Oct. 10, 2001

Liquid Ants, Last Meals
And Bert Meets Osama

By Roy Rivenburg
Got Ants?: Nothing quenches the thirst like a glass of crushed ants. Or so goes the thinking behind Ant Natural Stimulation, an exciting new energy beverage from Britain. The drink is made from liquefied red and black Asian ants. No word on whether the ad campaign will feature celebrities sporting an ant mustache.

Lethal Injections for Dessert: Here at Off-Kilter, we constantly get letters from food connoisseurs who are planning heinous crimes and want to know which state prison system serves the best final meals to death row inmates (in case they are arrested and sentenced to die). Until now, we couldn’t offer much guidance. But thanks to a new book, ‘‘Last Suppers: Famous Final Meals from Death Row’’ we finally have a definitive answer.

If you’re going to commit a capital crime, try to do it in Illinois, which received a four-star rating from authors Ty Treadwell and Michelle Vernon for execution cuisine and service. Avoid Virginia prisons, which ranked last in the survey.

Bumper Sticker Patrol: ‘‘Where Are We Going and Why Am I in This Handbasket?’’

The Muppets Take Afghanistan?: The latest bizarre development on the terrorism front, adapted from Roy Rivenburg’s article in the Oct. 11 Los Angeles Times:

Has Bert of ‘‘Sesame Street’’ become an international terrorist?
That’s the question dogging the bushy-browed Muppet after his face mysteriously appeared on posters of Osama bin Laden hoisted by anti-American demonstrators in Bangladesh.
The strange image was captured in news photos and soon began making the rounds on the Internet, amusing some but angering Bert’s owners at the Sesame Workshop in New York.
The roots of Bert’s Bin Laden connection date back to 1996, when Filipino art student Dino Ignacio, now 27, launched a tongue-in-cheek ‘‘Bert is Evil’’ Website showing doctored photos of the Muppet with everyone from Adolf Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan to Jerry Springer and Dennis Rodman.
Ignacio’s creation spawned numerous imitators, including a site that added Bert to a photo of Bin Laden. From there, the Bert-and-Bin portrait was downloaded by a Bangladesh print shop and used to make 2,000 posters, according to the Associated Press. "We did not give the pictures a second look or realize what they signified until you pointed it out to us," said Mostafa Kamal, the shop's production manager.
But plenty of others noticed. When photos of the Bangladesh protest began circulating, the Reuters news service fielded so many calls that one picture editor said she jokingly started answering the phone, ‘‘Bert and Ernie hotline.’’
Bert’s corporate masters at the Sesame Workshop are not amused. On Wednesday, they issued a statement decrying the Muppet’s unauthorized cameo: ‘‘We’re outraged that our characters would be used in this unfortunate and distasteful manner,’’ said a spokesman. ‘‘This is not at all humorous. The people responsible for this should be ashamed. ... We are exploring all legal options to stop this abuse and any similar abuses in the future.’’
Ignacio likewise disavowed Bert’s latest incarnation.
‘‘I had nothing to do with this,’’ said Ignacio, who is now a student in San Francisco. ‘‘That image was never on my site.’’
But the Bert-is-evil theme has been adopted by others. Since Sept. 11, Ignacio has received a stream of doctored Bert photos via e-mail, including several showing Bert hiding in the rubble of the World Trade Center or running from the scene wearing a backpack.
‘‘I’ve been trying to stay out of it because this is too touchy a subject,’’ Ignacio said. ‘‘I haven’t even updated my ‘Bert is Evil’ site since 1998. But sometimes when you create something and you want to move on, it creeps back and bites you.’’
Bert's longtime pal, Ernie, could not be reached for comment.

Alarming Trends Bureau: More reasons to lose sleep at night:

-- A Tokyo sex club has created rooms that look like subway cars, in which male customers can grope female ‘‘passengers’’ while pretending to commute, according to the Mainichi Daily News.
-- Speedo has unveiled an underwater radio for swimmers. Equipped with waterproof earphones, the 1.3-ounce radio operates up to four feet under the surface. No doubt, underwater cellphones will be next.
-- PETA has endorsed the use of gas masks for pets in case of biological warfare on the United States.

Rinse and Spit Bureau: Bulletproof choppers and beehives might be in your dental future. According to Wireless Flash News Service, a dentistry professor at the University of Maryland has begun using strips of Kevlar, the same material found in bulletproof vests, to stabilize loose teeth in senior citizens. Meanwhile, in New York, dentists at the University of Rochester say that propolis, a compound used by Brazilian honeybees to build hives, might prevent cavities.

In related news, a polar bear worried about dental hygiene stole toothpaste from a tourist camp in the Norwegian Arctic, while leaving food untouched, according to Reuters news service.

Press Releases We Ignored: Just For Men Haircolor sponsors webcast in which baseball legend Keith Hernandez colors his gray hair -- live.

Celebrity Birthday Bureau: The game of Twister, which was originally called Pretzel and was designed as a promotional giveaway for a shoe polish company, turned 35 on Oct. 10.

Off-Kilter Encyclopedia: Women do 85 percent of all laundry loads in the U.S., according to a survey by Wisk detergent.

Supermarket Tabloid Headline of the Week: ‘‘Your Neighbor Might be a Cannibal!’’ (Weekly World News)

According to an FBI investigator, ‘‘Urban cannibalism has become a very serious problem in this country.’’ Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:

-- Mailmen, pizza delivery dudes and meter readers vanish from your neighborhood at an alarming rate.
-- Whenever you host Tupperware parties, one neighbor always orders the jumbo container, big enough to hold an Audi.
-- When you sunbathe in the backyard, the neighbor volunteers to apply ‘‘sunscreen’’ that smells suspiciously like marinade.
-- Neighbor frequently greets you with a super-tight hug, as if testing you for tenderness.

Unpaid Informants: Wireless Flash News Service, PR Newswire, The Oregonian.

Copyright 2001 by Roy Rivenburg
Distributed by
Creators Syndicate