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[NEWS OF THE WEIRD]

by Chuck Shepherd

Barnyard Theater

British director Missouri Williams brought an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to the London Courtyard art facility in August for a one-week run, centered on a human actor struggling to stage the play using only sheep. The pivotal character, Lear’s daughter Cordelia, famously withholds flattering Lear (thus forgoing inheriting the kingdom), and her silence forever tortures Lear — and of course silence is something sheep pull off well. Actor Alasdair Saksena admitted there is an “element of unpredictability with the sheep,” but lauded their punctuality, calmness and lack of fee demands.

Williams promised another Courtyard run for “King Lear With Sheep” in the fall.

Suspicions Confirmed

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, has an award-winning “telework” program allowing patent examiners flexible schedules, leading half of the 8,300 to work at home full-time — despite a 2014 Washington Post report on employees gaming the system. In August, the agency’s inspector general exposed several of the most ridiculous cases of slacking off, including one examiner who was paid for at least 18 weeks’ work last year that he did not perform and that his manager did not notice. (The examiner, who had been issued nine poor-performance warnings since 2012 and who had flaunted his carefree “workday” to coworkers for years, abruptly resigned two hours before a meeting on the charge and thus left with a “clean” personnel record.) Wrote the Post, “It’s a startling example of a culture that’s maddening.”

Bright Ideas

Only China and Iran execute more prisoners, but Saudi Arabia also has a soft side — for jihadists. Saudis who defy a ban on leaving the country to fight (usually against the common enemy, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad) are, if they return, imprisoned at a maximum-security facility in Riyadh, but with liberal short “vacations” at “Family House,” hotel-quality quarters with good food, playgrounds for children and other privileges (monitored through guest-satisfaction surveys). Returning jihadists also have access to education and psychologists and receive the equivalent of $530 a month with ATM privileges. The purpose is to persuade the warriors not to return to the battlefield once released, and officials estimate that the program is about 85 percent effective.

Highly Committed People

— Impersonating a police officer in a traffic stop is not uncommon, but Logan Shaulis, 19, was apparently so judgmentimpaired on May 30 that he set up his own elaborate “DUI checkpoint” on route 601 near Somerset, Pennsylvania, complete with road flares, demanding “license, registration and insurance” from driver after driver. The irony of the inebriated Shaulis judging motorists’ sobriety was short-lived, as real troopers soon arrived and arrested him (on DUI, among other charges).

— A woman identified only as Zeng, age 39, was finally imprisoned in August in Urumqi, China — 10 years after she was convicted of corruption. Availing herself of a traditional “probation” option in Chinese law for expectant mothers, Zeng had remained free by getting herself pregnant (and proving it) 14 times during the 10 years (although only some of the fetuses were carried to term).

New Hampshire Blues

— The president of the University of New Hampshire publicly complained in July about the “bias-free language guide” posted on the school’s website — since, he said, it denounces use of such words as “Americans” (as insensitive to South Americans), “seniors” (better, “people of advanced age”), “rich” (should be “person of material wealth”) and “poor” (change to “person who lacks advantages that others have”). (One state senator mockingly suggested changing the state’s “Live Free or Die” motto to “Live Free But Upset No One.”) — Tough Love: Sexual assault is certainly punishable in New Hampshire by prison time, but pending legislation assumes prison is not enough. By House Bill 212, anyone who commits sexual assault while out hunting or fishing will also have his hunting or fishing license revoked.

The Americanization of China

After five students drowned while swimming in a reservoir in China’s Yunnan province, parents of two of them sued the reservoir’s management company, complaining that it should have posted signs or barricades or, even better, guards to keep kids from frolicking in the dangerous waters. According to an August report, the management company has now countersued the parents, demanding compensation for the additional water-treatment measures it was forced to undertake because the reservoir had been “polluted” by their children’s corpses.

Adventures in Turtle Sex

(1) A female Yangtze giant softshell turtle, believed to be the last female of her species, was artificially inseminated in May at Suzhou Zoo in China through the efforts of animal fertility experts from around the world. She is thought to be more than 100 years old (as was the last male to “romance” her, although their courtship produced only unfertilized eggs). (2) The Times of London reported in July that Briton Pamela Horner, seeking her “escaped” tortoise Boris (even though, as they say, he couldn’t have gone far), found “tortoise porn” on YouTube (mostly, mating sounds) to play in the yard and lure him back. A tortoise expert told The Times: “They make quite a lot of noise. We can hear them groaning for miles.”

The Aristocrats!

No. 1 in the News: Fukuoka Prefectural Police arrested two officials at a video company in June, along with three “actresses,” in the making of videos of the three seated on the floor of trains of the Nishi-Nippon Railroad and urinating. Police said they were acting on complaints of DVD customers (who, after all, had selected the disks from the video company’s “inappropriate urination” category, but nonetheless complained to the railroad).

‘© 2015 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate.

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