Banana art may be iconic
MIAMI — A Miami couple who bought a headline-grabbing banana duct-taped to a wall have acknowledged the absurdity of the artwork, but say they believe it will become an icon and plan to gift it to a museum. Billy and Beatrice Cox said in a statement that they spent more than $100,000 on the “unicorn of the art world” after seeing “the public debate it sparked about art and our society.” The conceptual artwork — “Comedian,” by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan — was the talk of last week’s Art Basel Miami. The artist sold three editions, each in the $120,000 to $150,000 range, according to the Perrotin gallery. “We are acutely aware of the blatant absurdity of the fact that “Comedian” is an otherwise inexpensive and perishable piece of produce and a couple inches of duct tape,” the Coxes said. “Ultimately we sense that Cattelan’s banana will become an iconic historical object.” The piece was widely parodied on social media. Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest framed a bagel with a piece of duct tape over it and Brooke Shields taped a banana to her forehead, writing, “An expensive selfie,” on Instagram. On Saturday at the art fair, Georgian-born artist David Datuna removed the latest iteration of the banana from the wall, unpeeled it and took a bite as a large crowd documented the moment with their phones. “I respect Maurizio, but it’s art performance: Hungry artist,” said Datuna, who was not among the buyers. The piece became such a focus of gawking that the gallery removed it Sunday for the final day to encourage viewers to see the rest of the art fair. The Miami couple — whose purchase included a “certificate of authenticity” along with the banana and the piece of tape — said they plan to loan and later gift the work to an unspecified art institution in hopes of attracting new generations to the museum. They plan to throw out old bananas when appropriate. “Yes … the banana itself will need to be replaced,” they said.
Black bears remain off limits
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The once-threatened black bear will continue to be off limits to Florida hunters, as part of a 10-year management plan approved Wednesday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The bears used to number only in the low hundreds and were declared a threatened species in the 1970s. Since then, their numbers have exploded, with the bear population swelling to about 4,000 across the state. In some places, they have become a nuisance and safety issue as humans and the animals encroach on each other’s habitat. The population explosion has caused concern, prompting the commission to draft a management plan that they said takes a scientific approach toward addressing the rising numbers. For now, though, that plan won’t include hunting — although commissioners say they wouldn’t rule out future hunts when appropriate. The commission last authorized a hunt in 2015 — the first in more 20 years — and hunters killed 304 bears in two days. The hunt drew criticism from animal advocates. The commission reconsidered another hunt two years ago but declined then, as it did this week, to authorize another hunt.
Resting place for owners, pets
MADISON, Miss. — Losing a pet is hard, but one Mississippi funeral is offering a shared space for pet and pet owners to live for eternity. Natchez Trace Funeral Home said they are the first to own a columbarium where the ashes of a pet and their owner can be laid to rest side by side, WLBT-TV reported. “We’ve actually called it the footprints and paws,” said funeral home consultant Brittany Maugh, while introducing the newly installed columbarium. Most cemeteries only allow pets or humans, never both in the same section. Funeral director Michael Hudgins said there’s been a long time demand for a co-existing area. He said he thought it would be a great idea to set aside a place where the home could accommodate those wishes. The columbarium is seven sections high and has 12 sections on each level. Hudgins said the columbarium allows for a cremated individual and their pet or pets to be in one single compartment. Maugh said she’s happy to bring it to the funeral home. “My cats are, and extension to, they’re exactly like my children. I take care of them, I feed them, I give them water, so therefore they need to be memorialized the same way you would a human,” Maugh said.
Lonesome duck needs a date
BLUE HILL, Maine — There’s no Tinder for waterfowl, but that didn’t stop a Maine bird owner from trying to find a match for a mourning duckling. One of Chris Morris’ ducks, Yellow Duck, lost its mate to a hungry bobcat a couple of weeks ago at Morris’ yard in Blue Hill. Morris, a 31-year-old special education teacher, drew up a singles ad for Yellow Duck and placed it on a community bulletin board at a local grocery store. The ad declares: “Duck seeking duck. Lonesome runner duck seeks companion. Partner recently deceased.” It also includes an email address dedicated to the dating search and states, “serious replies only.” The Bangor Daily News reports farm owner Sadie Greene might have just the duck to mend Yellow Duck’s broken heart. Greene and Morris are arranging a meeting for the ducks on Sunday. Yellow Duck’s favorite food is slugs, and they might be on the menu for the big date, Morris said.
