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News of the Weird

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Speak the same language: Walt and Kathy Viggiano of Wichita, Kan., convinced Judge James Burgess to return their four children from foster care in 1999, following their removal because of excessive unsanitariness of the family's mobile home. Unlike in many such cases, Burgess realized the Viggianos loved their kids, had not abused them and had no alcohol or drug problems. Also, according to police who made the initial investigation, Walt and the kids seemed to have warm conversations, even though entirely in Klingon (from "Star Trek").

Penguin sluts: In 1996, Cambridge (England) University researcher Fiona Hunter, who studied penguins' mating habits for five years, reported that some females apparently allow male strangers to mate with them in exchange for a few nest-building stones, thus providing what Hunter believes is the first observed animal prostitution. According to Hunter, all activity was done behind the backs of the females' regular mates, and in a few instances, after the sex act, johns gave the females additional stones as sort of a tip.

Why they go postal: Letter carrier Martha Cherry, 49, was fired by the Postal Service in White Plains, N.Y., in 1997 after 18 years of apparently walking her rounds too slowly. Wrote a supervisor, of the 5-foot-4 Cherry: "At each stop, the heel of your leading foot did not pass the toe of the trailing foot by more than 1 inch. As a result, you required 13 minutes longer than your demonstrated ability to deliver the mail to this section of your route."Postal worker Douglas C. Yee, 50, was indicted in 1996 in San Mateo, Calif., for pulling off bulk-mail scams that grossed him $800,000. Found in Yee's garbage were notes he had written to God expressing gratitude for his continued help in evading police. Read one: "Lord, I am having a difficult time myself seeing you as a God who hides crime, yet your Word says that it's your privilege (or glory) to do just that."

Least competent criminals: Fort Smith, Ark., police arrested James Newsome, 37, in 1999 and charged him with taking money at gunpoint from the Gas Well convenience store. The robber's face was easily identified from the surveillance tape, and the coat worn by the robber was found in Newsome's car. Also, Newsome's wife said the family car had a radiator leak, and a puddle of antifreeze was found beside the store where the robber parked. Also, the robber wore a hard hat with "James Newsome" on the front.

Leading economic indicator: Electrical contractor Akira Hareruya, 36, whose company went bankrupt, had taken to working the streets of Tokyo in 1999, trying to earn back the money by inviting passers-by to put on boxing gloves and take swings at him for the equivalent of about $9 a minute. He promised not to hit back, but only to try to evade the punches, and suggested that his customers further relieve their stress by yelling at him as they swing. He told the Los Angeles Times that he averaged the equivalent of about $200 a night.

Latest religious message: In 1998, Josh Hempel, then 16, in Calgary, Alberta, became the then-latest person to be hit by lightning shortly after ending an argument by inviting God to strike him with lightning if he was wrong. (The subject of this argument was whether God exists.) He was hospitalized but recovered.

Thinning the herd: On the morning of Nov. 11, 1997, two best friends, ages 27 and 41, residents of Whitney, Texas, about 25 miles north of Waco, did what they often enthusiastically did when they encountered each other on the empty farm roads: They drove their pickups directly at each other in a game of chicken. That morning, they collided at about 60 miles an hour. The younger man was saved by his seatbelt; the older man, unbelted, died at the scene.

2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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