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News Quirks 06.07.06

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Curses, Foiled Again

Police in Broken Arrow, Okla., arrested James Otis Denham, 49, after he tried to sell a Rembrandt etching at a bar. The rightful owner's name was still on a document authenticating the 1630 etching, titled "The Raising of Lazarus" and valued at $6000. An art collector who met Denham at the bar asked to keep the paperwork and found out the etching was stolen when she called the owner, Barbara Dorney, to double-check its authenticity. "At least he was stupid," Dorney said, "and I got it back."

--After Steve Martin, 44, reported to police in Fairfax County, Va., that he had been carjacked by two passengers, officers investigating the incident arrested the victim, according to Capt. Mike Kline, "for originally taking the car from his 'on-again, off-again' girlfriend, who actually owns the car."

It Happens

Officials in Islamorada, Fla., warned that the village might have to import human waste to jump start its new municipal sewage treatment system because not enough area residents have hooked into the system to get it operating and stabilized. "It's a brand-new plant," councilor Chris Sante explained. "When it first gets on line is the hardest time because there's no flow." Sante suggested offering rebates or group discounts to encourage residents to complete the hookup to their residences "so we don't have to buy sewage."

Stature of Limitations

Conceding that convicted sex offender Richard W. Thompson, 50, deserved a long prison sentence, Sidney, Neb., District Judge Kristine Cecava nevertheless gave him 10 years of probation, explaining that he is too small to survive in prison. Thompson, who is 5 feet 1 inch tall, will wear an electronic monitoring device for the first four months.

A Duffer's Best Friend

The Pontnewydd Golf Club in Wales awarded a lifetime membership to a 6-year-old mixed terrier named Deuce, who over the past five years has found and returned more than 3000 balls that had been lost in the rough. "I've been playing with the same ball for two years," club secretary Carl Phillips said. "I can't get rid of it."

Darwin's Folly

Human ancestors may have interbred with chimpanzees, according to scientists that compared the genes of humans and other primates. The researchers, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, theorized that chimps and humans shared a common apelike ancestor much more recently than was thought. What's more, when the two emerging species split from each other, some members of the two groups continued to have sex together.

--Meanwhile, scientists investigating the origin of the AIDS virus that has plagued humans for the past 25 years confirmed that humans caught it from chimpanzees. "We don't have a cure. We don't have a vaccine," said Dr. Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who led the team of international researchers. "But we know where it came from."

--Finally, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that bananas, the world's fourth-largest cash crop, face extinction. Virtually all commercially traded bananas are the Cavendish, a variety that is under attack by the black sigatoka fungus. The main hope for the survival of the Cavendish lies in developing hybrids that resist the fungus. Alas, the variety's genetic roots are located in India, where deforestation is rapidly destroying wild and cultivated banana species. FAO plant scientist NeBambi Lutaladio told New Scientist magazine that one variety containing genes able to resist black sigatoka survives as a single plant in the botanical gardens of Calcutta.

Heart Attack

Bill Conrad, a candidate for the California state assembly, urged voters to support him in the Republican primary because his opponent, Tom Berryhill, had a heart transplant five years ago and could die in office. "Can you imagine the costs to taxpayers for a special election when poor health renders him unable to fulfill the duties of office?" Conrad wrote in a mailing to 25th District voters that announced in bold red letters, "Tom Berryhill doesn't have the HEART for State Assembly."

Mensa Reject of the Week

Russian model Tatyana Simanava, 21, fell out of a charter bus traveling at 40 mph on New York City's Gowanus Expressway while using the restroom. Instead of opening the door to return to the passenger compartment, Simanava said that she became disoriented and pulled open the emergency exit and landed on the busy highway. She was hospitalized with a broken arm, dislocated shoulder, cuts to her face, and head and friction burns.

Litigation Nation

Dana and Gary Ganyer filed a lawsuit in Bucks County, Pa., claiming that a veterinary clinic that was supposed to euthanize their epileptic dog instead used a simple sedative to make it appear dead, then later gave the 2-year-old German shepherd to another owner. According to the suit, which seeks unspecified damages, a former employee of the clinic notified the Ganyers they were considered "heartless" and that the clinic planned the deception to "rescue" the dog.

--Rebecca George, a student at Lemont High School in suburban Chicago, claimed that while pretending to be an injured accident victim as part of a safety demonstration, she suffered real injuries because of firefighters' negligence. According to the lawsuit filed by her and her mother, Therese George, seeking unspecified damages, Rebecca was lying face down covered by a blanket when a member of the Lemont Fire Department kicked and stepped on her. Other firefighters surrounded her and the firefighter who kicked her, chanting in an "extreme and outrageous" way to "kick him back," until she finally did. The suit accuses those firefighters of intending "to inflict severe emotional distress."

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