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Curses, Foiled Again Police easily identified Joel Zsebenazy as the person who stole a carton of cigarettes from a drug store in Buffalo, N.Y. Zsebenazy asked the clerk for the cigarettes, then handed her his driver's license to prove his age. While the clerk was entering his birth date into the register, Zsebenazy grabbed the cigarettes and fled, overlooking that the clerk still had the driver's license.

* The owner of a Minneapolis restaurant called police after a couple ran out on a $410 bill. "I was thinking, 'I hope to God I see these people again,'" owner Thom Pham said. Three hours later, Pham walked into another restaurant he owns and spotted the pair polishing off another expensive meal. When the couple tried to flee, Pham, a former judo instructor, chased Reginald Wilder, 43, into an alley, forced him to the ground and held him until police arrived. The other man, Lance Burrow, 20, who was dressed as a woman and wearing a wig, was arrested a half-block away. "I call it 'instant karma,'" Pham said.

Wildfire Junior When malfunctioning brakes set fire to a hay-filled wagon being towed by a truck in Hart Township, Mich., the driver "panicked and just floor-boarded it to get to an open area," fire Chief Ken Klotz told the Ludington Daily News. The burning wagon started numerous fires as the man traveled some 5 miles through the rural countryside. "The whole thing was on fire," Klotz said, "the back of his pickup truck and the trailer. One guy saw him driving by and said he saw 30-foot flames coming out of the hay as it was going down the road." The driver, who was not cited, explained later that he was looking for a house with a hose to put out the fire.

Homeland Insecurity Police investigating reports of a suspicious-looking box attached to a tree near a hospital in Salem, Va., set up a safety perimeter around the area and blew up the device. They announced afterward that it was a remote weather station, which a hospital employee had put in the tree and applied a putty-like substance around it to make it weatherproof.

English Lessons A Canadian counternarcotics official facing drug charges in Dubai expressed concern that he would be convicted and imprisoned because of poor translating at his trial. "For example," Bert Tatham, 35, wrote in a letter published by the Ottawa Citizen, "my telling them about being exposed to drugs in my work . . . became 'I used drugs in Afghanistan.' My lack of any knowledge of having hashish . . . became, 'I forgot I put it in my pocket.'"

Dear-John Discount South Korea's Nonghyup Bank began offering special interest rates to soldiers dumped by their sweethearts. Jilted troops, as well as their family members, wounded veterans and trainees, are entitled to as much as a 0.3 percentage point premium a year for proving they are no longer romantically attached, according to bank official Gil Yoon-jung, who explained soldiers can show letters or emails to a bank clerk to qualify.

Truth or Consequences Rather than reducing pollution, ethanol could make it worse, according to researcher Mark Jacobson of Stanford University. Reporting in Environmental Science & Technology, Jacobson found that ethanol-burning cars emit fewer carcinogens such as benzene and butadiene, but they give off 20 times as much acetaldehyde as conventional fuels. Acetaldehyde reacts with sunlight to form ozone, a main ingredient of smog. "There are so many people barking pretty loud about biofuels," Jacobson told New Scientist. "They've been pushing these things before the science is done."

Titular Follies Mariela Mollinedo, a beauty pageant winner from Bolivia's Aymara Indian community, was stripped of her title a few hours after the contest ended when the judges noticed her braids were fake. Contestants in the Miss Cholita Pacena pageant, which seeks to instill pride in indigenous women, have to wear their hair long and done up in two braids in traditional Aymara fashion, but the hair is supposed to be real, pageant organizer Walter Gomez told Reuters, explaining, "Having short hair means they don't live like Cholitas."

* Sajani Shakya, a 10-year-old girl who is one of Nepal's top three "Kumaris," or living goddesses, was stripped of her title because she traveled to the United States to promote a documentary about the centuries-old tradition. Selected from the ages of 2 through 4, Kumaris live in seclusion and are worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. The priests who took away her title said that traveling overseas rendered her "impure," according to Isabel Whitaker, the director of the British documentary, "Living Goddess." Two weeks later, however, religious authorities said the girl could retain her status by undergoing a "cleansing ceremony."

Drinking-Class Heroes Almost all of the 185,000 gallons of alcohol seized from travelers trying to smuggle beer, wine and liquor into Sweden last year was turned into an alternative fuel used to power 1000 trucks and buses and a biogas train. "We used to just pour it down the drain," customs official Ingrid Jerlebrink said, "but because of the increased volumes we had to look around for new solutions."

Spit Happens London's bus drivers are being issued DNA kits so that police can trace passengers who spit on them. The "spit kits" are already supplied at all 275 subway stations. The Evening Standard reported the kits are the latest initiative against antisocial behavior on buses and coincide with the mayor's introduction of free bus travel for youths under 16.

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Roland Sweet

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

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