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In October in Alberta, Canada, provincial judge Shelagh Creagh ruled that inmate Shane Arthur Wilson could not be punished for carrying a homemade plastic knife, because Wilson had argued he needed the shank to defend himself against jailhouse gangs. (The decision has outraged prison guards across the country.) And in November a Washington Post dispatch from Mexico reported that escaping from jail is not a crime in that country (neither is fleeing from police or lying about one's guilt under oath); as one Supreme Court justice put it, Mexican law respects the individual's "basic desire for freedom."

Absolutely the Least Substantial Reason for a Knife Fight: On November 13 in Mansfield Township, New Jersey, police charged Emmanuel Nieves, 23, with aggravated assault after he allegedly slashed the ear, cheek, and face of his friend Erik Saporito, 21, following an argument over which of the men had more hair on his buttocks.

Not My Fault

In September in Edmonton, Alberta, 56-year-old Robert Rozenhart won his seven-year lawsuit against Skier's Sportshop, recovering damages for injuries he'd suffered on his first in-line skating attempt. The store's staff had reassured Rozenhart that in-line skates worked a lot like ice skates, and when his instructor was late, he insisted (over employee protests) on venturing out on his own; he was on a downhill slope when he realized he did not know how to stop.

In October in Newcastle, Australia, Kevin William Presland, 44, sued James Fletcher Hospital, asking to be financially compensated for its personnel's negligence in releasing him the same day he was admitted, for psychiatric reasons, in 1995; seven hours later he killed the woman his brother had been engaged to marry. (He was acquitted due to mental illness.) Presland's lawyer acknowledges that little can be done to help the woman's family, but says his client should be "compensated for his premature discharge." The hospital maintains that Presland was calm and rational at the time of his admission, and that it could not legally have detained him without his consent.

Weird Workplaces

Conscientious workers at the ARO Campulung auto plant in central Romania offered in October to help pay off the company's debt of roughly $20 million by selling their sperm to a fertility clinic in the western city of Timisoara, which pays $50 a session. (The workers' monthly wage averages about $80.) Said the plant's union leader, "We have found [a solution] that even the best economists have never thought of," but plant officials would only call the plan "shameful."

Least Competent Criminals

In September in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Octavio Soto, 44, and Jose Cezares, 23, were hospitalized with third-degree burns after they attempted to cut into the gas tank of a car, in which they'd hidden $100,000 worth of marijuana; they'd removed the tank and carried it into a basement to work on it with a reciprocating saw, and a spark from the blade ignited the gasoline vapors. And in October in Indianapolis, two armed men tried to rob a woman and her husband in their car at a Swifty service station, but the attendant flicked the pump's hose at the men, dousing them with gas and sending them scampering.

Latest Politically Correct Thinking

In October, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child told Great Britain it should repeal an 1860 law that gives parents license to spank their kids (or apply other "reasonable chastisement"); corporal punishment violates a 1989 UN treaty, which only the U.S. and Somalia have not ratified. And in September in North Tyneside, England, the town council advised a local business group against holding its annual children's caroling contest this Christmas, because it would be a bad experience for the kids who didn't win.

Our Civilization in Decline

In October officials at Somerville High School in New Jersey warned students to stop trying to get high by choking each other into unconsciousness. (For the "California High," a student supposedly holds his breath for ten seconds to get light-headed, then has a pal squeeze his neck to put him out.) And also in October, researchers at Pennsylvania's Geisinger Health Center found that the average price of a black-market human kidney in India has dropped from $1,603 to $975 over the past ten years, despite demand that still outstrips supply--which suggests that wealthy recipients have learned how to put the squeeze on impoverished donors. (Of the 305 donors surveyed, 292 had sold a kidney to pay off their creditors--but 216 were still in debt afterward.)

In the Last Month

Jonathan Smith of Delaware, Ohio, beat 16 finalists (out of more than 40,000 entrants) to win the $1 million top prize in a power-screwing championship in Phoenix, Arizona; after five months of nightly practice with a cordless drill, he could sink five drywall screws into a piece of wood in less than seven seconds....Only a $1,200 first prize was up for grabs, however, at the international championship of the World Rock Paper Scissors Society, held in Toronto; hometown boy Pete Lovering beat out 255 contestants to win....And Japan, long in the doldrums economically, posted a 0.8 percent increase in personal consumption for the July-September quarter, but analysts noted that the main factor was a 34 percent spike in "ceremonial" spending, mainly for funerals.

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

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