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News Quirks 11.09.05 

Published November 9, 2005 at 5:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again

Sheriff's deputies in Yavapai County, Ariz., reported that a man who was housesitting for his father encountered an intruder standing naked in an upstairs room holding two rifles belonging to the homeowner. The man said that he got the rifles away from the man, who started to flee, then stopped to ask for a pair of shorts. When deputies arrived, they found wet socks and wet pants with a wallet and identification belonging to Nickos George Kopsaftis. They heard a noise next door and found Kopsaftis trying to hot-wire a car. "He was wearing the shorts that were donated to him," sheriff's official Susan Quayle said after the suspect's arrest.

Fat Fad

Stephen Lanzalotta, 46, a baker in Portland, Maine, who claims that the low-carb diet craze cost him half his business, responded by creating the "Da Vinci Diet," which is based on mathematical principles used by Leonardo da Vinci and popularized in Dan Brown's best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. According to Lanzalotta's book, The Diet Code: Revolutionary Weight-Loss Secrets from Da Vinci and the Golden Ratio, the diet's basic mix is 20 percent protein, 52 percent carbohydrates and 28 percent fat.

Consolation Prize

British rower Oliver Hicks, 23, set off from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., hoping to break the rowing record of 62 days for the fastest west-to-east crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. He missed the mark, arriving in England 124 days later, but that turned out to be a new record for the slowest-ever crossing by a rower.

Second-Amendment Follies

A 2-year-old boy shot and wounded a 3-year-old boy at a day care in a Chicago home. "Many guns have very low pull-strength requirements," Katherine Kaufer Christoffel, a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital, told the Chicago Sun-Times. She added that little boys in particular are curious about guns and will find them if they know one is around. Investigators charged Juan Ramirez, 21, the son of the woman who runs the day care, because he owned the gun and left it on a bed in his room.

Big-Box Economics

Lee Scott Jr., who runs Wal-Mart, urged Congress to raise the minimum wage so people can afford to shop at its stores. "Our customers simply don't have the money to buy basic necessities between paychecks," he said. Despite criticism that Wal-Mart itself pays poverty-level wages, 20 percent lower per hour than the retail-industry average, Scott said that the nation's largest employer is unlikely to increase pay for its own workers. "Even slight overall adjustments to wages," he explained, "eliminate our thin profit margin," which last year amounted to $10 billion.


German authorities reported that hordes of ravenous raccoons have overrun vineyards in the central region, wiping out "almost the entire harvest in a matter of days," according to Brandenburg vintner Werner Kothe. Raccoons were introduced to the region in 1934 when Nazi air force chief Hermann Goering imported them from the United States to "enrich" Germany's wildlife. Finding no natural predators, the animals have bred unchecked ever since. Last year, bounty hunters in Brandenburg bagged 3471 raccoons, but scientists estimate that Germany has more than a million raccoons, which have begun spreading to neighboring countries at an alarming rate.

- Meanwhile, Britain is reintroducing beavers to its countryside 500 years after they were hunted to extinction. Six European beavers from Bavaria will be confined to a 500-acre site at an estate in Gloucestershire until they settle in. Then they will be allowed to roam freely. Experts insist that the beavers won't endanger fish stocks because they eat only plants.

Believe It or Not

Public confidence in the news media continues to decrease, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Its latest survey found that only 54 percent of Americans today believe most of what they read in their daily paper, compared with about 84 percent in 1985. Journalism experts believe the two leading causes of the distrust are the recent steady stream of fabrications and manipulations and increased vigilance by amateur and professional media critics using the Internet and their own sources to discredit news reports and statements by politicians. "When the stakes are high, the press does a good job," Pew Research Center editor Carroll Doherty explained. "It just doesn't come across in the daily barrage of cable shout shows."

- The Newark City Council unanimously approved paying the Newark Weekly News $100,000 to publish positive news about the New Jersey city. The no-bid contract requires the paper to work with the city's public information office and generate stories based only on leads from the council and the mayor's office. "Do we have critical reporters on staff? No. Do we have investigative reporters? No," said Howard Scott, the paper's owner, who proposed the arrangement. "Our niche is the good stuff. People have come to know it, and they love it."

- Brook Corwin and Michael Pucci resigned as reporters at the Reidsville Review in Rockingham County, N.C., after a competitor reported that they had made up quotes for a daily man-on-the-street feature, "Two Cents Worth." The Greensboro News & Record said that the reporters also used people's pictures without their knowledge, copying some from a college social networking website, rather than actually asking real people their opinions.

Faith-Based Initiative

The Netherlands became the first European country to offer the Ilkone i800 cellular telephone, which automatically reminds Muslims five times a day when to pray and points them in the direction of Mecca. The phone, which is already available in the Middle East and Asia, also contains a copy of the Koran in both Arabic and English.

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About The Author

Roland Sweet

Roland Sweet was the author of a syndicated column called "News Quirks," which appeared weekly in Seven Days.


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