Lead Stories

In a recent issue of an ecology journal, a professor at State University of New York at Buffalo expressed confidence that eventually butterflies could be genetically altered to permit advertising logos and other designs on their wings….And last month the British video game company Acclaim Entertainment announced it would “raise advertising to a new level” by purchasing billboard rights to gravestones.

Last month the Saudi Arabian press, reporting on a school fire in Mecca that killed 15 girls, said some of the victims had been denied permission to flee the burning building without their head scarves and abaya robes. Witnesses said police from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice beat three girls until they retreated into the smoke-filled building. Rescue efforts were further hindered because the school is kept locked to segregate women from men.


A sheriff’s official in Arapahoe County, Colorado, admitted last month that deputies had inadvertently placed a 16-year-old girl in a holding cell with a 34-year-old man being held for sexual assault. The incident came to light after the girl reported to her lawyer that the man had molested her.

In January, jurors in Fort Worth, Texas, intended to sentence 54-year-old Sammy Alvarez to a prison term of 2 to 20 years but accidentally checked the wrong box on the verdict form and gave him probation.

In February the attorney general of New South Wales, Australia, began an investigation after a man convicted of manslaughter made a routine request for trial records to be used in his appeal and was inadvertently provided with the names and addresses of his jurors.

In February a 52-year-old employee of the Golden Peanut Company in Norfolk, Virginia, had to be rescued after he slipped off a catwalk and sank into a vat containing tons of unshelled peanuts….And that same month a sludge-hauling firm in Cheltenham, England, was fined about $12,000 for a 2001 incident in which one of its drivers swerved in traffic, sending several hundred pounds of oily gunk down onto a man who was driving with his car window open.

Least Competent People

In Tallahassee, Florida, police arrested 30-year-old Carl Franklin after they caught him with his pants down in public, apparently preparing to urinate. When they shouted at him, Franklin stuck his lit cigarette in his pants pocket, quickly pulled up his pants, and took off running. A few seconds later officers noticed that Franklin’s pants were on fire, but he didn’t stop until the waistband burned through and his pants came down, tripping him up.

Last August a jury ruled in favor of X-IT Products of Chesapeake, Virginia, which had accused Walter Kidde Portable Equipment Inc. of stealing its design for a fire escape ladder. The charge was strengthened by the fact that, on Kidde’s packaging, the woman and boy pictured climbing down the ladder were the sister-in-law and nephew of X-IT founder Aldo DiBelardino.

Our Civilization in Decline

In January health authorities in Tacoma, Washington, arrested 42-year-old Margaret Bobo after finding her 81-year-old mother living in a garbage-strewn home, perched on a pile of trash about four feet high. The younger Bobo, who’d been bringing her mother meals and water every day, said she had to climb over piles of garbage to get into her mother’s room and slide back down them to leave.

Hoping to reduce food waste, a government ministry in South Korea announced last month that the country’s citizens threw out more food in 2001 than North Koreans consumed.

The Australian cell phone company Telstra apologized recently for having abruptly closed the account of a cancer patient, allegedly because it wants accounts settled before they’re passed on to a deceased person’s estate.

In the Last Month

In Bonn the German ministry of agriculture announced it would implement European Union guidelines that require pig farmers to provide their stock with playthings, brighter lighting, and 20 seconds per day of quality time.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a 15-year-old boy breathlessly took his seat in a school cafeteria at lunchtime and shortly thereafter was arrested for having robbed a local bank about 40 minutes earlier.

In Madison, Maine, a bald eagle swooped down on a 13-pound dachshund and carried it 300 feet into the air before losing its grip.

In Seattle two police officers responding to a nonemergency call crashed into each other, totaling both cars and damaging a nearby SUV being driven by an undercover officer.

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