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News of the weird

By CHUCK SHEPHERD
Wire Services

SOME DEFENSE…

The first line of “defense” at the 400 Iraqi police checkpoints in Baghdad are small wands with antennas that supposedly detect explosives, but which U.S. officials say are about as useful as Ouija boards. The Iraqi official in charge, Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, is so enamored of the devices, according to a November New York Times dispatch, that when American experts repeatedly showed the rods’ failures in test after test, he blamed the results on testers’ lack of “training.” The Iraqi government has purchased 1,500 of the ADE 651s from its manufacturer, ATSC Ltd. of the UK, at prices ranging from $16,000 to $60,000 each.

CULTURAL DIVERSITY

• What a Difference a Day Makes: (1) Charles Wesley Mumbere, 56, was a longtime nurse’s aide at a nursing home in Harrisburg, until July, when the Ugandan government recognized the separatist Rwenzururu territory founded in 1962 by Mumbere’s late father. In October, Mumbere returned to his native country as king of the region’s 300,000 subjects. (2) Jigme Wangchuk, 11, was a student at St. Peter’s School in Boston when he was enthroned in November by a Buddhist sect in India’s Darjeeling district as its high priest, covering territory extending to neighboring Nepal and Bhutan.

• An unprecedented toilet-building spree has taken hold in India over the last two years, spurred by a government campaign embraced by young women: “No Toilet, No Bride” (i.e., no marriage unless the male’s dowry includes indoor plumbing).

• Tradition: (1) The town of Waiau, New Zealand, had once again planned an annual rabbit-carcass-tossing contest, to a chorus of complaints from animal rights activists concerned that children not associate dead animals with fun. (In New Zealand, rabbits are crop-destroying pests, doing an estimated $16 million damage annually, but nonetheless, the town canceled the contest.) (2) As the Irish Parliament debated whether to lower the blood-alcohol reading that would earn drivers a DUI charge, legislator Mattie McGrath begged colleagues to keep the current, more generous standards: “(Modest drinking) can make people who are jumpy on the road, or nervous, be more relaxed.”

LEAST COMPETENT PEOPLE

(1) Walking: Daredevil Scottish stunt bicyclist Danny MacAskill, whose electrifying feats are featured on popular YouTube videos, suffered a broken collarbone in October when he tripped on a curb while out for a walk in downtown Edinburgh. (2) Truck-Driving: Phillip Mathews, 73, whose logging truck is equipped with a tall boom arm to facilitate loading, forgot to lower the arm after finishing a job in Bellevue, Iowa, in October, and when he returned to the highway, the boom proceeded to snap utility lines for the next 12 miles until motorists finally got his attention.

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