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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

Doctors William Rappaport and Kevin Haynes of the University of Arizona reported in a recent journal article that the incidence of sponges left inside surgery patients is probably "much more" than the one in 1,000 previously reported.

Government in Action

Uruguayan police officer Saul Claveria was given official permission in February (under a 1920 law) to fight a duel to the death, using handguns, with newspaper editor Frederico Fassano, who had published a story linking Claveria to illegal smuggling. When Fassano appeared to accept the challenge and appointed an ecologist and a female member of the Uruguayan congress as his duel "seconds," Claveria backed out, citing Fassano's having made "public statements" about the duels, prohibited under the 1920 law.

National City, Illinois, with a population of 70 and a police force of 12, issued 5,000 traffic tickets in 1989 and collected fines totaling a fourth of the town's income.

The state of California took four years, 25 drafts, and $600,000 to produce its "Wellness Guide," which gives advice on "proper living habits." Among the guidelines for parents: "Don't beat, starve, or lock up your kids." Other advice: "Don't buy something you can't afford" and "If you are sexually active and don't want to make a baby, you may want to use birth control."

Standing little chance of passing this year: West Virginia state senator Charlotte Pritt's bill proposing that the government castrate any man who falls more than a year behind in child support. Standing a good chance: Illinois state senator Gordon Ropp's bill to make "drummer silty clay loam" the official soil of Illinois.

Chutzpah

In February the Philippine supreme court upheld the 1986 firing of Fabian Genove, who was a cook at a U.S. military installation. Genove had called the firing unfair but admitted to having spiked soup with urine.

Guy DiBiasio, a school official in Waterbury, Connecticut, admitted in January that "report card security" had been breached. A student posing as a teacher called a supply building to order blank report cards, and another student showed up, said, "I'm here to pick up the report cards," and made off with a package of 65.

Soviet immigrant Boris Davarashvili, 49, was arrested in March for extorting $5,000 from an elderly store owner (by threatening to kill him) by police who had staked out the store in the Bronx, New York. As Davarashvili was being handcuffed, he offered officers the $5,000 plus another $1,800 to let him go; the officers then added bribery charges. Then, according to an officer, Davarashvili asked with a straight face if he could have the $5,000 back so he could use it for bail.

Frontiers of Medicine

Astronomer Fred Hoyle of the University of Wales, writing in the journal Nature in January, argued that the influenza virus is deposited into the stratosphere by comets and then driven to earth by solar radiation. Hoyle wrote that for 200 years worldwide influenza epidemics have coincided with sunspot cycles. A spokesman from the Centers for Disease Control called the theory "intriguing."

Too Much Time on Their Hands

The city of East Saint Louis, Illinois, celebrating National Condom Week in February, released 500 balloons, each containing a safe-sex message.

Said a judge at the National Rattlesnake Roundup in Taylor, Texas, in February (referring to protests by animal-protection activists against the hunting of rattlesnakes): "[This is] controversial. [It's] just like the abortion issue."

Thomas Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, told a Catholic executives' organization in February: "To me, one of the most exciting things in the world is being poor." He estimated that a family of four could have an "adequate, balanced diet on an annual food budget of $150 to $300." Monaghan's fortune is estimated at $400 million.

The Seattle suburb of Tukwila is experiencing its 15 minutes of fame, thanks to Tukwila's Rex Allen, 37, his wife, Debby, 29, and Seattle Times columnist Eric Lacitis. When the Allens publicized that they had had sex 500 times in a nine-month period in 1989, Lacitis began using the words "visiting Tukwila" as a euphemism for "having sex," creating a cottage industry for local souvenirs. The Allens have set 750 as their 1990 goal. Said a Tukwila councilman, "It's a big disgrace to the city."

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

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