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News Quirks 08.02.06 

Curses, Foiled Again When Thomas Reyes, 23, walked into a neighborhood grocery store in Philadelphia and pointed a gun at owner Eddie Gomez, one of the customers, Thomas Santana, who is 66 and 5-feet-4, grabbed the 6-foot-1 gunman from behind and beat him with a can of Mott's applesauce, hitting him four times in the head. During the struggle, the suspect shot himself in the head and passed out, according to detective Curtis Matthews, who observed, "There's blood everywhere."

Where's the Beef? Following a three-year political effort, Hindu hard-liners succeeded in having references to Hindus' beef-eating past deleted from school textbooks. The Washington Times reported that Hindus, who revere cows, insist Muslim invaders introduced beef to India in the 10th century, but several scholars have argued that ancient Hindus enjoyed beef long before the Muslims arrived. History texts, for almost a century before the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party spearheaded the drive to eliminate beef references, have recounted that some, especially higher-caste, Hindus once considered beef a delicacy.

Why Order a Salad? A Pennsylvania court fined Dawn Higgins $173.50 after she bought a salad but threw away the lettuce. Higgins explained in Northampton County Common Pleas Court that she had ordered a McDonald's chicken ranch salad but only wanted the chicken, so she tossed the half-dozen lettuce leaves out the window of her parked car. Higgins protested the fine, arguing that she didn't litter because the lettuce is biodegradable.

Another Woe to Worry About After a 36-inch television set fell on and killed a 3-year-old Houston girl, the Houston Chronicle reported that falling TV sets pose a growing threat to children in the United States. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, emergency-room doctors in 2005 treated 2600 children younger than 5 who had been injured by falling TVs. "It's become a real public health issue," said Dr. Stephen Fletcher, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Houston's Memorial Hermann Hospital, which has treated 11 injuries from falling TVs in the past year and five deaths in just the past four months. Experts pointed out that the problem is more the fault of inadequate anchoring of the front-heavy sets than it is their design or size. Sixty-five percent of reported cases involved sets with 20-inch to 30-inch screens.

Desperate Measures Police investigating a fire in a dorm at the University of Central Florida said student Matthew Damsky admitted setting a couch on fire. Damsky told officers that he thought starting the fire would be a good way to meet women while the dorm was being evacuated.

Missing More Than the Boat Two Irish men who missed their ferry home from Holyhead, Wales, stole a fishing trawler and headed for Ireland, even though neither of them knew how to sail. When they couldn't find land, they called for help. "They thought they were just off the coast of Ireland," Ray Steadman, press officer of the Holyhead lifeboat, told Irish broadcaster RTE, which reported that the men were rescued 12 miles north of where they started, 66 miles from Ireland. They had been going in circles the whole time.

Master of Johns Degree Singapore introduced a training program to boost the status, skills and wages of its toilet cleaners, of whom more than 50 enrolled in the first of the three-day courses. Toilet cleaners who complete the class, taught by Japanese experts in the latest toilet technology, are promoted to "restroom specialists."

Bad Career Move First-time bank robber Lawrence C. Lawson, 60, armed with a loaded .357-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun, got the cash OK, but his getaway lasted only as far as the front door of the Lasalle Bank in Troy, Mich. He saw police cars and fainted. "Just randomly, two police officers are driving by," police Lt. Gerry Scherlinck said, indicating that Lawson suffers from a medical condition that made him likely to pass out. Neither officer saw Lawson, but while he lay unconscious, bank employees called the police to arrest him.

Take-Home Pay A 48-year-old employee of the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra told a court that he stole $114,034 over a 10-month period by filling his work boots with newly minted $2 coins, then walking out. The judge criticized the mint's security, calling it extraordinary that it failed to detect someone leaving work each day with up to 150 coins in each boot. The worker sometimes carried out the money in his lunchbox.

Predictable Outcome A suburban police officer who left a submachine gun in his unmarked vehicle while he attended a baseball game in downtown Detroit returned to find the weapon stolen. "He gets an A for stupidity in this case," Police Chief Ron Cronin of West Bloomfield, Mich., said.

Have It Our Way The British credit-card company Barclaycard announced that customers who pay their bills in full each month now will have less time to pay them, plus risk a $35 late-payment fee should they miss their new payment date. "That is the fact of it, and we are not going to shy away from that," Barclaycard's Ian Barber said, explaining that the company was "having to face up to the fact that clearly we are not making as much money out of customers that pay their bill in full as we are out of those that borrow."

-- Netflix, the online DVD rental service that charges $17.99 a month for "unlimited rentals," acknowledged that its automated system delays shipments to frequent renters to protect its profits. "In determining priority for shipping and inventory allocation, we give priority to those members who receive the fewest DVDs through our service," reads the company's "terms of use" policy, which was revised after a class-action lawsuit accused the company of the little-known practice, known as "throttling."

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Roland Sweet

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

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