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News Quirks 

Curses, Foiled Again A man disguised as a woman walked into a restaurant in Metairie, La., ordered two doughnuts and handed the clerk a $5 bill. According to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, when the clerk opened the register, the man pulled a handgun. The employee reacted by screaming for someone to call 911. The startled robber not only fled without taking any money, but also left behind his $5 and the doughnuts.

Luxury Sky Boxes The Air Force is spending $16.2 million in counterterrorism funding to build 10 "comfort capsules" for aircraft that transport senior officers and civilian leaders. Documents obtained by The Washington Post specify that each of the two-room capsules is to be "aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule," with beds, a couch, a table, a 37-inch flat-screen monitor with stereo speakers and a full-length mirror. The project has been slowed by congressional objections to diverting terrorism funds for VIP luxury in wartime, but also by Air Force generals demanding that the color of the leather for seats and seatbelts be switched from brown to blue and that seat pockets be added - changes an internal Air Force memo estimated cost $68,240.

Crime Fighters of the Week New Zealand police alerted residents of central Christchurch to be on the lookout for a 16-year-old burglary suspect by issuing a "wanted" poster bearing a photograph of 58-year-old British actor Robbie Coltrane, who portrays the giant Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies. Police Sgt. Phil Dean explained police couldn't use a photo of the actual suspect because New Zealand law forbids distributing photos of juvenile offenders. Beneath the actor's image, the poster's headline warns, "Active burglar in this neighbourhood." Smaller type explains, "Robbie Coltrane is not the burglar, but imagine him aged 16 with lank, greasy hair and you have the picture."

* Mayor Dennis Donohue of Salinas, Calif., responded to increasing violence in his city by calling for a week of community fasting. Declaring that fasting worked for Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, Donohue handed out 1000 "Fasting for Peace" buttons in the city of 150,000, where more than 15 people died in gang-related homicides in the past six months. Donohue defined fasting as giving up some, but not necessarily all, food, pointing out he limits himself to lunch. The chief of police told the Los Angeles Times he has cut back on his food consumption in support of the fast but wasn't more specific.

Irony Illustrated Investigators blamed a condominium fire in Mahwah, N.J., on a smoke detector. Police Lt. Bruce Kuipers said the smoke detector in the second-story room short-circuited and fell from the ceiling, igniting a pile of clothes below.

Religion in Daily Life A 15-month-old boy whose remains were found inside a suitcase in Philadelphia was starved to death by members of a religious group that included his mother because he refused to say "amen" after meals, according to court documents charging the mother, Ria Ramkissoon, 21, and three other members of 1 Mind Ministries.

* Charlotte Thompson said she was stopped at a light in Indianapolis when a bullet from a street fight struck her 10-year-old great-granddaughter in the stomach. The bullet didn't hit anyone else because a Bible on the backseat slowed it. "Came through the door, hit her, then it went into the Bible," Thompson told NBC News. "The word of God slowed the bullet so that it didn't kill anybody." A watermelon that Thompson was holding in her lap then stopped the bullet. "Right in the watermelon," Thompson said. "Didn't come out of the watermelon. The word of God and the Lord's power saved. He sent the bullet into the watermelon."

* Saudi Arabia's religious police outlawed selling dogs and cats as pets or walking them anywhere in Riyadh. Othman al-Othman, head of the 5000-strong Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, told al-Hayat Daily that enforcing the religious ban was necessary because more men were using pets in public "to make passes on women and disturb families."

Suspicious Behavior A police officer who stopped a van seen driving in the woods in Port St. Lucie, Fla., said driver Timothy J. Placko, 24, was looking at women's sonograms that had been downloaded and printed from the Internet. The Palm Beach Post reported Placko told the officer he wanted to drive into the woods so he could call his girlfriend, but when asked the woman's name, he said, "OK, I wasn't trying to call anyone. I was just driving around." Police searched the van and found a pocketknife on Placko and four more knives and a machete near the driver's seat. They also found a film canister with 18 teeth, which Placko said were human.

Slightest Provocation After bicyclists Daryll Dade, 36, and Jeremy Oberley, 25, teamed up for a race and finished second, they celebrated at a karaoke bar in Telluride, Colo. When Oberley sang "Thunder Rolls" by Garth Brooks, the crowd response was less than enthusiastic, Dade told the Daily Planet newspaper, adding that he suggested to Oberley, "You should've done 'Friends in Low Places.'" Oberley responded by stabbing Dade in the throat. At his arraignment in San Miguel County court, Oberley insisted the stabbing "was strictly an accidental situation."

* Authorities in Lawrence County, Ala., said that while Grady "Skip" Wilburn Dollar, 64, and Mickey Joe Hill, 37, were drinking together, Dollar gave Hill $10 and told him to go to the store for more beer. When Hill brought back four cans of low-cost Natural Light, Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Richard said, Dollar got mad that Hill didn't get more for his money and stabbed him in the abdomen with a butcher knife.

Dwindling Equity Human life in the United States has lost nearly $1 million in value in the past five years, according to Environmental Protection Agency calculations. The Associated Press, which reported the devaluation in the EPA's "value of a statistical life" from $7.8 million per person to $6.9 million, explained that the lower value has implications for proposed rules whose costs must be weighed versus their life-saving benefits, because rules that cost more to enforce than the value of the lives the rules are projected to save are less likely to be adopted.

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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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