NewsQuirks 355

LEAP OF FAITH Pedro Mosqueda, 40, decided he needed to do something "spectacular" to distance himself from two rivals hoping to become mayor of Maracay, Venezeula. A week before the election, he bungee-jumped from a helicopter hovering 5,000 feet above a crowd of 15,000. Although the stunt sent his popularity soaring in opinion polls, he lost to Estela Roca de Azuaje when 70 percent of the voters stayed home. "Sometimes," Mosqueda said, "excitement and popularity aren't enough to win."LESS IS MORE The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an Arkansas-based group dedicated to helping the poor, filed suit against California on the grounds that the state's minimum wage is too high. Wade Rethke, ACORN's chief organizer, contends that under California's minimum-wage law, the national welfare-rights group would be "forced to hire fewer workers." And because the ones it did hire would be earning the state's $4.25-per-hour minimum wage, they "will be less sympathetic with ACORN's low- and moderate-income constituency and will therefore be less effective advocates."MENSA REJECT OF THE WEEK Don Ramirez, 16, told police in Canberra, Australia, that after seeing a movie in which James Bond uses a spray can as a makeshift flame-thrower, he tried to kill a spider by setting bug spray on fire. The resulting explosion started a blaze that burned down his family's house and scorched a car parked outside.CAN MINIVANS BE FAR BEHIND? Israelis who buy Land Rovers, Toyota 4-Runners and other four-wheel-drive off-road vehicles risk having them seized by the military. All private vehicles over a certain size and weight -- and sport utility vehicles qualify -- must be registered with the Israel Defense Force, which can conscript them in case of war or another emergency. Even in peacetime, owners must periodically report with their vehicles for call-up exercises. According to the London Financial Times, the military used to concern itself only with trucks and buses, but as sport utility vehicles have become popular urban status symbols, the military views them as ideal command vehicles for the deserts and mountains around Israel's borders.ANOTHER TRADITION NIPPED IN THE BUD After some members of Fairfield University's basketball team said they wanted to start making weekly meals for the whole team, the players and coaches gathered for their first team dinner. It probably was also their last, according to university sports information director Vic D'Ascenzo, who said the chicken and salad prepared by the players in a kitchen in the campus chapel sent 10 members of the squad and two assistant coaches to the hospital with food poisoning, forcing the school to postpone the next night's game against Iona.PRINCE OF SALES Mountain scenes from the Alps and Scotland painted by Britain's Prince Charles are being reproduced on a series of six place mats, according to the Prince of Wales Charities Trust. A set sells for $84.PROVING FARRAKHAN'S POINT In December, the intersection of New York's 42nd Street and Second Avenue was changed from Nelson and Winnie Mandela Corner to Yitzhak Rabin Way.SPERM IN THE NEWS Manhattan urologist Harry Fisch announced that according to his research into sperm bank donations over the past 20 years, the quality of New York City sperm is better than Los Angeles sperm. Seeking explanations for L.A.'s lower sperm count, The New York Observer, which reported Fisch's findings with the comment "Yes, our boys can swim," quoted Joseph Feldschuh, director of one Manhattan sperm bank, who blamed the L.A. lifestyle: "Sexual frequency makes a difference. If you have an ejaculation every day, your sperm count drops."FIRST THINGS FIRST When a Philadelphia house caught fire, neighbors Don and Cynthia Stephens ran to help, leaving their front door open to air out the smoke. While they tried to get into the burning house to save the Jameses inside, police said family member Kenneth James, 29, entered the Stephenses' open door and helped himself to their winter coats, a cellular phone, a video camera, cameras, jewelry and about $100. Don Stephens said he spotted James with their belongings but continued his rescue efforts. James's sister and 9-year-old cousin died in the blaze.IF YOU'RE NOT PART OF THE SOLUTION, YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM The nation's seven soft-drink vending machine makers agreed to post warning labels on 1.7 million machines, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced in December. "Do not rock or tilt," the labels warn. "May cause serious injury or death. Machine will not dispense free product if tipped." The CPSC sought voluntary labeling because at least 37 people have been killed and 113 injured in soda machine accidents since 1978. The vending machine industry, which acceded to CPSC's voluntary labeling campaign to avoid government regulation, denied there is a problem, noting that the vending machines, weighing up to a ton, almost never fall over without human help, someone either trying to steal money, get a free drink or beat up a machine that took the money but gave nothing in return. "If a person's going to tip it over," Larry Eils, director of health and safety for the National Automatic Merchandising Association, "no warning label is going to stop them." Auto insurers announced they are eliminating discounts for cars equipped with anti-lock brakes after concluding the safety devices do not significantly reduce accidents. The problem isn't so much the brakes themselves as it is human nature defeating technology. Drivers, who were taught to pump brakes to avoid skidding, continue to pump anti-lock brakes, although they shouldn't, thereby increasing stopping distances. Other people drive faster and take more risks because they believe that anti-lock brakes will stop them sooner, according to insurers. The move to end discounts angered some auto industry officials, who noted that they adopted the anti-lock technology in the first place only because insurance companies urged them to.Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306. Odd-news hounds will enjoy the latest compilation, "Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest: True News of the World's Least Competent People," by John J. Kohut and Roland Sweet (Plume/Penguin).


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