The government of France, concerned that the country's approximately 2 million homeless, unemployed and other down-and-outs would be particularly befuddled in having to translate their francs into euros, announced in December that it would pass out free calculators on the street. And the tax collectors in the state of Saarland, Germany, trying to improve their image with the people they have chosen to be audited, began in February to hand out blue-and-white pens with the words "We Gladly Make House Calls -- Your Friendly Saarland Tax Man."
Frenchman Richard Moureau upset Brit Terry Burrows in the European Window Cleaning Championship in Paris in March by wetting and streaklessly wiping three standard panes in 14.31 seconds. Moureau's time was very fast, but according to a Wall Street Journal report, a jurisdictional dispute between the International Window Cleaning Association and France's National Federation of Cleaning Contractors has left no uniform world records. (Both men use the "American stroke," which has revolutionized contestants' times compared to the old "French stroke.")
Pros and cons
In April, 300 inmates at the Villahermosa Social Rehabilitation Center in southwest Mexico rioted, gathering against the prison's fences and chanting demands for marijuana and alcohol. In contrast, an April Reuters report on the beginnings of the privately run Wolds Remand Prison in Hull, England, described complaints of veteran inmates that life there was too soft, particularly the part about prisoners eating with guards and calling them by their first names.
In March in Ottawa, Ontario, convicted pedophile Owen Dulmage rose to address the judge in an effort to persuade him that he was no longer a threat to children because of his age and should not be imprisoned, or at least not for long, for molesting a boy in 1960. Said Dulmage, who is 77: "I couldn't catch a 6-year-old in a race." Why, the only way he could kidnap a boy, he said (according to a report of his remarks in the Globe and Mail), was if he knocked him out first and dragged away the unconscious body.
In Adamsburg, Pa., in March, Mary Marcoz bought a $129 12-gauge shotgun as a welcome-home gift for her son, Christopher Lewis, who had just been released from a mental-health treatment center. After presenting him with the gun, Marcoz went on errands and returned to find yellow police tape at their home: According to police, Lewis had begun shooting in the air, and when two neighbors came to complain, he shot both of them. Marcoz guessed that Lewis was acting out scenes from the movie Kelly's Heroes, which was in the VCR at the time.
Iron in the diet
In February, the Canadian government approved the meat-processing industry's request to use iron oxide (also known as "rust" ) instead of caramel to decorate Black Forest ham. According to the industry, rust is cheaper and binds better to the ham, and health officials insisted that rust is safe for human consumption.
Trung Ngo, 32, was sentenced to 30 days in jail in Alexandria, Va., in January for telephoning his supervisor more than 50 times to complain about being rated "highly successful" instead of "outstanding." And an impatient Raymond Cruz, 49, was arrested in Schererville, Ind., in March after shooting up a slow-swirling toilet in a tavern with his .40-caliber Beretta. And a 19-year-old man and several buddies cursed a librarian and chased her out of the Downsview Public Library in Toronto, Ontario, in February after she cut their Internet access because they were viewing sex sites.
Take the credit
The Baltimore Sun reported in April that Nettie Levitt Gilbert, 89, filed a lawsuit in Palm Beach, Fla., against her son, Jeffrey Levitt, accusing him of taking out credit cards in her name. If her claim is true, it would constitute a violation of Levitt's 1993 parole on savings-and-loan embezzlement charges and thus would send him to prison for the remaining 23 years of his term.