"Tall, slim, facial symmetry," "good teeth," along with classic makeup and dress and graceful movement, might comprise the inventory list for any beauty contest winner, and they are also the criteria for victors in Niger's traditional "Gerewol" festival -- except that the contestants are all males and the judges all females. Cosmetics are especially crucial, with symbolic black, yellow and white patterns and stripes (with white being the color of "loss" and "death"). A special feature of the pageants, according to a January BBC television report, is that when the female judges each select their winners, they are allowed to marry them (or have flings), irrespective of any pre-existing marriage by either party.
-- It was a prestigious hospital on a worthy mission (to recruit hard-to-match bone marrow donors to beef up dwindling supplies), but UMass Memorial Medical Center (Worcester, Mass.) went hardcore: hiring young female models in short skirts to flirt with men at New Hampshire shopping centers to entice them to give DNA swabs for possible matches. Complaints piled up because state law requires insurance providers to cover the tests, at $4,000 for each swab submitted by the love-struck flirtees, and the hospital recently dropped the program, according to a December New York Times report.
-- In December, McCaskey East High School in Lancaster, Pa., established a dynamic new program to improve their students' educational outcomes: racial segregation. At least three of the 11 junior class homerooms were designated as black-only with black girls "mentored" during homeroom period by black female teachers and black boys mentored by black male teachers (on the theory that kids will learn more from people who look like them).
-- Vietnam veteran Ronald Flanagan, in the midst of expensive treatment for bone cancer, had his medical insurance canceled in January because his wife mistakenly keyed in a "7" instead of a "9" in the "cents" space while paying the couple's regular premium online, leaving the Flanagans 2 cents short. Said the administrator, Ceridian COBRA Services, that remittance "fit into the definition in the regulations of 'insufficient payment'" and allows termination. (Ceridian said it warned the Flanagans before cancellation, but Ron Flanagan said the "warning" was just an ordinary billing statement that did not draw his attention.)
-- From a December memo to paramedics in Edmonton, Alberta, by Alberta Health Services: Drivers should "respond within the posted speed limits even when responding with lights and siren." "Our job is to save lives," AHS wrote, "not put them in jeopardy." According to drivers interviewed by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News, police have been issuing tickets to drivers on emergencies if they speed or go through red lights.
-- In January, Thalia Surf Shop of Laguna Beach, Calif. (named by OC Weekly in 2009 as Orange County's best), ran a special Martin Luther King Jr. promotion featuring "20 Percent Off All Black Products," illustrated with a doctored photograph of Dr. King, himself, in one of the shop's finest wet suits (black, of course). (Following some quick, bad publicity, the shop's management apologized.)
-- Questionable State Regulation: (1) William MacDonald, restricted by state law wherever he and his wife relocate to because he is a "registered sex offender," told The New York Times in January that his case is particularly "galling," in that his only crime was violating Virginia law by having oral sex with consenting adults, which most legal scholars believe is not a crime (following a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision). (Virginia still believes that its law is valid.) (2) Tennessee, the "second-fattest" state, according to a recent foundation report, continues to pay for obese Medicaid recipients to have bariatric surgery (at an average cost of about $2,000), but to deny coverage for an overweight person to consult, even once, with a dietitian.
(1) Johni Rice, 35, eating at a Waffle House restaurant in Spartanburg, S.C., was charged in January with beating up two diners at another table over the quality of their conversation -- a man and a woman who were discussing "women with hairy armpits." Rice was assisted in the pummeling by two other diners, and weaponized food was involved. (2) Among the annual events marking the New Year (similar to the ball-dropping at New York's Times Square), according to a CBS News report: a pickle dropped into a barrel in a North Carolina town, a dropped bologna in Pennsylvania, a dropped frozen carp in Wisconsin, and, in Brasstown, N.C., the dropping of the opossum. (However, according to Clay Logan, founder of the event, the opossum is merely lowered, not dropped.)
-- As of early November, 150 people had been killed by the 2-week-old, erupting Mount Merapi volcano in Central Java, Indonesia, and the government had created shelters in stadiums and public halls for 300,000 jammed-together evacuees. By that time, however, some had petitioned authorities to open up private shelter locations so that the displaced could attend to certain romantic, biological needs. Apparently some evacuees had become so frisky that they had left the shelter and returned to their homes in the danger zone just so they could have sex.
-- Jerrold Winiecki, 56, was lifted into an ambulance on Dec. 8 for the 25-minute ride to a hospital in a Minneapolis suburb, after paramedics were unable to keep his airway fully open because of infection. Minutes later, the struggling-to-breathe Winiecki noticed the ambulance stopping at a familiar location enroute -- a Subway sandwich shop near his home, thus increasing his distress. The stop was brief; Winiecki later recovered; and doctors said the ambulance ride was not life-threatening. The ambulance company said proper protocols were met, in that the driver did not stop for food but to use a restroom because of diarrhea.
Three men and two juveniles were charged with burglary in Silver Springs Shores, Fla., in January following a December break-in that netted them electronics and jewelry and what they thought was a stash of cocaine. The men told police they had snorted some of the powder. The police report identified the powder as the ashes of the resident's late father and of two Great Danes. (Some of the ashes were later recovered.)
Respect for All Cultures: (1) In January, in Village One in Cambodia (about 12 miles from Phnom Penh), local residents alarmed by a spirit-possessed boy gathered, about 1,000 strong, for a good-luck wedding ceremony marrying two pythons -- "magic" animals that have the power to bring fortune and happiness. (2) Customs and Border Protection officers at Washington, D.C.'s Dulles Airport often receive international passengers carrying reminders of home -- such as the visitor from Ghana who, according to a Baltimore Sun report, landed on Dec. 3 carrying a hedgehog, elephant tails, chameleons, skins from cat-like "genets," sheets soaked in the blood of sacrificed chickens, and a package of dirt.
Broward County, Fla., judge Paul Marko, in a July (1990) divorce case, awarded Marianne Price, 33, possession of the marital house but prohibited her from having boyfriends over, adding that her husband could have the "entire (Miami) Dolphins cheerleading squad running through his apartment naked" if he wanted to, because that apartment was his. Marko then advised Price to start visiting singles bars: "I've been (in them). I'm a single man. There are all kinds of bimbos ... and ... guys running around in open shirts with eagles on their chests. There are great guys out there." Marko said he would order Price's house sold if she allowed a male to live there: "I don't want (you) all of a sudden taking up with some nice, sweet, little blond from Norway." Marko later apologized.