The year that was

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      It didn’t totally blow


      Animal lust

      The Oslo Natural History Museum presented Against Nature?, an exhibit on homosexuality in the animal kingdom, drawing some criticism from conservative Christians, including a Pentecostal priest who felt that the money would have been better spent helping the animals correct their “perversions and deviances”.

      Bottom line

      Thailand’s Chiang Mai Zoo recovered US$8,200 by processing the 25 kilograms of excrement its pair of pandas produce each day into bookmarks, notebooks, and fans for sale to zoo visitors.

      Some mammoths had more fun

      Genetic analysis of a 43,000-year-old bone from Siberia indicates that mammoths had various colours of fur, perhaps even red or blond, researchers reported in the journal Science. Mammoth DNA included a gene that codes for a protein that affects hair colour in mammals, with reduced activity of the gene producing red hair in humans and cows, for example, and yellow hair in mice, horses, and dogs.

      Simpletons of the sea

      The large brains of dolphins, whales, and porpoises are the result of being warm-blooded mammals in a cold environment and not a sign of intelligence, according to Paul Manger of South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand. Manger’s research, published in Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, contends that although aquatic mammals’ brains have a “superabundance” of brain cells called glia for environmental protection, they have few information-processing neurons and the mammals are dumber than goldfish. “If you don’t put a lid on top of the bowl, a goldfish will eventually jump out to enlarge the environment it is living in. But a dolphin will never do that,” Manger wrote.

      Making the best of a bad sheep

      In a campaign dubbed Xtreme Sheep, the South Australian Research and Development Institute asked farmers not to cull ugly lambs—ones with uneven wool, strange fibres, clumps of wool falling out, bare patches, no wool, or highly wrinkled skin—but to save them for a study to determine the genetic makeup of merino sheep and ensure production of high-quality fleece.

      Cruel to be kind

      Following protests, criticism, and even a bomb threat, the Prince Rupert branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cancelled a planned August fundraiser that would have included a feast of live crabs boiled and served as food. “Here we have an organization supposedly dedicated to preventing cruelty actually inflicting cruelty to an animal to raise money to prevent cruelty to animals,” Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson said.

      Pet sounds

      PetsMobility introduced a $400 bone-shaped telephone for dogs, called PetCell, which will allow owners to call their pets and hear them panting, sniffing, or barking back.

      Was it on its phone?

      Because her dog liked crouching behind the wheel and often watched her drive, a woman in Hohhot in northern China decided to give it a driving lesson. “She thought she would let the dog ”˜have a try’ while she operated the accelerator and the brake. They did not make it far before crashing into an oncoming car,” reported the Xinhua news agency. The woman, identified only by her surname, Li, paid for the resulting minor damage.


      Zhang Xinyan, 35, arrived at a Beijing train station, downed four beers, and headed to the zoo, where he jumped into an enclosure in an attempt to hug a panda named Gu Gu and got mauled for his trouble. “I was able to reach over and give that animal a bite on his back. His skin was really thick,” said Zhang, who got the worst of it, his legs being bitten bloody before security guards and zookeepers pulled him to safety.

      Man’s best fair-weather friend

      When researchers at the University of Western Ontario placed dog owners in simulated emergencies such as having a heart attack or being pinned under a bookcase with another person nearby, none of their pets solicited the help of the other person and the only one to even approach the bystander was a toy poodle that simply curled up in the person’s lap as if abandoning its incapacitated owner for more accessible comfort. Psychologist Bill Roberts, coauthor of an article in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, speculated that Lassie-style dog heroics are coincidences in which the pet unintentionally “did the right thing”.

      I’m all chewed up

      “It’s a disaster. The scene is just a horrific mess, with bits of teddy bear everywhere. There are a good 100 bears scattered around all over the place.”—Daniel Medley, manager of Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset, England, where the late Elvis Presley’s teddy bear, Mabel, valued at $84,500, was to have been the centrepiece of a $1.06-million display of the toys until a Doberman pinscher named Barney—a trained guard dog hired at the insistence of the collection’s insurers—attacked many of the exhibits during the night and ripped Mabel’s head off

      When Ziggy zapped Suzy

      Chris Taylor of London, England, discovered his girlfriend, Suzy Collins, was having an affair when his African grey parrot, Ziggy, started imitating her voice, saying “Hiya, Gary” whenever her mobile phone rang and eventually blurting out “I love you, Gary” one time when Taylor and Collins were sitting on the couch, causing her to break down and admit what had been going on. Taylor, who dumped Collins and even got rid of the parrot because it kept repeating Gary’s name, said Ziggy was a really good mimic. “Whenever he heard the name Gary on the telly, he would start making these big, slurpy kissing sounds. I didn’t have a clue what he was trying to tell me.”

      Not-so-nice hooters

      Signs were posted in Coquitlam’s Mundy Park warning visitors of possible attacks from barred owls, which apparently mistake bouncing hair and other dangling objects for prey such as squirrels and small birds. Bev Day, founding director of the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society, claimed that this is a common occurrence in the late summer when juvenile owls are learning to hunt. “Barred owls are not the most brilliant of owls. And these ones are just learning.”

      Feline guilty

      “Some of us have a parasite in our brains that does its best to change our personalities.”—Dr. Kevin Lafferty in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology, referring to Toxoplasma gondii, a cat parasite that Lafferty estimates infects a quarter of the earth’s human population—ranging from seven percent in the U.K. to 70 percent in Brazil—and makes infected people sometimes prone to guilt and psychotic symptoms similar to those exhibited by people with schizophrenia, while infected rats suicidally lose their aversion to cats

      Yogi lives

      A black bear entered a Peace River, Alberta, 24-hour grocery store through the automatic doors and eventually jumped into the bakery case, where it consumed about 15 cakes. “He really liked the strawberry mousse,” night manager Trevor Allen said. One customer was slightly injured after trying to take a picture of the bear with a camera phone.

      Pro bonobo

      After Seattle-based group Great Ape Project declared in testimony to the Spanish parliament that great apes should be locked up only when they are a threat to the community, and then only with the right of appeal to the courts and representation by a lawyer, members of the ruling Socialist coalition proposed to eliminate the concept of ownership of gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. They would be placed under the “moral guardianship” of the state in the same way as children in care, severely handicapped persons, and those in comas, MP Francisco Garrido said. Amnesty International’s Spanish branch expressed concern that apes would be given rights not yet guaranteed to humans, and Roman Catholic cleric Fernando Sebastián, Archbishop of Pamplona and Tudela, said only a “ridiculous or distorted society” could propose such a law.

