NewsQuirks 580

Curses, Foiled Again

After robbing passengers on a bus in Rio de Janeiro, Jose Roberto Rocha jumped off to make his getaway in a city square, only to find 410 police officers had gathered there for an official ceremony. The commanding general of the military police left the podium to join the dozens of officers who gave chase and quickly captured Rocha.

Haberdashery in the News

Argentina's Senate passed a bill that would require clothing manufacturers to fit women's "anthropomorphic measurements, that is, real sizes and not the abnormal or anorexic sizes of adolescent women," the state news agency Telam reported. The bill was introduced amid complaints that stores stocked apparel only for thin women.

Swaziland hopes to stop the spread of AIDS by banning mini-skirts. A ministry of education official told Reuters news agency the ban, which will go into effect next year, requires schoolgirls 10 years and older to wear knee-length skirts. The aim is to end sexual relationships between teachers and their female pupils, who are widely blamed for enticing teachers with their short skirts.

A 62-year-old German woman was sentenced to six and a half years in jail for strangling her 70-year-old husband with a pair of long johns. The Munich court rejected the woman's plea of self-defense, noting she weighed 198 pounds at the time of the attack and that her husband was incapacitated with drink.

Afghanistan's Taliban religious police arrested a dozen visiting Pakistani soccer players and shaved their heads as they prepared for a match in Kandahar because they were wearing shorts. Taliban Information Ministry official Maulvi Hameed explained the action was taken because the players had violated the Taliban dress code, which requires male athletes to wear trousers.

Bombs Away

Endre Pasztor's car burned out on a downtown Budapest street when a bomb exploded in a nearby car of a night club owner. Pasztor lost another car two years ago when he also parked near a car that was bombed. "I will never buy a car again," Pasztor anounced.

After Robert Allan Long, 29, reported numerous bomb threats, pipes wrapped in duct tape with ominous wires sticking out and Dumpster fires during a three-day period in and near the automotive supply store where he worked in Palm Beach, Fla., investigators confronted Long with the statistical improbability of these coincidences. He finally admitted making calls, setting fires and planting fake bombs so he could get time off from work. "He was under a lot of stress," the arrest report stated, "and needed to go home to be with his wife and children."

Crime Does Pay

Denmark's Supreme Court ruled that a 23-year-old car thief who was severely injured when he crashed the stolen car was entitled to full coverage from the car owner's insurance company. As a result, the thief will receive $101,800 in benefits.

Do-Gooder Done Wrong

Michael Reppy of Sausalito, Calif., set sail on a solo voyage from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan, to publicize the plight of captive whales. One day out, he reported that after two whales "blew by" his 60-foot ocean racer, he began having steering problems but continued on for another week before he decided to investigate. When he did, he discovered that the bottom of his rudder was missing, presumably knocked off by one of the passing whales. "I feel stupid," he said, for waiting so long. "And of course there is the irony of sailing to save the whales and running into them."

Odd Endings

Syrian police said Najib Saddi, 35, killed himself because he was "perfectly happy," according to his suicide note, but feared facing the prospect of "future unhappiness."

Egyptian farmer Fadhl Hassan Fadhl and two of his five children died from radiation poisoning after the family unwittingly took home a 2.4-inch-long radioactive cylinder, hoping it would turn out to be valuable. Information Minister Safwat al-Sherif told reporters the family had filed down the cylinder's surface to see whether it was made of a precious metal.

Light Bulbs of the Week

Swedish inventor Sune Haggmark discovered how to make paper from elk dung. Using a food-mixer and an oven, he and his partner Ann-Mari Remahn take eight to 10 elk pats, add water and a secret binding agent to turn the dung into a small sheaf of paper they sell for $8. "The paper is pure cellulose and doesn't smell of anything except bark," Remahn said. "It's a light brown color shot through with traces of bark and small splinters."

Denver officials urged spending $1.5 million to equip 2,000 Public Works Department vehicles with Global Positioning System satellite-tracking devices to pinpoint the location of city workers and make sure they are on the job instead of loafing. Until the expenditure is approved, the vehicles will have bumper stickers listing a hot line where citizens can report shirking city employees.

East Japan Railway Co. announced it was installing mirrors on station platforms to discourage people from jumping in front of oncoming trains. "Specialists say it makes it difficult for a person to jump if they think someone is looking, say from the opposite platforms," a spokesperson for JR East said. "We hope the mirrors will serve a similar effect." The company, which reported 212 suicides at its stations last year, said the incidents are a public-relations problem. "When a train stops after someone has jumped," the spokesperson explained, "we get many angry complaints from other passengers."

Wrong Arm of the Law

After Randy Langston, an Alvin, Texas police sergeant for more than 17 years, was thrown out of his teen-age son's baseball game for arguing, he retaliated by going home and putting on his police uniform, then returning to the ballpark and giving the umpire a traffic ticket. Police Chief Mike Merkel demoted Langston to patrolman and put him on probation for showing "poor judgment."

Reality Check

While conducting excavations at a Shaker village in Canterbury, N.H., archaeologist David Starbuck said he discovered "hundreds of beer bottles" and containers for wine and whiskey, despite the sect's ban on alcohol. Starbuck also found bottles of perfume and hair restorer, suggesting that the Shakers' belief in celibacy did not weaken their desire to attract members of the opposite sex. "We're not trying to dig up the dirt on the Shakers," Starbuck told Discover magazine. "We're just trying to obtain some sense of their reality."

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