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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

The U.S. tax court ruled in March in favor of the Internal Revenue Service's claim that Irwin Schiff owed $92,000 in back taxes and penalties. Schiff is coauthor of the 1982 book How Anyone Can Stop Paying Income Taxes, in which he put forth the thesis that the IRS lacked the authority to tax anyone who did not file a return, a strategy he had employed since 1973.

Government in Action

Rookie mayor Barbara Bohannan-Sheppard of Chester, Pennsylvania, caused a furor in March when she appointed her new chief assistant. When he was 14, Robert Hill had acted on a dare and killed an insurance agent by beating him and stabbing him 17 times; he served nine years for that crime, then was subsequently convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl and served three and a half more years. The mayor defended the appointment, saying Hill had paid his debts to society. Besides, she said, he types 95 words per minute.

William Powell, a pharmacist and longtime Republican officeholder and party activist, pleaded guilty in 1984 to the felony of medicaid fraud; he also had his pharmacist's license suspended on two other occasions for violating state law. This January Powell was named deputy director of the North Carolina state agency that ensures compliance with federal and state medicaid and medicare regulations.

In January, one year after officials in Onondaga County, New York, took her three-year-old child away from her for alleged abuse, Denise Perrigo got her daughter back and told reporters that she planned to sue the county. The baby had been taken from Perrigo when she called a local hot line and asked whether it was normal to become sexually aroused while breast-feeding (it is). The hot line volunteer reported her to authorities, who, without further investigation, took the baby away.

In December the Detroit News's report on toxic contamination of soil at the site of a local housing project embarrassed Mayor Coleman Young, who had been especially proud of the project. In response, Young commissioned a Missouri laboratory to examine the chemical makeup of a ground-up issue of the Detroit News. The lab found that the paper contained several substances in levels exceeding the maximums for safety set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Newspaper officials then pointed out that humans don't ingest newspapers, to which Young retorted that people don't ingest soil either.

Just as New York bus and subway fares increased and as municipal budget cuts went into effect in January, the transit authority approved a $50,000 contract for consultant George Kelling to study the relationship between subway-station managers and police officers assigned to the stations.

Delaware's Wilmington News Journal reported in January that the Internal Revenue Service's reason for failing to send tax refunds to 97 Delaware residents is that it was "unable to find" them. However, Alan Levin pointed out that his mother, one of the 97 taxpayers who expected a refund, was listed in the Wilmington white pages. IRS spokesperson Harriette M. Williams said that the phone book had been used in the past to find people but that "it's not the most expeditious way of handling it."

Newsweek reported in December that former White House chief of staff John Sununu so controlled access to President Bush that Louis Sullivan, the secretary of health and human services, had to mail his proposal for a health-care initiative to Bush's post office box in Kennebunkport.

When the government of Singapore called chewing gum a "perennial nuisance" for cleanup workers, the country's environmental ministry announced a crusade against the substance. Tourists will be permitted only "a few sticks," packs of gum will be confiscated, and importers could face fines of up to $6,000.

Last summer officials in Collinsville, Illinois, discovered that the Corner Deli did not comply with health codes because it had only one bathroom for patrons. Even though the restaurant seats only 18, owners Ed and Sandy Dawdy were forced to install a portable toilet, which they placed in their front window.

Creme de la Weird

In April in Bloomfield, New Mexico, Laura Thorpe, 39, who said she was frustrated by dealing with physicians, decided to remove her breast implants herself with a disposable razor. She managed to squeeze out most of the silicone gel in one of them before she passed out. When she came to several hours later she completed the same procedure on the other breast. The next day a physician removed the bags, and Thorpe said her regular doctor told her she had done a good job.

Least Competent People

When burglars stole 25 homing pigeons from a Dallas bird sanctuary in January, the birds' trainer told reporters "This doesn't make any sense," because, if given the chance, the pigeons would simply fly back to the sanctuary.

The Diminishing Value of Life

Christopher Merola, 21, was shot to death and two other people were wounded in a gunfight in September in Staten Island, New York, that started when one family's dog urinated on a neighbor's bushes.

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

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