      Art, Media, and Culture

      Three days of peace, music, and conformity

      The North Korean government announced it will be holding a mass rock event next May, touting it as a new version of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival but cautioning any foreign acts interested that their song lyrics “should not contain admiration of war, sex, violence, murder, drug [sic], rape, non-government society, imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-DPRK [Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea], and anti-socialism”.

      Pop idyll

      “Am I sick of that song? I have never been fed up with it. When you get a song that has become public property, we just become the backing group for the audience.”—Deep Purple front man Ian Gillan, promoting an on-line contest in which people record their own vocals and/or guitar to a version of 1972’s “Smoke on the Water”, with the winner getting to perform with Gillan in Las Vegas

      Cutting remarks

      When Mission: Impossible III opened in China, censors clipped a scene in which soldiers of the Chinese army were distracted by baseballs and then killed by Tom Cruise’s character. “It was truly insulting,” said an anonymous senior executive of the distributor China Film Group, who also explained cutting a scene in which elderly Chinese play mahjong next door to the kidnapped wife of Cruise’s character by saying it implied that “common Chinese people were”¦insensitive to a hostage situation.”

      Party like it’s 1969

      Among the headliners playing at top venues in Vancouver during the fall were Paul Simon, Elton John, Gordon Lightfoot, the Who, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones.

      Massed media

      Nielsen Media Research of television-ratings fame reported that the past two years saw the number of televisions in the typical U.S. household reach an average of 2.73, compared to only 2.55 people per household. “Somewhere between 2001 and 2004, the number of TVs outgrew the number of people,” said Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes.

      The Ring Cycle

      Chicago Sinfonietta conductor Paul Freeman commissioned David Baker to compose Concertino for Cellular Phones and Symphony Orchestra, incorporating ring tones from cellphones planted on orchestra members, an array of programmed phones handled by a “phone soloist”, and mass ring-tone choruses from the audience. Freeman said he got the idea from waiting at a departure gate at an airport in the Czech Republic while at least 60 people spoke on their mobile phones. “I thought, ”˜If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’”

      Stage fright

      The Times They Are A-Changin’, a Broadway musical featuring the music of Bob Dylan and choreographed by Twyla Tharp, was severely drubbed by critics. Set at a circus and featuring dancing clowns, it attracted review comments like, “So bad that it makes you forget how good the songs are,” from the Wall Street Journal.

      That’s hot

      Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor of popular culture, declared that the slang usage of the word cool dates back hundreds of years, making it one of the most significant of such words. “Cool is already firmly ensconced in several generations. It’s got street cred,” Thompson claimed. “And it had street cred before we even used the words street cred.”

      What’s the word for that?

      Linguist Paul Payack claimed that the English language added its one millionth word during the summer of 2006.

      You joke? I like to make sexy time!

      Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s hit mockumentary film, attracted lawsuits and criticism from several of the people lampooned therein. Less perturbed was New York feminist sculptor Linda Stein, who wrote an article in which she commented: “I don’t know what motivates Borat/Cohen to use his considerable talents to deceive and manipulate; maybe it’s his way of gaining power over the childhood sting of religious animosity or the feelings of inferiority from a woman’s beating him at Scrabble.”

      Scared silly

      “A bear attack in a forest fire.”—Margaret Atwood, asked “What is your greatest fear?” by Vanity Fair magazine


      Believe me

      “I’m not the sharpest political knife in the drawer; I quite freely admit that.”—David Emerson on CTV’s Question Period, acknowledging he hadn’t expected so much controversy over his decision to switch from the Liberals to the Conservatives

      Not supernatural enough

      “One of the problems we had with British Columbia was finding a remote lake that was accessible. All these great, wonderful lakes that we found were surrounded by million-dollar homes and yachts, and there was no way we could make it look remote enough that you could believe this kind of creature could exist and no one would know about it.”—Barry Authors, writer-producer of Mee-Shee the Water Giant, a film based on legendary Okanagan lake monster Ogopogo that was shot entirely in New Zealand and England

      Seeing the needy as seedy

      “We’ve been running a mission for 10 years and we’ve never heard any complaints. The crime is there anyway. I don’t know if it’s prejudice, but it’s certainly not Christian.”—Reg Tatchell, warden of Mount Pleasant’s Tenth Avenue Alliance Church, on complaints from neighbours wanting an end to its program of meals for the needy because of the kind of people it attracts

      Turning base morals into gold

      After steep rises in metal prices led to thieves stripping public property and vacant buildings of copper and aluminum, five Vancouver metal recyclers received notice of suspension of their business licences following a police investigation dubbed Operation Alchemy, during which recyclers accepted bronze grave markers, ladders clearly marked “Vancouver Fire Department”, Telus phone boxes, and aluminum signs indicating they came from sign companies Viacom and Pattison.


      In a survey of what makes people happy, 66 percent of people in B.C. rated their happiness level at eight or more on a scale of 10, and in rating out of 10 choices what makes them unhappy, “spousal/partner relationship” was last, at four percent. But in rating what makes British Columbians happy, “family” came first, with 48 percent, while “spousal/partner relationship” was again dead last, at four percent.

      Potted shots

      “It’s always entertaining when liquor distribution branch employees are receiving awards.”—B.C. Lt.-Gov. Iona Campagnolo, putting on her best face at a Government House dinner at which an LDB janitor with 25 years’ service was so under the influence when his name was called that, according to testimony to a government arbitrator, “he fell, and crawled up the steps before rising hands up like a gymnast does after making a landing,” amid cheers from fellow LDB employees. He afterward made his way to the bar and, upon being refused service, began heckling the head table with shouts of “Gordon Campbell is full of shit!” and “What about the fucking teachers?” The man was fired the next month, but the arbitrator ruled the firing excessive, and he was reinstated subject to a six-month suspension without pay.

      Condo minimums

      Kim Capri, the NPA city councillor looking into solutions for the problem of homelessness, suggested that housing units be constructed that would be perhaps half the 400-square-foot size that city bylaws demand, labelling them “cruise-ship style”.

      Tightfisted drinker

      An unidentified man from Australia fell off a bridge and rolled 30 metres down into the ravine that contains the SkyTrain tracks near Commercial Drive and Broadway, receiving only bruises and a broken bone. It was the opinion of Vancouver fire department captain Rick Matsen that the man had been drinking, in part because he was still clutching his beer when he was brought back up. “He held on to it pretty tight, I’m thinking.”

