Curses, Foiled Again A man who demanded cash at a convenience store in Des Moines, Iowa, insisted that he had a gun in his pocket, but clerk Terry Cook scoffed that it was only his finger. The two argued the point until the frustrated robber left. "I knew it was his finger. I could see his thumb sticking out of his coat pocket," Cook said after reporting the incident. "I know what a gun looks like. I'm not stupid."
* Responding to a report that two men pushed a woman into their car, robbed her and threw her back onto the street, police in Milwaukee, Wis., found the suspects, ages 27 and 22, still at the scene, trying to dislodge their vehicle from the snow. "There is a God," police Capt. Debra Davidoski declared.
Bound to Happen The Golden State Fence Co., whose work includes building some of the border fence between San Diego and Mexico, agreed to pay nearly $5 million in fines for hiring illegal immigrants.
* Canada's federal government spent $21 million to cut government spending by hiring private consultants at an average cost of $350,000 for 10 months' work.
Boss Hogg Ben Cooper, 64, the former mayor of Appalachia, Va., (population 1839) pleaded guilty to 233 felony counts of vote fraud and no contest to 10 additional counts. Cooper's scheme to rig a local election was exposed when one voter complained that she was offered a bribe of pork rinds.
Second-Amendment Follies Olivia Hutcherson, 21, was staying at a motel in Lavonia, Ga., with two other people when she reached onto a nightstand for what she thought was a cigarette lighter. It turned out to be a .22-caliber pistol belonging to another occupant, according to police Chief Randy Shirley, who reported that Hutcherson shot herself in the hand.
* Police arrested Jerry Wayne "Dusty" Whitaker, 58, the pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Mount Airy, N.C., after he waved a gun during his sermon. "He was driving home his point," Garry Scearce, trustee chairman at Victory Baptist, said. Whitaker explained that the gun was a toy prop. "I use parables," he said. "Once I pretended to be a blind man with a cane, glasses and can with coins. Why didn't they arrest me for impersonating a blind man?"
Cloud Nein Rossmann, a German chain of 1200 outlets selling toiletries and household products, removed miniature wooden figures depicting Santa Claus with his right arm raised after customers complained the gesture imitated the stiff-armed Hitler salute, which is outlawed in Germany. "It looks like he's just pointing up to the sky," Rossmann's Josef Lange told Reuters news agency. "But we responded and had the entire inventory removed and destroyed."
Slightest Provocation Police investigating a brawl at a tavern in Fort Worth, Texas, concluded that the fight broke out when customer Eric Jennings Kisiah, 27, became upset because another customer failed to wash his hands after using the bathroom. Witnesses said Kisiah confronted the customer and two of his friends, telling them they were dirty and threatening to "slash their throats." Kisiah then hid outside the Tumbleweeds Sports Bar and charged the group as they left, stabbing one of the men four times.
Unholy Water The United Church of Canada expanded its list of "immoral" acts to include drinking bottled water. The nation's largest Protestant denomination urged its 3 million members to boycott bottled water and drink tap water instead, declaring that water is "God's sacred gift" and should be available to all people, not exploited for profit. Bottled water sales in Canada, led by Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsico Inc., amount to about US$572 million.
Unwholly Guacamole Brenda Lifsey of Los Angeles sued Kraft Foods Inc., claiming the company's guacamole dip doesn't have enough avocado. Kraft Dips Guacamole contains modified food starch, coconut and soybean oils, corn syrup and food coloring, but less than 2 percent of the contents is avocado, which in traditional guacamole recipes is the main ingredient. Kraft denied any deception. "We think customers understand that it isn't made from avocado," Claire Regan, the company's vice president of corporate affairs, told the Los Angeles Times, adding, however, that the company will re-label the product to clarify that the dip is guacamole-flavored.
Olympic Gambit The World Chess Federation announced that it would test players for drugs as part of its effort to raise international standards to help chess become an Olympic sport. "I would not know which drug could possibly help a chess player to improve his game," competition manager Yousuf Ahmad Ali said. "But, yes, there will be official monitors who may demand that players undergo a drug test after the rounds."
Taxing Times Tax collectors in the Indian city of Patna enlisted dancing and singing eunuchs to embarrass storeowners into paying overdue taxes. "Some paid in cash, while others quickly wrote checks," top official Atul Prasad said after agents, accompanied by heavily made-up eunuchs dressed in saris, received $9570 in back taxes in just the first few hours of the campaign. Prasad said the eunuchs would receive 4 percent of the amount collected. "People may be afraid of them," he explained, "but they are very much part of society and are useful."
Dick Cheney Need Not Apply Concerned about security and seclusion at Camp David because deer are stripping the lower levels of trees in the nearby woods, the National Park Service recommended bringing in sharpshooters to thin the herd. Although hunting is banned in Maryland's Catoctin Mountain Park, which surrounds the presidential retreat, officials recommended shooting 468 white-tailed deer now and 50 to 100 more each year after that.