News of the Weird

* The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in Glasgow, Scotland, announced a cutback in services in March because there was only one sperm donor left in the city, and even he will face mandatory retirement after 10 pregnancies. Although the donor was not identified or described, officials warned couples to lower their expectations about their genetic choices.

* In March, the Seattle Police Department ordered the 26 employees in its fingerprint unit to attend a mandatory half-hour safety class in how to sit down. Recently three of the unit's employees had filed worker-compensation claims for injuries that occurred as they were attempting to sit in chairs with rollers. The proper technique, according to an internal memo, is, "Take hold of the arms and get control of the chair before sitting down."

* Only in California: In March, the Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto began offering sushi (a vegetarian version, wrapped in seaweed) in its lunchroom on Wednesdays.

* Constable Carol Hashimoto told the Edmonton Journal in January that she had recently ministered to, over the phone, a man who was severely guilt-racked because he had driven home to Valleyview, Alberta, four hours away, without his driver's license, which he had accidentally left in an Edmonton hotel room. And in Charlotte, N.C., at his February sentencing for laundering money others had taken in a robbery, John Calvin Hodge Sr., 69, revealed that indeed he had declared his $40,000 laundering fee on his IRS return and had paid the tax on it.

* William L. Straiter, 26, was arrested in Durham, N.C., in December and charged with robbing the Centura Bank. The robber had presented a teller with a note demanding money and containing a finely detailed drawing of a gun, but Straiter did not actually have a gun and was not charged with armed robbery. However, Terry Williams, 23, was arrested in Oakland, Calif., in March after a road-rage collision in which he allegedly clasped his empty hands as if he had a gun, pointed at the other driver and yelled, "Bang!" The prosecutor charged Williams with making a terroristic threat, in that his gesture would likely "provoke a retaliatory response from someone with a weapon."

* The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced in February that it would scale back its terrorist-combating safety inspections of nuclear-power plants, despite the fact that the companies fail inspections about half the time and that in 14 of 57 inspections since 1991, the breaches have been so severe that terrorists could have caused a core meltdown. (Furthermore, in each inspection, the power company even knew the exact date of the "surprise" inspection, although it did not know exactly what area or tactic the NRC would use to test the plant's security.)

* In November, the mayor of South Gate, Calif., adjacent to Los Angeles, proposed an ordinance banning the colors "wild orange, rose, lavender and turquoise" on houses. One resident said he'd paint over his colorful house only if the mayor had a good reason, "like if cars were crashing into each other because the drivers were looking at (my house). Or if it hurt people's eyes." However, in January, the Joliet (Ill.) City Council passed an ordinance requiring builders to make houses less boring by mixing up their aesthetic features and colors. Said City Councilor Joseph Shetina, who supported the ordinance because too many row houses look alike: "(Y)ou go home drunk, and you'd never know which house was yours."

* In October, Washington State Ferries, over the protests of left-behind travelers, announced it would cut back the number of walk-on customers it would accept between Vashon Island and Seattle from 250 to 230 because of insufficient bench seating. The benches' 250-capacity was determined by the 50-year-old standard of 18 inches per person, but, according to spokeswoman Susan Harris-Heuther, "It's just not realistic. We have all expanded, and 18-inch butts are a thing of the past."

* In March, the animal-control officer of Pickens County, S.C., threatened to enforce a county snake-handling ordinance against collector Roy Cox, proprietor of the Reptiles of the World exhibit of rattlesnakes, boa constrictors and cobras. Cox, said the officer, needs a county license, which he can get only if he has federal and state reptile-handling permits. However, as an Associated Press reporter pointed out to the officer after investigating, no federal or South Carolina agency issues any such thing as a reptile permit.

* In December, the Hungarian parliament created a special tax-collection unit to go after recalcitrant citizens; it will be equipped with cattle prods, Mace and handcuffs. And in November, the Agence France-Presse wire service reported the death of Luo Changlong near Chongqing, China, as the result of a beating by eight revenue officials who had gone to his home to collect back taxes of about $60.

* Recent Proposed Legislation: Missouri state Sen. Sam Gaskill's bill to require hospitals to provide a neck-to-knee "dignity gown" instead of the standard open-back gown. And a Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission's rule to allow retail liquor stores to conduct "consumer education seminars," basically consisting of in-store tasting. And Arkansas state Rep. Stephen Simon's bill to allow licensed gun owners to bring weapons to church. And Vermont state Rep. Robert Kinsey's bill to require CPR training as a condition for a marriage license. (Kinsey said he has no idea why such a law is necessary but that he routinely introduces bills at constituents' request.)

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or [email protected].

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