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News Quirks 02.09.05

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Curses, Foiled Again Minneapolis police accused Dantzler L. Thomas, 24, of entering a grocery store wearing a mask, then pulling a gun and demanding money. While the robber was filling a shopping bag with about $2000 from the cash drawer, he set the gun on the counter. The cashier grabbed it and ordered the robber to leave. He fled, but returned a few minutes later asking for his gun. The clerk's cousin fought with the man, causing his mask to come off. When he left without his gun, his mask or the money, police arriving on the scene got a partial license number and traced the vehicle to Thomas.

Keeping Their Campaign Promises Complaining that a state ban on cockfighting wiped out a $100 million business, Oklahoma State Sen. Frank Shurden proposed reviving the sport by having the roosters wear tiny boxing gloves on their spurs instead of the traditional razor blades and using lightweight chicken-sized vests with electronic sensors to record hits and keep score. "It's like the fencing that you see on the Olympics, you know, where they have little balls on the ends of the swords, and the fencers wear vests," the Henryette Democrat explained. "Who's going to object to chickens fighting like humans do? Everybody wins."

- Facing a $1.8 billion budget shortfall, Washington State lawmakers began considering a proposal to tax face-lifts, hair plugs, liposuction, laser hair removal, chemical peels and other cosmetic procedures. "We are really looking to do what we can to find new revenue sources," said Democratic Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who is co-sponsoring the measure. New Jersey already taxes plastic surgery.

- State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte introduced a bill that would require Texas school districts to include the body mass index of students as part of their report cards. The Democrat, who describes herself as "fat and 50," explained that when the measurement of body fat indicates that a student is overweight, the school would provide parents with information about links between increased body fat and health problems. Arkansas enacted a similar measure last year.

- North Dakota legislator Bette Grande proposed letting college students withdraw from classes taught by any instructor who doesn't speak English well enough to be understood and get a tuition refund. What's more, if 10 percent of the students in any class decide that their instructor's English skills significantly impede their learning, the instructor must be reassigned to a non-teaching position. "You come across it most in the computer sciences and math," the Fargo Republican said. "Some of the dialects or accents are just not diluted with English enough."

Moral Values Police in Fontana, California, accused Michael T. Spearman, 31, of causing his girlfriend to crash her car because he left his Bible at home, and she refused to return so he could get it. The woman's sister, who was a passenger in the car, told officers that Spearman threatened to kill both women, then grabbed the steering wheel and caused driver Akima Carolina, 36, to lose control, and the vehicle rolled several times.

Potty All the Time Hoping to make the Thai city of Chiang Mai a more presentable tourist attraction by eliminating elephant droppings, handlers began toilet-training their elephants. According to The Nation, the handlers, known as mahouts, installed giant human-style concrete commodes at a camp beside Chiang Mai Zoo and are teaching the seven elephants to flush after going by pulling on a rope with their trunk.

Put on an Unhappy Face The State Department began discouraging citizens from smiling for passport and visa photographs. According to the new guidelines, "The subject's expression should be neutral (non-smiling) with both eyes open, and mouth closed. A smile with a closed jaw is allowed but is not preferred." The reason for the change in policy is to meet international requirements for machine-readable passports that rely on computers to confirm people's identities, State Department official Angela Aggeler told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, explaining that smiling "distorts other facial features."

Tough Love When a 6-year-old boy broke a picture frame in the principal's office at a Miami elementary school and threatened to hurt himself with a piece of the broken glass, principal Maria Mason notified Miami-Dade County police. Officers responded by using a stun gun that shocked the boy with 50,000 volts.

Courtroom Follies A mistrial was declared in a drug and gun case in District of Columbia Superior Court after the prosecutor handed a police officer who was testifying a paper bag full of bullets that were part of the evidence. The officer dropped the bag on the ground, the bullets fell out, and one of them exploded. According to the U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for building security, the bullet might have been damaged and went off when it caught a jolt from a surge protector on the floor. "That type of accident probably couldn't be duplicated in a million intentional attempts to make it happen," Deputy Robert Brandt told the Washington Times.

Just Say Neigh Mexico is suffering a shortage of burros because farmers have shunned the beasts of burden as a negative image of poverty and backwardness, and because young Mexicans who relocated to the United States send home enough money for their parents to buy pickup trucks and tractors. "There used to be 50 in every town," ranch manager Nicolas Vazquez Ortega told the Washington Post. "Now there is one, if that." Having realized that the animals are underappreciated and able to perform work no truck or tractor can, alarmed officials in Jalisco, one of Mexico's most important agricultural states, announced plans to import donkeys from Kentucky to breed with horses to revive the dwindling population.

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