whose umbrella had been struck by lightning a few weeks earlier at a shoot near the town of Matera. No one was seriously hurt by either strike, though a witness claimed to see smoke “coming out of [the actor’s] ears.” The film has already drawn heated criticism from Jewish leaders worried that it will encourage audiences to blame Jews for Christ’s death.

Until last year, temple priests in Tamil Nadu, India, still practiced an ancient ritual intended to propitiate the goddess Kaliamman and secure her blessings for a child: the youngster was wrapped in saffron-colored cloth and buried alive. (Though recent versions of the ritual shortened the duration of the interment to 60 seconds, Indian human rights organizations nonetheless complained.) Last month a priest of Kaliamman in the Madurai district demonstrated a substitute ritual with about 60 children: instead of burying them, he had them lie down on special leaf mats and leaped over each one.

In October in Casper, Wyoming, indefatigable antigay crusader the Reverend Fred Phelps announced that, in keeping with Casper’s 1965 decision to allow a religious monument (the Ten Commandments) in a city park, he would erect his own religious monument there: a plaque commemorating the gay-bashing death of Casper’s Matthew Shepard with an inscription that reads, in part, “Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God’s Warning.” (A federal appeals court ruling has established that a city cannot discriminate among religious messages.) The Casper city council subsequently decided that the Ten Commandments monument was a bad idea and voted to remove it from public property.

More Things to Worry About

According to testimony at a July disciplinary hearing in Chiswick, England, dentist Neville Kan drilled away almost half of a patient’s healthy tooth, then demanded she pay him about $100 (which he claimed she owed him from a visit five years previous) before he would fill the hole. And in July in Euless, Texas, a 26-year-old man who’d been arrested in an Internet child-sex sting (the “15-year-old girl” was, of course, a cop) asked police if he’d be out on bond in time to get to a meeting he’d scheduled with his fiancee about their upcoming wedding.

Alternate Universe

In an October report, the federal government’s General Accounting Office revealed that the Pentagon has been lax in monitoring just who buys its surplus chemical and biological lab equipment, and claimed that such items–including protective suits and bacteriological incubators–could easily have found their way to terrorists (at discounts of up to 90 percent). And the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency admitted in September that it had been monitoring a whiskey distillery on Scotland’s island of Islay, using one of the facility’s own webcams, because officials believed that with a small “tweak” it could begin operating as a chemical weapons lab.

Names in the News

Expatriate American millionaire Thomas Frank White, now 68 and living near Pattaya, Thailand, was accused by Mexican authorities in February of child prostitution, child sex abuse, and providing drugs to minors; to fight extradition at a hearing in May, he hired a Thai attorney named Kittyporn Arunrat.

In the Last Month

In Rio de Janeiro, opera director Gerald Thomas, jeered during a curtain call after a performance of his radical reworking of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, dropped his trousers and mooned the audience. The city of Lyon, France, bought 10,000 bright red plastic dog droppings to scatter on its sidewalks, hoping they would shame dog owners into curbing their pets (the city currently spends about $600,000 a year cleaning up after dogs). And in Key West, Florida, Naked Lunch, believed to be the country’s first stand-alone clothing-optional restaurant (that is, it’s not located in a nudist camp), opened for business.

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