NewsQuirks 683

Only the Lonely

Voter turnout for a June primary election runoff in Arkansas was not only low, but in two precincts in Garland County, nobody voted. "This hasn't happened in 27 years in any election. There's always somebody to vote," County Clerk Nancy Johnson said. "I've never known not to have anybody."

People who watch certain television programs think they have more friends than they actually do, according to a study by sociologist Satoshi Kanazawa of Indiana University. He said the brain's mechanisms for recognizing friends evolved long before TV was developed, so the subconscious mind regards any face it sees regularly as a real-life friend, even if it's on TV. Kanazawa said women's TV friends appear on sitcoms and prime-time dramas, while men's are on news programs.

Slightest Provocations

Scott Tomlinson, 16, pleaded guilty to killing his 13-year-old sister because he wanted to watch "The Simpsons" on television and she didn't. While the two wrestled over the remote, the boy said he unintentionally strangled her. He then hid her body in a sleeping bag in a storage shed behind the family home in West St. Paul, Minn.

Former Marine Patrick Gott, 43, walked into the terminal at the New Orleans international airport, pulled a 12-gauge shotgun from his duffel bag and fired one shot, which critically injured a passenger and hit an airline employee in the hand. Before he could get off a second shot, bystanders wrestled him to the ground. Gott told investigators that he is a Muslim and opened fire because some people had made fun of his turban.

Squeaky Wheels

Right-wing extremists in Japan, who usually drive in convoys of large black vehicles and blare their political opinions through loudspeakers, often receive discounts on expressway tolls by threatening tollbooth attendants. "I want to make it clear that we are not offering discounts of our own free will," a representative of the Japan Highway Public Corp. said. "The demands can be very forceful, and individuals may be frightened."

Big-Bang Theory

James Suchomski, 25, and Josh Edleman, 26, filled party balloons with acetylene gas and loaded them into a car to take somewhere and set on fire as an Independence Day prank, intending to create a large "boom" sound. Apparently unaware that acetylene becomes unstable under pressure, such as inside a car, the men shut the car doors. Moments later, the balloons exploded, throwing both men from the car, according to one of the men's brother. "When we were inside, the explosion went off," Matthew Suchomski said. "It broke the windows, and the roof was peeled off the car, and police and rescue teams were in the yard. It was an explosion. The car blew up."

Blessing in Disguise

Toxic sludge dumped into the Potomac River actually protects fish, according to a document attributed to the Army Corps of Engineers, by driving them from the polluted areas, thus avoiding capture by fishermen, to lay their eggs upstream. The Washington Times obtained the 1998 document from the Environmental Protection Agency's administrative record, which is part of its lawsuit to stop sludge discharges along the river. The Corps dumps 200,000 tons of "toxic sludge" into the river every year, according to the House Resources Committee. Rep. George P. Radanovich, R-Calif., who chairs the subcommittee on national parks, recreation and public land, called the suggestion that toxic sludge is good for fish because it keeps them from being caught by people "ludicrous."

Little Things Mean a Lot

A German court told a man seeking health insurance funding for an operation to enlarge his penis that his "ailment" didn't qualify. "A small penis can be seen as a normal deviation," the court in Potsdam ruled. "As long as there is no functional defect, there are no grounds for medical treatment." The plaintiff, who was appealing a decision by medical insurers not to fund an operation, has a penis that, according to court documents, is a third smaller than average. The judge did allow that if the plaintiff suffers psychologically because of his shortcoming, the insurance company should cover psychological treatment.

An Australian teenager admitted stealing a credit card and using it to pay for a penis enlarger. Andrew Ronald Potter, 18, was caught after the bill for the mail-order device appeared on his ex-roommate's credit card statement.

Holy Smokes

A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act forbids prosecuting Rastafarians from using marijuana within the federal realm, such as a U.S. territory or a national park. The Jamaica-based religion regards marijuana as a sacrament that brings believers closer to divinity. The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals applies to nine Western states and the Pacific territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, but if it becomes a nationwide standard, it would also open up religious pot smoking in such federal jurisdictions as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

He's a Magic Man

In response to a suggestion by the Rev. Silvio Mantelli, Pope John Paul II said he would name Saint Don Bosco, a 19th-century Italian priest with a passion for magic, as the patron saint of conjurers, magicians and wizards. Besides being a priest, Mantelli is a magician who uses the stage name Mago Sales and likes to celebrate mass wearing a clown's red plastic nose.

Award-Winning Performance

James Smith Jr., a school bus driver in Bristol Township, Pa., who was recently named "Driver of the Month," lost control of his bus and slammed into a shopping center, injuring himself and the three children aboard and damaging two stores. Investigators said Smith was talking on his radiophone when he crashed. "He was fumbling with the wheel while trying to talk on the phone," Middletown police Officer Ben Cook said, "and when you're in a turn like that, the wheel can get away from you."

Way to Go

After Bangkok university student Eak Chongsawatwattana was found dead, his mother told the Nation newspaper that when he studied, he looped a belt around his neck, then fixed it to a door handle so that if he started to doze off, the jerk of the belt would wake him up. This time, however, the belt strangled him. "I warned him many times not to do this, but he just didn't listen," the mother said. "Now he's dead."

Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.

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