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According to a BBC News report last month, Matsushita Electric Industrial runs a state-of-the-art retirement home near Osaka, Japan, using robotic companion bears to comfort the residents (average age: 82) and continually check their health signs. Covered in fur, the bears respond to voice commands and can monitor a resident's alertness by timing his responses to spoken questions.

Randal David Ankeney, a 30-year-old activist for the Colorado Republican Party, was charged with sexual assault last December; according to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the age of the girl involved was not disclosed. Five months earlier Ankeney had been arrested for assaulting a 13-year-old girl he'd met in an Internet chat room....And last month the National Republican Congressional Committee withdrew the "Republican of the Year" award it was scheduled to present to Mark A. Grethen after learning that the 44-year-old Virginia party activist had been convicted on six counts of sex crimes involving children.

Hard Times for Tree Huggers

The U.S. Forest Service admitted last December that three of its employees were among the government environmentalists who planted hair from endangered lynxes in Washington state forests; according to the Washington Post, the environmentalists were trying to skew a research project in favor of restricting the forests' development.

A terminal cancer patient in Australia complained that he suffered through an agonizing Christmas because a Greenpeace protest shut down the Sydney nuclear reactor that makes his high-tech pain-relieving radioisotope Quadramet.

Eeewwww, Gross!

KMOV TV in Saint Louis caused an uproar in December when a report revealed that the 3,500 dogs and cats euthanized in the city each year are disposed of at a local rendering plant that sells some of its product (recycled fat and protein) to pet food manufacturers. The rendering plant subsequently stopped accepting dogs and cats (which it had done for free as a public service), but the city, like many others, is faced with the mounting cost of cremation and other forms of disposal.

Last December the Tennessee Department of Health leveled 39 charges against former state medical examiner Dr. Charles Harlan, among them that he deliberately mutilated bodies during autopsy so that "no one [could] second-guess me" and that he let animals "roam freely in his facility and consume the organs of deceased persons."

Licensing officials in New York City refused to permit the signature event planned for the Russian festival that took place at Brooklyn's Prospect Park in February. The centuries-old stenka na stenku pits teams of 50 men against one another in vicious fistfights. Said one organizer, "We will have an ambulance standing by [but if] we lose a tooth, we lose a tooth. No big deal."

Least Competent Criminals

Last month Roger D. Yost and William Isberg, both 40, were arrested in Fairbanks, Alaska, trying to make off with a 500-pound safe stolen from a Moose Lodge hall, an undertaking complicated by the fact that they'd arrived on bicycles.

Our Civilization in Decline

In response to the new privacy legislation that took effect last December in Australia, one law firm urged the private schools it represents to obtain written permission from students before sending home their report cards....And that same month biology teacher Christine Pelton resigned from Piper High School near Kansas City, Kansas, after she gave grades of zero to 28 students who'd plagiarized their term projects but was overruled by the school board.

The Classic Middle Name (All New)

Arrested for murder: Christopher Wayne Davis (Pearl River, Louisiana, November), Jerry Wayne Dean (Jackson County, Kentucky, November), Billy Wayne Cope (Rock Hill, South Carolina, November), Joshua Wayne Andrews (Woodbridge, Virginia, January), Jeffrey Wayne Gorton (Flint, Michigan, February), Timothy Wayne Adams (Houston, February). Murder warrant issued: Jason Wayne Johnson (Comal County, Texas, December). Sentenced for murder: Mark Wayne Campmire (Litchfield, Connecticut, January). Executed for murder: Randall Wayne Hafdahl (Huntsville, Texas, January), Stephen Wayne Anderson (San Quentin, California, January). Killed in a shoot-out with police: Danny Wayne Sand (Brandon, Manitoba, December). Convicted of murder but appealing or seeking parole: Kenneth Wayne Woodfin (Richmond, Virginia, January) and Gary Wayne Sutton (Knoxville, Tennessee, January).

In the Last Month

In Cincinnati, a cow weighing half a ton jumped the six-foot fence of a slaughterhouse and hid out for 12 days; when she was finally captured, the mayor promised her a key to the city....In Madeira Beach, Florida, a 42-year-old man was hospitalized after being stabbed in the stomach with a swordfish during a brawl outside his home....And in London, a professor at the University of Greenwich announced the discovery of the oldest fossilized vomit on record, barfed up by a four-flippered reptile some 160 million years ago.

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

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