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News of the Weird


* Great Britain's premier art award, the Turner Prize, was won in December by painter Chris Ofili, whose signature finishing touch on his work is a few blotches of elephant manure. Ofili's centerpiece painting features an overweight singer exploding out of a tinseled outfit and bears the title "The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars Part 2." Runner-up submissions were videos of Hungarian women in a steam bath and a couple's nasty breakup in a crowded restaurant, as well as a sculptor's work of mangled female genitalia.

* In November, to improve lagging sales, the Liko-L tourism company in Kiev, Ukraine, announced a new attraction: a daylong visit to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which has been closed to the public since its 1986 catastrophic accident. Liko-L said the government, in need of tax revenue, had given it special permission for the tours, claiming the radiation count is low and "not dangerous."

* The journal Animal Reproduction Science reported in October that Purdue University re-searchers had grown a microscopic elephant egg inside a specially bred mouse and that the team, after a little more tinkering, could breed such eggs for pregnancy. The primary use of the technique, they said, would be to breed endangered species' eggs inside nonendangered animals.

* In November, several teachers at Lindsay Thurber High School in Red Deer, Alberta, reacted to a bomb-threat note found in a classroom by sending students out to search lockers to try to find the bomb, with one teacher allegedly offering a prize to the one who brought it in. And in November at William S. Hart High School near Los Angeles, science teacher Thomas Magee led students in making a tennis-ball-firing cannon propelled by methanol, but something went wrong, and the resulting explosion left two students severely burned. A school official said it was a "common" physics experiment, but a retired college-chemistry professor quoted in the Los Angeles Times called it "strange."

* In November, Frank Biondi Jr., fired as chief executive of Universal Studios, received a severance package worth $30 million, which is on top of the $15 million severance package he received in 1995 when he was fired as chief executive of Viacom. Also in November, former BankAmerica chief executive David Coulter, 51, was dismissed by new owner NationsBank and began drawing a pension of $5 million a year for the rest of his life. Months before buying BankAmerica, NationsBank bought Barnett Banks of Florida, whose chief executive Charlie Rice received a severance package of $150 million.

* In November, a team of doctors from the main Russian health-inspection agency announced coming crackdowns on newspapers and publishers, not because of the stress of that country's relentlessly bad news but because of the quality of paper (thin and porous could lead readers to headaches) and ink (which gets on fingers and might contaminate food). The agency said it planned to issue "certificates of hygiene" to publishers who comply with the law.

* The 1,300-student Lourdes College, near Toledo, Ohio, announced in December that it would offer two courses for the spring term (in chemistry and psychology) that meet once a week from midnight to 2:30 a.m.

* Indianapolis graduate student Lael Desmond, 27, filed a complaint against the Ameritrade discount brokerage in November, claiming that the company should indemnify him for his $40,000 medical-school nest-egg that he lost in self-service Internet trading just before the July stock-market plunge. Desmond eagerly borrowed money to buy stocks "on margin," admittedly without reading Ameritrade's special margin-trading instructions, and said he "never dreamt I had any possibility of losing all my money."

* In December, a judge in British Columbia declared Ronald Brown, 56, an "irredeemable drunk," thus certifying him to the Canada Pension Plan as eligible for monthly disability benefits, citing as evidence that Brown has been continually fired from jobs for drunkenness, including two jobs working for his brother. In his recent divorce, Brown received about $18,000 (U.S.) in lump-sum alimony from his ex-wife but withdrew a request for an additional $440 (U.S.) monthly expressly for booze.

* Olakunle A. Osoba, 50, was convicted of heroin trafficking in Columbus, Ohio, in December and sentenced to 30 months in prison, but not before he tried to persuade federal judge John D. Holschuh that he lapsed into crime only because he had been powerless to fight off a voodoo hex placed on him by a former lover in New York. Osoba said he was plagued by dreams in which the woman demanded such large sums of money that drug-dealing was his only way out.

* A California District Court of Appeal ruled in November that John M. Van Dyke's 1994 lawsuit against the operator of the Bear Mountain ski slope could proceed in spite of a state law barring most skier lawsuits. Van Dyke was permanently paralyzed from the waist down after smashing into a steel post holding up the sign "Be Aware -- Ski With Care."

* Shawn Ervin, 36, filed a lawsuit during the summer in Waterbury, Conn., against Red Roof Inns over a 1996 injury that fractured his finger and ultimately led to the removal of part of it. He injured it at a Hartford Inn when a bed's headboard, which he said was flimsily nailed to the wall, came down on his finger while he was having sex with his girlfriend.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or

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