Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sundry events

One languorous afternoon, while browsing through new and old magazines in our cramped reading room upstairs, I recalled Felix Feneon’s Nouvelles en trios lignes, which can either mean “the news in three lines” or “novellas in three lines.” It was very tempting to impersonate Feneon, but duplicity can be an elusive ambition, the work of the master fictionist was not only original in form but also enigmatic as well as troubling in its implications.

What follows is a feeble attempt to condense the news or stories of the day in three lines. Those that exceed Feneon’s maximum only indicate my own inability, and also signify that Feneon, at least for me, is really difficult to clone.

Feneon’s three-line news items are obsessively chiselled and crafted, a precursor to Twitter’s epigrammatic 140 bytes or 20- to 30-word sentences.

Luc Sante, an author and professor at Bard College, wrote that Feneon’s work “heralds the age of mass media, via a sensibility formed by the cadences and symmetries of classical prose.” Feneon’s opus “forecasts a century of statistics, while foregrounding individual quotidian detail; invites speed of consumption while manifesting time-consuming labour of execution .... It is a dry bundle of small slivers of occurrence that lie beneath history, but it represents the whole world, with all its contradictions."


During a soccer match in Hilla, Iraq, between local rivals Sinjar and Buhayra, a player was fatally shot in the head by a fan as he was about to score a game-tying goal.

One hundred journalists killed in the Philippines since 1986. A hundred deaths meant to silence men and women whose calling was to serve the people’s right to know. A hundred deaths that expose as a mockery the government’s claims to being a democracy.

A woman was shot in the stomach by an arrow one afternoon as she was opening the trunk of her car while dropping off some elderly churchgoers at a nursing home in New York’s Bronx borough.

A bomb killed four South Korean tourists while posing for photographs near the ancient fortress city of Shiban – a UNESCO World Heritage site known as the “Manhattan of the Desert” because of its towering 16th century mud-brick buildings.

In Toronto, two muggers ambushed a 46-year-old man – all for a stick of lip balm. The muggers reached into the old man’s pants pocket and took the lip balm and keys. They also tried to take his wallet but fled before they could get it.

A woman walked into a hospital with a stab wound. She told the hospital staff she had been jogging when she bumped into someone who somehow inflicted the minor wound. She didn’t notice she was bleeding until later.

Many perpetrators of rape go unpunished in South Africa, but the situation is even worse for lesbian women who are being raped in an effort to cure them of their sexual orientation, a misguided practice called “corrective rape.”

Applications to spy agencies worldwide have been on the rise since 9/11 and aren’t slowing down. Over the past two years, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had over 6,000 applications for 100 jobs as intelligence officers.

A recent University of California study found that when times get tough, women have fewer male babies. Researchers speculate pregnant women under stress have more premature births, and male foetuses are more likely to be born prematurely, so fewer of them survive.

German mathematician Adam Ries has been sent a letter demanding he pay long-overdue television and radio licence fees. The bill was sent to Ries’ last home address, a house he bought in 1525. Ries died in 1559, centuries before TV and radio were invented.

A Russian Air Force chief said that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered an island as a temporary base for strategic bombers. The Russian general also said Cuba may be used as a base for the aircraft.

Good news for Death Row. The U.S. recession has seen a startling fall in death sentences – down an amazing 60 per cent from 1998. Maryland, Montana and New Mexico are looking at dropping capital punishment altogether, not for moral reasons, but because capital cases take longer in court and involve more lawyers. An execution costs at least 70 per cent more than keeping a convict in prison.

A Whitehorse man convicted of drunk drinking and sentenced to 20 months in jail has asked the court for more time behind the bars. “Why couldn’t you just give me more, so I can get more counselling and more therapy?” he begged the court judge.

One in ten Americans takes an antidepressant of some sort, with women taking them at twice the rate of men. Some say it’s nice to see at least one growth industry in tough times; others just find it depressing.

Seeking to turn disaster into profit, Beichuan County officials in China have converted an earthquake-devastated area into a tourist spot. Visitors can go boating on the “quake lake,” a body of water created by flooding and landslides, visit a museum with an earthquake simulation, and see a school where children were buried by tons of concrete. Officials hit on the idea after 200,000 people visited the disaster zone during the Chinese New Year.

A restaurant review of Kalyvia, on the Danforth in Toronto: The cooking is solid, portions massive, the booze cheap, and the service snappy. Appetizers are strong: keftedakia (meatballs) are plump and juicy, tender octopus is sharp with lemon and oregano, and spanakopitas melt in the mouth. Moussaka is first-rate layers of waxy spuds, soft eggplant and allspice-scented beef under a rich, creamy roof of béchamel. Only a lumberjack would have room for dessert.

Miki Cooper flew to Atlanta recently and grabbed a cab driven by Walter Fernandez. When she got out, she forgot to take a bag. Contents: three diamond rings, two diamond earrings and a Rolex watch. Cooper need not have worried. Fernandez turned up at her hotel with the bag and its contents. Cooper rewarded him with a kiss and US$200. Why didn’t Fernandez keep loot worth thousands? “It wasn’t mine,” he said.

After a ten-year battle, Dutch university student Teunius Tenbrook has won the right to attend lectures. A decade ago, Tenbrook was expelled from Erasmus University because of his unbearably smelly feet. Professors and students alike demanded that he not attend class owing to the smell; even the library barred him from reading there. But a court judge recently ruled: “The professors and other students will just have to hold their noses.”

To make shopkeepers remit sales taxes, the Armenian government has launched an ingenious remedy. Every sales bill will now carry a unique number. During monthly televised draws, the government will draw lucky receipt numbers and award customers between $20 and $20,000 in cash. A government spokesman expects the draws will have Armenians clamouring for sales receipts, forcing merchants to hand in sales tax.

Swedish art student Anna Odell faked insanity so well she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. First, she convinced police she was suicidal by appearing ready to jump off a bridge. At the hospital, eight staff had to restrain her while she kicked, screamed and spat. When she revealed that she was only making performance art for her degree, furious doctors discharged her. They’re threatening that Anna’s next performance may be in jail.

A Roman Catholic priest in Florida stands accused of stealing US$488,000, which he allegedly used to support his girlfriend (a church bookkeeper), take trips and indulge in gambling. The priest’s lawyer intends to prove that his client spent the money doing God’s work.

Flight attendants in India have been ordered to have a lively talk with pilots every half-hour to ensure they stay awake. The measure was sparked by recent incidents of airliners flying off their flight paths because pilots were dozing off. The aviation authority says this is not a problem and that it’s normal to get drowsy in cockpits.

Singer Janet Jackson has ballooned to an estimated 160 lbs. because she isn’t working and has too much time on her hands to eat ice cream and lard pie.

The house rented by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt has been the scene of “freaky” parties and has a “shocking past.” A feng shui expert suggests they cleanse the energy in the house.

An ad in Harper’s Magazine: “Women’s Welding Workshop in beautiful Taos, New Mexico. Learn to weld, forge and De-mystify metal!”

[Culled from an assortment of magazines and newspapers.]

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