100,000 eggs given to shelter
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. — A farm that supplies vaccine manufacturers is donating nearly 100,000 surplus eggs to a central Pennsylvania food bank that’s scrambling to get them to needy families. The Bloomsburg Press Enterprise reported Thursday that the eggs are too small or too large for the drug-making process, so they are going to help families in Columbia and Montour counties. A charity picked up about 8,000 dozen eggs this week, driving them away in a box truck. Only about 100 were broken in the one-hour journey. Volunteers had stockpiled hundreds of egg cartons to prepare for the donation. The eggs don’t need to be refrigerated and can last about two weeks. The food bank expects to distribute them to food pantries, fire halls and churches, expecting that holiday baking will provide a demand for the eggs. It’s the third year the farm has made the donation. Two years ago it amounted to 320,000 eggs.
New Zealand recovers 6 bodies
WHAKATANE, New Zealand — As grieving families sang traditional Maori songs, New Zealand military specialists wearing protective gear landed on a small volcanic island Friday morning and recovered six bodies of the 16 people who died in an eruption four days earlier. The specialists — six men and two women wearing hooded protective suits and using breathing gear –landed by helicopter on White Island and found six of the eight bodies thought to be there. The bodies were airlifted to a nearby ship where scientists and other police and military personnel monitored the risky operation. Volcanic gases still being emitted on the island are so toxic and corrosive that scientists said a single inhalation could be fatal and another eruption like the fatal one Monday was possible. Police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha said the families cheered when they were told of the successful recovery of six bodies and expressed joy and relief. “They’ve got their loved ones coming home,” Haumaha said. The bodies will be taken to Auckland later Friday for identification.
3-digit suicide hotline number set
NEW YORK — Federal regulators are setting up a new three-digit number to reach a suicide prevention hotline in order to make it easier to seek help and reduce the stigma associated with mental health. Once it’s implemented, people will just need to dial 988 to seek help, similar to calling 911 for emergencies or 311 for city services. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255). Callers are routed to one of 163 crisis centers, where counselors answered 2.2 million calls last year. “The three-digit number is really going to be a breakthrough in terms of reaching people in a crisis,” said Dwight Holton, CEO of Lines for Life, a suicide prevention nonprofit. “No one is embarrassed to call 911 for a fire or an emergency. No one should be embarrassed to call 988 for a mental health emergency.” A law last year required the Federal Communications Commission to study assigning a three-digit number for suicide prevention. The FCC said in a report that there is overwhelming support for a three-digit number because it would be easier for distressed people to get help. Thursday’s vote starts the months-long process to make that happen. The next step is a comment period before the FCC moves to an order.
10 ex-NFL players charged
WASHINGTON — Ten former NFL players were charged in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud the league’s health care benefit program by submitting false claims for medical equipment, including devices used on horses, the Justice Department said Thursday. The players were charged in two separate indictments filed in federal court in Kentucky, accusing them of conspiracy, wire fraud and healthcare fraud. Prosecutors allege they submitted nearly $4 million in phony claims, leading to payouts of about $3.4 million between June 2017 and December 2018. Those charged include five former players on the Washington Redskins, including Clinton Portis and Carlos Rogers. Prosecutors allege the players targeted the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which was established as part of a collective bargaining agreement in 2006. It provides tax-free reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical care expenses that were not covered by insurance and that were incurred by former players, their spouses and dependents. “As outlined in the indictments, a group of former players brazenly defrauded the plan by seeking reimbursements for expensive medical equipment that they never purchased,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, who leads the Justice Department’s criminal division.
