Autocratic Ups and Downs
Valentine Strasser, who became the world's youngest head of state at the age of 25 when he seized power in Sierra Leone in 1992, was discovered broke and living with his mother on the outskirts of Freetown, the capital.
Strasser, now 35, was an army captain -- known for winning disco contests -- when he led a coup by young officers, known as "the boys" because they were in their 20s. His No. 2 man, Julius Maada Bio, overthrew him in 1996 and forced him into exile. He returned in 2000, but because angry soldiers had burned down the house he built, he moved into his mother's two-story house across the street. The government denied him benefits because he took power by force, but last year did ask citizens not to throw stones at Strasser, who lacks a car and has to travel on foot. "I'm basically living off my mother now," Strasser told the Associated Press. "She's very supportive."
Saparmurat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan, proposed changing the name of January to Turkmenbashi, the name by which he is commonly known. It means "Chief of all Turkmen." September will be renamed after his spiritual testament, the "Rukhnama," which the official media praised as on a par with the Koran and the Bible. April will be called "Mother," a tribute to Niyazov's late mother, the object of a personality cult second only to her son's. A week after his announcement, the leader of the central Asian desert state of 4.5 million people, decreed a new system for dividing life into 12-year cycles. It extends adolescence until age 25 and postpones old age until 85.
Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child
Authorities in Sweeny, Texas, removed four children from the home of Theodore Moody, 27, after he used an electric stun gun to discipline his 8-year-old stepson for missing the school bus.
Former adoption caseworker Sally Schofield, 41, was convicted of manslaughter in Wiscasset, Maine, for suffocating her 5-year-old foster daughter by using 42 feet of duct tape to cover the child's face and bind her to a highchair during a disciplinary "time out" because the girl woke up from a nap in a rage. Noting that Schofield wrapped 10 layers of tape around the girl's body, four layers over the top of her head and under her chin and three strips around her head and mouth, prosecutor William Stokes said, "This woman was so committed to shutting this kid up and imposing her will on this child that she lost control."
After a 550-pound squid washed up in Tasmania this summer, researchers at Hobart's Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies concluded that global warming is turning the world's squid into giants. The scientists said that a rise of 1 degree C in the world's oceans is causing juvenile squid to grow to twice their normal size.
Catalytic converters, which are designed to benefit the environment by converting carbon monoxide from automobile engine exhaust into harmless gases, are also preventing suicides. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the number of people who killed themselves by inhaling carbon monoxide from automobiles fell from 10 per million in 1975 to 4.9 per million last year.
When road laws were revised to crack down on drunk driving, an unidentified vice district attorney from the northern Japanese prefecture of Yamagata spent the day testing breathalyzers by drinking sake and checking how the machines registered his blood alcohol level. He took a cab home, but had become so drunk during the testing that he lost his wallet and couldn't pay his fare. The angry cab driver turned him in to police.
True to Form
While Kevin Donaldson, 23, was being taken to court in Burlington, Vt., to be arraigned on escape charges, he escaped. Donaldson, whose record includes three prior escape convictions, asked the sheriff driving the car to lower the window of the police cruiser because the pepper spray on his clothing from his arrest the night before was making breathing difficult. He reached out the window and opened the door from the outside. Chittenden County Sheriff Kevin McLaughlin noted that Donaldson removed double-locked handcuffs and leg restraints, then slipped out of the moving cruiser and fled.
A 52-year-old French convict tried to break out of Brest prison by gluing broken glass to his hands, razor blades to his clothes and scissors to his shoes, hoping that guards would be unable to grab him. The attempt failed when six guards managed to hold on to the inmate.
After a woman reported a stolen vehicle, police in Bethlehem, Pa., spotted it cruising down the street and gave chase, although at a very slow speed since the vehicle in question was a child's Fisher Price Power Wheels car. When eventually pulled over, the 30-year-old suspect, who smelled of alcohol, explained that he was trying to get to a relative's house.
Like Father, Like Son
Chicago police arrested William Ligue Jr., 34, and his 15-year-old son at a White Sox baseball game after the shirtless duo jumped from the stands at Comiskey Park and attacked Kansas City Royals third-base coach Tom Gamboa, 54. "I felt like a football team had hit me from behind," Gamboa said. "Next thing I knew, I'm on the ground trying to defend myself." Even though the entire Kansas City team rushed to his aid, jumping on the attackers and beating them, the Ligues were uninjured. Gamboa suffered cuts and bruises and had to leave the game.
The previous Sunday, Pittsburgh police charged Douglas Olszewski, 36, with letting his 14-year-old son drink so much beer at a Steelers football game that the boy had to have his stomach pumped. Olszewski, who was also drunk, was arrested after he and his son were removed from the stands at Heinz Field when he tried to stop paramedics from taking the boy to the hospital.
Authorities in York, Neb., asked residents to be alert for pre-teen children inhaling fumes from air-conditioning units after a 12-year-old girl was found unconscious. Police Officer Mike Hanke said that several pre-teens apparently have been huffing Freon from air conditioners to get high.
Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.