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News Quirks 

Curses, Foiled Again Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived on the scene mere moments after an armed robber held up a bank in Vernon, British Columbia, because an RCMP detachment happened to be in the same building. The robber raced to his pickup truck, which wouldn't start because the 20-year-old getaway driver had drained the battery listening to music. Police nabbed the 53-year-old suspect in a nearby bakery, where he and the driver had gone to call a taxi.

* When a police officer in York, Maine, stopped Richard Saunders, 53, for a defective headlight, Saunders yelled that he was rushing to the hospital because his pregnant girlfriend had gone into labor. While following Saunders to the hospital, Sgt. Gary Finley ran a check of the license plate that revealed the vehicle was stolen. Finley arrested Saunders at the hospital, where medical staff checked his girlfriend but released her because she appeared to be neither in labor nor pregnant.

The Risk of Safety Insurance underwriters Lloyd's of London said a sudden drop in disasters is costing it money by forcing its members to cut the amount of risk they will insure by $389 million. The Times reported that the recent lack of natural catastrophes and plane crashes have lowered risk-insurance premium rates by 5 to 20 percent.

Reach Out and Touch Someone Japanese police arrested Takahiro Fujinuma, 37, for placing 2600 calls to directory assistance over a six-month period. Tokyo investigators said he would try to start a conversation and then plead with female operators not to hang up. He told police he was lonely and became fond of annoying the operators. "I would go into ecstasy when a lady scolded me," Jiji Press quoted him as saying. He was well known to telephone operators, who nicknamed him the "don't-hang-up man."

What's Bush's Sign? Members of Thailand's ruling party objected when sign language interpreters at a live broadcast of a parliamentary session that chose Samak Sundaravej, 72, as prime minister repeatedly referred to the new leader by holding their noses between two fingers. Samak's supporters called the gesture an insult. The interpreters explained they often indicate prominent facial features as shorthand for dignitaries, pointing out that Samak is widely known as "Mr. Rose Apple Nose" because his nose resembles the fruit. "It is not meant as a nose joke," interpreter Kanittha Rattanasin insisted. "We have touched our noses for years to refer to Samak, but people noticed this time because we had to repeat the movement more than 300 times."

Literary Theories Britain's prize-winning novelist Joan Brady won a $223,000 settlement after claiming that fumes from a shoe factory near her home in Totnes, Devon, drove her to write lowbrow thrillers. Brady, the first woman to win the Whitbread Book of the Year award for her 1993 novel The Theory of War, insisted the solvent fumes used by the factory intoxicated her to the point where she couldn't concentrate, causing her to abandon the novel she had been working on and instead write a crime story because she found it easier.

* A few weeks after Tanja Shelton, 35, began working as a production control scheduler at Sioux Automation in Sioux Center, Iowa, her supervisor noticed she was typing almost constantly. An investigation showed Shelton was writing a romance novel. After she was fired, Shelton filed a claim for unemployment benefits, testifying that her writing was a way of honing her job skills during slow periods. "I was just typing my thoughts down, trying to keep my brain moving," she explained. "I wanted to improve my typing skills." Her claim was denied, but she vowed to finish the novel. The Des Moines Register noted that her abrupt dismissal meant she didn't have time to copy the most recently completed pages, but she was able to recover them once they were entered into evidence at the unemployment hearing.

* Novels written on cell phones are being published in book form in Japan, where five of last year's best-selling novels were originally cell-phone novels. The biggest was written by a 21-year-old woman named Rin, who The New York Times reported tapped out the love tragedy while commuting to her part-time job during her senior year in high school. Rin uploaded passages on a popular website for prospective authors. Turned into a 142-page hardcover book, it sold 400,000 copies.

Two for One The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that a woman whose breast implants were damaged in an on-the-job car accident should be compensated for only one implant replacement, not both. Penny M. Rumple Richardson filed a workers' compensation claim, explaining the accident caused her implants to ripple and shrink. Greensboro plastic surgeon Dr. David Bowers testified that Richardson's right implant had ruptured and the left implant showed signs of rippling, so he decided to replace both implants, but he added that the left implant most likely had rippling because it was under-filled. In denying her claim, two judges on the panel did acknowledge that workers' compensation covers breast implants because they are a "prosthetic device that functions as part of the body." The dissenting member, Judge James Wynn Jr., said Richardson needed both replaced so her implants would be "symmetrical and evenly matched."

Backfire of the Week A 23-year-old police officer from Ste. Genevieve, Mo., who tried to play a prank on his brother-in-law by pretending to be a burglar, was shot in the stomach when the brother-in-law mistook him for the real thing. Police Lt. Don Lassing said the officer's noises spooked the brother-in-law, who fired "through the door, which might have prevented the bullet from passing through" the prankster.

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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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