The Frankenfish Rears

Its Ugly Head in Queens

A predator that has become the bane of the Potomac River was spotted recently in a New York City lake. The northern snakehead has taken up residence in Queens, a borough that is home to all kinds from all over.

But the city is less than welcoming to these newcomers. The northern snakehead, a fish native to Asia, is known for a voracious appetite that makes it a threat to the ecosystem.

The snakehead, called "frankenfish" for its ghoulish looks and ability to scramble across land, has New York officials worried they will have to poison the lake, as Maryland biologists did three years ago when the snakeheads appeared in a Crofton pond.

State biologists will begin their assault on the invaders by adding saltwater to the pond from nearby Long Island Sound. If the burgeoning fish colony survives, officials will turn to more drastic measures.

The federal government has issued a ban on importing live snakeheads. But among some daring diners, the fish makes for a fine dinner. And considering that the snakehead could not possibly have leapt from Asia, officials assume that someone decided to introduce a private stock in Queens.

-- Michelle Garcia

Texas Becomes

Majority Minority

Texas has joined the ranks of California, New Mexico and Hawaii as a majority-minority state, along with the District of Columbia, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. According to population estimates from July 1, 2004, Texas had a minority population of 11.3 million, or 50.2 percent of its total population.

The largest part of the minority population was Latinos, said Census Bureau spokesman Robert Bernstein. The Latino population was 7.8 million in Texas; the black population was 2.7 million.

Steve H. Murdock, the state demographer, said the numbers document that "the future of Texas is increasingly tied to its non-Anglo population."

But in Texas, blacks and Latinos are behind in areas such as education and income. In 2000, the income for Latinos and blacks was two-thirds that of whites, Murdock said. The poverty rate for the minority groups was double to triple the rate for whites. Whereas 30 percent of whites had a college degree in 2000, 15.3 and 8.9 percent of blacks and Latinos, respectively, had a college degree.

"If we don't change the socioeconomic differences, Texas could be poor and less competitive than it is today," Murdock said.

-- Caroline Keating

Unwanted Drama

In a Small Ohio Town

Galion, Ohio, is a small, friendly town of 11,000 where everyone knows everyone's name, according to Police Chief Brian Saterfield.

So residents were shocked when former city finance chief William Bauer attempted suicide last year and revealed in a note that he had been stealing money, to the tune of $87,000, and had mismanaged the town's finances so badly that the hamlet is now $11 million in debt.

Because of the fiscal crisis, the town has made layoffs at the police department, raised taxes and scrapped some civic projects.

It isn't clear what Bauer did with the money. "We don't think he has a nest egg anywhere," Saterfield said. "It wasn't like he took one lump sum -- it was a $100 check here, a $200 check there."

After surviving shooting himself, Bauer is legally blind and still lives in the town.

"I think he really feels bad about what he did," Saterfield said. "He's embarrassed. At first people were stunned, confused and upset. Now the anger has turned to frustration as we figure out what to do. Do we really have to be in a fiscal emergency for five, 10 years? Nobody wants to be in debt."

-- Kari Lydersen

For Florida Sex Offenders,

Shelter From the Storm

Safe crash pads can make Florida's abominable hurricane season a little less abominable. No worrying about wind-blasted coconuts on the noggin or high-velocity tree limbs in the gut.

The trouble is finding such security in a hurry.

But Florida has come up with a new option that has some appeal. These places have mega-thick concrete, steel reinforcement and working cafeterias, to boot.

There's one catch, though. You have to have a criminal record to get in. Specifically, you have to be a released sex offender under state monitoring.

Florida's prison department is offering a haven during storms to the 7,000 sex offenders it monitors because, for the first time, they have been banned from the state's public hurricane shelters. The reason for the ban is that children may be in the shelters, and many sex offenders are prohibited from coming into contact with children.

Offering an alternative behind bars seemed better than trying "to supervise them if they're out wandering in the woods in a hurricane," said Robby Cunningham, spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections. Plus, Cunningham noted, the state's sturdy prisons are ideal shelters, built so "people can't get out and the storm can't get in."

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia