News of the Weird April 30 2008

LEAD STORY: China’s societal self-improvement in preparation for the 2008 Olympics continues. The Beijing Tourism Bureau ordered hotels to retranslate English signs, hoping to avoid such notorious past gaffes as “Racist Park,” which is now “Park of Ethnic Minorities,” and a cafe’s attempt to salute Western visitors with “Welcome, big nose friends.” And the Beijing Olympics Committee has been training hostesses for months to stand straight enough to hold a sheet of paper between their knees and to smile continuously, showing “six to eight teeth.” There are height and weight requirements for the hostesses, and each must have an upper- to lower-body ratio of no more than 11-to-13, to eliminate, according to local newspapers, “big bottoms.”

Too Much Time on Their Hands: It struck Leo Hill, 81, of Lakewood, Colo., that he was being shorted sheets of toilet paper (in the 12-pack, whose rolls allegedly yielded fewer sheets than similar rolls in the four-pack), and he earnestly counted 60 rolls, sheet by sheet, concluding that the shortage amounted to enough paper to service one sit-down session per roll. He took his complaint to the Denver Post (and even to the Better Business Bureau), but the reporter, trying to replicate Leo’s work, found no shortage, in Leo’s brand or eight others.

Jonathan Lee Riches is believed to be the most prolific lawsuit filer ever to operate from behind bars. His “docket” now includes more than 1,000 cases in just more than two years (with eight more years to go on a federal sentence for fraud), including claims totaling several trillion dollars from “injuries” inflicted on him by such people as President Bush, Martha Stewart, Steve Jobs, Britney Spears, Tiger Woods (luggage theft), Barry Bonds (illegal moonshine production), and football player Michael Vick ($63 billion for allegedly stealing Riches’ pit bulls and selling them on eBay so that Vick could in turn buy missiles from Iran).

Inexplicable: Prison reformer James McDonough revealed in February the extent of the mess he inherited when taking over the Florida Department of Corrections in 2006 (40 officials charged with crimes, 90 fired, 280 demoted) and said much of the problem centered on interdepartment softball. Even though former officials had admitted to contract kickbacks and frequent taxpayer-funded “orgies,” McDonough said, “I cannot explain how big an obsession softball had become. People were promoted on the spot after a softball game ... to high positions in the department because they were able to hit a softball out of the park ... The connection between softball and the parties and the corruption and the beatings (of prisoners) was greatly intertwined.”

Making artistic, themed scrapbooks is a $2.6 billion industry in the United States (nearly one-fifth as large as the adult-video industry) and has a “Hall of Fame” as protective of its morals as baseball’s, which has shunned gamblers and steroid-users. According to a January Wall Street Journal report, one “superstar” scrapbooker, Kristina Contes, was recently kicked out of the hall for violating etiquette by displaying another’s photo inside her scrapbook in a competition.

Accidents Will Happen: 1) Police officer Thomas Wilson pleaded guilty to having 8,742 images of child pornography on his computer, but the judge acknowledged that Wilson might have acquired them “somewhat accidentally” (Brisbane, Australia; March). 2) Ernest Simmons was convicted of attempted murder of two sheriff’s deputies, despite his defense that he only “accidentally” shot at them (11 times, using two guns). 3) Accused purse snatcher Derrick Dale, 21, said the purse fell on his foot and (according to the arrest report) “the next thing he knew, it was in his hands.”

Least Competent Criminals: This Getaway Plan Works Better in July: James Jett, 33, was arrested in Blount County, Tenn., in February after attempting to evade police by jumping into the Little River and submerging all but his face. However, the high temperature that day was only 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and by the time he was discovered, he was suffering from hypothermia.

Recurring Themes: More People Having Sex with Inanimate Objects: 1) Art Price Jr., 40, was charged with public indecency for several instances of walking naked into his back yard and (according to neighbors’ videos) simulating intercourse with a picnic table. 2) A 36-year-old man faced several charges after allegedly masturbating on a woman’s bicycle seat (explaining that he felt “an overwhelming calm” when he smelled the handlebars of a woman’s bike). 3) A building contractor was caught by a security guard simulating sex with a canister vacuum cleaner (and claiming that he was merely vacuuming his underpants, which he said was a “common practice” in his native Poland).

Undignified Deaths: A 39-year-old man who had been cited 32 times for driving without a seat belt (and who finally rigged a fake belt in his car to create the illusion that he was belted in) was killed in a low-impact car crash that would not have been fatal to a belted driver. A man and a woman were fatally struck by several vehicles on the Trans-Canada Highway after they had continued a fight from their stopped car out to the middle of the road.