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News Quirks 02.21.07 

Curses, Foiled Again Police quickly arrested a suspect for the armed robbery of Walter Ray Brown, 72, in Hartselle, Ala.: his next-door neighbor and grandson, Daniel Ray Brown, 22. Detective Kyle Wilson said Daniel Brown went to the victim's house wearing a ski mask to conceal his identity, then brandished the handle from a hydraulic floor jack and told his grandfather, "This is a robbery. I need your money, and I mean it, Pa-Paw." He grabbed Walter Brown's wallet and started running away, but his grandfather tackled him. The grandson hit the grandfather in the head and ran home, leaving the wallet and the handle between the houses. The Decatur Daily reported that Daniel Brown denied he was the man behind the mask.

Nuns on the Run Fifty-five nuns abandoned their convent in northern Greece and disappeared after running up debts of almost $780,000. The nuns, members of the order of St. Kyrikos and Ioulite and all called Maria, ran a knitwear company that went bankrupt after the nuns spent freely traveling to fashion shows all over Europe and ordering expensive new knitting machines. Stores that bought their goods told authorities that the nuns vanished with thousands of dollars in deposits.

Crime Does Pay South Korean gangsters are happier with their careers than are police, according to a survey by the Korean Institute of Criminal Justice Policy. Sixty-seven percent of gang members in custody described their job satisfaction as "OK," and 12 percent described it as satisfactory or very satisfactory. A separate survey in 2004 found that only 56 percent of police officers rated their jobs OK, while 10 percent called theirs satisfactory or very satisfactory.

* State prison inmates are outliving people on the outside. Figures reported to the Justice Department show that the yearly death rate for prisoners is 250 per 100,000 - compared with 308 for non-incarcerated Americans. The rates for white and Hispanic prisoners are actually lower than those of their counterparts overall, but for black inmates, the death rate is 57 percent lower than that of the overall black population: 206 to 484. One reason for the greater longevity, state prison officials indicated, is inmate access to medical care.

Problems Solved Brain damage helps some smokers kick the habit, suggesting a new treatment for nicotine addiction, according to a study reported in the journal Science. Researchers at the universities of Southern California and Iowa found that most smokers who suffered strokes that injured their insula, a silver-dollar-size region of the brain linked to emotion, stopped smoking "immediately" and totally. USC's Antoine Bechara, a senior author of the study, indicated that hope for smokers lies in adapting transcranial magnetic stimulation to send a magnetic current into one side of the skull, causing "a temporary lesion" that reaches "deep inside the brain," where the insula is located.

* South Korea's birth rate has fallen so low that obstetric students at Seoul's Kyunghee University Medical Center are using an American-made robot to practice delivering babies because there aren't enough human births. The life-size robot cost $20,000 and comes with its own "newborn" robot, which is equipped with lights on its hands and cheeks to indicate its health. Students practice pulling the baby out of the mother's body, simulating not only normal births, but also breech and Caesarean deliveries. "Students can practice in a very realistic situation with this mannequin," Professor Jung Eui told Reuters Television.

Unpatriotic Act After Southwest Airlines passengers Carl Warren Persing and Dawn Elizabeth Sewell, both in their forties, refused to stop engaging in "overt sexual activity" aboard a flight from Los Angeles to Raleigh, N.C., federal authorities charged them with violating the Patriot Act.

Incendiary Devices A cellphone apparently ignited in a man's pants pocket while he was asleep, setting fire to his nylon and polyester clothes. Luis Picaso, 59, suffered severe burns over at least half his body, according to Bill Tweedy of the Vallejo, Calif., fire department, who called it a freak accident. Although cellphone safety specialists told the San Francisco Chronicle that cellphone fires are very rare, a nonprofit organization that has recorded several incidents involving people injured by "exploding cellphones" warned of greater dangers from lithium-ion batteries used to power pocket-sized products. "You have to pack more and more energy into a small package," said Carl Hilliard of the Wireless Consumers Alliance, "and when you're doing that you're creating a little bomb, especially when the battery is fully charged."

* Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. announced a recall of 68,762 massage chairs, warning that the chairs could catch fire. The maker of Panasonic-brand goods said fires destroyed two massage chairs when power cords inside the chairs' motors emitted sparks. No one was injured.

Animal-Testing Follies German scientists at the University of Jena's Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology ended an experiment in animal movement that involved a sloth climbing up then back down a pole because for three years the sloth, named Mats, had refused to budge. "Mats obviously wanted nothing to do with furthering science," university official Axel Burchardt said after the reluctant sloth was transferred to a zoo.

Nature Calls Police in Sandusky, Ohio, reported that a 25-year-old woman who went to urinate outside lost her balance and fell into Lake Erie. Officer Kevin Youskievicz and the woman's friend helped pull her out of the frigid water.

Pick-Up Line of the Week Police in Waukesha, Wis., accused Michael F. Knurr, 39, of telling at least five Milwaukee-area women they had a tick on them, then touching their buttocks and in some cases pulling down their pants. "We don't know what his potential gain is, if it's sexual gratification or he's trying to be funny, but it's a serious crime," Sgt. John Konkol said.

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Roland Sweet

Roland Sweet is the author of the syndicated column "News Quirks," which appears weekly in Seven Days.


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