NewsQuirks 351

Oops! Workers cleaning up a school storeroom last July in Costa Mesa, Calif., mistakenly threw away some 3,000 rare fossils that had just been catalogued. The collection was being stored at Lindbergh Elementary School during summer vacation in 17 boxes, all wrapped and marked with a list of contents on top. The Mesa Consolidated Water District, which paid $90,000 to collect and identify the fossils, didn't discover the loss until August -- too late to recover them. Spokesperson Mary F. Urashima noted the landfill they were taken to adds about 4,500 tons of garbage a day. In Labasa, Fiji, two couples, one Fijian and the other ethnic Indian, discovered that their babies had been switched at birth 14 months earlier at the Labasa hospital. After the mothers from different ethnic groups endured months of taunts over the physical features of their sons, the mix-up came to light when a friend of the Fijian family chanced to see the Indian mother with her baby and put the two families in touch. The local Daily Post newspaper reported that both families were pleased to learn the truth but were happy to keep the child they had raised from birth.Still Clueless Thomas J. Tobin, 35, police chief of Camden Point, Mo., resigned in January after being accused of making as many as 280 calls to a psychic hotline between September and December. The calls, which cost taxpayers $20,000, lasted from four to 40 minutes.The World's a Stage Hollywood producer Murray Siegel announced he was starting a business to help entertainers who want to testify at Congressional hearings. For $20,000, his firm will develop informational packets in language that the stars can understand, arrange appointments with members of Congress and political leaders, schedule testimony before subcommittees and provide an entourage. "We're trying to create a scenario," Siegel told Roll Call, "where the voice of a celebrity can move a nation."Captive Audiences Keith Young, an inmate at the Greenville, Miss., jail, slipped out a door open to kitchen workers so he could visit his girlfriend. He stuffed the lock with paper to keep the door from latching behind him. Deputies found the paper, however, and removed it. When Young returned the next morning, he couldn't get in and returned to his girlfriend's. That night he telephoned deputies to come get him. "I've locked many a one up," Sheriff Harvey Tackett said, "but this is the first time I ever locked one out." Elsewhere in Mississippi, two inmates at the Perry County Jail escaped after discovering that the new rear door had been installed upside down, preventing the lock from working. Sheriff Carlos Herring explained jailers hadn't realized the door was upside down because the lock had a metal block around it to prevent people from jimmying it. Three inmates at the Lew Sterrett Center in downtown Dallas gouged a 2-1/2-foot hole in the wall of the building from their fifth-floor cell. They tied together torn bed sheets and were climbing down the wall to a courtyard, according to Dallas County sheriff's department spokesperson Jim Ewell, when a cellmate they left behind apparently cut the bed sheet loose. One man plunged 65 feet to the ground and broke his back. The other two fell shorter distances but were unable to climb the jail's 15-foot perimeter wall topped with razor wire. A woman arriving to post bail for another prisoner discovered the three convicts huddled in the courtyard in the 20-degree weather yelling for help.Government Intelligence U.S. spy satellites, focusing on targets chosen by 11 military and intelligence agencies, gather information faster than experts can analyze it, the Washington Post reported. Given the choice between collecting less or analyzing more, the intelligence community has opted to upgrade its processing operations. The goal, CIA Director John M. Deutch said, is to give U.S. forces "a unique dominant battlefield awareness." To further this aim, the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee budgeted $2 million to finance a study of "all national and theater imagery-collection platforms, all types of imagery products" and "all imagery exploitation software packages to better support targeting of precision weapons." Meanwhile, the New York Times reported a team of auditors sent by Deutch discovered the National Reconnaissance Office, the secret agency that controls the nation's four or five sophisticated spy satellites, lost track of more than $2 billion in secret bank accounts last year. According to one intelligence committee aide, the misplaced money resulted from a severe bookkeeping problem that grew from a lack of accountability created by the agency's extraordinary secrecy. Congressional oversight of the agency is ineffective, the aide said, because few members of Congress understand the highly technical language of spy satellites or know what they're approving when they authorize billions of dollars a year in secret spending. Since the arrest of three men for trying to sneak nearly a pound of weapons-grade plutonium into Germany in 1994, that country's Federal Intelligence Service has been repeatedly accused of causing the smuggling it uncovered. According to German newspapers, Rafael Ferreras, a former Spanish police officer who worked as an undercover agent for German authorities, German intelligence officials and Bavarian police enticed the smugglers by having agents posing as terrorists in Spain offer $276 million to anyone who could produce nine pounds of the radioactive material. Martin Schulz, an investigator for the European Parliament, said the incident in Germany is not the only episode of nuclear contraband that has turned out to be a case of the tiger chasing its tail. "In every case in which a buyer has surfaced, government authorities were the buyers," he told German television. "Those who want to combat the market are the same ones who have really created it."Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306. Odd-news hounds will enjoy the latest compilation, "Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest: True News of the World's Least Competent People" by John J. Kohut and Roland Sweet (Plume/Penguin).

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