Golfer caught in hooker sting
BARTOW, Fla. — A professional golfer was one of 124 people arrested in Florida in a prostitution and human-trafficking sting. Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, 44, was arrested Sunday and charged with first-degree misdemeanor solicitation. Gainey was arrested in an undercover sting called “Operation Santa’s Naughty List,” which lasted six days. The investigation yielded 53 arrests for prostitution, 46 arrests for soliciting prostitution and five arrests for intent to sexually harm a child, according to the sheriff’s office. County Sheriff Grady Judd said Gainey, a South Carolina native, was in Florida for a charity golf event. “(Gainey) missed his tee time the next morning,” Judd said. “He was a scratch.” Gainey turned pro in 1997 and joined the PGA Tour in 2008. He’s known for wearing gloves on both hands, hence the nickname, and has one career PGA Tour win at the McGladrey Classic in October 2012.
Boeing crew capsule ready
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule finally has a launch date for its first test flight to the International Space Station. After an intensive review Thursday, NASA and Boeing managers agreed to a Dec. 20 liftoff. “Hopefully, we should all be getting an early Christmas present this year,” said Phil McAlister, director of NASA’s commercial spaceflight development. Just a few technical issues remain to be completed, he noted. No one will be aboard, just a mannequin named Rosie. Three astronauts will strap in for the second test flight of a Starliner sometime next year. SpaceX also plans to launch astronauts for NASA next year. The company conducted a test flight without a crew back in March.
House panel presses ahead
WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee pushed deliberately toward a historic vote Thursday night to approve articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, splitting sharply along party lines in a grueling session that stretched late into the evening. It was expected to end with charges being sent to the full House for action next week, before the holidays. The committee, made up of some of the most strident Democrats and Republicans in Congress, clashed for hours in pointed and at times emotional debate, drawing on history and the Constitution to argue over the two charges. Trump is accused, in the first article, of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival, Joe Biden, while holding military aid as leverage, and, in the second, of obstructing Congress by blocking the House’s efforts to probe his actions. Trump is only the fourth U.S. president to face impeachment proceedings and the first to be running for reelection at the same time. He insists he did nothing wrong and blasts the Democrats’ effort daily as a sham and harmful to America. Republican allies seem unwavering in their opposition to expelling Trump, and he claims to be looking ahead to swift acquittal in a Senate trial. Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded confident Thursday that Democrats, who once tried to avoid a solely partisan effort, will have the votes to impeach the president without Republican support when the full House votes.
Poll suggests Johnson majority
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is likely to win a solid majority of seats in Parliament, an exit poll suggested late Thursday — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union next month. It would also make Johnson the most electorally successful Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher, another politician who was loved and loathed in almost equal measure. The survey, released just after polls closed, predicted the Conservatives would get 368 of the 650 House of Commons seats and the Labour Party 191. In the last election in 2017, the Conservatives won 318 seats and Labour 262. It would be the biggest Tory majority since Thatcher’s 1980s’ heyday, and Labour’s lowest number of seats since 1935. That result would be a triumph for Johnson and a disaster for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced immediate calls for his resignation.
Calls for FBI surveillance changes
WASHINGTON — Revelations that the FBI committed serious errors in wiretapping a former Trump campaign aide have spurred bipartisan calls for change to the government’s surveillance powers, including from some Republicans who in the past have voted to renew or expand those authorities. Anger over the errors cited in this week’s Justice Department’s inspector general’s report of the Russia investigation has produced rare consensus from Democrats and Republicans who otherwise have had sharply different interpretations of the report’s findings. The report said the FBI was justified in investigating ties between the campaign and Russia, but criticized how the investigation was conducted. The report cited flaws and omissions in the government’s warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, documenting problems with a surveillance program that Democrats and civil libertarians have long maintained is opaque, intrusive and operates with minimal oversight. They now have been joined by Republicans who are irate that FBI officials withheld key information from judges when they applied to eavesdrop on former Trump aide Carter Page. “I’m still trying to get my arms around the proposition that a whole bunch of conservative Republicans who’ve logged years blocking bipartisan FISA reforms are now somehow privacy hawks,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. It’s unclear what steps, if any, Congress could or will take to rein in the FBI’s power under the surveillance law, and it remains to be seen whether outrage over the way a Trump ally was treated will extend to less overtly political investigations.
