Lead Story

At a January press conference Shahimi Abdul Hamid of Malaysia announced that in March he would attempt to break a world record by kissing a venomous snake 50 times in ten minutes. Hamid, 33, told reporters he aimed to establish the prowess of Asians in snake taming (the record is currently held by an American) and demonstrated his skills by kissing a nine-foot king cobra 21 times.

Signs of the Times

Fertility experts interviewed for a September article in London’s Daily Telegraph said a growing number of women were seeking in vitro fertilization not because they were having trouble conceiving through intercourse but because the greater efficiency and superior odds offered by IVF better fit their busy schedules. (Said one clinician, “Some people are horrified by the idea that they have to have sex two to three times a week.”) And according to an Agence France-Presse article in October, an official at the fertility clinic at Erasmus Hospital in Brussels said that so many French lesbian couples had been seeking artificial insemination in Belgium–because French law denies them such treatment–the clinic would have to restrict the number of French couples (gay or straight) it could see in order to save some sperm for its Belgian patients.

In December a law took effect in the suburbs of Buenos Aires requiring all stores selling clothing for adolescent girls to stock a specific range of sizes (equivalent to U.S. sizes 6 through 16 at a minimum) or face fines of up to $170,000. According to a November Wall Street Journal article, officials blame the small clothes typically sold in the area for contributing to local rates of anorexia and bulimia, which they say are among the highest in the world. Meanwhile, doctors from the Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Dublin told a convention audience in November that more than two-thirds of their patients who were given injections in the buttocks hadn’t received the proper dosage of medicine because needles designed for this use weren’t long enough to penetrate what is now a typical amount of buttock fat.

Government in Action

Following a review of public records, the Los Angeles Times reported in January that while spending $1 million over the last two years promoting the high quality of local tap water, the Los Angeles city government also spent $88,900 in public money on bottled water, in apparent violation of a standing mayoral directive. The department that bought the most bottled water: the Department of Water and Power, which was in charge of the water-quality PR campaign.

After Welsh Assembly member Jenny Randerson requested government budget documents under Wales’s Freedom of Information Act, an official wrote back in December that she was being denied access to parts of the material because “the exposure of some of these discussions to the public domain, via a freedom of information request, may lead to individuals . . . being targeted for ridicule through the media.” Randerson pointed out that the law doesn’t allow for such an exemption; a government spokesperson agreed and said there would be an investigation.

Campaigning on the High Road

In November Don Samuels beat Natalie Johnson Lee for a seat on the Minneapolis city council. Samuels, who is black, had ignited controversy with comments suggesting that because his ancestors had been mixed-race “house slaves” who benefited from proximity to whites, he might make a particularly good role model for the black community. One local black activist and journalist with ties to the Johnson Lee campaign (she’s also black) responded by comparing Samuels to Hitler and telling viewers of a cable-access show that “we have to kill the house niggers.” And Clark Griep, running for mayor of Broomfield, Colorado, announced in October that he and his opponent, incumbent Karen Stuart, had had an extramarital affair eight years earlier. Stuart, who denied it, was reelected.

Least Competent Criminals

In January prosecutors in Yamhill County, Oregon, charged 36-year-old David Verbos, a deputy in neighboring Clackamas County, with robbing a pharmacy in McMinnville at gunpoint the month before. A man matching Verbos’s physical description allegedly entered the pharmacy, produced a gun, and demanded OxyContin, threatening to shoot an employee in the kidney if he didn’t get the drug. Witnesses saw a blue Oldsmobile Alero leave the scene, and the plates were traced to Verbos’s wife. Several hours later Verbos called police to report that the plates had been stolen from his car, a blue Oldsmobile Alero; when officers showed up to take a statement, they noticed that Verbos’s outfit matched that of the pharmacy robber as seen in security-video footage.

Police Blotter

From the Union Democrat of Sonora, California, November 21: “9:16 AM, Big Oak Flat. A woman said an exhaust system stolen from her vehicle was returned and reinstalled.”

Readers’ Choice

A judge in Montgomery County, Maryland, ruled in January that displaying one’s buttocks alone did not constitute indecent exposure under state law and that therefore no matter how “disgusting” or “demeaning” the act might have been, 44-year-old Raymond McNealy had done nothing illegal when he angrily mooned a neighbor and her eight-year-old daughter. And police in Blue Springs, Missouri, initially reported that a local woman had deliberately swallowed her cell phone during an argument in December, but after obtaining a statement from her (which was possible only after surgery to extract the phone) they announced that the incident was now being investigated as a cramming and charged the woman’s ex-boyfriend with first-degree assault.

Undignified Deaths

The family of a Texas man filed a lawsuit in December against a sanitation company in Custer, South Dakota, blaming its negligence for his death in a motorcycle crash last August; according to the accident report the 34-year-old man wiped out on Highway 16 in Custer after a portable toilet fell off a truck and hit him. And a 47-year-old man riding shotgun in a pickup truck near Childersburg, Alabama, in January was killed when an oncoming car struck a deer and sent it flying through the truck’s windshield.

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