Britain, March 24, 1999, source: The Times (London)
9 members of the same family faked car crashes and serious disabilities as part of an elaborate plot to claim 3 million British Pounds from insurance companies and benefits agencies, including a brother and sister who spent years faking persistent vegetative states, and other family members who would throw themselves into the paths of cars driven by relatives, witnessed only by other relatives using false names. The family owns 13 properties and two general stores. It was calculated that the bill for the trial would reach 2.75 million British Pounds; some of the defendants claimed legal aid towards the 18 barristers involved in the case.
Manhattan, March 24, 1999, source: The Times (London)
The Teletubbies, Britain's most popular children's television characters and much beloved by American children as well, have now filed a suit to protect themselves from four cuddly dolls with bulging bellies called the "Bubbly Chubbies" who have turned up in Wal-Mart stores. Ragdoll Productions and Itsy Bitsy Entertainment are seeking unspecified damages against Wal-Mart.
Pierson, Florida, March 24, 1999, source: The New York Times
School officials reversed their decision and will allow a teen-age boy to attend his high school prom in drag. The principal had told the boy that he would be refused entrance to the prom if he showed up in drag. But the school district superintendent, in consultation with attorneys, said the boy can wear his gown to the prom because the principal had let him wear skirts and dresses to special events in the past, giving the school system a weak case for refusal now. The boy plans to wear a red, floor-length evening gown, red satin shoes, gloves and matching rhinestone jewelry. The article made no mention of a prom date.
Miami Beach, Florida, March 24, 1999, source: The New York Times
A mother was charged with child abuse and burglary after allegedly bringing her 2-year-old boy along when she broke into a house and stole dozens of CDs.
Thailand, March 24, 1999, source: The New York Times
The North Korean Embassy released the 19-year-old son of one of its own diplomats after holding him hostage for two weeks. The Thai foreign minister said six North Korean diplomats would be expelled for the kidnapping of the young man and his parents, who escaped earlier.
Detriot, Michigan, March 23, 1999, source: Los Angeles Times
A suburban Detroit high school settled a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, allowing an honor student who practices witchcraft to wear the pentagram, a symbol of her religion, to class. The school had banned witches, white supremacists and Satanists, as well as black nail polish, vampire makeup and pentagrams.
Elizabeth, New Jersey, March 23, 1999, source: Los Angeles Times
A son who was sued by his mother after he refused to share a $2.15 million lottery jackpot has now agreed to give her nearly a quarter of the prize, his lawyer said. Mother and son had bought lottery tickets together for a decade, agreeing to share any prizes; each month she sent him $20, while he also put in $20, to buy 40 lottery tickets. In 1991, they split a $500 prize. But when he won the large 1997 drawing, the son claimed that he had bought the ticket on his own and did not have to share with his mother. The mother sued for half, but has settled for 22.5% of the prize.
Northampton, Mass, March 23, 1999, source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Smith College has followed nearby Mount Holyoke College in instituting a "sweeping new curriculum that makes speaking as important as writing." Students speak a predominant language known as "mallspeak" or "teenbonics", which uses non-traditional English language patterns (mallspeak "made 'like' the first word to be a verb, adjective, adverb and conjunction - all at once"); the new curriculum is designed to develop the students' standard English speaking skills. Although the educators recognize that "every generation has its subdialect, designed in part to drive adults nuts and in part to establish verbal autonomy", they are concerned that mallspeak inhibits their graduates' abilities to function successfully in the larger society: "Mallspeak is fine when you're with your buddies, but beginning a meeting with 'I was, like, y'know, whatever' just won't cut it." Mount Holyoke has received a $4 million endowment for their program.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 22, 1999, source: Los Angeles Times
A woman fatally stabbed her boyfriend after he tried to strangle her because her children ate his steak. The woman and her 4- and 6-year-old daughters were staying with a friend at a motel. The man left, then returned to find the girls eating his steak; a fight ensued.
Cambridgeshire, England, March 20, 1999, source: The Times (London)
A 12-year-old girl had to undergo an operation after two magnetic earrings she was wearing as nose studs got stuck in her nostrils. The girl had put one on each nostril to make it look as if she had a pierced nose. When she took the earrings away, the backs inside her nostrils shot together because of the magnetic force and disappeared up her nose. Surgery was required to find and extract the magnets. The earrings are imported from the US and carry a warning saying "for use in ears only".
