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According to a March Knight Ridder report, police in the Transylvania region of Romania are cracking down on the traditional practice of vampire killing, and many villagers are outraged that they may face three-year prison sentences for "disturbing the peace of the dead"--especially because vampire killing is usually a family affair. Since a vampire supposedly attacks only blood relations (feeding while they sleep and causing them to become ill), the task of killing it generally falls to a relative as well. After the body is dug up, the heart is removed with a sickle, pinned to an iron plate with a wooden stake, and burned (though it will squeak like a mouse and try to escape). The ashes are then mixed with water and drunk by the afflicted family members. Said the sister of one exhumed vampire: "If [the police are] right, he was already dead. If we're right, we killed a vampire and saved three lives....Is that so wrong?"

Send in the Snakes

In January in Pocahontas, Arkansas, former judge Bob Sam Castleman and his son pleaded guilty to mailing a 28-inch copperhead to a neighbor with whom they'd been feuding. Also in January in Johannesburg, South Africa, an Absa Bank customer upset that loan officers had repossessed his car was charged with attempted murder after he allegedly released five puff adders in the bank's head office (one worker was bitten but survived).

Police Blotter

Thinking Small: In December the mayor of China, Texas, was accused of mowing city hall's lawn himself and then pocketing the money set aside to pay the yard-work contractor. And in January police in Tokyo announced that they'd cited two men for theft of electricity: one had recharged his cell phone in an outlet that had been powering a store's neon sign, and the other had plugged a portable stereo into an outlet used by a vending machine. (They were let off with reprimands because in each case the stolen power was worth less than one cent.)

Scenes of the Surreal

The Japanese navy released a TV ad in February to encourage enlistment and bolster support for the deployment of a Japanese security force to Iraq. Seven actors dressed in white sailor suits dance in formation on the deck of a ship, singing "Nippon seaman ship, seaman ship, for love...for peace"; the ad ends with a voice-over declaring, "I love Japan, I love peace--the Maritime Self-Defense Force." It has been broadcast on giant street screens in Tokyo's fashionable Shibuya district. (Explained a senior officer, "There are a lot of young people and women who don't seem interested [in the navy].")

In a December profile of presidential brother Neil Bush, the Washington Post described the breezy eighth-grade American history course that his company Ignite! is selling to schools. The course's method assumes that "hunter-warriors" (apparently Bush's term for rambunctious boys) don't have the patience to read and should be taught using music, animation, and other media. The Constitutional Convention of 1787, for instance, is cast as a rap song: "It was 55 delegates from 12 states / Took one hot Philadelphia summer to create / A perfect document for their imperfect times / Franklin, Madison, Washington, a lot of the cats / Who used to be in the Continental Congress way back."

More Things to Worry About

In March a 48-year-old woman from Gambia was arrested at Gatwick airport in England with about 12 pounds of goat and snail meat and more than 170 pounds of catfish, and last year inspectors at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport confiscated a whole smoked monkey from the luggage of a woman arriving from Cameroon for a wedding reception. Officials fear that traditional African meats (especially wildlife killed for food, or "bush meat") could be the vector for another SARS-type virus, and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said that airport inspectors doubtless see "only the tip of the iceberg."

In March the Trufresh company of Suffield, Connecticut, announced that its new method of flash-freezing lobsters for restaurants allowed 12 lobsters (out of a sample population of 200) to revive on their own after spending several hours frozen solid. (The company plans to ship its lobsters with their claws banded, just in case.) And in March in Advance, North Carolina, a photo technician at a CVS drugstore notified police after a customer dropped off a roll of film and several of the pictures showed two male employees of a local Wendy's wearing bathing suits and frolicking in the restaurant's dishwashing sink.

In the Last Month

In Bournemouth, England, a 37-year-old man, angry that a car had splashed mud on him as he rode his bike, allegedly used a sharp screwdriver to puncture roughly 1,700 tires on more than 700 vehicles during a ten-day spree. In Trenton, New Jersey, a jury awarded a former high school basketball player $1.5 million from her coach, who'd allegedly taunted her and hounded her to lose ten pounds so viciously that she developed an eating disorder. And maverick Danish artist Marco Evaristti (notorious for displaying live goldfish in electric blenders) used an icebreaker, a 20-person crew, three fire hoses, and 780 gallons of bloodred dye (used to color supermarket beef) to paint a 10,000-square-foot iceberg off the coast of Greenland.

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

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