-- Life Imitates "The Truman Show": In November, a Japanese TV show assigned a contestant (an aspiring comedian nicknamed Nasubi) to a small apartment equipped with little else besides a video camera, where he agreed to remain until he entered enough giveaway contests to win about $8,500 worth of prizes, and a further catch was that he had to subsist only on his winnings (so that, although he won lots of rice as a prize, he had to use ingenuity to cook it in the sparsely equipped apartment). Furthermore, unknown to Nasubi, the video surveillance was not simply to make a record of his ordeal but was broadcast live every Sunday night, even though he was usually nude in his apartment (in that he has not yet won any clothing).
-- In November, South African inventor Charl Fourie introduced a $1,000, Batmobile-like flame-throwing apparatus for automobiles, designed so that drivers could thwart carjackers. A liquefied gas canister in the trunk of the car feeds tubes that run under the forward doors, and a spark ignites a flame that shoots out about seven feet. Such a device might not be legal in many countries but is in South Africa, which has one of the world's highest crime rates.
-- Sentenced to two life terms for murder in Forsyth, Wyo., in November: Mr. Vernon Kills On Top (whose brother, Mr. Lester Kills On Top, received the same sentence in August). Seriously wounded by police in Denver in September after allegedly stabbing an officer with a knife: Mr. Keith F. Firstintrouble.
-- In September in Chicago, Lauryn K. Valentine, 21, was granted a legal name change by Cook County Judge Michael B. Getty. Valentine is now known as Carol Moseley-Braun, which is also the name of the Illinois U. S. senator who was defeated for re-election in November. Valentine said she wanted the new name as a tribute to Moseley-Braun, who once successfully encouraged Valentine to remain in school when she was considering dropping out. In December, the new Moseley-Braun filed official papers to run for city alderman, which provoked legal challenges from one opponent and the ex-senator. More to the story: Judge Getty temporarily changed his own name to a more Irish-sounding one to win election as a judge in 1988.
-- According to police in Boca Raton, Fla., pedestrian Kenneth DeLeon was accidentally hit by a curb-jumping car in August, driven by Adam Blumhof, 22, and fell through the windshield, landing headfirst in the passenger seat. According to the police report, Blumhof drove on for about a mile, alternately punching DeLeon and screaming at him to get out of his car. He eventually stopped, opened the passenger door, and rolled DeLeon out, even though DeLeon was suffering from two broken legs and a broken arm. (Blumhof pleaded no-contest in January.)
-- Former Philippines' first lady Imelda Marcos told reporters in December that she would soon file lawsuits to reclaim about $25 billion in assets once held by her late husband Ferdinand (but which his critics claim he stole), which he had given to some now-wealthy cronies but which she says was only for safekeeping. Imelda said that if all assets were returned to her, she would own about 150 of the country's major corporations and control about half the Philippines' economy. Since her return from exile in 1991, Imelda actually ran for office twice as an impoverished champion of the downtrodden.
In November, police in Twin Valley, Minn., reported the latest in a five-year-long spree of thefts of expensive brassieres from the Schep's Clothing store. All of the bras taken were size 44-D.
-- Over the last few months of 1998, artist Amy Greving created a life-size Virgin and Child sculpture for Christmas display at the First Reformed Church in Grandville, Mich., using the medium of lint from clothes dryers. Fellow parishioners supplied her the materials after Greving's husband accidentally tossed out two large bags of lint that she had been saving. The lint was treated with a liquid solution, wrapped around chicken wire and painted.
-- In November, Northwestern University ordered sophomore music major Ryan Du Val to whitewash his dorm-room ceiling after he had painstakingly painted on it three of Michelangelo's best-known works from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. After the press reported the incident, several people came to Du Val's aid, and the university said the ceiling can stay until the end of the school year. A local businessman offered to pay for the removal of the ceiling intact so that it can be exhibited.
-- Among recent performance art in the news: Lisa Levy's July show at Webster Hall in New York City, which consisted of items she had recently shoplifted (and in one case, half of a liverwurst sandwich she snatched from an elderly man at a deli). Also shown was videotape actually capturing some of the acquisitions. And the Nottingham "NOW ninety8" art festival in England in October featured a seven-hour-long video, "Filthy Words and Phrases," in which a woman merely writes 2,000 sexual and slang terms on a blackboard. The video project was made with a government grant of about $12,000.
-- A November Times of London report identified at least 50 fine artists in Iraq whose principal work is painting huge portraits (one is 30 feet high) of Saddam Hussein, which are in heavy demand by merchants and community leaders who display them by the hundreds around Baghdad to demonstrate their support for the nation's president. A leading painter, Muhammad Ali Karim, says that the work is not monotonous but challenging, in that there are so many facets of Saddam that can be captured, and that he and others work quickly because they are so inspired by such a great leader. A similar market exists for the nation's sculptors and ceramic artists, for huge statues and busts of Saddam.
In December, police in Loudon County, Va., acting on telephone records, finally caught up to the man they believe committed a string of burglaries dating back to 1996, arresting Michael Anthony Silver, 34. According to police, during one of the first burglaries, Silver paused to call a psychic hot line and ran up a $250 bill on the homeowner's phone, and for some reason gave his own name to the psychic.
Beginning an occasional reader-advisory series of recent stories that were reported elsewhere as real news but which were probably just made up: Time magazine in its December 28, 1998, issue characterized as real a story that ran in March 1998 on one of the wire services of a guy in Japan whose inflatable underwear (he was worried about drowning in a tidal wave) was accidentally triggered on a subway car, creating a huge balloon around him, battering riders against the inside of the car. Weird, but not true.