NewsQuirks 520

Don't PanicAddressing hundreds of pilgrims who assembled in St. Peter's Square in May, Pope John Paul II said it is natural for humans to wonder when the world will end, but he advised everyone to await the day with "calm hope."HandicapableWhen four thieves broke into the house of Julia Castillo in Concordia, Argentina, before dawn to rob the 86-year-old blind woman, the state-run news agency Telem reported she fought them off with a stick and made so much noise that neighbors woke up and called police, who arrested the men.San Francisco police charged paraplegic Cuong Tran, 27, with driving his motorized wheelchair up to at least three people on the streets of Chinatown, displaying or pretending to have a weapon, demanding money, then fleeing.School DazeEighth-grader Angela Pham, 14, was suspended from Heritage Middle School in Westerville, Ohio, for violating the school district's weapons policy. Pham's offense was rubbing poison ivy on her science teacher's chair. Even though the teacher, Tom Northrup, did not develop a rash, principal Robert Schultz defended Pham's suspension from May 28 until the end of the school year by noting that the district's definition of a weapon includes any dangerous object or chemical.Hot PantsWhile checking on her 11-month-old baby, Jill Furlough, 31, of Lakenheath, England, saw green sparks flying out of his diaper. "I had no idea what was happening and thought he was going to burst into flames," Furlough said. She called the diaper maker, who assured her the cause was a small and harmless matter of of triboluminescence -- a rare build-up of energy that could be caused by friction but unlike static electricity did not generate heat.John Bartlett, 45, a firefighter in Palm Beach, Fla., who noticed that a disposable diaper in the garbage was the only item that survived a house fire uncharred, developed a fire-resistant gel from the same super-absorbent polymers found in the diapers. Bartlett's Barricade gel, which is credited with saving several homes and about 100 utility poles during Florida wildfires in the past two years, is so effective that some experts have hailed it as the greatest firefighting tool since the hose and pump.Seemed Like a Good Idea at the TimeA Spanish amusement park company decided to promote the first day of its stock sales by taking a 2-ton elephant to the Madrid stock exchange. The noise, traffic and people downtown spooked the 12-year-old elephant so badly that it broke away from its handlers, and knocked into traffic lights, a lamppost and a trash bin. Handlers were able to tie the animal to a tree briefly, but it escaped and had to be shot with a tranquilizer gun, then hoisted by crane onto a truck and returned to the Madrid zoo.A Turtle in Their TankThirty-seven states attorneys general accused the Exxon Corp. of profiting from its refusal to pay $5.3 billion in punitive damages for the Exxon Valdez disaster, which spilled more than 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound. A U.S. District assessed the damages in 1994. A year ago, a federal judge upheld the verdict. "Each year Exxon delays payment of its obligation it earns an estimated $400 million from the difference between the statutory interest rate of 6 percent and the company's internal rate of about 14 percent," said a letter demanding payment from the attorneys general to Exxon Chairman and Chief Executive Lee Raymond.Your Word Is Good EnoughKen Pass, a descendant of the Philadelphia man who recast the Liberty Bell in 1753 after it arrived damaged from England, announced he had a secret letter that could explain the crack in the bell. Unfortunately, he said, he left the document in a copy machine at the Anaheim, Calif., Public Library and didn't notice it missing until later that day, by which time it had disappeared. Robert Giannini, associate curator of Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park, said he once examined Pass's letter but indicated it was impossible to authenticate.Blessed EventsGaby Vernoff, a Los Angeles woman in her 20s, became the first woman in the United States to have a baby using sperm taken from her dead husband. Acting at the widow's request, fertility specialist Dr. Cappy Rothman removed the sperm from Bruce Vernoff's body, 30 hours after he suddenly died of an allergic reaction.Desmond Connell, the archbishop of Dublin, declared that children whose parents plan their birth by using contraceptives become "unhappy and resentful" troublemakers because they are not welcomed as a gift but made to order. "Parental attitudes would thereby be affected, creating a sense of consumer ownership as well as a new anxiety to win and retain the child's affections," Connell told students at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. "The child no longer belongs to the family in a personal sense if it is radically a product."Mark Selcow and Matt Glickman launched an Internet site that features a "Sports Conflict Catcher" to help couples calculate when to conceive a child so that the baby isn't born during a crucial sporting event nine months later. According to the Wall Street Journal, the site ( counts back 266 days from the Super Bowl, World Series or other selected sporting event and warns when to be careful. For couples already expecting, the site lists major events within a week of their due date. Noting that during Super Bowl week, the site's "conception-blocker" section attracted 1,000 visitors a day, Glickman explained, "There are a lot of sports fanatics out there."Another Case for Term LimitsObjecting to a bill that would punish people who assault referees and umpires at sporting events, Illinois Senate President James "Pate" Phillip declared: "I happen to go to a lot of football games, basketball games. Most of my friends that go to these games on a steady basis...will tell you that referees, that umpires every once in a while ought to get popped." A spin-control spokesperson for Phillip explained, "He doesn't condone hitting a sports officials. Obviously, as a sports fan, he has frustrations." 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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