Miami, Florida, March 20, 1999, source: Los Angeles Times
A Florida House committee has decided to scrap a successful $70 million teen-focused anti-smoking campaign, and the Florida health department has fired the acting director of the Florida Tobacco Pilot Program which managed it. The anti-smoking campaign has been very influential: considered a national model, it is credited with a 2% decrease in teen smoking in Florida. Tobacco lobbyists have denied pressuring legislators to cut the program. Tobacco companies are a major source of soft-money political donations in Florida; Republicans, who for the first time this century control the House, Senate and governor's office, received about $300,000 from the tobacco industry last year, and the Democrats about $125,000.
Tokyo, March 19, 1999, source: Los Angeles Times
A children's song featuring three animated dumplings has rocketed to the top of the Japanese pop charts, selling 3.3 million compact discs in just 12 days, making it likely that "The Three Dumpling Brothers" will become the best-selling single ever released in Japan. Newspapers have begun printing the times when the dumplings will perform on television, and there is even a cable radio channel that plays nothing but the dumpling song, 24 hours a day. "The Three Dumpling Brothers" was a simple animation created for a children's television show; it tells of the adventures of three dumpling siblings skewered together on a single stick. The song is set to a thumping tango beat. Sales of traditional Japanese dumplings have exploded since the release of the song, along with dumpling t-shirts, toys, and other merchandise.
Note: Buffalo Mel's teenaged advisor hypothesizes a government conspiracy behind "The Three Dumpling Brothers": subliminal messages in the song and special additives in the now-popular food, designed to quell citizen concerns about the depressed economy, build confidence in the Japanese government and spur economic growth. Or maybe they've just all gone crazy.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, March 19, 1999, source: The New York Times
A new study of the 50 G-rated animated films released by major studios during the past 60 years shows that more than two-thirds of them portray alcohol or tobacco use. In these 34 films, 76 characters smoked for a total duration of more than 45minutes, and 63 characters drank alcohol for 27 minutes, with good and bad characters alike consuming the substances. Cigar and wine consumption were the most common, but cigarettes, pipes, beer, spirits and champagne were consumed as well. The films studied were released between 1937 and 1997 by MGM/United Artists, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. studios.
Johannesburg, South Africa, March 18, 1999, source: The Times (London)
Allan Boesak, the South African cleric and close friend of President Mandela, was convicted yesterday of stealing donations that were intended for child victims of apartheid. Among money stolen was $72,000 of $200,000 donated by singer Paul Simon to Boesak's Foundation for Peace and Justice. Boesak had been a leading cleric in the anti-apartheid struggle.
Hazelton, Iowa, March 18, 1999, source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Four Amish teenagers were arrested for smashing 44 windows and overturning buggies during a rampage at the home of an Amish farmer. They may have suspected the farmer of reporting them to county authorities for drinking on his property. The teenagers had remained on the farmer's property after an adult prayer service.
Rome, March 17, 1999, source: The Times (London)
Four men considered sterile by doctors have fathered healthy babies after their sperm was matured inside rats' testicles. After three months inside rat tissue the "mature" sperm was used to create an embryo through in-vitro fertilization. Couples were hesitant before the procedure, "but it was the only way for them to have a child". Some experts are concerned that the operation could have "unpredictable genetic consequences". The Italian doctor who developed the procedure with a Japanese colleague is also known for his work helping post-menopausal women to become pregnant.
The LA Times Web Site, March 17, 1999, source: Los Angeles Times
Web advertisers and news stories often make strange bedfellows. The featured photo of the Metro section of the LA Times web page today is of 6-year-old Zoe Cruz, a resident of an LA tenement that has been without hot water for a month and recently suffered a sewage shutdown (the photo shows the pathetically adorable child standing in her "play area", a space piled high with trash and old appliances). The advertising banner above Zoe's head is an ad for an LA Times contest, sponsored by Infiniti, and reads "Play It's Madness! Win $1,000,000!".
Anaheim, California, March 17, 1999, source: Los Angeles Times
St. Catherine's Military School, a 110-year-old school that started as a school for girls and is now a school for boys kindergarten through 8th grade, is struggling to maintain full enrollment, a marked change from its enrollment height during the early days of the Vietnam War. St. Catherine's, the last military school west of the Rockies with elementary age students, is run by nuns and has a military theme, with ex-military men teaching the boys discipline; the boys are separated into companies and battalions, rise at 6:35 bugle call, wear uniforms, face inspection, march in formation, and wear medals that delineate their rank and academic achievements (the school's development director jokes that with all the bars and ropes, the boys "look like they could be running their own juntas"). The principal of the school, Sister Carolyn Marie Monahan, said "I do think the sense of spirituality is a unique piece of this. When we pray together, there's a real sense of reverence in a way that's very strong and masculine. It's not your grandmother's spirituality". According to the article, only 6% of St. Catherine's graduates pursue a military career. No statistics are given on how many go into religious work.
Aberdeen, March 16, 1999, source: The Times (London)
British children become increasingly anti-German and pro-British as they grow older, according to psychologists at Aberdeen University. A study of white children in Southern England found that nationality is not an issue prior to about the age of 10, but teenagers are more chauvinistic. Some quotes: "We have the best army in the world thanks to Oliver Cromwell. We beat Germany in World War Two"; "We are more civilized and friendly compared to the French and the Germans"; "The food here is better compared to other places"; "We are different from other countries. For example, we do not have capital punishment and we have not lost any wars".
Note: Buffalo Mel's friend Sarah, born and raised in England, confirms that British children are unaware that they have ever lost any wars with the United States. "We learned Canadian history," she said.
Liverpool, England, March 16, 1999, source: The Times (London)
A high school teacher praised in a recent report was sentenced to 12 months in jail for causing a drunken brawl in which a friend lost an eye. The fight started with an argument over a football match, which he and two friends were watching in a pub. The judge told the teacher that the offenses, involving a premeditated and protracted attack on two men in a public place, were so serious that there was no alternative to a custodial sentence. A petition in the teacher's favor was signed by 800 pupils.
Isle of Wight, Britain, March 16, 1999, source: The Times (London)
An inmate ordered a professional killing on a prison telephone after his disabled daughter was taunted by another teenager. The inmate allegedly became incensed after he heard that his family had been mistreated and arranged from Parkhurst Jail to have the father of the other teenager "plugged". The killers of the murdered man have never been caught, but the inmate's part in arranging it is clear, according to the prosecution, because "prisoners at Parkhurst have their telephone calls recorded."
London, March 16, 1999, source: The Times (London)
A woman is suing her gynecologist for 200,000 British Pounds, for child support. She went in complaining about an irregular menstrual cycle and he treated her for that, failing to notice that she was pregnant. Her son is now three years old, and lives with his mother.
Chicago, March 16, 1999, source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Three men wanted in two rape-slayings were arrested after the third-grade daughter of one of them recognized a photo of her father shown on television. The photo was taken by a surveillance camera at an ATM when one of the slain's women's cards was used. The girl saw the photo on television, and told her teacher. School officials contacted police.
North Yorkshire, England, March 15, 1999, source: The Times (London)
A girl aged 17 has been accepted into the Royal Navy after enduring five months of spine-stretching exercises to meet the minimum height requirement. After months of eating porridge and sleeping on a wooden floor she finally measured up to the Navy's minimum height of 1.57 metres (5'1.5"). She had previously been rejected for being 1cm too short.
Chicago, March 15, 1999, source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Researchers have found that babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy could be at a higher risk of growing up to be criminals. Complications during delivery was also found to correspond with a higher incidence of arrests.
Nottingham, England, March 14, 1999, source: The Sunday Times (London)
Three British heterosexual couples have approached the Director of the Centre for Assisted Reproduction in Nottingham requesting technical assistance to allow the men to bear children. Britain is in the middle of a national debate on the ramifications of implanting a fetus in the abdomen of a man to enable him to carry a pregnancy to term. Besides the surgeries to implant the fetus and remove the baby, the male mother would have to take large doses of female hormones, which would substantially alter his physique. There is also some discussion on the psychological impact such a birth would have on the child.