      A few windows into the past

      “Have you driven past the old Woodward’s site lately? Did we argue for a decade over this place just to retain half of two exterior walls? What a joke.”—Bruce Allen, in TV Week magazine


      “You know, if we want to blow up a cave and put up a hotel, we will. I bought the property, I own it, and we have the mining rights, so what?”—Len Barrie, former fringe NHL player and CEO of the huge Bear Mountain development near Victoria, on complaints from the Songhees First Nation that the golf-course and housing project will encroach on a sacred cave and historic burial sites

      Observational humour

      “I can’t imagine any context where a police officer placing a shooting target with bullet holes in it on the desk of a person would be considered appropriate.”—Thomas Beasley, human-rights specialist for Vancouver law firm Coutts Pulver, on police chief Jamie Graham’s leaving of such an item on the desk of city manager Judy Rogers and claiming it was a joke

      All those dogs can’t be wrong

      “The inference is that our municipally supplied tap water is inferior and, in fact, is the same as drinking out of your toilet.”—GVRD spokesperson Bill Morrell, reacting to a Brita water filter commercial that depicted a glass of tap water left on a table as a woman left the room. Then, to the sound of a flushing toilet, the glass drained and refilled. After complaints, the company added a disclaimer noting that municipal water has been treated and is safe.

      Culture vultures

      In an attempt to reduce readers’ practices of cutting, ripping out, and otherwise removing pictures and pages from books, the Richmond public library put together a showcase of 12 mutilated books. The display was closed after 11 of the books were stolen.

      Good night, and good luck

      Conservative Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes drew criticism for writing an opinion column sent to several newspapers in his riding that stated that jailing a few newspaper reporters would improve the quality of journalism. It was apparently in response to “media rhetoric regarding the relationship of Prime Minister Harper toward the media”, including suggestions that Harper prohibited MPs from making public comments. Mayes later apologized.

      Covering their asses

      Following a series of incidents of workplace harassment of females at the Richmond fire department, the city determined that the best interim step to introduce equality would be to require all firefighters to wear boxer shorts, which the department would supply and pay for.

      Tossing the dice

      “Most of them are apologetic and very cooperative. [They say] they’re sorry and they won’t do it again, that they don’t usually do this.”¦We get all sorts of excuses.”—Bob Leach, manager of casino security for the B.C. Lottery Corp., on the phenomenon of parents leaving their children in cars outside casinos, which led to 41 people being banned from gambling premises in the three years up to July

      We can take a hit

      A study for Addiction Research of B.C., based at UVic, estimated the worth of the province’s cannabis industry at $3.64 billion a year, with daily use among young people outstripping that of tobacco. Based on a 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey, the study said more British Columbians report having used cannabis (53 percent) compared to other Canadians (44 percent), possibly because more folks in B.C. say it is easy to find (65 percent) than in the rest of Canada (44 percent).

      A ruse by any other name would smell as foul

      Making use of an environmental regulation that reclassifies contaminated soil from industrial sites as “industrial fill” once it crosses municipal boundaries—which makes it legal to dump it anywhere zoned as industrial land without an environmental-impact permit—Victoria’s redevelopment of former industrial land along its harbour has included sending tens of thousands of tonnes of soil north to the Cowichan Valley, where Natural Resources Canada says the aquifer provides water to “industry, fish hatcheries, pulp mills, agriculture, and between 1,000 and 1,600 homes”. “I’ve seen the documents from when they applied to move the contaminated soil,” Cowichan Valley resident Mark Docherty said. “It said what was in the soil: it has zinc, copper, cadmium, and lead. It’s toxic, no doubt about it.” Malahat–Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan said: “It’s Victoria’s dirty little secret, but I believe it’s being replicated all over the province, and certainly in the Lower Mainland.”


      The new space race

      In advertising news, the CBS publicity campaign for its fall television lineup included lasering messages, using “best before” printing technology, on 35 million eggs; US Airways began selling the space on the sides of its air-sickness bags; and readers of Marvel and DC comics noticed an increased number of product placements in the panels occupied by their superheroes. Ottawa entrepreneur Paul St. Laurent was able to find customers for Northern Lines, which sells ads on the lines that separate spaces in parking lots. Kari Smith of Salt Lake City, Utah, auctioned her forehead on eBay and got $10,000 to have it tattooed with the logo of; the Internet gambling site also paid a Connecticut woman $15,500 to have her newborn daughter named Golden Palace Benedetto.

      Soaked by a Paris restaurant

      Daunted by the cost of installing air conditioning during Europe’s record summer heat wave, Paris café Le Brebant had 50 devices installed that hung over patrons’ heads and sprayed a cooling mist. “It’s natural; clients appreciate it. Only a few women who just got done at the hairdresser complained,” manager Ryan Tamzali said.

      Sticky fingers

      “I’ll never forget the deals we did in the ’60s, which were just terrible. All I know from business I’ve picked up on the way. I never really studied business at school. I kind of wish I had, kind of, but how boring is that?”—London School of Economics dropout Mick Jagger after he, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts made out their wills, and it was revealed that by constantly moving themselves and their money from one tax jurisdiction to another (“It’s why we rehearse in Canada and not the U.S.,” Richards said), the Rolling Stones paid only 1.6 percent in taxes on earnings of $172 million in 2005

      Melt-your-mouth flavour

      Woodworker Justin Smith, 22, was among the first to try the ice-cream flavour Cold Sweat, and he vomited after one spoonful. Ice-cream shop Sunni Sky’s in North Carolina requires customers to sign a waiver before trying the flavour, which is made with three kinds of peppers and two kinds of hot sauce. “It tastes like fire—with a side of fire,” said regular customer Scott McCallum. “I thought it was a cool idea, but I didn’t think they’d make it that hot.”

      Try the punch?

      The Rising Sun Release Bar in Nanjing, China, employs 20 young men who wear protective clothing and undergo physical training in order to bear the anger of patrons, who are invited to smash glasses and attack the staff, sometimes after asking the waiters to dress up as their bosses. “The idea of beating someone decorated as your boss seems attractive,” said salesman Chen Liang. Four psychology students from local universities provide anger-management counselling for the customers of landlord Wu Gong, who says most of his clients are women.

      Bitter brew

      Coca-Cola coffee subsidiary Georgia, in an attempt to market a new upscale canned coffee for vending machines in Japan, combined the words deep roasted with espresso to come up with the brand name Deepresso.

      Let us prey

      Prince George car dealership Action Motors came under fire for a “buy now and pay later” newspaper ad directed at victims of abuse at the Lejac Residential School near Vanderhoof who were anticipating settlement cheques. Former Lejac student Grand Chief Ed John said he was appalled. “You have a whole lot of individuals who went to residential school who were sexually and physically abused and working through settlements with the government and the churches, only to find out there’s some used-car salesman at the end looking for your money. It’s pretty base, if you ask me.”

      The tort and the hare

      Rogers Communications Inc. sued BCE Inc. over an animated TV ad for wireless Internet access featuring a cheetah and a hare, intended to demonstrate that BCE’s service was up to five times faster. Rogers Wireless chief marketing officer John Boynton claimed the ads actually disparaged and discredited the company’s brand. “The cheetah did not beat the rabbit in a race showing speed; the cheetah swallowed the rabbit and barfed it up.”

