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Agence France-Presse reported in November on the Life of Life Healing Spa in Hong Kong and its weight-loss treatment that culminates in the customer's being set on fire. For about $137, a person seeking to lose weight gets exfoliated, bathed, sprayed with a high-pressure hose, massaged with a variety of oils and powders, doused with an alcohol solution, and finally set ablaze three to five times. Attendants with wet towels and fire extinguishers stand at the ready in case anything goes wrong.

Cliches Come to Life

Researchers at Syracuse University reported in December that different species of bats tend to exhibit an inverse relationship between brain size and testicle size. In November two bureaucrats with the U.S. Veterans Affairs department in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, were charged with accepting kickbacks on governmental purchase of red tape. (The tape is used to deter tampering with prescription medications.) Also in November, the Washington Post profiled an employee at the U.S. Patent Office in Alexandria, Virginia, who specializes in reviewing patent applications relating to wheels. (On average he looks at 124 of them annually.)

Government in Action

After years in court trying to force Hattie Siegel to curb the junglelike vegetation growing in her yard, the village of Tequesta, Florida, began in 1999 to fine her $1,000 a day for failure to comply with landscaping code. By 2004 the fines totaled nearly $1.8 million; in March 2005 the town placed liens on various properties owned by the now 83-year-old Siegel, who has no children, and then sold the liens to a private company. Last month a bankruptcy court upheld the liens, effectively ruling that her estate--which she'd long counted on to finance her eventual move into assisted living--can be liquidated to pay the fines.


Until late November the Web site for Utah developer Bigg Homes listed the following among selling points for its community Eagle Mountain, near Salt Lake City: "Black race population percentage significantly below state average." After being contacted about it by the Salt Lake Tribune, co-owner David Adams had the phrase removed; he blamed a Web designer for its inclusion. A Tribune article pointed out that Utah's population is only about 1.3 percent black.

The Continuing Crisis

In September, after seeing the C.D. Hylton High School marching band play "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" at a football game in Woodbridge, Virginia, a man wrote a letter to a local paper (in an attempt to be provocative, he insisted later) wondering whether a public high school band's performing a song about Satan constituted a breach of the separation of church and state. Though this was the only complaint about the performance, band director Dennis Brown quickly pulled the number from the band's repertoire, predictably igniting the major controversy he'd hoped to avoid.


Sidney Hale, 31, of Bluefield, Virginia, was arrested in November after he got two friends to help him out with a "quick draw" test, in which one friend would knock on the door of Hale's trailer and the other would time how long it took Hale to pull his new handgun. When the woman outside knocked, Hale went for his gun, accidentally firing a bullet through the trailer wall and into her back. (She was fine following surgery.) And in December in Lake Worth, Florida, a 16-year-old boy found a .45-caliber bullet in his backyard and tried to detonate it using a hammer and screwdriver. Soon enough he'd shot himself in the stomach; he was treated at a hospital and released.

Least Competent Criminals

The New York Post reported in November that the 52-year-old suspect in a fatal shooting was arrested at a hospital in the Bronx, where he'd gone for treatment after the gunpowder residue set off an asthma attack.

Recurring Themes

In November 22-year-old Mischa Beutling, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound engineering student in Hamilton, Ontario, became the most recent sexual assault defendant to try the physical-impossibility defense, arguing that his penis was simply too large for him to have committed the crime. A urologist testified that Beutling's penis in a "semi-relaxed" state is 8 1/2 inches long and 6 1/2 inches in circumference and that a woman who had never given birth might not be able to accommodate it without injury, especially if she was unaroused. The judge found Beutling guilty.

Shooting Deaths on a Budget

Gun pooling: In Brooklyn in November, Jon Shuler, 20, got in an argument with Kenny Berry, 27, over a small amount of money. According to a witness Shuler left, came back with a pistol, and shot Berry several times in the chest, but the badly wounded Berry wrested the gun away and shot Shuler once in the stomach. Both died at separate hospitals soon afterward. Bullet pooling: Also in November, in Sun City, California, witnesses said an 84-year-old man shot himself with a handgun following an argument with his 71-year-old wife; the bullet passed through his head, traveled eight feet, and struck his wife in the head, killing her too.

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

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