Lead Story

The Times of London reported earlier this month on the Japanese government’s attempt to deal with a growing phenomenon: men turning up at welfare offices claiming to be former members of yakuza gangs and applying for benefits. For corroboration they might cite their records of minor crime or display gang tattoos (or even a missing fingertip, the result of a traditional yakuza act of penance). Concerned that some of these claimants are really still active yakuza and that payouts to them could be used to finance criminal activity, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has drawn up new guidelines under which anyone claiming benefits as ex-yakuza must present a letter from his old gang confirming that he’s no longer a member.

Can’t Possibly Be True

Taken into custody in Chillicothe, Ohio, in January for her possible involvement in a shooting, 41-year-old Victoria Lundy was charged with improperly discharging a weapon and two other gun offenses after she sat down on a bench in a holding cell, accidentally firing the .25-caliber pistol she’d allegedly smuggled into jail in her vagina. No one was injured.

According to a February story in USA Today, among the many businesses nationwide that have imposed restrictions on customers’ cell phone use is Green Oaks Family Dentistry in Arlington, Texas. Office manager Lisa Teague said that patients’ carrying on phone conversations while dentists worked in their mouths “was very disruptive.”

Earlier this month the Chicago Tribune reported that blind students at Chicago public schools currently aren’t exempt from a requirement that all sophomores take a driver’s ed class and pass a written test.

Government in Action

The Associated Press reported in February that after the U.S. Department of the Interior was ordered to pay $7 million to lawyers representing American Indians in a now ten-year-old lawsuit against the government, the department announced that most of the money would come from budget cuts at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In addition to getting suspended for two weeks, a 12-year-old boy was charged with a felony (possession of a “look-alike substance”) in February by police in Aurora, Illinois, after he brought a plastic bag of powdered sugar to school for a science project and jokingly told two other students that it was cocaine. (A custodian overheard the conversation and reported him.)

Men in Trees

According to a February profile in the Ithaca Journal, the new highway superintendent of Danby, New York, 45-year-old Andrew Thurnheer, lives in a tree house he built 18 years ago on his family’s farm. And a January BBC News dispatch from the Indian state of Orissa reported on Kapila Pradhan, also 45, who’s been living 25 feet up in a tree, eating only what he can find in the jungle, since a fight with his wife 15 years ago.

Names in the News

Arrested in February in Town Creek, Alabama, on drug-related charges: University of North Alabama basketball player Reprobatus Bibbs. And sought in a February shooting death in New Orleans: 20-year-old Ivory Harris, whose nickname, according to police, is “Be Stupid.”

Human Nature Unchanged

In February the Washington Post published the results of a poll in which 1,033 randomly selected Americans were asked to rate their personal qualities; 79 percent said they were “above average” in attractiveness, 86 percent said they were above average in intelligence, 89 percent said they were above average in common sense, and 94 percent said they were above average in trustworthiness.

Substandard Health Care

Akemi Sato, formerly a nurse at a hospital in Kyoto, Japan, was sentenced in January to more than three years in prison after she admitted to tearing off the fingernails and toenails of immobilized patients. In their request for a lenient sentence, Sato’s lawyers argued that she’d been under a lot of stress. Also in January a UK regulatory council barred London dentist Mojgan Azari from practice after it was found that she’d allowed her unqualified boyfriend to perform dental work–including drilling without anesthetic–on more than 600 patients.

Well, of Course

According to a January dispatch in Britain’s Guardian, Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested that four UK diplomats accused of espionage should be allowed to stay on in Moscow, reasoning that their replacements might be smart enough not to get caught. And in a study issued in February by the National Bureau of Economic Research, professors Naci Mocan and Erdal Tekin concluded that unattractive young adults are more likely to commit one of a number of crimes than those of average attractiveness, while very attractive young adults are less likely; the authors suggested that more limited social and job opportunities might account for the difference.

No Longer Weird

Added to the list of stories that were formerly weird but now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (77) The disgruntled debtor who finally pays up but does so entirely in some obnoxiously small-denomination currency (as did William Lewis Jr., who showed up at a foreclosure hearing earlier this month in Sebring, Florida, with 80,000 dollar bills). (78) The laboratory breakthrough that makes possible the conversion of manure, urine, or other digestive by-product into a new energy source (like the process, described by Tokyo agriculture professor Sakae Shibusawa this month, that using pressure and heat can reportedly produce about an ounce of gasoline from five pounds of cow dung).

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