Iona Island, March 14, 1999, source: The Sunday Times (London)
Iona, in the Scottish Hebrides, faced closure of its 150-year old school due to lack of small children on the island. The islanders advertised for new residents, and two new families with a total of five children are now moving there from the Scottish mainland, ensuring that Iona's only school can remain open. The families were attracted to the island after residents advertised in a local newspaper, offering rented accommodation and work only for couples with young children. The population of Iona is just over 100; nearly half of the residents are over 60 years old.
Fayetteville, Georgia, March 13, 1999, source: New York Times
Law officers have accused a group of teen-agers of recruiting gang members, a violation of the Georgia Street Gang and Terrorism Act, because the "gang" created a web page and put the names of five neighborhood kids on it, including their street names (like "Baby Z" and "Killa Turk"). The kids call their virtual gang "Rollin 5 Crackaz". If convicted, the teen-agers could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. The web site does not solicit members for any gang.
Des Moines, Iowa, March 12, 1999, source: New York Times
An Iowa woman settled a drug debt by loaning
her 11-year-old daughter to dealers to use as an unwitting drug courier. The four drug dealers took the girl with them to California and then gave her new white platform shoes in which drugs were hidden. ``En route back to Des Moines,'' a criminal complaint alleges, ``the child noticed that there was new glue on the shoes and that they were extremely heavy and hurt her feet.'' The mother and four drug dealers are now in jail; the girl and her 5-year-old sister have been placed in foster care.
United Nations, March 12, 1999, source: New York Times
Charities that buy and free enslaved children and young women in the Sudan are angered by recent criticism from UNICEF. Children and young women in war zones are regularly captured and enslaved by opposing forces in Sudan's 30-year civil war. Charities buy captives and free them, returning them home to villages that remain in the war zone, where they may be subject to future slave raids. UNICEF charges that the buy-back program implicitly accepts that human beings may be bought and sold, and that it also prolongs the civil war by providing forces with money to buy more arms and ammunition.
Everywhere on Earth, March 12, 1999, source: The Los Angeles Times
The race to produce the first baby of the millennium has couples and promoters straining at the starting line. Some examples: Yorkshire TV (England) has a "Baby Race 2000" contest, beginning with "Nookie Night" on Wednesday (the week of March 25 to April 1 is the optimum millennial conception time frame); a San Diego, California couple plan to conceive on April Fools' Day, fly to the South Pacific island republic of Kiribati along the international date line (which will be the first inhabited place in the world to see in the new year), and have a cesarean section at 12:00:01 a.m. New Year's Day; and a New Zealand radio station is footing the bill for 100 couples April 9 at an Auckland hotel, where they will each attempt to conceive a winning baby, giving hourly broadcasts on their progress.
Plymouth, England, March 12, 1999, source: The Times (London)
Plymouth University is offering the world's first degree program in Surfing. For their finals in the 3-year Bachelor of Science program, "students will develop their own specialism within surfing science". Plymouth hopes to become a center of "excellence for surfing sciences and even offer surfing PhDs."
Plymouth is on the Devon coast, in England.
Tokyo, Japan, March 12, 1999, source: The Times (London)
Last year 72 Japanese children were the victims of family suicides, forced to die with parents who had decided it was more humane to take their children with them in death than leave them with a stigma of failure due to the family's debts and other economic problems. The incidents have become so commonplace that the Japanese press seldom reports them anymore.
El Paso, Texas, March 9, 1999, source: The New York Times
Chairman William J. Ivey of The National Endowment for the Arts abruptly canceled a grant for an American bi-lingual edition of a Mexican children's book about Mexican gods who took the gray world and filled it with brilliant hues, after he discovered that the author of the book is Subcomandante Marcos, the political mastermind and military strategist of the Zapatista guerrillas of southern Mexico. In the book, the gods give brilliantly colored feathers to a bird; at the story's end, this bird 'goes strutting about just in case men and women forget how many colors there are and how many ways of thinking, and that the world will be happy if all the colors and ways of thinking have their place.'
Hiroshima, Japan, Feb. 28, 1999, source: The Japan Times:
"Principal Toshiro Ishikawa committed suicide, apparently due to pressure being applied by the Hiroshima Prefectural Board of Education, which has ordered all prefectural senior high school principals to have 'Kimigayo,' Japan's controversial de facto national anthem, sung at graduation ceremonies...The anthem is closely linked to Japan's wartime atrocities."