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Cultural Diversity

In October, the government of Singapore, anxious about the city’s declining birth rate, began teaching its high school polytechnic students in formal courses on how to flirt. Said Isabel, 18: “My teacher said if a guy looks into my eyes for more than five seconds, it could mean that he is attracted to me, and I stand a chance,” according to a March Reuters dispatch. The course includes “love song analysis” and how to chat online.

Officials in the Shivpuri district of India’s Madhya Pradesh state, needing a promising program to slow the country’s still-booming birth rate, announced in March that men who volunteer for vasectomies will be rewarded with certificates that speed them through the ordinarily slow line to obtain gun permits. Said an administrator, the loss, through vasectomy, of a “perceived notion of manliness” would be offset “with a bigger symbol of manliness.”

Latest Religious Messages

Ajinbayo Akinsiku’s heavily abridged version of the Bible, in the Japanese graphic “manga” style, was recently published in the United States, with the goal of making Jesus more “accessible” to a younger, religion-indifferent generation. Quirky, illustration-rich manga presents biblical philosophy as action scenes using contemporary dialogue, according to a February New York Times review. In one example, Akinsiku (who hopes someday to become an Anglican priest) has Noah taking census on the Ark: “That’s 11,344 animals? Aargh! I’ve lost count again. I’m going to have to start from scratch!”

Duquesne University and Boston College recently created professional courses in financial and personnel management for churches (and Villanova University even established a special master’s degree), thus recognizing that frauds by greedy priests and sexual abuse by errant clergy cannot be resolved simply by churches’ demanding that their leaders behave. Lax U.S. churches have lost tens of millions of dollars to embezzlement and sexual-abuse lawsuits, but, said a Villanova official, “If (church officials) were better trained in management, a lot of problems ... could have been avoided.”

Among the recent victims of internal religious strife in Malaysia was Kamariah Ali, 57, who long ago renounced Islam and started worshipping a two-story-tall “sacred teapot” she had built for her Sky Kingdom cult (emphasizing the “purity of water”). She was sentenced to jail as a failed Muslim in 2005, and the teapot destroyed, and in March 2008, another court found that she had been insufficiently rehabilitated and ordered her back to jail.

The Continuing Crisis

Registered sex offender Jason Lee, 28, was arrested in Cincinnati in February and charged with several counts of deception for his seemingly benevolent acts of posting bond for two female strangers who had been arrested. Later, according to police, he had demanded sex and drugs from the women as payback, and a prosecutor said Lee had trolled for names of arrested women on the Web site of the Clerk of the Court.

Questionable Judgments: (1) Jason Fife was sentenced to probation and community service after harassing his estranged wife’s boyfriend with a special package delivery. Fife, said his lawyer, now “understands that in a civilized society, a person cannot send (someone) a severed cow’s head ....” (2) In December, Sister Kathy Avery of St. Clare of Montefalco Catholic School in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., held all fifth- through eighth-graders after class in the school’s chapel so she could inform them of the new rules against cussing. According to the kids, Avery held nothing back: She recited a list of the actual, blush-producing words and phrases she was talking about. Said Avery afterward, “It got a little quiet in church.”

“Look, it is no big deal,” Christopher Wilkins told the Fort Worth, Texas, jury trying to decide in March whether to send him to death row or life in prison. “I’m as undecided (about that) as you are.” Wilkins even belittled his own lawyers for bringing his family in to beg the jury for mercy: “They (my lawyers) sprung that charade on me,” he told the jury. When his lawyers suggested that his murders were not cold-blooded but were the result of drug use, Wilkins said, “I wouldn’t put too much weight on that.” Before leaving the witness stand, Wilkins complimented the prosecutor (“You’re doing a fine job”) and added, “I haven’t been any good to anybody for the last 20 years, and I won’t be for the next 20 or the 20 after that.” (The jury chose the death penalty.)

Sounds Familiar

(1) Like a Paul Simon song: Anthony Raspolic reported a break-in in the wee hours of Jan. 1 in his apartment in Durant, Okla. He told police that he was in bed with his girlfriend, but got up and left the room, and by the time he returned, someone had taken his place. (The man scurried out of the bed, stole Raspolic’s wallet and fled in his Ford Explorer.) (2) Like a Jennifer Beals movie: The Associated Press profiled Cincinnati’s Alexandra Harrill, 19, in January, fascinated that she is a would-be ballerina saving up for lessons by working as a welder, just like the 1983 Flashdance character Alex Owens.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

(1) In January just after police in Tyler, Texas, took Christopher McCuin, 25, into custody on suspicion of killing and eating parts of his girlfriend (an ear was found on the stove), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent the sheriff a fax demanding that McCuin receive only a vegetarian diet, suggesting that too much meat-eating had already occurred in the case. (2) Mark Hotuyec, 46, was arrested in Joliet, Ill., in February and charged with indecent exposure after he allegedly drove alongside a school bus containing fourth-graders while openly fondling himself, visible to kids looking out the window. (The bus was from the Wood View Elementary School in Bolingbrook, Ill.)

Least Competent Criminals

Krystal Evans, 26, and Denise McClure, 24, rifled through packages on a DHL delivery truck in December in Crescent City, Calif., looking for their urine samples headed for the lab because they were certain theirs would test positive, which would have meant their return to jail. The driver summoned police, and the women were arrested for destroying evidence and violating their probation and in March were convicted and could face two years in prison. Evans’ original sample turned out to be clean, after all, but during the December arrest, she tested positive for methamphetamine.

Adventures in Democracy

(1) In January, the parents of Carroll County (Md.) Board of Education candidate Draper Phelps, 28, obtained a protective stay-away order against their son, marking the third consecutive year they felt they needed one. (Phelps lost in the February primary.) (2) In February, at a polling place in Chicago’s 42nd Ward (according to a Chicago Tribune report), one election judge (a woman in her 30s) was charged with battery for punching another election judge (a woman in her 50s) in the face. (3) Brian Sliter, 42, announced in March his candidacy for mayor of Wilmer, Texas, notwithstanding his 2004 arrest (resulting in probation) for trying to arrange a tryst with an underage girl.

By Chuck shepherd (universal press syndicate)