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Spiderman:
Punta Gorda, Fla., inmate James "Happy" Borland, 41, suffered a near-fatal concussion in December from being roughed up by inmates Lemuel "K-Money" Ware, 32, and Corey Andrews, 32, because Borland had accused Ware of stealing his pet spider and renaming it "Pinky." According to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report, Borland had demanded his spider back, but Andrews intervened. Ware, who said he had purchased the spider fair and square, felt he had to go after Borland because Pinky (in a small box in Ware's shirt pocket) "told" him to.

Talking trash:
After the police chief of Portland, Ore., defied a local judge and said he would continue to examine suspicious people's garbage without search warrants (because, he contends, curbside garbage is public property), reporters from the local Willamette Week newspaper examined (under cover of night) a December day's curbside garbage thrown out by the chief, the district attorney and the mayor (who is officially the chief's boss). The newspaper published an inventory of each official's trash, finding much banality (e.g., what the mayor planned to watch on TV) but nothing illegal or improper. When told what the reporters did, the police chief got hostile, and the mayor said the reporters "went nuclear."

Jack Ass, indeed:
The former Bob Craft filed a lawsuit in November against the owners of the reckless-stunt-filled MTV program (and movie) "Jackass," claiming it has defamed him, in that five years ago, he had his own name legally changed to "Jack Ass," which he thought would call attention to his national campaign against drunk driving. Ass, who lives in Montana and filed the lawsuit there, claims that the TV show and movie have damaged his reputation ("which I have worked so hard to create," he wrote) to the tune of at least $10 million.

Government in action:
State authorities raided a Honolulu artifacts dealer in December and filed criminal charges against him for possession of rare or extinct birds without a state license. However, as dealer Don Medcalf pointed out to them at the time (to no avail), not only are the rare birds merely stuffed animals, but they were killed and stuffed sometime in the 1800s, not only before the possession law was passed but before Hawaii was even a state. In January, the prosecutor dropped the case because he "felt (the charges) wouldn't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Avant art:
In September, art student Nathan Banks, 22 (of New York's Purchase College), painted randomly chosen words on about 60 meandering cows to see if they would inadvertently line up to form poetry. At about the same time, in England, writer Valerie Laws, 48, did the same thing with sheep (except that she chose the words of only one poem, to see if the sheep could form another poem). An arts council granted Ms. Laws about $3,400 for her project, which she said would break down the boundaries between "literature" and "quantum mechanics."

Least competent criminals:
In November, Blair MacKay, 32, was fined about $600 for invasion of privacy by a court in Dingwall, England, after testimony that he had barged into a neighbor's apartment and asserted, "I don't listen to phone conversations," after the woman had just minutes earlier told her companion over the phone that Blair MacKay was probably listening to them.

Food for thought:
Ng Lai Ping, 39, complained in October that an official at Hong Kong's Central Library had demanded that she stop breastfeeding her child in public and gave as the reason signs posted at various places in the building, "No Food or Drinks."

D.C. -- District of Calamity:
The FBI charged in November that the now-resigned head of the Washington, D.C., Teachers Union may have embezzled more than $2 million in union funds (while broken-down public schools lack books and supplies for students) to support an Imelda Marcos-like clothing, furnishings and artwork habit. On another matter, the D.C. public school system admitted in December that it had continued to pay out $5 million in employee benefits during the year to ex-employees who had already left the government (and other parts of the District government were suspected of doing the same thing).

Our Civilization in decline:
The Guardian (London) reported in December that multinational food giant Nestle continues relentlessly to demand about $6 million from dirt-poor Ethiopia as payment for that government's having nationalized a Nestle subsidiary 27 years ago. (According to the Oxfam humanitarian group, $6 million would feed a million people for a month.)

2003 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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