NewsQuirks 707

A Year to Remember (Already)

The nation's official "First Baby of the Year" was a 5-pound 2-ounce girl born one minute after midnight on New Year's Day at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax County, Va. The infant girl was conceived through artificial insemination and has two mothers: Helen Rubin, 33, who gave birth, and Joanna Bare, 35, her partner. The biological father is a family friend whom the couple declined to name.

The first baby of the year in Hernando County, Fla., was a 7-pound 10-ounce girl born to Cynthia Colon and her fiance, David Jose Orama. When the newspaper reported the milestone event, Sheriff's Deputy Neil Sullivan recognized Orama's name, drove to the hospital and arrested the 23-year-old construction worker for violating his probation on a DUI charge and failing to appear in court for driving with a suspended license.

Forty-six people were injured during a New Year's celebration in the Hillbrow district of Johannesburg, South Africa, by falling beds, televisions, bottles and rocks. "It is customary in Hillbrow," a police representative said, "for people to celebrate the New Year by throwing objects off their balconies."

Mensa Reject of the Week

Matt George, 21, was hospitalized in critical condition in Yacolt, Wash., after kissing his new rattlesnake while showing it to friends. "I said, 'OK, man, you're being stupid, put it away,'" Jim Roban recalled. "He said, 'It's OK, I do it all the time.'" After the second kiss, the 2-foot snake bit George under his mustache.

Let Them Eat Cake

New York officials, faced with a record 37,000 homeless people seeking access to city-run shelters every night, said they are considering turning cruise ships into temporary shelters. The ships would be ones that have been retired from service and would be tied up at city docks, according to a representative of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who explained, "We are thinking outside of the box."

One Way or Another

When Philadelphia police arrested Alex Torro, 28, on rape charges and placed him in a holding cell, he set himself on fire. Prosecutors dropped the rape charges but ordered Torro to stand trial for arson.

After Georgia authorities commuted the death sentence of Alexander Williams, 34, to life in prison, the inmate at the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville used the shirt from his prison uniform to hang himself.

Bless the Homeland--Or Else

The Defense Department confirmed that its Total Information Awareness program, authorized by the homeland security bill, will develop a centralized data-collection system to let the federal government monitor e-mail, Internet use, credit-card transactions, airline ticket purchases, and phone and bank records of anyone it suspects of posing a terrorist threat. The program falls under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is headed by retired Adm. John Poindexter, the national security adviser during the Reagan administration who was convicted (later unconvicted) of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal. Following word of his hiring, Internet activists set up a website to track and post all of Poindexter's personal transactions.

Digital Evolution

Video games, cellphones and other electronics devices with small keypads are altering the form and function of the human hand, according to a study of mobile-phone users in nine cities worldwide. "The younger generation has taken to using thumbs in a completely different way," the study's author, Dr. Sadie Plant, said. "They are instinctively using it where the rest of us use our index fingers."

Fatal Attraction

Sisters Sheila Wentworth, 45, and Doris Jean Hall, 51, were on their way t o visit each other, driving Jeeps in opposite directions on a rural highway 35 miles south of Birmingham, Ala., when one of their vehicles crossed the center line and collided head-on with the other. Both women were killed, as was Hall's husband.

Comfort and Joy

Churches are moving away from rigid, wooden pews, replacing them with roomy, padded chairs with cup holders, according to manufacturers. Les Lundberg, worship sales manager for Irwin Seating Co., said that theater-style seats are especially popular in large, new Christian churches, Southern Baptist churches and synagogues. "For many first-timers, the only way they make contact with the church is on their behind," said Steve Korn, a teaching pastor at CedarCreek Church in suburban Toledo, Ohio. "If they're comfortable, like the service and the building, they'll probably come back."

Churches are also installing better sound systems to amplify the word of God. Bigger churches have used such systems for years, but the Washington Post reported that even smaller churches are joining in, featuring dozens of microphones and high-performance speakers, as well as elaborate video systems that use strategically placed cameras to project pastors, choirs and worshippers on wall-size screens. "Worship is a form of entertainment," said Al Perry, technical adviser for media ministry at Fort Foote Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., which included a $300,000 audiovisual system as part of its new $6 million sanctuary. "If people are not entertained, they don't feel like they're participating."

Occupational Hazard

Scott A. Winner, 36, a dairy farmer in Darke County, Ohio, drowned when his tractor slid into a manure lagoon. Relatives and farm workers were unable to rescue Winner, according to the sheriff's office, because of the force applied to the outside of the tractor cab by the liquid.

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

When Mark Vaughn found his family had been locked out of their home in Fort Worth, Texas, he decided that rather than listen to his mother-in-law, who told him to call a locksmith, he would try climbing down the chimney. After he got wedged in the chimney and had to be rescued, he explained that he got the idea from the chimney sweep character played by Dick Van Dyke in the movie "Mary Poppins," which he had just seen.

Trucker's Delight

Wolo Manufacturing of Deer Park, N.Y., has developed a solution to the problem of truck air horns burning out if used too long and too loud. Using digital-sound technology, a powerful amplifier and a heavy-duty speaker, the company's device plays a recording of an air horn at a rate and volume that mimics a honking driver.

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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