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Dog days turn up raft of news oddities

In bidding a weary sayonara to the dog days of August, when temperature records were set almost daily (and September's debut was not much better), it's hard not to feel a tad guilty during a week's respite to the west coast, where daytime highs are a delightful 75 degrees, the skies are blue, and the ocean sparkling.

Though the scorcher Mid-South August was not exactly conducive to thoughts Noel, it heralded the arrival of the first wave in the annual flood of Christmas catalogs and the cranking up in earnest of the presidential campaigns (who among us is not already bored to tears with the daily Al & George W. Show?). And as if the entire universe were suffering heat stroke, some decidedly less than run-of-the-mill tidbits floated my way:

- In California, where labor for fieldwork is always scarce and made even more complicated for farmers who have to cope with the feds breathing down their necks checking for illegal immigrants, one Mexican man found a unique ticket into the U.S.: He told a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that because he's a gay cross-dresser, he is persecuted in his homeland. He petitioned the court for asylum in the U.S. - which the three-judge panel granted.

Now, can't we all picture a steady stream of Mexican men, dressed in women's garb, pleading for the court to grant them asylum?

- TV star Larry Hagman - he of "Dallas" and "I Dream of Jeannie" fame - has jumped on the anti-pesticide bandwagon by advocating that California school buildings undergo superheating treatments to roast rats, insects, and bacteria.

Rather than using pesticides, he and other supporters want the state's school systems to instead drape buildings in a tent-like covering, into which is pumped air superheated to more than 130 degrees. This, they say is equivalent to pasteurizing milk to kill bacteria. "It's an old process that has been rejuvenated," Hagman said.

No mention of cost, or what 130-plus temps would do to computers and various meltable items.

- From the Things You Probably Don't Know (Or Have Ever Even Thought About) Department: According to the Louisiana Research and Extension AgCenter newsletter, aquaculture producers in that state command 85 percent to 90 percent of the world market in pet baby turtles.

The industry, which started in the 1930s with the harvest of wild turtles and now involves production of domesticated turtles in fenced ponds, saw sales of 8.6 million turtles in 1997, with an estimated value of $5.28 million. In 1996, the total economic impact to the state from the industry was pegged at $9.7 million. Over the years, prices have ranged from a low of 21 cents per turtle to a high of $1.

Because of regulations forbidding their sale in the U.S., due to concerns over the use of antibiotics to eliminate salmonella, the entire market is overseas, and that too, has been declining because of stiffer regulations. Yearly sales have dropped significantly from the high of 15 million baby turtles in 1969.

- Pot Calling the Kettle Black: The Japanese, who have been less than enthusiastic about GMO crops and food products from the U.S. because of "safety concerns," are now embroiled in a national scandal that pales by comparison. Seems their largest dairy made 15,000 people sick by secretly recycling old or contaminated milk into other products.

Oh, but there's more: dead lizards in potato chips, worms in pastries, flies in canned juice - all sorts of food contamination horror stories. Concerns over food safety have escalated to the point they're now being debated in the Japanese parliament. And GMOs are bad?

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