      Eco-friendly fire

      BAE Systems, a British arms manufacturer, announced it is designing so-called green weapons such as reduced-lead bullets, grenades that create less smoke, and armoured vehicles with lower carbon emissions, as well as procedures for recycling explosives. Symon Hill from the Campaign Against Arms Trade called the proposal laughable. “BAE is determined to try to make itself look ethical, but they make weapons to kill people, and it’s utterly ridiculous to suggest they are environmentally friendly.”

      Hardening the blow

      Bankrupt Northwest Airlines cut $1.4 billion in annual labour costs, then distributed to laid-off workers a booklet with a list of “101 Ways to Save Money”, which suggested they buy jewellery at pawn shops, get auto parts at junkyards, and take shorter showers.


      Haven on earth

      The U.S. State Department’s annual Country Report on Terrorism claimed that terrorists had capitalized on Canada’s immigration and asylum policies “to enjoy safe haven, raise funds, arrange logistical support, and plan terrorist attacks”. Interestingly, the same report described Iraq as “not currently a terrorist safe haven”.


      “I think everybody will be a bit more prudent from now on and use public washrooms.”—Stephen Fernandez, 23, of Montreal, charged with mischief after a national furor caused by televised photographs of him and two youths drunkenly urinating on Ottawa’s National War Memorial on Canada Day

      Better be running fast

      After David Emerson switched from the Liberals to the Conservatives and crossed the floor of the House of Commons to take a cabinet post in Stephen Harper’s government, he said: “I’m enjoying being a Tory. It feels like I’ve come home”¦.My plan is to run in the next election in Vancouver Kingsway. I don’t want to run in another riding.”

      Harper’s bizarre

      Bloc Québécois MP Maria Mourani, touring Lebanon after the August ceasefire along with Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj and the NDP’s Peggy Nash, condemned Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government for supporting “crimes against humanity”. Of Lebanese descent, Mourani said many she spoke to were surprised Canada had deserted its historic stand of neutrality and backed an Israeli attack. “I had to keep saying, ”˜It’s not Canada; it’s just a Conservative government, a minority government.’”

      Pregnant women needed: some travel involved

      For $57, Vancouver-based Arctic prospector John Robins added 130-hectare Hans Island to his company’s 10 million hectares of mineral claims in a half-joking bid to help the Canadian government in its dispute with Denmark over the speck of uninhabited rock halfway between Greenland and Baffin Island, about 1,000 kilometres from the North Pole. Both countries have sent official contingents to raise flags on Hans, and University of B.C. international law professor Michael Byers said Robins’s claim could strengthen Canada’s case “a smidgeon”. International courts look for examples of “effective occupation”, Byers said, which “can be everything from people living there to visits by defence ministers. The Chileans even fly pregnant women to their claim section in the Antarctic so that they can have Chileans born there.”

      Nouveau riche

      “As per the minister’s office, effective immediately, and until further notice, the words ”˜Canada’s New Government’ are to be used instead of ”˜the Government of Canada’ in all departmental correspondence.”—An e-mail memorandum to employees of Natural Resources Canada, reflecting the efforts of Stephen Harper’s Conservative regime to distance itself from previous Liberal administrations

      Quick, everyone look busy

      “Canada can take care of North Korea. They’re not busy.”—An actor in a Republican National Committee advertisement disparages the national-security determination of U.S. Senate hopeful Harold Ford, running for the Democrats in Tennessee

      Pen pals

      After former Conservative Party MP Gurmant Grewal criticized Liberal MPs Don Bell and Ujjal Dosanjh for writing letters to help Jaspal Singh Atwal—who had been convicted of attempted assassination after a 1986 Vancouver Island shooting—receive a visa to attend a family event in India, it was revealed he had also written such a letter in 2002. Grewal claimed not to remember preparing the letter, although he later said he did so because Atwal’s family came to see him in tears. Asked why he didn’t research the details of the case first, Grewal said, “In those days, the Internet was not that much widely used.”

      French kiss-offs

      “Generous and open. There’s two words that don’t describe Quebecers.”—Contributor to an Internet forum for the estimated 100,000 French immigrants living in Quebec, during the controversy over a television routine by Québécois comedian Eric Salvail that depicted him on a safari in Paris seeking a “maudit Franí§ais” (goddamned Frenchman) and finding his prey to be a smelly, dirty loudmouth

      Ask a boring question”¦

      “No, it’s an exciting city, as is much of Canada. Come join us. Don’t be afraid, eh? We have hockey again. We’re allowed to hurt each other. No longer full-contact curling. Come. Come to Canada. We are the nice Americans. Come over here. We have water. You’ll need it one day.”—comedian Robin Williams’s response to a reporter asking if Toronto is boring

      Bitch, bitch, bitch”¦

      “I think she’s a bitch.”¦I mean, it’s as simple as that, and I think that 90 percent of men would probably say she’s a bitch for the way she’s broken up Tie Domi’s home and the way she dumped [Foreign Affairs Minister] Peter MacKay. She is a bitch.”—On CKNW’s Bill Good Show, political commentator Norman Spector ups the ante after Liberal MP Belinda Stronach asked for a formal apology from ex-boyfriend MacKay in the House of Commons, following a debate in which he allegedly referred to her as a dog

      I am canadian

      Canada and Russia were the only two countries on the UN Human Rights Council that voted against a resolution to protect the rights of indigenous people around the world, including their claims on land and resources. With a dozen countries abstaining and three absent, the vote was 30-2 to approve the declaration that said indigenous people should be free from discrimination and have the right “to consider themselves different and to be respected as such”.


      A nobel goal

      “When you’re the richest guy in the world, how do you measure your success? A Nobel Peace Prize. He’s told friends privately that’s his goal.”—Technology writer Robert X. Cringely on Microsoft cofounder and chairman Bill Gates’s retirement from day-to-day management of the company in order to devote more time to philanthropy

      They sleep with the humans

      “We just want to make it very clear that we will not accept and not stand for anyone who’s taken a form of retribution. That’s the last thing Steve would want.”—Michael Hornby, executive director of the Wildlife Warrior fund and friend of Crocodile Hunter star Steve Irwin, after about 10 stingrays were found dead on beaches in Queensland with their tails cut off within a week after the conservation activist died after a strike from a stingray’s tail

      The old-crock-o’-bile rock

      “I’m so over the tattoos and the T-shirts and rings through the noses. It’s not pretty, it’s not pleasant, it’s not exciting. Please stop it now.”—Elton John, 59, advocates a return to the glam-rock styles of David Bowie, T. Rex, Queen, and himself

      King dethroned

      Kurt Cobain, who died in 1994, became the first dead star to make more money than Elvis Presley, whose enormous earnings since his death in 1977 contributed to the 2001 inauguration of’s “Top-Earning Dead Celebrities” list. The deceased Nirvana front man’s take of about $50 million pushed the King’s $42 million to second place in a select group of 13—including the likes of John Lennon, Albert Einstein, and Marilyn Monroe—that combined for a posthumous income of $247 million for the year ending October 2006.

