China's societal self-improvement in preparation for the 2008 Olympics continues. The Beijing Tourism Bureau ordered hotels to re-translate English signs, hoping to avoid such notorious past gaffes as "Racist Park," which is now "Park of Ethnic Minorities," and a cafe's attempt to salute Western visitors with "Welcome, big nose friends." And the Beijing Olympics Committee has been training hostesses for months to stand in military-like precision, straight enough to hold a sheet of paper between their knees, and to smile continuously, showing "six to eight teeth" (even if placing a chopstick in the mouth sideways is necessary for practice). There are height and weight requirements for the hostesses, and each must have an upper- to lower-body ratio of no more than 11-to-13, to eliminate, according to local newspapers, "big bottoms."
-- It struck Leo Hill, 81, of Lakewood, Colo., that he was being shorted sheets of toilet paper (in the 12-pack, whose rolls allegedly yielded fewer sheets than similar rolls in the 4-pack), and he earnestly counted 60 rolls, sheet by sheet, concluding that the shortage amounted to enough paper to service one sit-down session per roll. He took his complaint to the Denver Post (and even to the Better Business Bureau), but the reporter, trying to replicate Leo's work, found no shortage, in Leo's brand or eight others.
-- Jonathan Lee Riches is believed to be the most prolific lawsuit-filer ever to operate from behind bars. His "docket" now includes more than 1,000 cases in just over two years (with eight more years to go on a federal sentence for fraud), including claims totaling several trillion dollars from "injuries" inflicted on him by such people as President Bush, Martha Stewart, Steve Jobs, Britney Spears, Tiger Woods (luggage theft), Barry Bonds (illegal moonshine production), and football player Michael Vick ($63 billion for allegedly stealing Riches' pit bulls and selling them on eBay so that Vick could in turn buy missiles from Iran).
-- Prison reformer James McDonough revealed in February the extent of the mess he inherited when taking over the Florida Department of Corrections in 2006 (40 officials charged with crimes, 90 fired, 280 demoted) and said much of the problem centered on inter-department softball. Even though former officials had admitted to contract kickbacks and frequent taxpayer-funded "orgies," McDonough said, "I cannot explain how big an obsession softball had become. People were promoted on the spot after a softball game ... to high positions in the department because they were able to hit a softball out of the park ... The connection between softball and the parties and the corruption and the beatings (of prisoners) was greatly intertwined."
-- Making artistic, themed scrapbooks is a $2.6 billion industry in the U.S. (nearly one-fifth as large as the adult-video industry) and has a "Hall of Fame" as protective of its morals as baseball's, which has shunned gamblers and steroid-users. According to a January Wall Street Journal report, one "superstar" scrapbooker, Kristina Contes, was recently kicked out of the hall for violating etiquette by displaying another's photo inside her scrapbook in a competition. Contes said the oversight was inadvertent but that she is now shunned within the community for her grave offense and called "labelwhore."
-- Orlando "public artist" Brian Feldman celebrated Feb. 29 (Leap Day) by devoting himself to "leaping," according to a report on WOFL-TV. For the entire 24 hours, beginning at midnight, Feldman leaped off a 12-foot-high platform every three minutes and 56 seconds (a total of 366 times). Said Feldman, "I thought it would be a good idea to get people to think how they spend their day."
-- German artist Markus Kison created a full-body burqa, the robe that devout Muslim women wear for modesty, but equipped to send a digital signal of the wearer's face to anyone nearby via Bluetooth. According to a February report in Der Spiegel, Kison reasoned that, since nothing in the Quran specifically forbids it, women can use it to determine their own personal levels of modesty.
-- First, Arkansas Tech University canceled outright its production of the Stephen Sondheim play "Assassins" (containing some violence) because of "recent tragic events" on campuses, but then relented because of the hard work that the students had already put in. In February, the production was staged in full, one time, to an audience solely of participants' families, who presumably could handle the violence. However, even that showing took place without the play's prescribed guns, even though they were only wooden props. (The "guns" were later discarded but only after being sawed in half.
(1) Police officer Thomas Wilson pleaded guilty to having 8,742 images of child pornography on his computer, but the judge acknowledged that Wilson might have acquired them "somewhat accidentally" (Brisbane, Australia; March). (2) Ernest Simmons was convicted of attempted murder of two sheriff's deputies despite his defense that he only "accidentally" shot at them (11 times, using two guns) (Orlando, January). (3) Accused purse-snatcher Derrick Dale, 21, said that the purse fell on his foot and (according to the arrest report) "the next thing he knew, (it) was in his hands" (Destin, Fla., January).
This Getaway Plan Works Better in July: James Jett, 33, was arrested in Blount County, Tenn., in February after attempting to evade police by jumping into the Little River and submerging all but his face. However, the high temperature that day was only 36 degrees (F), and by the time he was discovered, he was suffering from hypothermia.
-- More People Having Sex with Inanimate Objects: (1) Art Price Jr., 40, was charged with public indecency for several instances of walking naked into his back yard and (according to neighbors' videos) simulating intercourse with a picnic table (Bellevue, Ohio, March). (2) A 36-year-old man faced several charges after allegedly masturbating on a woman's bicycle seat (explaining that he felt "an overwhelming calm" when he smelled the handlebars of a woman's bike) (Ostersund, Sweden; February). (3) A building contractor was caught by a security guard simulating sex with a canister vacuum cleaner (and claiming that he was merely vacuuming his underpants, which he said was a "common practice" in his native Poland) (London; March).
-- People continue to purposely maim themselves in various schemes. Daniel Kuch allegedly had a friend shoot him in the shoulder so he could get time off work (and was arrested for telling police that it was a drive-by) (Pasco, Wash., February). And Elizabeth Hingston, 24, let her boyfriend break her leg by jumping on it so that the pair could claim insurance proceeds worth the equivalent of $200,000 (Plymouth, England, November). And Zachary Booso, 19, shot himself in the cheek, shoulder and thigh so that he could brag to his friends and ex-girlfriend that he is involved with gangs (Brownsburg, Ind., March).
-- A 39-year-old man who had been cited 32 times for driving without a seat belt (and who finally rigged a fake belt in his car to create the illusion that he was belted in) was killed in a low-impact car crash that would not have been fatal to a belted driver (Okata, New Zealand; coroner's inquest, February). And a 74-year-old man died of hypothermia after sneaking out of a nursing home at 4:30 a.m. to smoke (Winnipeg, Manitoba; January). And a man and a woman were fatally struck by several vehicles on the Trans-Canada Highway after they had continued a fight from their stopped car out to the middle of the road (Chilliwack, British Columbia; February).