Lead Stories

The minimum age for attendance at some tennis, soccer, and golf academies has dropped to two, according to a June CNN story bolstered by interviews with instructors, parents, and doctors in New York City and Washington, D.C. The experts say most parents of such young students are motivated by visions of their children going on to earn college scholarships or become top pro players. Said one parent, whose three-year-old daughter hits 70 tennis balls a day, “I think you have an edge starting at three, with all [my daughter’s] friends starting at four or five.”

A May 26 high-speed car chase and Mafia showdown in Lauro, Italy, just east of Naples, illustrated the changing face of organized crime, according to local newspapers and a Reuters dispatch from Rome. Participants in the lengthy gunfight were all women: female members of the Cava crime family were shooting it out with the daughter and granddaughters of rival family head Salvatore Graziano, presumably over control of business in and around Naples. Two women and a 16-year-old girl were killed.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (53) High-tech male perverts who hook tiny video cameras up to bathroom smoke detectors (as a landlord in Gibsonburg, Ohio, did in February), bathroom ceiling fans (as a factory owner in Ballarat, Australia, did in February), or their shoes (as a Tokyo TV personality did in December). And (54) spurned Japanese men who retaliate by making hundreds of crank phone calls to the women who rejected them, like the Waseda University lecturer who allegedly hung up 920 times on a woman who turned down a first date with him earlier this year.

Weird Workplaces

A brothel in Perth, Australia, closed down for the day April 30 after an influx of 5,500 U.S. navy personnel on shore leave left its workforce worn-out. “We’re the biggest and the best,” said owner Mary-Anne Kenworthy, “[and] I’d rather take nothing than offer a poor service.”

Science Fair

According to Spanish biologist J.J. Negro, reporting in the journal Nature in April, male Egyptian vultures most desirable to females are the ones whose faces are the brightest shade of yellow, which corresponds directly to the amount of excrement they eat. Carotenoids in dung produce the yellow around the vultures’ eyes, and only the strongest vultures can safely eat enough bacteria-laden feces to get a rich color.

Hebrew University agriculture professor Avigdor Cahaner, who breeds featherless chickens, told reporters in May that he believes the chickens could be in commercial production in two years. An Israeli animal rights activist has condemned the breeding on the grounds that feathers protect the birds, but Cahaner claims his “naked chickens” are more likely to survive in hot climates and less expensive to raise and process.

Least Competent Criminals

Police in Norfolk, Nebraska, are still trying to find Curtis Boyd, 23, who skipped out on bail after allegedly trying to cash a check for $22 million at a Bank of Norfolk drive-through in May. Boyd had run the document out on home check-printing software but had failed to include a line naming an issuing bank. When the drive-through teller declined to cash it, Boyd took the check back, handwrote the name “Reality Perspective Bank” at the top of the check, and returned to the Bank of Norfolk. This time bank employees called the police.

Civilization in Decline

In June, South Korea’s supreme court overturned theft convictions against a woman who had stolen about $2,400 worth of merchandise in 31 separate incidents on the grounds that she was menstruating, which, according to one justice, made her “mentally deranged” and “unable to control her impulses.”…Hundreds of upstate New York teenagers, admitted to the Buffalo Zoo free of charge on Memorial Day, trashed the grounds and several exhibits, abused animals, vandalized toilets, and set a fire….The city council in Glasgow, Scotland, voted in March to give about $1,700 worth of computer equipment each to 30 habitually truant schoolkids in the hopes that they’d begin studying at home.

In the Last Month

Six people were injured in Calgary, Alberta, in a late-night brawl between croquet players and softball players over which sport is more manly….After a home owner in Grand Blanc Township, Michigan, allegedly reneged on payment, the owner of a wild-animal removal service returned with the raccoon he had taken from the property and put it back under the house….A Catholic priest in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania, closed down his “Junior Professional Wrestling Association” Web site, allegedly intended to raise money for charity, which featured photos of teenage boys in wrestling tights.

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