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According to a story last month in the New York Times, hundreds of young men and women in China have endured months of pain to gain a few inches in height and supposedly improve their social and professional status. The "Ilizarov procedure," which costs $6,000, involves breaking bones in the shins or thighs, manually adjusting special leg braces four times a day that pull the bones slightly apart, then waiting until the bones grow back and fuse together (which usually takes about six months, plus a three-month recovery). Said one five-foot-tall woman (aiming for five-foot-four): "I'll have a better job, a better boyfriend, and eventually a better husband. It's a long-term investment."

Last month Great Britain's home office, deciding on the proper compensation for an innocent man who'd served 11 years in prison, ruled that he was entitled to about $1.1 million but ordered him to reimburse the prison about $63,000 for his room and board. The exonerated man, Michael O'Brien, was outraged: "They don't charge guilty people for bed and board. They only charge innocent people."

Animal Rights Update

Last month Germany's lower house of parliament revised the constitution's guarantee to protect the dignity of humans, adding the words and animals....But that same month the director of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., turned the tables on animal-rights advocates by forbidding the Washington Post to inspect its animals' medical records, citing the animals' right to privacy.

Government in Action

Citizens Against Government Waste have cited the following "pork barrel" expenditures in the federal government's 2002 budget: $273,000 for Blue Springs, Missouri, to fight the incursion of goth culture among its young; $50,000 for San Luis Obispo, California, to remove gang members' tattoos; $450,000 to restore chimneys on Cumberland Island, Georgia; $260,000 to explore asparagus technology; and $600,000 to research the sex life of the South African ground squirrel.

According to the Washington Post, a homeless man in the District of Columbia spent five months in jail after charges against him were dropped last November, because computer records at the corrections department were not updated. The same department, the Post reported, mistakenly released a bank robber in March, then tracked him down at his mother's home by telephone and ordered him to report back to jail. The department never sent anyone to take him into custody, but eventually he returned on his own.

People With Issues

Last month the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch reported that 42-year-old James O. Riccardi III had been charged with five misdemeanor counts by police in Higginsville, Missouri, in connection with bizarre phone calls to high school athletes. The caller, posing as a coach at the University of Missouri, offered scholarships but then turned the conversation to the students spanking their bare buttocks to show their dedication to college sports. The university said it's received 86 complaints about similar calls to student athletes throughout Kansas and Missouri.

Least Competent Criminals

In March, 19-year-old Justin Aragon was arrested in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and charged with roughing up his girlfriend and threatening to kill members of her family. According to police, the alleged harassment ended when Aragon collapsed and hit his head on a coffee table, shortly after informing the victim that he'd laced her drink with a toxic substance but accidentally drunk it himself.

Our Civilization in Decline

The Los Angeles Times reported last month on the "mini-industry" of pregnant South Korean women planning vacations so that they give birth in the U.S. and gain automatic American citizenship for their babies....That same month an armed Buddhist monk, complaining that the police were harassing him, rushed Thailand's parliament building firing an AK-47....Also in May, two British tourists caused a furor among townspeople in Mombasa, Kenya, when they spent about $140--half the average monthly wage in Kenya--to save the life of an injured monitor lizard.

In the Last Month

In Canaseraga, New York, an intoxicated man ran his car into a ditch, climbed back to the highway, and was accidentally hit by another car, driven by his intoxicated wife....In Manchester, England, a college student was diagnosed with repetitive strain injury after a year of hoisting about 25 pints of beer a week at a tavern....And minutes after allegedly robbing a bank in Winfield, Indiana, a man was captured when police spotted him holding forth at a bar a few blocks away.

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

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