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In April the Wall Street Journal reported on "antibully" policies adopted by elementary schools in several states, which ban roughhousing, name-calling, gossip, exclusion, and even "dirty looks." Children are encouraged to use the language of sensitivity and tolerance--for instance, to say "I feel bad when you swipe my book" instead of "You're a thief." However, some students fear that when they move up to junior high, their peers from schools without antibully policies will hear such language as "gibberish"--and tolerance-trained kids will be more likely to get beaten up.

In mid-March, as the bombing began in Iraq, the Seattle city council introduced a resolution of support for U.S. troops. But because some members wanted the resolution to say more than that--to support the war itself, for instance, or to criticize it--the council spent almost a month haggling over wording. By the time an acceptably bland version of the resolution finally passed, on April 14, U.S. troops had captured Baghdad and serious fighting had ceased.

Readers' Choice

In April in Denton, Texas, a 17-year-old boy lost his eyelids and was blinded in both eyes in a "potato gun" accident. (A potato gun is essentially a long PVC pipe with a combustion chamber at one end; a flammable liquid such as hair spray is ignited in the chamber, and whatever's in the pipe--usually a potato--is propelled several hundred feet.) In this case three other teenagers playing near a creek had loaded their gun with a frog, but it failed to fire; the victim, who'd happened by and stopped to watch, looked down the barrel just as it finally went off.

The Continuing Crisis

In January the Associated Press reported on six candidates for city office in Charleston, West Virginia, who misspelled their party affiliations on their official filing forms. Among the variations were "Democart," "Democrate," "Repbulican," and "Repucican." One of the six, a city council incumbent, had also filed as a "Democart" in the race he won four years earlier.

In January in Center Township, Pennsylvania, Mark Ferrara called for paramedics after his seven-year-old daughter licked a cold metal pole at her school bus stop and got stuck. And according to a BBC News article from Russia about this year's unusually frigid January, when a young man on his way home from a bar in the southern city of Stavropol stopped to urinate against a bus-stop shelter, his inebriated swaying brought his exposed organ into contact with the shelter's metal siding, where it stuck fast; a crowd gathered, offering the man advice, and eventually someone hustled up a kettle of warm water to free him.

The Rent Stabilization Board of Berkeley, California, which fights unjust evictions and regulates residential rates (no small task in a city where the average one-bedroom rents for $914), recently tried a novel tactic to improve tenant morale: In early March it sponsored a poetry slam, inviting local renters to complain about bad landlords in verse. The winner of the $100 first prize attacked tenancy as a "platonic master/slave relationship" and claimed that life at his last apartment was so awful that he "chose to be homeless for nine months just to escape the memory."

More Things to Worry About

In December, the Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatchewan upheld a ruling of the province's human rights commission that a newspaper ad, which referred to four Bible passages, constituted illegal hate literature because it subjected gay men to "ridicule." The ad (which promoted a bumper sticker of similar design) consisted of citations of verses that directly or indirectly condemn homosexuality, a large equals sign, and a pictogram of two men holding hands inside a red circle with a red diagonal line across it.

In February in Lancaster, Wisconsin, 32-year-old Jeannie M. Patrinos was sentenced to five years' probation for third-degree sexual assault--she'd broken into her estranged husband's home and climbed into bed with him, and was somehow "having sex" with him when he woke up. His girlfriend, who was asleep in the same bed, woke up when he began to protest.

Chutzpah!

In February in Kansas City, Kansas, 23-year-old Wesley Fitzpatrick asked a judge for a temporary restraining order against a woman he said was stalking him, saying he was "scared, depressed and in fear for my freedom." The order was granted, but when Fitzpatrick showed up in court to ask that it be made permanent, he was arrested for failing to report to his parole officer--and it became clear that the "stalker" was in fact the officer, who'd been carrying out the supervision required of her by law. (Temporary restraining orders are usually granted without investigation.)

In the Last Month

A Beatles fan in Britain tried to sell flu germs he claimed he'd caught from Paul McCartney; the fan's eBay posting offered either a coughed-into plastic bag or a vial of mucus. And a British designer unveiled a 47-foot-tall inflatable church, complete with inflatable organ, inflatable pews, and PVC "stained glass" windows; he hopes to capitalize on an upcoming change in marriage law (the person performing the ceremony, not the venue, will be licensed) and rent the church for civil weddings.

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

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