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News Quirks 

Curses, Foiled Again

After recognizing themselves in a surveillance video on TV, two women went to the police station in DeLand, Fla., and, according to sheriff’s official Brandon Haught, “wanted to know what is going on.” Investigators stepped in and determined from the video that the women were at a beauty store when it was robbed and one of them, Myesha Williams, 20, committed the robbery. (Daytona Beach News-Journal)

Duck and Cover

Earth remains at risk from potentially devastating asteroids because Congress won’t fund its own project for the United States to defend the planet. The government spends about $4 million a year looking for big and obvious near-Earth objects, but in 2005 Congress ordered a broader survey to find near-Earth objects as small as 460 feet in diameter. These smaller objects “can cause huge damage on Earth,” warned University of Maryland astronomer Mike A’Hearne, who helped chair the National Academy of Sciences report, “Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies.” It said more than 2 million space objects have a near-Earth orbit and that objects only 165 feet wide could cause destruction equal to that of a nuclear explosion.

The report warned that if the government won’t pay for space probes to orbit Venus and track threats to Earth, it should at least give scientists a bigger telescope so they can detect 90 percent of the smaller asteroids by 2030. Meanwhile, since launching spacecraft to divert an asteroid’s path needs planning, the report advised nations to rely on organized evacuations and other civil defense efforts to deal with small asteroids. (Reuters, The Money Times)

Holy Scanner

Grzegorz Sowa, a Catholic priest in the Polish town of Gryfów Slaski, installed an electronic reader to check fingerprints of schoolchildren so he could monitor their attendance at mass. Attending 200 masses in three years exempts them from having to pass an exam before they can be confirmed. “This is comfortable,” one pupil, identified as Karolina, told the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. “We don’t have to stand in line to get the priest’s signature in our confirmation notebooks.” (Reuters)

Downhill Slide

British police officials reprimanded a group of officers after a passerby recorded them using their riot shields as makeshift sleds and posted the video on YouTube. Conceding that snow brings “out the child in all of us,” Thames Valley Police Superintendent Andrew Murray said he told the officers “that tobogganing on duty, on police equipment and at taxpayers’ expense is a very bad idea.” (Associated Press)

Writer’s Cramp Justice

Fiji’s attorney general urged the country to adopt a modern court recording system to replace having magistrates record proceedings by hand. “Currently, lawyers in court were sometimes asked to speak as fast as the magistrate could write,” Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said. “As such, lawyers could get lost in what they were trying to say because they had to slow down.” (Agence France-Presse)

Marketing Magic

After the Iraqi government paid $84 million to a British company for 1500 dowsing rods the company insisted could detect explosives, detectives questioned Jim McCormick, 53, a former police officer who runs the company, ATSC (UK) Ltd., about widespread claims that the company’s products don’t work. ATSC describes its ADE “Advanced Detection Equipment” as able to detect “all known drug and explosive-based substances,” using “non-vapour” methods. A simple plastic holder is fitted with a special piece of cardboard which has been prepared using “the proprietary process of electrostatic matching of the ionic charge and structure of the substance” to be detected. The device uses no electronics, being “charged” by the body of the user. Attached to the holder is a metal wand held at right angles to the user’s body. The wand is said to drift in the direction of any explosive, drug or whatever else the cardboard insert has been “electronically matched” to — even contraband ivory or truffles — at ranges of up to half a mile.

“Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” Major General Jehad al-Jabiri of the Iraqi interior ministry told the New York Times last year after arranging a demonstration by one of his police officers. When a reporter couldn’t get the dowsing rod to work, the general stated, “You need more training.” (Britain’s The Register)

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Roland Sweet

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

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