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News Quirks 08.24.05


Published August 24, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled AgainTwo masked men barged into a hotel lounge in Oslo, Norway, and made off with what looked like three paintings by artist Edvard Munch. Police said that the Hotel Continental, which has a large art collection, had replaced its original Munch works with photocopies after the theft of two Munch masterpieces from an Oslo museum last year. "Except for the joy they give the observer," hotel manager Siv Lunde Kolrud said, "they are worthless."

-Police in Winona, Minn., charged Thomas Eugene Mason, 37, with robbing a bank after they said that he handed the teller a holdup note demanding $1000 in $100 and $20 bills and threatening to "kill everyone in the bank if he had to come back." The note began, "Hi, I am Thomas Mason." About 15 minutes after the robbery, an officer found Mason behind a liquor store drinking beer from a case he'd just bought and scratching off $100 worth of lottery tickets. He had the note and $813 in cash on him. After Mason was arrested, police Sgt. Chris Nelson pointed out, "He"s not a career bank robber."

Enforcement Begins at Home Erin Giannetti, 26, was given a 60-day suspended sentence by a Baltimore court for driving while impaired. According to the charging documents, she refused to take a Breathalyzer test, declaring that her husband had advised against it. Her husband is Maryland State Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., who successfully sponsored legislation making it a crime for drunken-driving suspects to refuse tests. The law takes effect Oct. 1.

Irony Illustrated The Virginia Employment Commission announced that it is laying off about 400 workers because the state"s unemployment rate is so low that claims for unemployment benefits have dropped precipitously. Dolores Esser, the state agency"s commissioner, said that the job cuts would affect part-time workers who were hired when the state"s economy slumped briefly after Sept. 11, 2001.

The Gift of Fire A study of ancient eggshells and teeth supports the theory that early humans caused the extinction of many of Australia"s huge animals by setting brush fires, according to researchers. Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado and his colleagues wrote in the journal Science that the large fires "rapidly converted a drought-adapted mosaic of trees, shrubs and nutritious grasslands to the modern, fire-adapted desert scrub."

-After receiving reports that Jason McClaskey, 25, was engulfed in flames on the porch of his home in Glens Falls, N.Y., police concluded that he apparently used lighter fluid to try to burn off the electronic tracking device that was attached to his ankle when he was convicted of breaking and entering. Instead, he set himself on fire. He was hospitalized with burns covering 60 percent of his body.

-Todd Grannis, 38, climbed a 10-foot scaffold in Grant's Pass, Ore., wearing a cape soaked in gasoline and set himself on fire to prove his love to his girlfriend, who had gathered with about 100 other people. Grannis then plunged into a swimming pool below the scaffold, emerged unscathed, got down on one knee and proposed. "Honey, you make me hot," he told Malissa Kusiek. "I hope I'm getting the point across that I'm on fire for you." Kusiek said "Yes."

Fizzy Hit Norwegian homosexuals introduced their own soft drink at a gastronomic festival in the town of Stavanger. Pear-flavored and pink, "Homo Light" sold for $3 for a half-liter bottle. "The goal is not for us to make money," Oeystein Mauritzen, one of the men behind the project, told Agence France-Presse, "but to make us more visible and accepted."

Weapons of Mass Dispersal The Israeli military announced that it is replacing rubber bullets, which have killed dozens of Palestinians in the past 20 years, with compressed sand bullets to control rioters. The sand bullets were originally developed for close-quarter hostage rescues.

-U.S. forces are scheduled to begin using a Star Wars-style ray gun in Iraq next year for more effective riot control. The "active-denial system" fires a 95-gigahertz microwave to cause heating and intolerable pain in less than five seconds. The idea is that people caught in the beam will try to move out of it rapidly and therefore break up the crowd. Although the Pentagon classifies the weapon as "less lethal," New Scientist magazine reported that participants playing the part of rioters in field tests were told to remove glasses and contact lenses to protect their eyes.

Homeland Insecurity Ultra-sensitive radiation detectors in key cities, ports and border crossings are finding large amounts of radioactive material moving around the country, according to agencies of the Department of Homeland Security, but it isn"t destined for nuclear weapons or dirty bombs. It's inside people. Defense scientists attribute one-third of the readings to nuclear medicine, which has grown to the point where physicians are administering radioactive drugs at least 20 million times a year. Whenever authorities detect suspicious levels of radiation, they pull over and question motorists. "I did some deployments, and we scared some little old ladies to death," said Linda Graves, who analyzes radiation-detection data for Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif. "Doctors are not doing a good enough job of telling folks what they"re carrying."

-Two U.S. companies have teamed up to develop the first luxury recreational vehicle able to withstand nuclear radiation and allow occupants to live safely inside for several days. Officials of Parliament Coach and Homeland Defense Vehicles said the idea behind the joint venture is to offer the vehicles, which cost from $1.2 million to $2 million, to consumers worried about terrorist attacks. "These concerns about terrorism are linked to states where people with RVs like to travel," Parliament Chief Executive Harvey Mitchell said.