Linked to anti-Semitic fringe group
The deadly shooting rampage at a New Jersey kosher market has cast a spotlight on a fringe movement known for its anti-Semitic strain of street preaching and its role in a viral-video confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial this year. Investigators believe that the man and woman who killed three people at the Jersey City grocery Tuesday in addition to gunning down a police officer at a cemetery hated Jews and law enforcement and had expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites movement, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Thursday. “But we have not definitively established any formal links to that organization or to any other group,” he said. “Based on the available evidence, we believe that the two shooters were acting on their own.” Not all sects of the movement spew hateful rhetoric, but many Black Hebrew Israelites subscribe to an extreme set of anti-Semitic beliefs. Those followers view themselves as the true “chosen people” and believe that blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are the true descendants of the 12 Tribes of Israel, said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “They view white people as agents of Satan,” Segal said. They believe “Jews are liars and false worshippers of God. They view blacks as the true Israelites, and not the impostor Jews.”
Plane found in Antarctica waters
SANTIAGO, Chile — Searchers combing Antarctic seas have recovered parts of a military transport plane and human remains belonging to some of the 38 people aboard who vanished en route to the frozen continent, Chilean officials said Thursday. Air Force Gen. Arturo Merino said at a news conference that based on the condition of the remains, he believed it would be “practically impossible” that any survivors would be pulled from the water alive. An international team of searchers continued the hunt, while officials on shore said they would use DNA analysis to identify the crash victims. Among the recovered items, searchers have found a landing wheel, sponge-like material from the fuel tanks and part of the plane’s inside wall. Personal items include a backpack and a shoe, officials said. “Remains of human beings that are most likely the passengers have been found among several pieces of the plane,” Merino said. “I feel immense pain for this loss of lives.”
Tough issue of defining prejudice
NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s order to expand the scope of potential anti-Semitism complaints on college campuses is raising the stakes of an already tense battle over how to define discrimination against Jews. The executive order Trump signed on Wednesday tells the Education Department, when vetting alleged Civil Rights Act violations that can lead to a loss of schools’ federal funding, to consider a definition of anti-Semitism that could include some criticism of Israel. Several major Jewish American organizations hailed the order, but more liberal-leaning groups warned it could be used to muffle campus organizing against the Israeli government and in support of Palestinian rights. Behind that divide are politically volatile questions: When does speech about Israel cross the line into anti-Semitism, and who is qualified to draw that line? For supporters of Trump’s order — which is aligned with bipartisan legislation that had stalled — the distinction is a clear matter of reining in those who would question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. “There is no question that people have the right to criticize Israel. Jews, and non-Jews, do it very well,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, who has financially backed the GOP but recently launched a $25 million project aimed at fighting anti-Semitism on both sides of the aisle.
Brazil’s Amazon at a crossroad
TRAIRAO, Brazil — Night falls in Brazil’s Amazon and two logging trucks without license plates emerge from the jungle. They rumble over dirt roads that lead away from a national forest, carrying trunks of trees hundreds of years old. After pulling onto a darkened highway, the truckers chug to their turnoff into the woods, where they deliver their ancient cargo. By morning, the trunks are laid out for hewing at the remote sawmill, its corrugated metal roof hardly visible from the highway. The highway known as BR-163 stretches from soybean fields to a riverside export terminal. The loggers were just south of the road’s juncture with BR-230, known as the Trans-Amazon. Together the highways cover more than 5,000 miles, crossing the world’s fifth-biggest country in the state of Para. Carved through jungle during Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, the roads were built to bend nature to man’s will in the vast hinterland. Four decades later, there’s development taking shape, but also worsening deforestation — and locals harbor concerns that progress may pass them by.