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News Quirks 12.20.06

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Curses, Foiled Again Off-duty German police who searched a 30-year-old man they thought they saw stealing something from a store window in Bergisch Gladbach found only an empty box. The shopkeeper insisted that a ring was missing, so the officers questioned the man, who suddenly complained of severe stomach pains. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors X-rayed him and discovered the missing ring, which they fished out with pincers attached to a stomach tube. They found no cause for the man's pain, however. "It seems that the pains were coincidental and had nothing to do with the ring," a police official said.

* While a French homeowner was at the police station in Mussidan reporting the theft of a television, his neighbors noticed that the thief had returned. They alerted police, who caught the thief red-handed. "He came back to take the remote control," a police official said. "I guess there's daring and there's stupid."

Cockeyed Optimist Inspired by his love of balsa-wood model aircraft powered by rubber bands, Mark Clews, 24, spent six months building a 20-foot-long version with a 200-foot bungee cord to turn its propeller. Anticipating the scaled-up toy would travel 3000 feet, Clews launched it at an airfield in Surrey, England, only to have it go just 6 feet - backwards. "It was spectacular, everything I hoped it would be," Clews told London's Daily Telegraph, "apart from actually flying."

What Could Go Wrong? Emergency room doctors in Texas reported 94 cases of people drinking a product called Fabuloso, thinking it was a beverage. It's actually a liquid cleanser, but medical researchers with the American College of Emergency said that it looks like a sports drink. Since many of the cases of accidental ingestion were children under 6, the researchers urged distributor Colgate-Palmolive Co. to correct the poor choice of packaging so children won't be confused and try to drink it.

* China's Ministry of Health warned image-conscious citizens against lengthening their legs after 10 people were reported to have been disfigured from the operation, which involves breaking the patient's legs and then stretching them on a rack similar to the medieval torture device. The procedure has become popular among young professionals "desperate to climb up the ladder in the country's height-conscious society," Xinhua news agency said. Calling leg lengthening "very risky for healthy people who only complain about being short," the ministry's Mao Qunan explained that it "is a clinical orthopedic treatment, not cosmetic surgery."

When Merit Isn't Enough At least 135 federal workers bought bogus college degrees online from a diploma mill, including a member of the White House staff, a senior State Department employee in Kuwait and several employees of the National Security Agency. According to material provided by the Justice Department in connection with prosecution of the operators of the diploma mill, based in Spokane, Wash., the government employees bought the degrees to help them earn promotions or pay raises.

Reasonable Explanation Testifying at his trial in Indian River County, Fla., David L. Bennett, 38, explained that he fled from police because he suddenly discovered a large amount of marijuana in his lap and thought it might be a bomb someone tossed into his car. "I didn't know if it was a bomb or a gun," he said. "I just wanted to get away from it." He added that he did not notice the pursuing deputies' emergency lights because of "a mistake of my eyesight." Circuit Judge Dan L. Vaughn sentenced Bennett to 30 years in prison.

Homeland Insecurity Concrete and metal barriers that cities erected in front of office buildings and museums to deter vehicles after the 2001 terrorist attacks are being removed, according to the New York Times. Officials have found that the barriers obstruct pedestrian flow and, in the case of giant planters, often become mass ashtrays. Counterterrorism experts concluded that, in terms of safety, some barriers might do more harm than good. A poorly anchored planter, for example, struck hard enough by an explosive force or a speeding vehicle could shatter into deadly shards or be sent flying, becoming a formidable weapon against the people it is meant to protect. "Trying to childproof America is a really dumb idea," James Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation specializing in homeland security, told the newspaper. "The most cost-effective thing to do is keep terrorists out."

No-Sneezing Zone A small California biotech company announced plans to deliver the first shipment of hypoallergenic kittens early in 2007. San Diego-based Allerca is breeding the felines from a small pool of cats that have a mutant gene far less likely to induce allergies in humans. Allerca, which neuters every kitten before delivery, charges $4000 for the genetically modified pets and requires buyers and their homes to undergo a rigid screening test for allergies and allergens. "You're not just buying a cat," Megan Young, Allerca's chief executive, told the International Herald Tribune. "It's a medical device that replaces shots and pills."

Exit Poll Brazilian police resumed searching for suspected serial killer Edson Barbosa Alves de Matos, 25, whom they had in their custody but were forced to release, despite his confession, because of Brazil's election law. The measure, which is intended to prevent local political bosses from detaining opponents, prohibits police from arresting and holding anyone from five days before an election until 48 hours after polls close, unless they are caught in the act or have already been sentenced. Police said the law also required them to release Adriano Saddi Lima Oliveira, 23, after he admitted paying hit men to kill his mother because she was squandering his inheritance going out with her boyfriend.

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