If you feel kind of standoffish at parties, you might want to avoid Kruibeke for a while.
The mayor of that Belgian municipality, Antoine Denert, has created a Department of Tenderness, insisting that “people don’t cuddle anymore, and that’s the reason why there are so many conflicts.”
That’s, um, nice. Denert said he hoped to inspire other governments to reconsider their own policies, which rarely even get to second base. “Why not change the Ministry of Defense into the Ministry of Tenderness?” he asked helpfully. “The war in Iraq would never have started.”
In a disturbing show of civic enthusiasm, the mayor vowed to “set an example and start in my own village by caressing, cuddling, and kissing as many people as possible.” His wife’s opinion is not recorded.
Regulations posted in the dance halls of Lansing, Mich., circa 1920:
No shadow or spotlight dances allowed.
Moonlight dances not allowed where a single light is used to illuminate the Hall. Lights may be shaded to give Hall dimmed illuminated effect.
All unnecessary shoulder or body movement or gratusque dances positively prohibited.
Pivot reverse and running on the floor prohibited.
All unnecessary hesitation, rocking from one foot to the other and see-sawing back and forth of the dancers will be prohibited.
No loud talking, undue familiarity or suggestive remarks unbecoming any lady or gentleman will be tolerated.
Position of Dancers
Right hand of gentleman must not be placed below the waist nor over the shoulder nor around the lady’s neck, nor lady’s left arm around gentleman’s neck. Lady’s right hand and gentleman’s left hand clasped and extended at least six inches from the body, and must not be folded and lay across the chest of dancers.
Heads of dancers must not touch.
No beating of drum to produce Jazz effect will be allowed.
Any and all persons violating any of these rules will be subject to expulsion from the hall, also arrest for disorderly conduct.
Even the pristine hinterlands aren’t pristine anymore. In the early 1990s, British zoologist Tim Benton took a walk along a mile of shoreline on Ducie Island, a speck of land 4,970 miles east of Australia. Here’s what he found:
268 unidentifiable pieces of plastic
171 glass bottles
74 bottle tops
71 plastic bottles
67 small buoys
66 buoy fragments
46 large buoys
44 pieces of rope
29 segments of plastic pipe
8 pieces of copper sheeting
7 aerosol cans
7 food and drink cans
6 fluorescent tubes
6 light bulbs
4 jerry cans
3 cigarette lighters
2 pen tops
2 dolls’ heads
2 gloves (a pair)
1 asthma inhaler
1 construction worker’s hat
1 football (punctured)
1 glue syringe
1 truck tire
1 plastic coat hanger
1 plastic foot mat
1 plastic skittle
1 small gas cylinder
1 tea strainer
1 tinned meat pie
1 toy soldier
And “0.5 toy airplane.” That’s 953 items of debris altogether, on an island of 2.5 square miles, in the least populous country in the world.
The Depravity Scale is an attempt to reach a scientific definition of evil. What makes a crime “heinous”? If “horrible” or “atrocious” crimes get longer sentences, what counts? The Supreme Court says that sentences must reflect societal attitudes, but right now there’s no legal definition of a “heinous, atrocious, or cruel” act; jurors have to rely on their emotions.
New York forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner put together a list of 26 things that might characterize an act as depraved. Does the criminal maximize the victim’s fear or pain? Does he boast about his act? So far, Welner has found more than 90 percent consensus that 16 of the items indicate depravity. Interestingly, the results seem consistent across states, but not between countries.
“We need consistency, and in particular consistency that reflects the best that forensics has to offer,” Welner says. “From my own vantage point of working within the cases, juries and judges don’t see near as much as they should be seeing when it comes to forensic evidence about what a person’s intent was, what a person actually did, and what a person’s attitude was about what he did. Even from a mental health standpoint, there’s far more effort devoted to the question of who a person is or why that person did something rather than just look at what the person did.”
And Welner has no problem with the concept of evil. “I have no problem with the word being used,” he says. “If you look in the literature, there’s a startling lack of effort to try to flesh out what evil is, and I think it’s our responsibility as behavioral scientists to try to understand it. This issue gets neglected because therapeutic professions like psychiatry inherently must focus on the good in order to be therapeutic. Another reason for this neglect is because to wade in and wrestle with it means to confront it in ourselves, and that’s a painful prospect even for the most stable of us. When I first began exploring this, I never enjoyed it, and I appreciated walking away from it. The more I studied it, the more it affected even my dreams. It’s an unpalatable exercise.”
Recognize this hotel room? Then you should call the Toronto police: A 9-year-old girl was sexually abused here two or three years ago.
Even though she’s been airbrushed out of the photo, the room still has a haunted quality. The same girl was apparently photographed in an elevator, near a fountain, even in an arcade.
Stranger still are the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, dollhouse recreations of actual crime scenes. They were created in the 1930s by Frances Glessner Lee, a millionaire heiress who wanted to improve police skills in forensic pathology. Four puzzles are presented here, and the Baltimore medical examiner won’t reveal the solutions — he’s still using them in training seminars.
I don’t know if that’s the best song that ever came out of Ohio, but the resolution that proposed it is priceless:
If fans of jazz, country-and-western, classical, Hawaiian and polka music think those styles also should be recognized by the state, then by golly, they can push their own resolution just like we’re doing.
Washington has better taste — it chose “Louie Louie.”
“I once was waiting for an elevator and when the doors opened, there was a baby there on the floor of the elevator in the car seat. Instead of taking the baby out, I instead waited for the doors to close and take the baby to another floor.”
Because she’s invisible, it’s impossible to prove she does not exist. “The Invisible Pink Unicorn is a being of great spiritual power,” say the faithful. “We know this because she is capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorn is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that she is pink; we logically know that she is invisible because we can’t see her.”
Followers debate her attributes, but it’s generally agreed that she prefers pineapple and ham pizza to pepperoni and mushroom, which is said to be eaten only by followers of the Purple Oyster of Doom. The IPU also “raptures” socks from laundry as a sign of favor.
Is this harmless fun or awful blasphemy? It’s getting hard to care. As the French writer Edmond de Goncourt wrote, “If there is a God, atheism must seem to him as less of an insult than religion.”