      Already worth more than the originals

      Following Paris Hilton’s recording debut, British prankster artist Banksy secreted 500 fake CD copies in English record stores, in which photos of Hilton were altered to show her topless and with a dog’s head, and with the “hits” sticker advertising the songs “Why Am I Famous?”, “What Have I Done?”, and “What Am I For?”


      “If you’re bothered about getting shot—here’s a thing—don’t join the army.”—Noel Gallagher of the band Oasis, reportedly ranting that soldiers love war zones such as Iraq until they get hurt and should not complain

      Staggering apology?

      “There will be many in that [Jewish] community who will want nothing to do with me, and that would be understandable. But I pray that that door is not forever closed.”—Actor-director Mel Gibson in his public apology for anti-Semitic remarks made during his drunk-driving arrest

      Crass act

      “The idea that certain people, because of their victim status, are allowed to enter the fray with impunity is something I am not going to subscribe to.”—Rush Limbaugh, as part of his “apology” to Michael J. Fox after the far-right radio-show host was criticized for accusing Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson’s disease symptoms in a commercial that supported a congressional candidate

      Gone West

      After being named best hip-hop artist at the MTV Europe Music Awards, rapper Kanye West jumped onto the stage when he didn’t receive the best-video honours for “Touch the Sky”, cursing repeatedly while saying he should have won because it cost a million dollars and Pamela Anderson was in it. “If I don’t win, the awards show loses credibility.”

      Or a career

      After a year that saw him get into several legal scrapes related to drug possession and bad driving, onetime pop star George Michael was criticized for praising marijuana and allegedly smoking some on-camera during an interview held in Spain for The South Bank Show. According to Michael: “I’d say it’s a great drug, but obviously it’s not very healthy. You can’t afford to smoke it if you’ve got anything to do.”

      Blackened like me

      “They’ll probably torture him for a while and then let him go. I like him.”—Mel Gibson, famed anti-Semitic drunk, sympathizes with comic Michael Richards after the latter’s expletive-laden rant against two African-American hecklers


      “I feel so loved by him, in a trampoline kind of way.”—Singer Alanis Morissette before she and local actor Ryan Reynolds cancelled their engagement


      “We’re here to prove that 50 million Frenchmen can be wrong.”—Friars Club dean Freddie Roman on 80-year-old comedian Jerry Lewis, who was inducted into the French Legion of Honour not long before being roasted by the famous fundraising club for the third time in his career


      Factoring in the wages of sin

      To boost the size of its economy and improve its budget-deficit ratio in accordance with European Union standards, Greece decided to include estimated figures from the black market. According to Manolis Kontopyrakis, head of the national statistics service, “The revised GDP will include some money from illegal activities, such as money from cigarette and drinks smuggling, prostitution, and money-laundering.”

      Feat of clay

      Police in China did not lay charges after Pablo Wendel hid from them in plain sight for some time, having devised a costume imitating a 2,200-year-old terra-cotta statue of a warrior and jumping into an archeological pit containing thousands of the statues near the tomb of the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang. According to the Xin ­hua news agency, the German art student’s costume was confiscated and he was given “serious criticism and education” before being returned to the eastern Hangzhou city where he studies. “I have always dreamed of disguising myself as a terracotta warrior among the real ones,” Wendel said.

      Prison for dummies

      Less than a week after being released from prison for a series of break-and-enter convictions related to his erotic fixation on mannequins, Ronald Dotson, 39, was jailed and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after smashing the window of a Ferndale, Michigan, cleaning-supply store to get to a display figure in a French maid’s uniform. According to detective Brendan Moore, “He told his parole officer he was going to buy a mannequin so he didn’t have to do these break-ins anymore. Apparently, that didn’t work out.”

      Fine ’til you’re nine

      “Does he want the death penalty for them, too? This concerns me that we’re going back to the Dark Ages. Maybe we should have workhouses, too.”—Canadian Bar Association lawyer Heather Perkins-McVey, on Justice Minister Vic Toews’s proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility, currently at 12, to include 10- and 11-year-olds

      Plea for a cop

      “I’m 45 years old and I’d just like to meet him again, but I don’t know how to do that without calling 911.”—Lorna Dudash of Hillsboro, Oregon, whose neighbour’s noise complaint led to her meeting “the cutest cop I’ve seen in God knows how long” and dialling 911 to see him again. Her wish was granted when her dream deputy arrived to arrest her, resulting in two years probation, 100 hours of community service, and $693 in fines and fees for misusing emergency services.


      After Anchorage, Alaska’s Wild Salmon on Parade public art show suffered from vandals and thieves in 2005, police Sgt. Roy LeBlanc added to this year’s display a decoy fibreglass model of a chinook, or king, salmon next to a spring-salmon installation. The salmon was dressed up as a police officer, with miniature handcuffs, a fish whacker, duty belt, fake radio, and sunglasses. Within hours, a hidden video camera filmed three young people vandalizing the public-art display, and a 15-year-old girl was later arrested by police.

      Truth and consequences

      Michael Simonson, 51, of Tekao, Washington, was sentenced to 10 years in prison 18 months after he told Canada Customs officials on a Greyhound bus at the Blaine border crossing that he was on his way to have sex with a 15-year-old girl he had contacted through the Internet. U.S. federal prosecutors alleged the subsequent search turned up condoms, Viagra tablets, a digital camera, “love letters” from the girl, and a bottle of vodka. A warrant search of Simonson’s computer showed extensive research into Canada’s age of consent and Internet child-luring laws, but Simonson was charged under U.S. law. Police found his target, a runaway, at the Vancouver bus depot.

      The great mouse detective

      “Generally, if you see something you expect it be narcotics. But this turned out to be cheese.”—A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson in Columbus, New Mexico, on the arrest of a Mexican smuggler after X-ray machines revealed the presence of 16 bulky packages in a secret compartment behind the seat of his truck, which turned out to contain 40 kilograms of cheese

      Porn storm

      In a lawsuit filed in Indianapolis, two inmates sought class-action status on behalf of more than 20,000 state prisoners in an attempt to overturn a new Indiana Department of Correction policy barring adult magazines and other printed material depicting nudity or sexual content. Although the policy is aimed at magazines such as Playboy and Hustler, according to the complaint it could also be used to prohibit sexually explicit letters from spouses and publications such as National Geographic and daily newspapers, which the suit says violates the plaintiff’s civil rights.

