It's never too late to mutilate

In June in Christchurch, New Zealand, Thomas Hendry, 23, won the "How Far Will You Go?" contest at Trader McKendry's Tavern (prize: about $300 [U.S.]) by stapling his penis to a crucifix and setting it on fire. Hendry said he had bills to pay, and was inspired by an earlier contestant who had merely pierced his foreskin with a safety pin: "I thought I could do better than that," Hendry admitted. Hendry's mother was in the bar that night and said, "I'm just very relieved that he won. I would have hated for someone to go through all that and [lose]."

Serving especial interests

The city commission of the border town of El Cenizo, Texas, voted in August to establish Spanish as the town's official language and to prohibit municipal employees (under penalty of firing) from cooperating with the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service in its search for undocumented aliens. Though he is now a citizen, Mayor Rafael Rodriguez has acknowledged that he entered the United States illegally many years ago.

He got off Scot free

Scottish psychopathic murderer Noel Ruddle, who has been in the Carstairs mental hospital in Glasgow for eight years, was released in August because no treatment is currently available for his paranoid schizophrenia (British law prevents a prisoner's hospitalization if it does not result in the improvement -- however slight -- of his condition). Various officials and psychiatrists quoted in the British press were aghast at the decision, claiming that nearly 2,000 seriously disturbed prisoners are in situations similar to Ruddle's.

Once, mice, three times a lady

The San Francisco Examiner reported in June that one-third of outdoor rodents at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge have both male and female reproductive organs. The finding was attributed to a nearby reservoir of selenium, which is a by-product of agricultural runoff. The lead investigator said the rodents are male on the outside and female on the inside.

That friendship's on ice

In July, police investigating a roadside sniper attack in Tijuana, Mexico, jailed suspect Dennis A. Macchione, 33, before they had released the victim's two companions, who they were holding temporarily. The companions chatted and shared food with Macchione, but only because they didn't know who he was; if they had known, they said, they'd have killed him. And in December, Las Vegas police inadvertently locked up the witness to a contract killing in the same holding cell with one of the two men who were accused of arranging the hit.

Facing the music

At a March pretrial hearing in Albuquerque, N.M., a judge disclosed government witnesses' addresses over prosecutors' protests. Among the evidence: a rap song recorded by the defendants' gang, the Sureno 13, that included the chorus, "I gotta kill me a witness." And the key evidence that convicted Jeffrey Myrick at his February trial in Cambridge, Mass., for pushing his girlfriend off of a roof was a poem he had written, which read: "As we stand here/ on the roof top/ for an unknown reason/ my girlfriend took a hop/ I screamed/ call a cop/ because I threw my girl from the top."

Another straw poll

A 19-year-old man was hospitalized in Salt Lake City in June after personally investigating whether or not a .22-caliber bullet could be ejected from a straw by hitting it with a hammer. Answer: sometimes (including this time, wounding the man in the stomach).

Career suicide

According to recent figures, about 90 people per day in Japan kill themselves, a per capita rate about 75 percent higher than the suicide rate in the United States. The main reason, according to experts cited in a July New York Times dispatch, is the shame and fear of layoffs during Japan's recession. And in July, Villaricca, Italy, with more than 20 percent of its citizens unemployed, conducted a televised drawing in which 177 contestants vied for six municipal street-sweeper jobs.

Heeding nature's call

People continue to receive surprises as they innocently take their seats in the bathroom. In May, Betty Rook, 79, was hospitalized in Petersburg, Va., with a rat bite that had been obtained as she sat on the toilet; city official Tim Jones said he gets about one report a year of a rat making it through sewer lines into a residential commode. And as Tom Smelcer of Apsley, Ontario, flushed his toilet in April, he saw a bird battling against the flow, finally thrusting itself free and crashing against Smelcer's head. Health officials said it probably came from a rooftop septic-tank vent.

Politically corrective

After an investigation designed to alleviate residents' fears, police in the village of Durness, Scotland, issued a public certificate of assurance that two recently arrived gay restaurateurs were definitely not pedophiles. A Franciscan nun admitted scrawling white-supremacist graffiti on the walls of a Joliet, Ill., hospital just to see how people would react. And a judge foiled a conciliation plan by Cleveland mayor Michael White (who is black) that would have allowed Ku Klux Klan members to change into their robes and hoods in a police building before their Aug. 21 march.

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