To fund a new Iraqi economy and government after the March 2003 invasion, the U.S. Federal Reserve shipped 484 pallets of shrink-wrapped U.S. currency, weighing 363 tons, totaling more than $4 billion, and, according to a House of Representatives committee staff report in February, most of the cash was either haphazardly disbursed or distributed to proper channels but with little follow-up tracking. By March 2007, The Times of London found bank records revealing, for instance, that two unremarkable Baghdad small business men (appointed to the defense ministry) eventually deposited over $1 billion in private accounts in Jordan, and that U.S. efforts to buy state-of-the-art equipment for the Iraqi army were seriously undermined because middlemen purchased only cheap, obsolete Polish munitions and pocketed the savings. Cultural diversity
â€¢ On Jan. 31, several hundred Japanese husbands recognized the second annual Beloved Wives Day to upgrade Japanese men's notorious, deeply ingrained indifference to their spouses. Among the husbands' vows: be home from work by the unusually early hour of 8 p.m.; actually look into the missus's eyes and say "thank you"; and try to remember to call her by her name (instead of, as many apparently do in substitution, grunting at her). (Divorce in Japan remains relatively rare, but marital estrangement has been rapidly increasing in recent years.)
â€¢ Several matrilineal cultures exist in the world, but on Orango Island, off the African coast of tiny Guinea-Bissau, women's power to choose marriage partners is nearly absolute, according to a February Associated Press dispatch. By custom, the woman selects a man, then prepares a special dish of fish marinated in palm oil, after which any reluctance on his part is regarded as dishonoring his family. Before the couple can cohabit, though, a family home must be built from driftwood and mud bricks, and fortunately for the man, that, too, is her job. Islanders told the reporter that men are becoming more assertive, but that change has brought with it the unheard-of phenomenon of divorce.
â€¢ Spain has long been criticized for its traditions of animal abuse, such as bullfighting and, until recently, one village's festive custom of tossing a live goat from a church tower. German animal welfare activists complained in March about another Spanish "sport": the flinging of live quail into the air (from a catapult) so that hunters can shoot them. (Germany also has its ugliness, according to a March Der Spiegel report, with certain villages' customs of clubbing a hung-up goose and poking a cat with a broomstick through a hole in a crate.) Latest religious messages
â€¢ Among the world's emerging messiahs is lapsed-Catholic Jose de Jesus Miranda, 60, of Houston (who has ministries in as many as 30 countries), whose message includes drinking ("Jesus Christ drank wine because he didn't have Dewar's scotch"), smoking, rejection of the concepts of sin and hell, and condemnation of Catholicism and the pope (according to a March report from ABC News). Though El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras recently banned him, he is said to have tens of thousands of followers, many of whom joyfully have themselves tattooed with "666" to honor Miranda's self-description as an antichrist.
â€¢ A professional burglar was arrested in the village of Klevan, Ukraine, in February (according to a report from the German news agency DPA) after he broke into a church to steal gold fixtures, fell asleep, got locked in the weekends-only facility for five days, and survived on the only liquid available: sacramental wine.
â€¢ A senior Italian member of the Catholic organization Opus Dei, Ms. Paola Binetti, told a television interviewer in March that she often wraps a spiked chain around her upper thigh for two hours a day as punishment for her sins. Said a prominent Catholic writer (interviewed in London's Daily Telegraph), "The world is full of people who, thanks to God, freely choose their own type of suffering." Wrote the Opus Dei founder: "Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain ... glorified be pain!" First things first
Preserve that porn: (1) It looked like just another case of a man's hoarding junk in his apartment and providing a home for several hundred animals (in this case, pigeons and mice), but health officials in Toronto learned in a March raid that the resident was lucid enough to protect, from animal feces, his extensive collection of pornography by carefully wrapping the items in plastic. (2) Reclusive high-tech engineer Michael Palmer, 53, was arrested in Los Gatos, Calif., in April and accused of hiding a massive cache of child porn in 15 ammunition canisters he had buried in seven Saddam-like spider holes on his property, near his ramshackle cabin. The campaign to make everything perfect
Safety first! (1) Britain's Health and Safety agency headquarters reportedly posted signs in various locations in the building warning workers not to attempt to move chairs and tables by themselves, but to call for porters (for which 48 hours' notice was required). (In April, London's Daily Mail reported, not surprisingly, that the agency's workplace injury record was very low.) (2) The head teacher at Bramhall High School in Stockport, England, decreed recently that students, who wear neckties to class, must use clip-ons and not knotted ties, in part because of the risk of choking. Creme de la weird
In March, police in Trenton, N.J., arrested four men in separate incidents and learned that they fancy themselves as "diplomats" from the Abannaki Indigenous Nation and claim immunity from the laws of the "so-called planet Earth" (and, by the way, of Mars and Venus, as well). One allegedly possessed an unidentified "controlled substance," and the others were driving cars with made-up "diplomat" tags. The four showed no ostensible ties to the Abenaki Indigenous Nation, a tribe that first appeared in North America in the 17th century and which is still present in the northeastern United States. Can't possibly be true
A Web site based in Seattle shamelessly encourages pedophiles to look all they want at kids (and gives tips for where the sightseeing is best), as long as they don't touch, and police admitted to Fox News in March that so far, that's not illegal. Said founder Jack McClellan, 45 (whose preference is for girls ages 3 to 11): "I really think this pedophilia hysteria is overblown." "There's a kind of code of ethics that these pedophiles have developed." "(Many people) have the attraction, but they're not going to do anything physical because of the laws." (After the Fox report, the Internet service provider closed the Web site.) Readers' choice
(1) In March, a British Airways economy-class passenger on a flight from Delhi, India, died onboard, and the corpse was moved to the less-congested first-class section, to the chagrin of Paul Trinder, who had paid the equivalent of about $6,000 for his nearby seat. When he complained, he said he was told just to "get over it" and that no refund would be offered. (2) In March, officials at the Gaza-Egypt border noticed that a Palestinian woman entering Gaza had a particularly lumpy upper body and searched her to reveal, strapped to her chest, three small crocodiles, which she had intended to sell to a zoo. Least competent criminals
Anthony Perone, 20, pleaded guilty in March in Connecticut in connection with two stalking letters he admitted mailing to a woman he had fallen for in the third grade but who apparently had spurned him. The rambling, incoherent letters explicitly threatened death, and Perone had intended to send them anonymously, in that he wrote no return address on the envelopes. However, he lived with his mother and had given each envelope to her to mail, and, unknown to him, she had thoughtfully added his name and address before posting them.