-- In January, Iowa became the second state to require employers to provide reasonable restroom breaks, and in April or May, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to issue the first-ever federal directive on the topic. OSHA acted after hearing from employees who routinely were not permitted to leave their stations for hours at a time. Some reported having had to soil themselves; others brought empty bottles to their stations; and others refrained from liquids the whole day. An organizer for the Food and Commercial Workers Union said denial of restroom access is the No. 1 issue among poultry industry workers.
-- Open Season: Three weeks before a U.S. Marine Corps pilot clipped a ski gondola in the Dolomite mountains in Italy, killing 20 people, a British air force Harrier jet accidentally dropped two half-ton, unarmed bombs on a farm in southern Italy near the town of Pizziferro, narrowly missing the house of Tommaso Giannico.
-- In February, the Hawaii House Agriculture committee approved a bill to legalize the "sport" of cockfighting, provided the roosters wear tiny padded gloves on their feet instead of the traditional metal leg spurs.
THE CONTINUING CRISIS
-- In September in Des Moines, Iowa, federal prosecutor Kevin Query, 40, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for fondling a 12-year-old girl and taking nude photographs of her, owing, he said, to his obsession with females' hair, which he said exuded perfection and beauty. He took showers with the girl, he said, to make sure her hair got washed without tangling, and he photographed her nude to document her beauty in case she later cut her hair. (He said his own marriage ended when his wife cut her hair.)
-- Wells Fargo and MasterCard announced in January that they have installed an automatic teller machine at McMurdo Station in Antarctica (whose winter population is 200). And in November, army engineers in India installed a pay phone atop the Siachen Glacier, on the Pakistan border and home to a recurring Indian-Pakistani battlefield, where the temperature hovers around minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit with winds around 70 mph.
-- In September in Center Point, near Birmingham, Ala., Tim and Maxine Smith were convicted of promoting prostitution in their massage parlor, but the women who work for them were not charged because the legislature in that Bible Belt state never got around to making prostitution illegal in Center Point or in several other areas of the state.
-- In August, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against an electrical cattle-prod-type device called The Stimulator, sold by at least six companies to be self-applied as relief for headaches, back pain, arthritis, stress, menstrual cramps, earaches, sinus, nosebleeds and the flu. Wrote the FDA, "The Stimulator is essentially an electric gas barbecue grill igniter with finger grips."
-- Doctors at the Center for Impotence and Fertility in Rome, Italy, reported in the Dec. 6 issue of The Lancet medical journal that the experimental virility drug alprostadil increased penis size in almost all men who injected it into their urethras but that the rigidity usually subsided within a couple of minutes. Measurements for their work were obtained via a Rigicompt, which shows the pressure exerted by the erection, and by patients' hanging a 750-gram weight to see if their penises could hold it. (A few can support a 1-kilogram weight, which Dr. Ermanno Greco says is "peak virility.")
-- In December in Fort Pierce, Fla., William Alfred Hitt, 71, was sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding the federal government of about $450,000 by claiming disability benefits from a World War II hand injury while working full-time as a house painter. Once a month for 22 years, Hitt put on an arm brace, got into a wheelchair, and reported to the local federal building to pick up his "paycheck." (The jury deliberated 12 minutes before finding him guilty.)
-- In order to get around local ordinances that shut down their stripper bars, entrepreneurs in Eureka, Calif., and Ladson, S.C., converted their businesses. Tom Razooly's Tip Top Club became a recreational vehicle promotion facility in November, and now customers sitting under the flashing lights are handed numerous brochures for RVs while they watch women do pole dances. In January, Ladson's Jerry Colombo converted his Club 2010 into the "Church of the Fuzzy Bunny's," (sic) featuring Bible-reading followed by a procession of pastie-wearing dancers.
-- Christina Mack, 35, was arrested for attempted murder in Peoria, Ill., in December, based on a neighbor's statement that Mack had told her she planned to cover a floor with oil or grease so that her boyfriend, who lost his right leg in 1992, would fall down the stairs to his death. He fell, all right, and hit his head, but declined medical assistance. Mack, however, also fell, knocking herself out, but firefighters revived her so the police could take her away.
-- Recent Sympathy Hoaxes: Schoolteacher Jody Sue Stein allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in gifts and disability payments based on an elaborate, false claim that she had a brain tumor (St. Louis, June 1997). Valerie Jones allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in gifts for her nonexistent leukemia-stricken infant daughter (Yorktown Crossing, Va., October). Police officer Allen Blunk, 30, and his wife allegedly raised $43,000 from neighbors for a bone marrow transplant for their 7-year-old daughter (who did not need one) and spent it on themselves (Tulsa, Okla., January).
JUSTICE FOR ALL
-- In August, the three murder convictions against Michael Pardue, 41, which sent him to prison 24 years ago, were dismissed by the Alabama Supreme Court as the product of a coerced confession (and a sister of one of the victims said she accepts that Pardue is innocent). However, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles said in November that it will not release Pardue, because of three subsequent convictions during those 24 years, for attempting to escape from the prison that was wrongfully holding him.
-- Right Place, Right Time: In October, a federal judge in Albuquerque refused to send convicted casino robber Loretta Martinez, 61, to prison for stealing $7,000 in an April 1997 holdup. The judge noted that, in the interim, that particular casino was found to be without proper state authority and thus was operating illegally at the time of the heist. Martinez was not required to make restitution because, the judge said, that would be like reimbursing a drug dealer for his losses.
-- In February, prosecutors in Boston finally dismissed two counts of arson against Boston University junior Keven Ackerman, despite overwhelming evidence several days after his arrest in June that it was a simple case of mistaken identity. Though he slightly resembles the arsonist (yet is 6 inches taller), Ackerman had no fire-type evidence on his skin or clothes, no motive, no criminal record, and 15 alibi witnesses who were at a party with him all evening long. Also, the only witness against him has a long criminal record himself, and reportedly sometimes falsely accuses people of crimes.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or Weird@compuserve.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)
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