NewsQuirks 333

Spirited Response After an ethanol shortage in Sweden caused the price of the fuel to rise, the European Union gave the country permission to import 5,000 tons of surplus red wine to use as fuel for buses in Stockholm. In Norway, a 30-year-old man was sentenced to three weeks in Ilseng prison for drunken driving. The newspaper Hamar Dagblad reported that the man's pals threw a going-away party the night before his term began. The next morning, he drove himself to the prison, where a guard smelled alcohol on his breath and found him legally drunk again.Oops! After Amir Brikho withdrew cash from a bank in La Mesa, Calif., he heard a loud bang, looked down and saw red all over his legs. A teller had accidentally given him an exploding packet of dye and tear gas, which are meant for robbers. "I thought somebody shot me," Brikho said. "I was burning from inside, and smoke was coming from my shorts." Bell Atlantic spent $100,300 to print and mail postcards notifying 388,000 telephone customers in western Virginia that their area code was changing from 703 to 540. Instead, the postcards went to business and residential customers in northern Virginia, where the area code isn't changing. Company spokesperson Paul Miller blamed a computer glitch and estimated correcting the mistake would cost Bell Atlantic two to three times the original amount. The University of California at Santa Cruz library asked Mick Gannon, 57, to borrow some photos from his extensive collection of jazz memorabilia for a Black History Month display. Sixteen of the 35 photos, including several autographed to him personally, were cut up to make a collage. The university apologized and asked Gannon what kind of compensation he wants, but he lamented, "These things can't be replaced." After the government of Gabon announced it was cracking down on foreigners working illegally, some 65,000 Africans left. According to the business monthly Jeune Afrique Economie, the exodus left the capital, Libreville, devoid of cabs, provoked a real estate recession and stalled construction projects because of the shortage of skilled laborers. The Marine Spill Response Corp. agreed in June to pay Ventura County, Calif., and the state Department of Fish and Game a total of $73,000 to settle a civil lawsuit filed by the county district attorney over a spill of 383 gallons of diesel fuel into Port Hueneme Harbor. The fuel leaked from a new company ship designed to clean up oil spills.No Place Like Home Unhappy with his room at a Danish center for asylum-seekers, a 28-year-old Bosnian refugee was found living in the Copenhagen zoo. Authorities said he moved into a hayloft above the antelopes, where he hung pictures and lived for a month before being discovered in July.Underground Nature French insect lovers fear that efforts to clean up the Paris subway endanger the crickets who have thrived in the warm, dark tunnels for 100 years. "Ideally, we'd like the two Metro lines where there are the most crickets to be declared a natural park," said Lionel Antoine, president of the Protection League for the Crickets of the Paris Metro. Warning that powerful new vacuum cleaners, pesticides and efforts to stop water leaks all threaten the insects, whose chirping is considered a sign of good luck, the league wants to limit strikes by Metro workers and the use of concrete in construction, since both lead to colder climates in the tunnels. Pigeons have been observed riding the London subway. Letters responding to a query by the magazine New Scientist indicated that the birds seem to know where they are going, which lines to take and when to get off. Lorna Read wrote, for example: "A pigeon, calm as you please, hopped on my Northern Line carriage at King's Cross and stood quite calmly near the door. It appeared to know where it was going as soon as the doors opened at Euston, where it flew out." Rats have invaded a sewer system in the Ukraine and are using it as a "sort of subway for rats," according to a local official, to sneak into homes through the toilets. The newspaper Daily Express reported that one elderly woman in Dnipropetrovsk died of shock after finding a sopping rat in her toilet bowl. Elsewhere in the Ukraine, mice living in the area around Chernobyl not only survived high doses of radiation from the nuclear accident nine years ago, but they also are thriving in mutant forms. U.S. scientists from the University of Georgia discovered that the evolutionary change that has taken place in the mice's genes exceeds that which would have occurred normally in 10 million years. Dr. Ronald Chessar, director of research for the Chernobyl study, also noted that other wildlife is flourishing in the region as a result of the complete removal of the human population since the disaster.People Who Need People Finns, reputedly among the loneliest people in the world, have more friends now than they did nine years ago, according to a study conducted by the Finnish National Statistics Board last year. The survey found that 5 percent of Finns have no close friends, compared with 6 percent in 1986. A joint Nordic survey in 1974 found that more than 25 percent said they had no friends.Hats Off A solar-powered hearing aid is going into production in Botswana. It costs $75, about half the price of a battery-powered unit, and runs for 50 to 80 hours after four hours' exposure to sunlight.Bad News for Michael Jackson Wannabes Military leaders in the West African state of Gambia have banned the practice of skin-bleaching by civil servants, threatening disciplinary action against anyone found indulging in the practice. A memo from the office of military leader Yahya Jammeh in September noted that although skin-bleaching has generally declined since the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council condemned it after seizing power in July 1994, "there is now increasing evidence of the practice."Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.

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