      Trailer park boy

      A Vancouver jury convicted Anthony “Big Tony” Terezakis of 11 assault-related charges after viewing hours of security videotapes from two Downtown Eastside hotels. The tapes showed him beating and intimidating several customers of his drug-trafficking business. He claimed he was creating footage for a reality show he was making in the style of Jackass.

      Relishing his fate

      “The U.S. Marines couldn’t keep me away from this trial.”—Former Canadian Conrad Black, waiving his right to fight extradition on newly filed charges of tax evasion, which now joins fraud, racketeering, and money-laundering on the docket for his trial’s scheduled beginning in March 2007

      Mmmm, mmmm, bad

      In a failed scheme to sue the Campbell Soup Co., William Allen Cunningham of Georgia was eventually charged with tampering with consumer products with reckless disregard, mail fraud, wire fraud, and communicating false statements that a consumer product had been tampered with. His three-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter were taken to hospital three times after Cunningham fed them tainted soup, the third time so laced with antidepressants Prozac and Amitriptyline that the girl had to be flown by helicopter to an Atlanta hospital.


      Send us your masses

      Because of a shortage of North American priests, according to Dean Hoge, coauthor of International Priests in America, requests for special masses for the souls of the dead are being outsourced—and the donations of $10 to $15 sent—to priests in India and other developing countries to perform the sacrament. “The prayer is heartfelt, and every prayer is treated as the same whether it is paid for in dollars, euros, or in rupees,” said Rev. Paul Thelakkat, spokesman for the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church.

      Everyone’s cross to bear

      Madonna brought her concert tour to a Rome venue less than two kilometres from the Vatican, with part of the show featuring her wearing a crown of thorns and hanging from a glittery cross in a mock crucifixion. “I think her idea is in the worst taste and she’d do better to go home,” said Mario Scialoja, head of Italy’s Muslim League, joining Jewish and Roman Catholic critics.

      What would Jesus market?

      “It should be enticing enough to provoke questions: ”˜What’s that you’re wearing?’ Then you take that opportunity to speak of your faith. They’ve opened the door and now they’re going to get it.”—Milton Hobbs describ ­ing his Virtuous Woman perfume, which—along with Follow the Son flip-flops that leave the message Follow Jesus in the sand and Gospel Golf Balls inscribed with Biblical verses—was among the products featured at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver

      Countdown to ecstasy

      During the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, the Web site’s Rapture Index, which bills itself as “a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity”, passed the “fasten your seatbelt” benchmark of 145 to reach 157, the closest to the end of the world since the index reached 182 following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. According to the Web site, the higher the index, “the faster we’re moving towards the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture”.

      Sign of the cross

      Acting on a complaint, police in London, England, ordered pensioner Janet Grove to remove from her garden gate a sign reading: “Our dogs are fed on Jehovah’s Witnesses”. Grove, who owns a Jack Russell terrier puppy named Rabbit, said the sign was a gentle joke put up by her late husband 30 years ago after members of the church visited their house on Christmas Day.

      Meaty metaphor

      “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it”¦whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?”—Australian Islamic cleric Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali criticizing women who “sway suggestively”, wear makeup, and fail to cover their hair, prompting worldwide criticism and his suspension from preaching for up to three months

      Make it your Om page

      The Guangxiao Temple, which claims to be the oldest and largest in south China, began an on-line worship system ( ) through which users offer virtual incense, fruit, and flowers to a variety of electronic Buddhas. Duties of Buddhist monks now include taking foreign-language and MBA degrees so they can help run temples that are increasingly computerized. “Everything in the temple is now processed on-line. No paperwork. Those who failed to pass the computer test were laid off and reassigned to non-office jobs,” said Hui Jue of the Jade Buddha Temple. “Interacting with the outside world occupies most of our time, so many monks have to use the noon break if they want to do meditation.”

      Bad penny

      A Winnipeg shop put a 2001 U.S. penny on eBay that was found on the ground in northwestern Manitoba. It has what appears to be an image of a horned demon’s face superimposed on part of Abraham Lincoln’s; it caused the store’s computer to crash twice while attempting to list it; and, reportedly, it produces “a strange, warm feeling” when held in the hand.

      Science, Medicine and Technology

      The little carcinogen that could

      “In all of world history, this is the largest train wreck not waiting to happen.”—John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, on predictions that tobacco will kill a billion people in this century, 10 times the toll it took in the 20th century

      Extra rations of rationalization

      An International Journal of Obesity article featured a researcher’s list of “top ten” possible causes for the epidemic of morbidly overweight U.S. citizens that included: “Nice temperatures (air-conditioning and heating limit calories burned from sweating and shivering); population changes (more middle-agers and Hispanics, who have higher obesity rates); and Darwinian natural selection (fat people outsurvive skinny ones)”.

      Plight unseen

      “Either they don’t know what to look for or they’re deluding themselves. They’re looking at their children through rose-tinted glasses.”—Canadian Medical Association president Ruth Collins-Nakai, on a Statistics Canada report that 26 percent of children are overweight or obese, while only nine percent of parents responding to a CMA survey said their children have weight problems


      After 155 years in the telegram business, Western Union announced via its Web site that it was ending its service in the U.S.

      Whine experts

      Security business owner Howard Stapleton, on a request from a Cardiff, Wales, shopkeeper bothered by lounging teenagers who intimidated his customers, invented the Mosquito, a black box that emits a loud, pulsing whine at about 17 kilohertz. Although it is perfectly audible to young people, from age 20 onward humans suffer progressive hearing loss in the higher frequencies, so that the Mosquito is silent to most adults. Pupils in U.S. schools are turning this physiological fact to their advantage, according to Manhattan teacher Donna Lewis, downloading high-pitched ring tones so they can receive text messages in class without the teachers hearing their phones ring.

      Getting flamed

      After several computer companies began recalling potentially hazardous laptop batteries that could burst into flame, Info-Tech Research Group issued a warning that computer batteries especially posed a threat during air travel. “The most recent event we’re aware of involved a Dell laptop exploding and bursting into flames at a business meeting in Osaka, Japan,” Info-Tech analyst Carmi Levy said in a news release. “The potential for an in-flight incident of this nature when travellers are using battery power for portable PCs certainly exists.”

      Pry it from my cold, dead ear

      Although only one Canadian in a hundred would give up an arm or a leg rather than his or her cellphone, according to a Palm Canada/Leger Marketing study, two percent would trade their jobs or their driver’s licences instead, three percent would give up their household pets, and five percent would surrender their rights to vote. “For a certain group of people, taking a cellphone away is, I think, a catastro ­phic social act,” said Tim Blackmore, associate professor of media studies at the University of Western Ontario.

