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News of the Weird


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In March the president of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives accused Senator Freddie Valentin of illegal drug use. Valentin denied the charge and led reporters into a rest room in the capitol building in San Juan, where he yielded a urine sample that he later submitted to the senate leadership. A TV camera shot over Valentin's shoulder, and journalist Sonia Salgado ended a play-by-play radio report by saying, "I have just transmitted, for the first time ever, a senator taking a pee before the media."

Weird Animal News

In February Humane Society officer Tori Matthews in Los Angeles and farmer Janet Bonney in Harpswell, Maine, revived animals that were near death. Matthews applied mouth-to-nose help to a boy's pet iguana, and Bonney applied mouth-to-beak to save a nearly frozen chicken.

In June in Camden, New Jersey, two-year-old Matthew Mikel slipped while reaching for a cat on a balcony. He and the cat fell three stories. Doctors said Mikel survived because the cat cushioned his landing. The cat, however, did not survive.

In a February Los Angeles Times story on the San Francisco Zoo's annual Valentine's Day mating practices tour, the pygmy hippopotamus seemed the most hapless exhibit. According to zoo official Jane Tollini, "Roly" has lived with his mate "Poly" since 1969 with no success. "He'd put it in her ear," said Tollini. "He'd put it under her arm. In 26 years he never put it in the right spot."

The Charlotte, North Carolina, Observer reported in November that an Australian terrier named Willie starred in an experiment at Davidson College in which four students sprayed a dog-scented chemical on stakes, hoping to see how often dogs would urinate on the scent. Willie, who's legendary because he's been known to urinate dozens of times while strolling through the neighborhood, correctly hit three of the five marked stakes but also hit two unscented ones.

Government in Action

The Small Business Administration's federal office in Birmingham, Alabama, confirmed in December that it had helped entrepreneurs open Sammy's, a topless go-go bar adjacent to Westlawn Elementary School in Mobile. Said the SBA director, "[W]e could not discriminate against them [just] because they are a go-go club."

In 1993 the Social Security Administration office in Fairbanks, Alaska, rejected Athabaskan Indian Altona Brown's application for Medicaid benefits because she wasn't poor enough. Brown, 90, owned only a $3,000 coffin, a $700 plane ticket (reserved for flying her body home to her tribe when she passed away), and various rugs and clothing that she planned to pass on to her survivors--her tribal duty. The Social Security office said Brown's coffin was too fancy to be counted as an exempt "burial receptacle," and later said that the ticket and rugs were worth more than the $1,500 burial-expense exemption. In December 1994 the office changed its mind and ruled her eligible for Medicaid.

In December Paul Ebbs, a former lawyer for Canada's House of Commons, reached a settlement in his lawsuit against the government. He claimed the government enticed him to quit his job and take a lower-paying position by promising him "exciting, challenging, and demanding" work, but assigned him to a four-lawyer office that had only enough work for two. Ebbs spent two years doing nothing before filing his complaint.

In September Dutch officials modified their political-asylum policy, under which abuses had recently been estimated to cost $100 million a year. Teenagers from other European countries had been claiming political asylum in upscale Netherlands beach resorts, where the government would pay their room and board and give them $15 a week to spend while their claims were being processed.

In September taxpayers spent $120,000 for U.S. Army General Joseph Ashy's trip from his post in Naples, Italy, to Colorado Springs, where he assumed new command duties. A C-141 with a crew of 13 flew from New Jersey to pick him up, then went on to Colorado Springs with only Ashy and his aide.

Recent government employee news: a guard for an Illinois mental health center, who was fired when an investigator photographed him sleeping on the job, was reinstated by an arbitrator's decision in August; Michael D. Mallette, a police sergeant in Warwick, Rhode Island, filed a lawsuit in February claiming he was wrongfully fired, even though he repeatedly had sex while on duty, lied about it for nine months during the investigation (while he was on mandatory leave earning $42,000), and confessed only when confronted with tape recordings that were to be the basis for perjury charges.

Least Competent Criminals

Jeremy E. Bennett and three juveniles were arrested in Waynesboro, Virginia, in February and charged with burglary after allegedly throwing a bowling ball through a store window to gain entry. Police knew whom to look for because the gang left behind the bowling ball, which had the name of one of the juveniles engraved on it.

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

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