News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*The University of Minnesota is seeking more "specialists" to work on its three-year, $390,000 program to establish an "odor emissions rating system" for regulating the state's 35,000 animal feedlots, according to an August Minneapolis Star Tribune story. Sniffers will develop objective standards for types of odors and their strength. Already 35 people have begun inhaling the nearly 200 chemical components of cow and pig manure.

*In a study using United Nations statistics, University of Pennsylvania professor Richard J. Estes concluded that the United States enjoys only the 27th most favorable social conditions of 160 nations, ranking behind paradises such as Bulgaria. According to Estes, the social situation in Bulgaria is "miserable" but the country responds to basic human needs (literacy, health care, housing, retirement income) better than the United States. (In the U.N.'s own analysis, the United States is fourth in the world.)

I've Got My Rights
*In January the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Alabama high school student Jerry Boyett's 1993 lawsuit over whether a public-school student has the right to a restroom break during class. The answer: no. And in April a jury in Columbiana, Alabama, voted against Clara Kizer and her dog. Kizer had filed a lawsuit against her neighbors for complaining about her dog's poop. She said dogs should have the right to poop within eleven feet of a street because that's public property even if it appears to be private.

*In August Scott and Sonya Rutherford filed a lawsuit against a Houston school district because the baseball coaches at Cypress Falls High School did not use their son as a pitcher often enough for him to have a chance at a college athletic scholarship. The Rutherfords also say they have been humiliated by the coaches' decision not to play their son. According to the Rutherfords' lawyer, the coaches have violated the U.S. Constitution.

*The Dutch Federation for Military Personnel (a union that twenty years ago won the right for soldiers to wear their hair long) announced in April it would back a female recruit's desire to wear a tongue ring. The union said the dress code bans jewelry "on" the head, not "in" the head.

The Unthinkable
*Kent, Washington, elementary school teacher Mary Kay LeTourneau, age 35, gave birth to a baby girl in May, the father of whom is one of her sixth-graders. LeTourneau is the daughter of ex-U.S. representative John Schmitz, an intense right-wing Republican who was so notoriously opposed to sex education in schools that he would move little Mary out of any school contemplating such a program. In August she pleaded guilty to child rape. LeTourneau said she admires the boy: "There was a respect, an insight, a spirit, an understanding between us that grew over time." They met when he was in second grade.

*"News of the Weird" reported in 1994 about the controversy over who owns the world's largest cow hairball, but it appears that an also-ran at that time, Mike Canchola of Sterling, Colorado, is now number one. In 1994 a Garden City, Kansas, historical society had a 37-incher, but Canchola has since come across one measuring 43.3 inches in circumference. In the course of his work at a beef plant, Canchola plucks out the nonchampionship hairballs, dries them, has colleague Frank Alcala paint faces or scenery on them, and sells them for $50 each.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd