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News Quirks 02.07.07


Published February 7, 2007 at 5:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again A day after a mother and son shoplifted a 30-inch boa constrictor from a pet store in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, they returned and asked for books on caring for boa constrictors. Store employees told police the pair then went to the cage where the reptile had been kept and inquired, "What kind of boa was in this cage?" Suspicious clerks, who also recognized them from the surveillance video of the theft and because they were wearing the same clothes as on the day of the theft, stalled them until the police arrived and arrested Sebrina Hill, 35, and her 15-year-old son.

* Police went to a home in Moultrie, Ga., to arrest Danny Butts, 21, for a probation violation, but a woman occupant said he wasn't there. Officers spotted debris below an attic entrance, however, and questioned the woman. Suddenly, Butts crashed through the ceiling from his attic hideout, landing near the officers. "Normally, you have to crawl up there and root them out," Capt. Tommy Rabon said. "But he came out on his own - the hard way."

Mensa Reject of the Week * A 63-year-old retired German construction foreman, frustrated by moles digging up his garden, connected a 380-volt electrical cable to metal spikes he rammed into the ground. He was promptly electrocuted. "The moles survived," Uwe Werner, a police official in Stralsund said, noting the voltage was enough to run a cement mixer or a heavy-duty power saw. "It was in any event an unorthodox method to try to get rid of moles."

Surge Protection Among the recipients of letters mailed between Christmas and New Year's Day to more than 5,100 Army officers who had recently left the service, encouraging them to consider returning to active duty, were 75 officers killed in action - more than a third of all Army officers who have died in Iraq since President Bush started the war - and 200 others wounded in action. Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, blamed a computer error.

Inconvenient Truths Climate change is stoking a long-standing dispute between the United States and Canada over shipping through the Northwest Passage. The Washington Post reported that the United States acknowledges Canada's ownership of the Arctic ice pack between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans but contends that it is an international strait, entitling all ships to free passage once the ice melts. Canada asserts that it has sole jurisdiction and wants to enforce its own laws to minimize unsafe ships and accidental spills in the pristine North. Its lack of a permanent monitoring facility in the region, however, international law expert Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia said, amounts to "a big welcome mat for all the fly-by-night companies."

* Computers consume about 10 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, according to Mark Mills, an analyst with a Washington, D.C., energy research firm, who predicted that figure will double in the next decade. The cause, New Scientist magazine reported, is the increase in online activity as servers operate around the clock to deliver music, videos, emails, web pages and blogs to online audiences. As for individual users, Mills and his colleagues conducted an energy audit that found the creation, packaging, storage and movement of just 10 megabytes of data require the energy equivalent of burning 31.5 ounces of coal.

Suicide Watch After a blizzard closed Denver International Airport for a record 45 hours in December, DIA representative Chuck Cannon was reminded of the claim that it is an "all-weather airport." Cannon told a reporter he "would like to choke the person who came up with that term." The Rocky Mountain News reported that the phrase originated in a 1992 statement announcing that the soon-to-open DIA would "be able to operate as well in a blizzard as Stapleton [Denver's existing airport] can on a sunny day" and hailing it as "the world's first all-weather airport." The airport representative who made that statement was Chuck Cannon.

Music Hath No Charms Under pressure from animal rights groups, Indian authorities finally began enforcing a 1972 law against hunting or keeping snakes, resulting in snake charmers performing without snakes. "We are hardly earning half of what we used to earn before," Hawa Singh Nath, 68, told Reuters news agency, explaining that he survives by playing the flute that he once used to make snakes dance for money.

Problem Solved Dutch scientists announced they have found a pill to treat hypochondriacs. Their study, funded by an "educational grant" from Glaxo SmithKline, maker of the antidepressant drug Paxil, determined that Paxil significantly reduced people's fears about imaginary illness.

* The inventor of the Clapper, Mark Grossmeyer, 51, of Cedarburg, Wis., has improved the 20-year-old automatic light switch by adding a remote control. The Clapper Plus is designed for people who want to switch their lights on and off without clapping or who have arthritic hands and can't clap. It also benefits owners of the Clapper who can't figure out how to operate the device, according to Joseph Pedott, whose company sells the Clapper and operates the toll-free Clapper Help Desk. "For example, they'll clap too fast, even though we say allow a half a second between," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "or they'll clap a minute apart."

Driven to Distraction A 17-year-old girl who had just picked up a doll as part of a school project on responsible parenting, was driving on I-580 near Pleasanton when the doll suddenly began to cry. California Highway Patrol official Steve Creel said the startled girl swerved into a guardrail and then hit a pickup truck. "When officers arrived, she was still caring for the baby," Creel said, noting that no one was seriously injured, although the girl was ticketed for driving without a license.