Lead Stories

In May Wired magazine reported that the Pentagon had begun soliciting research proposals for its LifeLog program, which would use microphones, cameras, biometric sensors, and electronic surveillance to create a vast searchable database of a person’s every action–right down to where he goes, what he hears and says, and how he feels. (No word yet on how a citizen’s TV-watching habits might be useful to the military.) A Pentagon spokesman insisted that only consenting subjects could be profiled, but one privacy advocate warned that LifeLog could be “TIA cubed”–a reference to the proposed Terrorist Information Awareness program, which would track the medical, travel, school, and credit card records of everyone in the country.

Oregon’s budget is under such strain that some of the state’s public schools were forced to end their academic years early, and lawmakers are cutting corners wherever they can. In April a prison doctor declared death-row inmate Horacio Reyes-Camarena a good candidate for a kidney transplant, a $100,000 procedure that would eliminate the even greater expense of his dialysis–$120,000 a year until his execution, which may be delayed by appeals for a decade. (Reyes-Camarena agreed to accept the kidney only reluctantly: “Why take it with me?” he said.) Meanwhile Oregon hospitals have had to turn away law-abiding kidney patients covered by the state’s health plan, because the plan’s reduced benefits might not cover the cost of drugs to prevent organ rejection.

Cultural Diversity

A February BBC report from Meghalaya, India, noted a playful local tradition of giving children famous Western names (the people like to appear knowledgeable and worldly, and their culture links laughter to long life and health). Among the candidates in a recent election: Adolf Lu Hitler R Marak, Tony Curtis, Rockfeller Momin, and Hilarious Dhkar. Current popular baby names include Bush, Blair, Clinton, and Saddam.

Latest Religious Messages

On May 9, the following concern was aired in the religious-advice column of the Arab News (an English-language daily in Saudi Arabia): “A person feels very uncomfortable during prayers because he gets recurrent thoughts that he might have discharged wind and [thus] invalidated the ablution….And it is all without sound or smell.” The answer, in part: “A wind discharge is ascertained by sound or smell. If neither is present, then no wind discharge has taken place.”

In May a monsignor of Saint John’s Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Parma, Ohio, 74-year-old Robert V. Yarnovitz, pleaded no contest to charges of public indecency and sexual imposition after an incident at a conference in nearby Huron Township. According to police, Yarnovitz was wandering the halls of the Sawmill Creek resort, drunk and wearing only a dress shirt and one sock; he groped at least one woman and one man, and when confronted by police, he answered most of their questions by shouting “Michael” or a string of profanities. (A spokesman from Yarnovitz’s church said the incident was “out of character” for the monsignor.)

The District of Calamity

Last year public schools in Washington, D.C., in an effort to help elementary students prepare for a standardized test, printed a study guide so riddled with embarrassing errors and typos that this year’s edition was expected to be a showpiece. But according to an April story in the Washington Post, the new guide is even worse. One multiple-choice question, accompanied by an image of nine flowers, asks the student to count them–but the answers are all numbers between 22 and 30. Another question reads, in full: “234 people went to the movie theater to see the first feature film and 456 went to the movies to see the second film. How many people went for both shows?”

People Out of Control

According to a May profile in the Salt Lake Tribune, Barbara Schwarz is the nation’s most prolific filer of Freedom of Information Act requests. Schwarz says she is a daughter of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and a granddaughter of President Eisenhower, and her fragmentary life story–which she’s convinced the government doesn’t want her to piece together–involves kidnappings by Nazis, microchip implantations, faked deaths, and hidden fortunes. She’s also trying to locate her alleged husband, who she claims has been falsely imprisoned for her murder. The Tribune says Schwarz has “carpet-bombed” every federal agency with “thousands” of FOIA requests and “dozens” of follow-up lawsuits (one of which tipped the scales at 2,370 pages and named 3,087 defendants).

In the Last Month

The deputy governor of Akita Prefecture in Japan resigned under fire four days after a magnitude-seven earthquake hit the area–he was acting governor at the time of the quake (the top official was abroad), but he’d continued to play pachinko for more than half an hour after it struck. In Lafayette, Louisiana, cockfighters and gamecock breeders filed a lawsuit against the federal government claiming that a new ban on shipping fighting birds across state lines constitutes ethnic discrimination against Cajuns and Latinos, since the sport is integral to both their cultures (and legal only in Louisiana and New Mexico). And a gas-station mini mart in Boston was struck by a Cadillac with a dead man at the wheel; he’d shot himself hours before with the engine idling, and the onset of rigor mortis caused his foot to either fall off the brake or press the accelerator.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.