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News Quirks 03.28.07


Published March 28, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again After a Chevrolet Malibu going 70 mph plowed into a parked highway patrol cruiser near Santee, S.C., injuring the trooper behind the wheel, officers found two duffel bags in the Malibu's trunk containing 43 pounds of marijuana. Driving under the influence was the least of several charges against the 54-year-old driver.

Flaunt It Federal authorities said that during the seven years Angela Buckborough Platt, 43, kept books for a construction materials company in Rehoboth, R.I., she embezzled $6.9 million, which she used to buy a house, a 104-acre ranch, eight show horses, a fleet of motor vehicles, a life-size statue of Al Capone, a 20-foot-tall smoke-spewing dragon with hydraulically powered wings and a booming dragon roar, and a half-dozen talking trees like those in "The Wizard of Oz." Samantha Martin, of the U.S. attorney's office in Boston, said Platt told friends and relatives who asked about her wealth that she was a CEO of a corporation or that she and her husband had won the lottery. Her theft was discovered by another bookkeeper hired to assist her.

Contemporary Compulsions Americans are becoming addicted to white teeth, according to a poll of 350 dentists by the Chicago Dental Society that found 40 percent are concerned their patients are overdoing it. "Teeth-whitening preparations are so readily available that anyone could be tempted," said dentist and CDS official Dr. Maharukh Kravich. "Once they get going, teeth never seem quite white enough, so they try again." The trend toward home-bleached "toilet-bowl teeth," as the profession calls them because of their unnaturally and uniformly white appearance, has become so common that CDS members urge patients not to bleach their teeth whiter than the whites of their eyes so they won't look so bizarre.

* Cell-phone and BlackBerry users risk developing dual-dependency on the wireless devices, according to Adelphi University psychologist Robert Bornstein. "The superconnected," he told Psychology Today, are "not only counting on other people too much, they're also hooked on the devices themselves, sometimes to the point where they feel utterly disconnected, isolated and detached without them." Commenting on this attachment, Cosmopolitan magazine observed, "Hand-held emailing devices are so addictive, some experts warn, that soon compulsive users will need to be weaned off them using treatment programs similar to the ones drug addicts attend."

Technology to the Rescue Hitachi is developing a radio that eliminates disk jockeys' between-platter chatter while music is being recorded. Broadcast music levels are spread unequally between the stereo channels, whereas speech has the same level in both right and left channels. The new radio works, New Scientist magazine explained, by eliminating any balanced-channel audio.

* After residents complained about late-night revelers relieving themselves outside pubs and clubs in Britain's surfing capital of Newquay, the town installed three high-tech urinals that rise from the pavement at nightfall and disappear at dawn. "Young men using the street as a toilet is not how we would like the town portrayed," councilor Anne Boosey said, declaring that the retractable urinals mean "everyone in Newquay can benefit from the strong night-time economy."

* Brazilian businessman Joao Pedro Wettlauser discovered that his beach house in Saõ Paulo state was being robbed while he was traveling in Germany. The home's security system alerted his cellphone, then Wettlauser used his laptop computer to log on to the Internet, where live images showed the burglar at work. Police official Americo Rodrigues said Wettlauser phoned his wife, who was not at the house but called local police. They caught the burglar in the act.

Scam-a-Rama Stacey Finley, 34, pleaded guilty to scamming 22 people in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi by persuading them she was a CIA agent who would use her agency contacts to protect them from disease. Explaining that Finley had a "cult-like, charismatic personality," federal prosecutors in Monroe, La., described the victims as "solid, middle-class, educated citizens," whom Finley bilked out of $989,898 over a six-year period by telling them she could arrange a medical scan of their bodies by satellite imaging and then have CIA agents come to their homes while they slept and administer secret medications that would prevent serious health problems and hereditary diseases. Authorities said Finley used the cash to cover ordinary living expenses, although she and her husband had five vehicles.

* Authorities accused Thomas Katona, 56, the longtime treasurer of Alcona County, Mich., of embezzling $1.25 million, which he added to his own life savings to send to Nigerian online fraud artists. The county has only 11,000 residents and a total budget of about $4 million. "Every part of this makes you wonder, 'What was he thinking?'" Matt Frendeway of the Michigan attorney general's office told the Detroit Free Press.

The Nose Knows A day after unveiling cookie-scented ads at five San Francisco bus stops, the California Milk Processor Board ended the promotion because anti-fragrance groups, anti-allergy groups and anti-obesity groups complained. Board representative Molly Ireland explained that the ad campaign was using the cookie aroma to make people think about drinking milk.

* California doctor Fred Hass, 69, began selling his re-creation of the custom cologne worn in the 19th century by the long-reigning, infrequent-bathing Pope Pius IX, known for establishing papal infallibility as church dogma. Hass told the San Francisco Chronicle that he found the pontiff's recipe seven years ago in a limited-edition 1963 cookbook. The main ingredients are orange blossom, lemon verbena, lavender, violet, clove and sweet orange. Hass sells 2-ounce bottles online for $24.99.

* India's Gujarat state issued floral and citrus scented uniforms to its 300,000 police officers to mask their body odor in the hot climate. Somesh Singh of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, which designed the uniforms at the request of the state government, said police are more approachable "if they smell good and fresh." The lightweight cotton fabric also glows in the dark, making officers easy to spot.