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Playing with fire, breaking the law and more

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LEAD STORY: A new sports center in Mexico City will be devoted to the revival of ancient Aztec- and Mayan-created games that are rarely played in Mexico because they are dangerous, including a field-hockey-like competition played with a fireball. In another game, "pelota mixteca," players wearing metal-knuckled leather gloves punch a 2-pound, hard rubber ball that could knock opponents unconscious. One thrill of the flaming-ball game, "pelota purepecha," is that some play it at night on unlighted fields. (In Mayan culture, according to a March USA Today dispatch, the world began with the gods challenging two humans to a ball game, and beating them, at which point the two die and are resurrected as the sun and moon.)

Democracy in Action: Felon-Candidates: 1) John White, now running for sheriff in Roundup, Mont., will be unable to carry a gun if he wins because of a long-ago bank robbery conviction. 2) Convicted felons might be running against each other if they win their primaries in May for county judge-executive in Hindman, Ky. Democrat Donnie Newsome and Republican Randy Thompson were both convicted of election fraud (though Thompson's case is still on appeal). 3) Cynthia Diaz was re-elected town clerk in Coventry, Vt., in March, though still facing 10 felony personal tax-filing counts. (The town clerk is the town's treasurer, delinquent-tax collector and trustee of public money.)

The U.S. Senate passed a bill in March to correct a misimpression Congress had in the 1990s when it instituted mandatory sentences for crack-cocaine possession that were about 100 times the sentences for powdered cocaine. Scientists long ago pointed out that the two substances are chemically the same, and the new provisions set crack-cocaine sentences at only about 18 times those for powder.

Tackling the Big Issues: 1) The Utah legislature passed a bill in March to, for the first time, legalize the personal collection of rainwater. "Harvesting" rain has been illegal, but now would be allowed, with a state permit, in special state-approved containers. 2) The Tennessee legislature is considering removing a longstanding ban on fish tanks in barbershops. Currently, no "animals, birds or fish" (except guide dogs) are permitted where hair is cut. Opponents said they don't mind aquariums but fear that trendy pedicures by nibbling fish (now in New York and Los Angeles salons) might come to Tennessee.

Government Stalks the Weakest: On Jan. 29, more than 200 Alabama state troopers were amassed at 4 a.m. for the purpose of raiding several illegal bingo parlors. The raids were eventually called off, but a University of Alabama professor estimated the staging cost to the budget-shriveled state at $130,000. Said a spokesman for Gov. Bob Riley, "No matter what it costs, the law must be enforced."

A December Seattle Times profile of Rachel Porcaro (a single mother with an $18,000-a-year hair-cutting job, raising two kids, living with her parents) centered on the IRS's year-long, full-blown audit of her, and subsequently of her parents, because she was flagged for earning too little money on which to raise a family in Seattle. Ultimately, Rachel and her parents prevailed on every issue except the Earned Income Tax Credit, in that Rachel's kids receive a little too much help from her parents for her to qualify.

Some People Seem to Need a Prophet: Raj Patel's recent appearance on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" was ostensibly based around his work on global poverty and food production, but followers of an 87-year-old Scottish mystic named Benjamin Creme received a different message that Patel was the long-awaited messiah that Creme had been promising would appear to unite humanity. Overwhelmed by the followers during a recent book-signing tour, according to a March profile in London's Guardian, Patel made public denials of any messianic role (which of course only confirmed the sect's certainty that he is the man) and engaged a few in conversation, but, he said, talking to them "made me really depressed, actually."

Police Report: How much can a shoplifter stuff in his pants? A man seen on surveillance video at a Mobil on the Run convenience store in Bloomfield, Conn., in February fled after stuffing at least 17 cans of Red Bull energy drink down his pants. And in Cairns, Australia, a 51-year-old man was caught shoplifting in March, witnessed by security staff putting three limes and a package of beef tongue in his pants. When cornered, the man (like clowns exiting a clown car) pulled out an additional two onions, three trays of rump steaks and a packet of lamb forequarter chops.

When "Detention" Is Not Enough: 1) Schoolteacher Lucia Carico, who has been in good standing in Hawkins County, Tenn., schools since 1973, was fired in March over an incident in which she stabbed a 7th-grade student in the arm seven times with a pen (because, she said, he had been unruly, singing and passing gas). 2) Teacher Randolphe Forde was fired in January by the Clayton County, Ga., school board for an October incident in which he allegedly "put a hit" on an 11th-grade student (offering $50).

The Pervo-American Community: Sex for One: 1) In February, police in Upper Darby, Pa., said they had to delay processing accused molester Siri Pinnya, 36, because he would not stop masturbating. Said the police superintendent, "We only fingerprinted his left hand." 2) Martin Guerrero, 17, was eventually arrested in his W.T. White High School classroom in Dallas in December after the teacher noticed him staring off into space. When she approached his desk, he shouted, "Ay Mami," and continued masturbating. 3) Shanna Vonfeldt was fired from her job at KUSA Aviation in Beaumont, Texas, but claimed in a lawsuit filed in January that she left only because of boss Kyle Knupple's habit of masturbating in the office.

The Classic Middle Name (all-new!): Arrested recently and awaiting trial for murder: Russell Wayne Upton Jr., Reno, Nev., March (charged at last in a 1995 murder); Kenneth Wayne Scott, Fort Worth, Texas, March; John Wayne Wilson, Bethel Springs, Tenn., March; Robert Wayne Hurst, Knoxville, Tenn., January; Bart Wayne Johnson, Pelham, Ala., December. Murder trial completed, awaiting delayed judgment: Steven Wayne Hillier, Canberra, Australia, April. Convicted of murder: Kevin Wayne Dunigan, Sacramento, Calif., November; Michael Wayne Wesley, Eugene, Ore., November. Appeal denied: Kelly Wayne Dozier, Houston, April (convicted of a 2006 murder).

Rednecks on Parade: 1) Itinerant contractor Billie Bobbie Harrison, 24, was charged in Spartanburg, S.C., with indecent exposure in February, after he approached a homeowner, lowered his pants, and offered to pave her driveway later if she would have sex with him. 2) Hemingway, S.C., police, responding in March to shots fired at the BT Express gas station, apprehended James Scott after he and Jackie Dollard had finished cleaning a chicken. Witnesses said Scott and Dollard fought over who got to keep the chicken.

A News of the Weird Classic (July 1998): Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson told his "700 Club" TV audience in June (1998) that the city of Orlando, Fla., was taking a big risk to sponsor the recent "Gay Days" festival. "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes," he said, "and I don't think I'd be waving those (Gay Days logo) flags in God's face if I were you." Homosexuality, he said, "will bring about terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor." (In fact, 1998's first hurricane, Bonnie, made landfall two months later in North Carolina, near the Virginia Beach, Va., headquarters of Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.)

© 2010 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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