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News Quirks 1.25.06


Published January 25, 2006 at 5:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again

Police in Lincoln, Neb., reported that a 40-year-old man robbed a grocery store but was unable to make his getaway because several customers and three store managers followed him into the parking lot and surrounded his pickup truck. "They were telling him, 'Put the cash drawer down. We've got your license number. You're not going anywhere,'" police Capt. Brian Jackson said. The suspect got out of the vehicle and fled to a nearby parking lot, where he tried but failed to steal a car. He then ran and tried to hide behind a house, but store employees continued their pursuit and pointed out his whereabouts to police, who arrested the suspect.

- When police tried to question Selina Jean Valdez, 28, and Daniel Marquez, 41, about their involvement in a counterfeiting operation, the suspects apparently flushed wads of bogus $50 and $100 bills down their toilet. Having clogged the plumbing but hoping to avoid suspicion, the two then spent the next week relieving themselves in plastic shopping bags until detectives returned with a search warrant, found the apartment flooded with sewage and arrested them.

Giving Back to the Community

Within four days of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea to, among other federal felony charges, conspiracy to bribe public officials, the Associated Press reported that 65 members of Congress donated $414,000 to charity. The amount equaled Abramoff's direct and indirect contributions to their political campaigns. President George W. Bush added $6000 that his campaign accepted from Abramoff. Maintaining that pace throughout 2006, The New Yorker pointed out, would result in charities receiving $21 million.

- Michael D. Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, announced that he is starting a disaster-preparedness consulting firm to help clients avoid the sort of mistakes that cost him his job. "If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses," the Colorado lawyer told the Rocky Mountain News, conceding that "mistakes were made" in his agency's response to Hurricane Katrina, "then I hope I can help the country in some way."

Touch, But Don't Look

Nudity has no place in marriage, especially during sex, according to an Egyptian cleric, who issued an edict against it. The fatwa by Rashad Hassan Khalil, a former dean of Al-Azhar University's faculty of Sharia (or Islamic law), declared, "Being completely naked during the act of coitus annuls the marriage." In an ensuing debate over the edict, Al-Azhar's fatwa committee chairman Abdullah Megawar argued that married couples could see each other naked but should not look at each other's genitalia and suggested they cover up with a blanket while having sex.

Missed It by That Much

After four years of preparation, Colin Yeates, 47, set out from Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands to row around Antarctica, expecting that the 13,432-mile circumnavigation would last 10-1/2 months. He had rowed only 20 miles, however, when strong currents unexpectedly smashed him onto rocks off the northern coast of East Falkland, destroying his $53,000 boat. Yeates did at least fulfill his prediction that his journey would "begin and end in the Falkland Islands."

Plants to the Rescue

Pumping smokestack emissions through a filtering system filled with algae removes nearly all the harmful gases, according to inventor Isaac Berzin, who sees the single-cell plants as a key weapon against global warming. "Right now, power plants think of emissions as pollution," Berzin said. "Not algae. Algae think they're great food."

Wrong Arm of the Law

& Co. brothel, explained. "At that price, we can't afford to waste that much time."

Crime and Punishment in Charm City

Baltimore authorities reported that thieves stole at least 130 light poles last fall. The culprits sometimes dressed as utility crews, even placing orange traffic cones around the 30-foot-tall poles to avoid suspicion, according to city officials, who said that the thieves could be selling the 250-pound aluminum poles, which cost the city $750 each, for scrap. "They steal everything here in Baltimore," Lynn Smith, manager of Modern Junk & Salvage Co., said. "Nothing's too kooky to me anymore."

Meanwhile, the city's Board of Estimates approved the installation of five new surveillance cameras that not only record crimes, but also lecture the lawbreakers. When the strategically placed solar-powered cameras detect motion, they announce, "Stop. This is a restricted area. It is illegal to dump trash or spray graffiti here. We have just taken your photograph. We will use this photograph to prosecute you. Leave the area now." The cameras, which cost $5000 each, join Baltimore's already extensive network of 175 police cameras, which record street-level activity 24 hours a day.


Soldiers came to the rescue of an Austrian fertility clinic that ran out of sperm donors. The private clinic in Thalheim, Upper Austria, made a public appeal for soldiers to step forward and offer their services. "The response was sensational," Ramona Schausberger, a medical assistant at the clinic, said after dozens of recruits volunteered. "This is a major success for the clinic."