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News Quirks 

Published January 20, 2010 at 8:22 a.m.

Community Investments

Hoping to capitalize on their success, Somali pirates have set up an exchange to sell shares of their raids to investors. Operating mostly out of Haradheere, sea gangs have made tens of millions of dollars from ransoms, according to Reuters, and their success is attracting Somali financiers in other nations to back their sea raids. “The shares are open to all, and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful maters [sic],” a pirate named Mohammed explained, adding, “We’ve made piracy a community activity.”

Haradheere’s deputy security officer agreed. “Piracy-related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area, and as locals we depend on their output,” Mohamed Adam said. “The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools.”

A group of inner-city activists in Los Angeles announced the start of bus tours of rundown public housing, sites of deadly shootouts and racial unrest, and the birthplace of many of the city’s most famous gangs, including Crips and Bloods. “This is ground zero for a lot of the bad in this city,” former gang member Alfred Lomas, who is spearheading L.A. Gang Tours, told the Los Angeles Times. “It could be ground zero for a lot of the good, too.”

Lomas calls the venture “true community empowerment.” The nonprofit group is charging adults $65 for the two-hour tours of South L.A., Watts and Florence-Firestone, and notes it uses the money to create jobs and start similar tour franchises in other inner cities. Organizers will sell souvenir T-shirts painted on the spot by a graffiti tagger, and one organizer said he hopes to stage a dance-off among the locals where tourists pick the winner. Organizers did decide against having kids shoot tourists with water pistols, followed by the sale of T-shirts that read: “I Got Shot in South-Central.”

Finders Keepers

Jesus Leonardo, 57, told the New York Times he makes more than $45,000 a year by cashing in winning tickets on horse races that betters throw away. “It is literally found money,” he said, explaining he spends more than 10 hours a day at a New York City off-track betting parlor. “This has become my job, my life. This is how I feed my family.” Leonardo collects the betting slips by picking through the OTB parlor’s trash each night. He also pays two friends $25 a bag to bring him the trash at four other OTB parlors around the city. Leonardo collects 2000 to 7000 discarded tickets a day and hauls them to his New Jersey home. He and two other friends bundle them in stacks of 300 for Leonardo to tote to the city the next morning and spend hours scanning each ticket to find any winners. “It is such exhausting work,” Leonardo said, “that I give myself a lunch hour.”

Jolting News

The Brazilian Coffee Industry Association (ABIC) has intensified its crackdown on rogue roasters, who cut corners and costs by adulterating their products. “The most common thing is to find wood from the (coffee) tree and shells from the beans, but you can also find corn or caramel, which is much cheaper than coffee,” Almir Jose da Silva, ABIC’s chairman, told Reuters. “These coffees can make you feel unwell in the stomach or make you burp a lot.” Brazil is the world’s No. 1 coffee grower and No. 2 consumer, and since most of the exported coffee is raw beans, the tainted coffee is largely a domestic problem. Noting that the ABIC ousted 10 members this year for deliberately bulking up their products, Silva said the crackdown is aimed at thwarting efforts to recruit new coffee drinkers. “Quality is what develops consumption,” he said.

Like Shooting Pork in a Barrel

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) earmarked $100,000 of taxpayer money to go to the library in Jamestown, S.C., which is in his district. But Congress mistakenly designated the money for Jamestown, Calif., a town that doesn’t even have a library. “That figures for government, doesn’t it?” Chris Pipkin, who runs the one-room library in Jamestown, S.C., told the Washington Times. Pipkin added that he had requested only $50,000 to buy computers and new bookshelves, but Clyburn’s office told the paper the congressman decided to double the request after visiting the library and finding books strewn on the floor because of the lack of shelving.

As part of the same $1.1 trillion catchall spending bill, Congress upped a request for funding for bus shelters in Bal Harbour, Fla., from $100,000 to $250,000. And the airport in Wasilla, Alaska, hometown of former governor Sarah Palin, is getting $500,000 to expand airplane parking space.

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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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