      It’s rocket surgery

      JP Aerospace, one of several firms working on ways to launch private citizens and cargo into space, is testing the use of lighter-than-air vehicles to reach the edge of space before launching. Founder John Powell has faith in his approach. “There’s the whole myth about rocket science. It’s really not that hard. It’s not brain surgery.”

      Press porkers

      Japanese researchers developed a robot that uses an infrared spectrometer to analyze and identify wines from their chemical composition and then suggest foods that the wine would complement. However, the device can only recognize a few dozen wines and is prone to errors when analyzing items outside of its programming: during the news conference it determined that a reporter’s hand was prosciutto, while a cameraman was identified as bacon.


      Fossil fools

      After Allstate insurance rewarded the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for its safe-driving record by announcing free gas, the lineup began before midnight and stretched into a residential area from the lone station involved in the giveaway. Two vehicles collided in the queue and driveways were blocked, leading to fights and four arrests.

      Torturous logic

      The U.S. government initially countenanced the interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda member Mohammed al-Qahtani, according to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker magazine, on the grounds that he was treated humanely. Al-Qahtani was put on cardiac monitoring after 60 days in a cell flooded with artificial light, being questioned for 48 out of 54 days for 20 hours at a time, and being forced to strip naked, act like a dog, and be straddled by female guards in what was dubbed “invasion of space by a female”.

      Sympathy from the devil

      “Look at the American citizen who was used to travel anywhere he liked and be welcomed in any country he visited. Nowadays, an American cannot walk outside America unless he has a mine detector.”—Saddam Hussein, in a July letter from prison calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq

      A drunkard’s dream if we ever did see one

      Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center gave 75 of the city’s most costly “chronic public inebriates” new apartments in a city-centre block called Eastlake, where residents are not required to become sober, join Alcoholics Anonymous, or attend church, and the support services and counselling provided are not mandatory. Backers of the project say it will cut the $50,000-per-person drain on public resources by street alcoholics, some of whom are admitted to hospital up to 250 times a year.

      A place to hang in

      “We have a huge walk-in closet outside living areas that is being used for storage. You can fit a twin bed in there and probably a nightstand. We can power your closet with some extension cord.”—An ad in the Honolulu Advertiser that reportedly received 33 replies, the closet renting within three days for $100 a month


      After ads accusing North Carolina Democratic congressman Brad Miller of using tax money “to study the masturbation habits of old men” and “pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes attached to their genitalia”, Republican challenger Vernon Robinson followed up with one showing images of illegal immigrants climbing over a border fence and burning a U.S. flag while an announcer tells viewers that Miller “voted to allow convicted child molesters to immi ­grate to America”. Mariachi music provides the background for a radio-ad script: “If Brad Miller had his way, America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals.” The masturbation and pornography references stem from Miller’s having voted against a proposal that would have prohibited the National Institutes of Health from making any grants involving sexual studies.

      Just al-qaedding

      Portland lawyer Tom Connolly, 49, who tipped off reporters about U.S. president George Bush’s 24-year-old drunk-driving charge days before the 2000 election, was arrested on misdemeanour charges of criminal threatening after being spotted on a highway overpass on Halloween wearing an Osama bin Laden costume that included plastic dynamite and grenades and a replica of an AK-47 assault rifle. A former Democratic candidate for governor of Maine in 1998, whom his wife has described as “marvelously eccentric”, Connolly said he would plead not guilty. “There was a First Amendment this morning when I woke up. I don’t know how it evaporated with the dawn.”

      Vote early, vote often

      Arizona’s Mark Osterloh led a petition drive to place a proposal on the state’s November ballot that would, if passed, permit a prize of US$1,000,000 to be awarded in future elections to a randomly chosen voter in an attempt to increase turnout at the polls.

      Talk about quailing

      “My family and I are deeply sorry for everything Vice-President Cheney and his family have had to deal with.”—Harry Whittington, who was shot in the face, neck, and chest by Cheney while the two were on a quail-hunting trip

      No smoke on the water

      “I think it’s a good idea, as long they don’t make us stop drinking.”—Beach resident Libby Brignon, on San Diego’s decision to join 35 other California cities in banning smoking at beaches and parks

      The widening-gulf stream

      “Dear ”˜Captain’ Bennett. I recently found your bottle while taking a scenic walk on the beach by Poole Harbour. While you may consider this some profound experiment on the path and speed of oceanic currents, I have another name for it, litter. You Americans don’t seem to be happy unless you are mucking about somewhere. If you wish to foul your own nest, all well and good, but please refrain in future from fouling mine.”—A letter signed Henry Biggelsworth from Dorset in the south of England, sent to sea Capt. Harvey Bennett, returning the message and bottle Bennett threw into the sea from Long Island, New York

      Just give us some truthiness

      “Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by honest research and excellent scholarship and investigative reporting. They want to put us back on the snake-oil standard.”—Kurt Vonnegut

      Spinning in their graves

      Following the suicides of three inmates held in custody at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy described their deaths as a tactic to further the jihadist cause and a “good PR move to draw attention”. Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the detention-camp commander, rejected claims that the men killed themselves out of despair and commented: “They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”

      And they lived hippily ever after

      “As soon as winter comes, there won’t be a story anymore.”—Brattleboro, Vermont, town clerk Annette Cappy, on a public-nudity fad among rebellious young people that challenged the town’s generally libertarian political philosophy

      Around the World

      The family plan

      Polish president Lech Kaczynski declared “Mr. Chairman, mission accomplished!” to his twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, after appointing him the country’s prime minister and chair of the governing Law and Justice Party.

      No gathering in hordes, please

      “Let’s keep our streets clean and orderly. Let’s sing our national anthem together. Let’s drink vodka moderately.”—Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, in a television address marking the 800th anniversary of the uniting of Mongolia’s tribes under Ghengis Khan, a national hero who brought order to a 13th-century empire made up of conquests from eastern Asia to central Europe

      Leering off the road

      The number one cause of Colombia’s 115,000 road accidents in 2005 was found to be driver distraction, the cellphone being the main culprit, while drivers ogling women came in second. “It’s a culture here of drivers honking the horn at an attractive woman, throwing her some compliment as he drives past, and he’s not concentrating on driving,” said Francisco Fernandez of the Road Safety Fund, a private group made up of insurance companies.

      Perverting politics

      A Dutch court ruled against an antipedophile group that sought a ban on the newly launched Brotherly Love, Freedom and Diversity party (PNVD), which has a platform of reducing the age of consent to 12 from 16, as well as legalizing child pornography and sex with animals, and which has provoked widespread outrage in the Netherlands.

