Lead Stories

The Washington Post reported last month that in Sao Paulo, Brazil–where the murder rate is eight times that of New York City and the huge disparity in wealth has divided the populace into the fabulously rich and the appallingly poor–the one million wealthiest residents occupy 300 gated communities, one of which, called Alphaville, houses 30,000 people and employs 1,100 armed guards. Every year about 4,000 rich people armor-plate their cars for driving outside their walled communities, and some citizens travel exclusively by helicopter to avoid the city’s squalor.

Last month the Israeli police were investigating reports that a crime syndicate operating north of Gaza was running daily betting pools on where the next suicide bombing would take place, with odds ranging from 17-1 (for the peaceful town of Eilat) to 3-2 (for Jerusalem).

They Grow Up So Fast

This past April a 12-year-old girl in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was charged with coercing younger girls into prostitution, one of several local cases involving adolescent pimps….And the April issue of New Scientist reported on a study conducted by a retired U.S. army researcher who argues that the excessive hormones in B&B Super Gro and other shampoos marketed to African-Americans are causing girls to reach puberty as young as age eight.

Injudicious Judges

Florida law requires that all juvenile defendants have attorneys, but in May a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times happened into a courtroom in Tampa and discovered a 16-year-old struggling to represent himself before Judge Richard Nielsen. Juan Carlos Elias, convicted of burglary, had failed to secure an attorney for his restitution hearing, so Nielsen ordered Elias to call witnesses and introduce evidence. Elias didn’t know what “restitution” meant and thought at first that the prosecutor was there to help him; Nielsen, appointed to the bench by Governor Jeb Bush, also ejected Elias’s mother from the courtroom because she would not stop giving her son advice.

A Way With Words

“I don’t see a difference between a chimpanzee and my four-and-a-half-year-old son,” attorney Steven M. Wise remarked last month while promoting his book Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights at a bookstore in Washington, D.C. Wise noted that the chimp’s DNA was 98.7 percent the same as his son’s; the boy was not available for comment.

According to the Washington Post, D. Cameron Findlay, the deputy secretary of labor, complained to a state department official in March that the federal government often ignores the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, which requires it to help American workers harmed by foreign competition. The statute, he said, “is treated like a teenage girl in the backseat of a car. You promise her anything to get what you want. And then when you get it, you leave her.”

Least Competent Criminals

In 1987, Louis Papakostas was convicted of burglary in Corpus Christi, Texas, but went on the lam before he could be sentenced. This past May he ran into his prosecutor at a restaurant and, believing the authorities were no longer interested in him, introduced himself. The prosecutor notified police, and Papakostas was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Latest Cat News

In May the Correctional Service of Canada reconsidered its policy of permitting inmates to keep cats in their cells; guards had complained of dirty litter boxes during prisoner shakedowns, and several drug-sniffing dogs in the facility had gotten hurt tangling with the cats….That same month, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, a previously docile Siamese cat mauled a family of four and its baby-sitter over several hours, repeatedly launching itself at family members and clawing them bloody, until it was subdued by police….And in June a mouse problem at the Palace of Westminster in London prompted eight members of Parliament to call for “a House of Commons cat.”

Recurring Themes

Two years ago News of the Weird reported that New York doctoral student Erik Sprague was having himself medically altered to resemble a lizard, with sharpened teeth and a forked tongue. Last month, after tattoo artist Seth Griffin of Bay City, Michigan, began publicly seeking a surgeon to separate his tongue into two halves, the Michigan House of Representatives defeated a measure that would have banned tongue-forking surgery.

Our Civilization in Decline

Last month the UN World Food Summit, devoted to helping the world’s 800 million starving people, opened in Rome with a luncheon of lobster, foie gras, and goose stuffed with olives for some 3,000 delegates….And in Santa Monica, California, the principal of Franklin Elementary School banned the game tag because designating one student as “it” creates “a self-esteem issue.”

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