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News Quirks 08.03.05


Published August 3, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again

Authorities in the German town of Offenbach reported that a 36-year-old Bulgarian woman was caught shoplifting from a supermarket but managed to flee before she could be arrested. She left behind her 3-month-old baby, however. Inside the carriage was her identification, which led police to her.

Litigation Nation

Ileana Valdez, 26, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for confiscating $46,950 that she had stuffed in her bra when she tried to board a plane at Boston's Logan International Airport. After she was stopped while passing through a metal detector, she explained she was heading to Texas for plastic surgery on her buttocks and breasts but said that a male DEA agent told her she had a "nice body" and didn't need any surgery. He then seized the cash, claiming it was drug money. "How can you make a determination that people don't need cosmetic surgery?" declared Valdez's lawyer, Tony V. Blaize. "I can't tell Michael Jackson he doesn't need more plastic surgery, even though I don't think he does."

- Russian astrologer Marina Bai filed a $300 million lawsuit against NASA, claiming that the U.S. space agency upset her horoscope and violated her "life and spiritual values" by firing a projectile at the Tempel 1 comet. "It is obvious that elements of the comet's orbit and associated ephemera will change after the explosion, which interferes with my practice of astrology and deforms my horoscope," the newspaper Izvestia quoted Bai as saying. Her lawyer, Alexander Molokhov, assured Moscow Echo radio that the case is based on solid legal ground since NASA has an office in Russian territory.

Want Freedom Fries with That Whine?

Three former waiters at New York's ritzy 21 Club filed a $5 million lawsuit, claiming that the restaurant fired them for being French. Rene Bordet, 68, Jean Claude Lesbre, 63, and Yves Thepault, 68, said that management falsely accused them of drinking wine on the job and "created and fostered an environment rife with anti-French sentiment."

- To avoid offending the French during a re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar, the British navy decided not to identify them as the enemy in the 1805 naval conflict. Instead, it explained that it would pit the Red Fleet against the Blue Fleet. A Royal Navy official declared that the occasion "will not be a French-bashing opportunity," but "theater on water."

Homeland Insecurity

When someone reported seeing a box with wires sticking out of it under a subway grate in New York City, police closed off the block while the bomb squad investigated. They gave the all-clear signal after discovering the device was a digital camera, which someone apparently positioned to photograph beneath the skirts and dresses of women and girls who walked over the grate.

- When workers at the Bluffton, S.C., post office noticed a package sitting alone in a loading area and went to check it out, they said that it was shaking and buzzing. Suspicious, they alerted police, who evacuated a dozen employees from the building, cordoned off the area and summoned a SWAT team and bomb squad. Two bomb technicians opened the package, which contained no bomb. Police Chief John Brown reported, "It turned out to be a novelty gift": two vibrators. Lisa Holman of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said that postal inspectors who responded to the incident were debating whether to return the package to the sender or forward it to the receiver.

Little Things Mean a Lot

A federal judge in Denver ruled that more than 400,000 customers of a Canadian company that sells penis-enlargement products may join a lawsuit claiming that the oils and herbal supplements don't produce the permanent enlargement and cure for erectile dysfunction that the company promises on its website and elsewhere. Michael Freeman, attorney for the company, told U.S. District Judge Phillip Figa that the company never promised permanent enlargement; it touts its products as sexual enhancements. Connie Peterson, the attorney for another company named in the suit, suggested that plaintiff Jeffery Horton might have a difficult time rounding up a substantial number of under-endowed customers willing to step forward and join the suit.

Drinking-Class Heroes

When Johnnie Patt Ndogo, 55, appeared in traffic court in Durham, N.C., to answer allegations that he hadn't complied with penalties from a drunk-driving case, he smelled of alcohol and was "appreciably impaired," according to Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried. A test showed his blood alcohol level was three times the state's impairment standard. Although Ndogo insisted that he had consumed the alcohol the day before and not driven to court, Judge Marcia Morey promptly held him in contempt and sentenced him to three days in jail.

- Kudzu, the vine that covers Dixie like the dew, may curb binge drinking by speeding up alcohol absorption. Researcher Scott Lukas and his colleagues at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Boston set up an apartment in their lab, complete with a television, reclining chair and a refrigerator stocked with beer. Then they recruited 14 men and women to spend four 90-minute sessions drinking beer and watching TV. Those given capsules containing kudzu drank only 1.8 beers per session, compared with 3.5 beers by those who took a placebo. "Individuals reported feeling a little more tipsy or lightheaded," he said, "but not enough to make them walk into walls or stumble and fall."

Problem Solved

Seattle police who tried to stop a distraught man from jumping off a bridge wound up shooting him. The unidentified man, in his twenties, had jumped off the bridge twice at a lower level trying to commit suicide before he went back for another try, police official Debra Brown said. She explained that officers were trying to calm the man when they struggled and shots were fired, sending the man to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.