      Ta-ta to tatas

      “Police only watched”¦they could not approach the tourists because they spoke no English.”—From a report in the newspaper of the beach resort Sarande, Albania, where a tour group of about 30 Scandinavian women caused two hours of uproar, with local mothers dragging their children away and a barrage of complaints to the police before their guide was located and informed that going topless was neither allowed nor in the least expected

      Funeral services for 70 minutes at 350 degrees

      Land Transport New Zealand will be taking another look at about 1,500 vehicles registered “noncommercial hearse/ambulance”, which requires a fee of only US$36 instead of the usual US$113. A Christchurch woman told a radio phone-in program she had registered her car as a noncommercial hearse to transport dead animals, which she defined as bringing chickens home from the supermarket.

      Stiffies and a stiff

      Five people were reportedly arrested in China for arranging a striptease performance in order to boost attendance at a funeral.

      That’s (Time) life

      “My remarks were inspired by a Time Life book I have which does, indeed, show relatively recent photos of Papua New Guinean tribes engaged in warfare, and I’m fairly certain cannibalism was involved.”—Boris Johnson, higher education spokesman in opposition for Britain’s Conservative Party, apologizing in his column in the Daily Telegraph after Papua New Guinea’s high commissioner in London strenuously objected to a column in which he compared leadership struggles in the Conservative and Labour parties to “Papua New Guinea–style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing”

      Dubya el diablo

      “I never thought anyone could make [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahma ­dinijad look like a moderate, but Chavez has done it.”—UN expert Edward Luck comments on Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s speech to the UN General Assembly the day after U.S. President George W. Bush spoke, in which Chavez referred to Bush as the devil and said from the podium: “In this very spot it smells like sulphur still.”

      Kilotons of fun

      “People tend to have urges to pro ­create in times of extreme situations. Stress is released through sex”¦it’s one of the top 10 reasons why sex is good for the body.”—Korea Institute for Sex Education head Seong Gyeong-won, on the upsurge in sales of condoms and in reservations at “love motels” in South Korea during the weeks following the nuclear test by North Korea

      Moving up the charts—with a bullet

      In a survey of British voters as to who presented a greater threat to world peace, Osama bin Laden was first with 87 percent, while U.S. President George Bush, at 75 percent, was more feared than North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il at 69 percent or Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at 62 percent.

      Being dictator-for-life: Priceless

      Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov, who styled himself the Great Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmen, designed a $50-million theme park with 54 attractions based on Turkmen folk art and fairy tales, which opened on 33 hectares in the country’s capital of Ashgabat as part of the oil-rich dictatorship’s 15th-anniversary celebrations of independence from the former USSR. Niyazov’s other projects have included a man-made lake in the Kara Kum desert, a vast cypress forest to change the climate, a ski resort, and a 40-metre-high pyramid. Niyazov died December 21.

      The banality of evil

      “You talk about a dress that does not fit—imagine my problems.”—Adolph Hitler to Eva Braun in Berghof, Germany, according to a lip-reading software program employed to provide dialogue, from archived silent home-movie footage, for the documentary Hitler’s Private World: Revealed

      A little song, a little dance, a little restricted liquid down your pants

      Severe water restrictions in the Wallington, Surrey, region of England resulted in Zippo’s Circus being threatened with fines if it used any water in its slapstick routines. Circus executive Martin Burton commented that the water board “has had a complete sense of humour failure” and pointed out that each show only used 20 buckets’ worth. Sutton and East Surrey Water spokesperson Stuart Hislop claimed that such an amount of water could “soon add up”, and added: “It is not setting a very good example to all these children going to the circus.”

      Between Iraq and a hard place

      “When you dismantle a system in which there is a despot who controls his people by force, you have chaos. I’m not sure we won’t miss Saddam.”—Yuval Diskin, incoming head of Israeli domestic security agency Shin Bet

      Happily hounded

      “I get caught very, very rarely. But when I do, the worst that can happen is you get licked to death.”—John Whetton, a top-10 middle-distance runner in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, who volunteers several times a year in bloodhound hunts as a substitute for foxes, now that fox hunting has been banned in England. “The great thing about it is that it gives me the chance to run over beautiful countryside and it keeps you fit.”

      Putting your heart on the betting line

      Inspired by a paper examining a surge in heart attacks during the days after England’s loss in soccer to Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, the betting Web site sponsored a study by Loughborough University to test the effect that wagering on a soccer game has on a person’s heartbeat. “The heart rates that we have recorded throughout the first stage of the study are in line with those experienced by an individual reaching sexual climax, and in some cases greater than that,” said Loughborough professor Ron Maughan. “We knew that football fans were passionate about their teams, but these results prove that for some, football is even better than sex.”

      Naked greed

      After floating the idea as an April Fool’s joke, Irish betting company Paddy Powers generated enough interest that it put up a C$21,000 first prize to be competed for by 200 people in London, England, in the first World Strip Poker Championship. Winner John Young removed his remaining clothes to secure a matching amount for the charity Cancer Research.

      Getting wiser in the whizzer

      “The [FIDE] World [Chess] Champion Veselin Topalov is outraged by the suspicious behavior of his opponent Vladimir Kramnik, who actually makes his most significant decisions in the toilet. During every game, he visited the relaxation room 25 times on average and the bathroom more than 50 times.”—Silvio Danailov, Topalov’s manager, raising doubts about the behavior of Classical World Chess Champion Kramnik, who later refused to play the fifth game of the 12-game world championship title-unification match, which he was leading 3–1, after an appeals committee decided to lock the players’ private bathrooms and insist they use a common bathroom

      Silly goosestep

      “We are not promoting Hitler. But we want to tell people we are different in the way that he was different.”—Punit Shablok defending his strategy for making his Mumbai restaurant “stay in people’s minds” by calling it Hitler’s Cross, which has infuriated India’s Jewish community

      Take your tongue for a walk on the Sun

      A British company called Peppers by Post developed the Dorset Naga, a chili pepper tested to be the world’s hottest at 970,000 Scoville heat units, besting the nearly 600,000 Scovilles scored by the Guinness Book of Records–listed Red Savina habañero. Aktar Miha of the Indis Bangladeshi restaurant in Bournemouth said: “Most people don’t cook with it; they just have it near to them when they eat. They just touch their food with it. If you don’t know what you are doing, it could blow your head off.”

      Being served on a fashion plate

      In Congo, where many survive on as little as 30 cents a day, youth gangs vie for supremacy on the basis of who wears rarer or more expensive designer garments. Devotees to the cult of Sape (from French slang for “clothes”) go deeply into debt in order to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month so they can face down their rivals in fine fashion. “If we see them walking down our street, we run home, change into our best, and come back out to prove that we’re not nobodies,” said 28-year-old gang leader Willy Biselele.