Columns » Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction


Curses, foiled again
Richard Waters, 43, was driving a stolen truck when he attracted the attention of police in Monroe, Ohio, because a back wheel was on fire. Waters apparently left the emergency brake on when he drove off, causing heat that ignited the tire. Officers who noticed the truck recognized Waters from previous run-ins.

Police were able to identify Francis A. Rocca, 24, as the one who held up a gas station in Pittsfield, Mass., even though he wore a mask. Clerk Sanjay Sharma told officers he "could clearly see" Rocca's face because the bag he had placed over his head to hide his face was clear plastic. Rocca's pimply complexion made the identification even easier.

The nose knows
A California company has introduced a line of shoes with built-in air-conditioning, which its designers said could stamp out foot odor and athlete's foot. Gadget Universe's Breeze Walk shoes, which sell online starting at $49.95, suck in air through tiny holes in the laces and sole and then circulate it around the feet. A pump under the heel pushes the air back out through the sole when the wearer takes a step.

Flix flummox
Government inspectors said Netflix and other video renters that ship by mail cost the U.S. Postal Service $20 million a year and could reach $30 million by 2009 because the post office has to hire people to sort DVDs by hand. The inspectors reported that return envelopes for some DVD rental mailings have a "floppy edge" that can jam sorting machines. Netflix, which told the Washington Times it sends and receives 1.6 million DVDs each business day, insisted that if it had to redesign the envelope, "our gross margin could be adversely affected."

Support the troops
After enticing recruits with enlistment bonuses as high as $30,000, the U.S. military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel including those who have lost arms, legs, eyesight and hearing give back some or all of the signing bonuses because their combat injuries render them unable to serve out their commitments.

Forward thinking
A 32-year-old Australian man who collided with three cars after running several red lights was driving without brakes. The driver, whom Victoria Police apprehended after he lost control and ran into a utility pole, said that whenever he wanted to stop, he would shift the car into reverse.

Bush's forehead
People who become powerful lose the ability to see things from other people's point of view, according to researchers at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. Asked to draw the letter E on their foreheads with a marker, volunteers who felt powerless were three times more likely to draw it so it was readable by someone facing them. Those made to feel powerful drew the letter so that it read correctly from their internal perspective.

The consequence, University of California at Berkeley social psychologist Dacher Keltner told the Washington Post, is that people who lack power are pretty good at guessing the opinions of those around them, whereas those in power tend to be inaccurate. Subordinates make matters worse by hesitating to tell superiors things they do not want to hear, further distorting the perspectives of the powerful.

Deal of a lifetime
Bob and Ricki Husick tried to sell their suburban Pittsburgh home for a year before coming up with a novel offer. The buyer will get a full refund of the purchase price ($399,900 for the four-bedroom, 3 bath home) when the couple dies. Plus, if the buyer agrees to care for the couple in their old age, he or she also inherits their retirement home in Arizona.

Terminal rage
When an 80-year-old woman collapsed and died while waiting in line at a Qantas airline check-in counter at Australia's Brisbane Airport, frustrated passengers booed two staff members who left the counter to assist her. "There were only half the number of check-in points operating that morning because six staff had called in sick," Julie Bignell of the Australian Services Union commented, noting that check-in workers are routinely derided or even spat on when they finish their shift and close their counters during busy periods.

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