Piece keepers 


Dining-room workers at the United Nations staged a wildcat strike at lunchtime on May 2, causing the building's restaurants to be locked down, but what Time magazine called a "high-ranking U.N. official" ordered them unlocked so that staff members could eat (perhaps to pay for food on the honor system). What ensued, according to Time, was "Baghdad style `looting` chaos," in which staff members ran wild, stripping the cafeterias and snack bars bare not only of food, but also silverware and liquor, none of it paid for, including bar drinks taken by "some well-known diplomats."

Social insecurity

A March investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that it is the policy of the Social Security Administration (even in times of terrorist alerts) that when someone presents what is obviously a phony ID in order to receive a Social Security card, the ID is merely returned to the person and he is asked to leave the building. No document is retained, no report is made, and law-enforcement is not called.

Macaque tease

Plymouth (England) University, with a small Arts Council grant, did not test whether an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters could produce the works of Shakespeare, but did test what six Sulawesi crested macaque monkeys would do on a computer over a four-week period at Paignton Zoo in Devon. The Guardian newspaper reported in May that the monkeys produced about five pages of text between them, mostly consisting of the letter S. Professor Geoff Cox said they actually spent a lot of the time sitting on the keyboard.

Banana republic

The prime minister of Latvia, Einars Repse, announced in January the formation of an anti-"absurdity" bureau to deal with the government's excessive "foolishness" and lack of order and the "laziness" of civil servants. The agency, according to a newspaper in the capital of Riga, now receives about 10 complaints a day and has made 460 responses, including referring seven to government prosecutors.

Junkie must clean up

In February, municipal inspectors in Boston threatened sculptor Konstantin Simun, 68, with fines of $50 per day if he didn't soon clean up the eyesore that is his yard, even though he has repeatedly pointed out that he just happens to work in the medium of "junk."

"It's my life's work," Simun said at a hearing, referring to the old tires, traffic cones, plastic milk and water bottles, painted buckets, old golf bags, a broken trampoline and other items. For instance, he made a version of Michelangelo's "La Pieta" entirely from cut-up plastic milk bottles. Simun's work was once housed at the prestigious DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park near Boston, as a "curator's choice" exhibit. (Noted Philadelphia sculptor Leo Sewell also works in this medium.)

Art attack

In early March, as an edgy Washington, D.C., prepared for possible terrorist reactions to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Reena Patel, 22, and Olabayo Olaniyi, 32, were arrested at the Capitol as they sang and danced, with Olaniyi wearing a ceramic mask, and both with objects duct-taped to their bodies resembling the appearance of suicide bombers, but they maintained they were just artists. Said Patel, "We like to make things beautiful, to uplift, to make people happy." Said Olaniyi, "Duct tape is a hot item in D.C. I wanted my art to reflect what was hot here."

Booby prize

Prominent Columbia, S.C., surgeon Harry J. Metropol, appearing before a state legislative committee in April to argue that doctors shouldn't have to pay so much money in malpractice awards and insurance premiums, minimized the harm suffered by a woman (not Metropol's patient) who lost both breasts because of an error in cancer diagnosis.

"She did not lose her life," Metropol said, sunnily, "and with plastic surgery, she'll have breast reconstruction better than she did before. It won't be National Geographic, hanging to her knees. It'll be nice, firm breasts."

Sweet irony

The Cadbury company launched a major promotion campaign throughout Britain to fight childhood obesity by donating sports equipment to schools in exchange for candy bar purchases. For example (according to an April report in The Guardian), the company will donate a volleyball net and poles to a school if it hands in labels from 5,400 Cadbury chocolate bars. In fact, a 10-year-old child getting a basketball for his school would have to play basketball for 90 hours just to burn off the calories in the candy he'd have to eat to get enough labels for the ball.

Dumb and dumber

In the midst of the national debate over fire codes in the wake of the February Warwick, R.I., nightclub disaster, fire-safety consultant Philip R. Sherman told a Providence Journal reporter that toughening the codes was not an automatic cure because the codes will still be ignored due to variations in people's intelligence: "Clearly we have to account for dumb things `when we write the codes`. Is wrapping the room in foam plastic the level of dumbness we want to account for? Or will somebody do something `even` dumber?"


More by Chuck Shepherd

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