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Stranger than fiction



Curses, foiled again

Police in Hinton, W.Va., accused attorney Matthew Don Reed, 32, of trying to steal Social Security numbers and other personal information by impersonating West Virginia's governor. State Police Sgt. T.L. Bragg told the Register-Herald that Reed used the Internet to persuade government-job applicants to send copies of their birth certificates and other information. An unwitting accomplice alerted authorities after becoming suspicious when Reed asked him to mail an applicant a letter purportedly from Gov. Joe Manchin. It lacked the governor's seal and was riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors.

Daniel Niederhelman, 21, was charged with impersonating a police officer after he used a flashing red dashboard light to maneuver through traffic in Shreveport, La. One of the drivers he pulled over was Mayor Cedric Glover, who became suspicious, followed the car and called police.

Silver lining

Scientists credit global warming for opening up the fabled Northeast Passage between Asia and the West. Ships previously avoided the Arctic route because of its heavy ice floes. Now, the Kansas City Star reported, a voyage from South Korea to the Netherlands can save more than 3,000 miles and 10 days. Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., called the clearing of the Northeast Passage "an expression of climate change."

Lost in translation

After 75 minutes of translating Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's rambling speech at the United Nations, his simultaneous interpreter shouted into the microphone, in Arabic, "I just can't take it anymore!" The New York Post reported that the U.N.'s Arabic section chief, Rasha Ajalyaqeen, took over for the final 20 minutes. Speeches by heads of state during the annual, weeklong General Assembly are meant to last a quarter-hour maximum. "His interpreter just collapsed," a colleague told the Post. "This is the first time I have seen this in 25 years."

Rules are rules

A Bank of America branch in Tampa, Fla., refused to cash a check for a customer who couldn't provide the required thumbprint identification because he has no hands. Steve Valdez told CNN he showed two photo IDs so he could cash a check drawn on his wife's account, but a bank supervisor said that without a thumbprint he would need to bring his wife with him or open an account.

Old school

Frustrated by slow Internet transmission, a South African information technology company demonstrated it could transmit data faster by carrier pigeon than by using the country's leading Internet service provider, Telkom. Local news agency SAPA reported that Unlimited IT needed two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds for the pigeon with the date card strapped to its leg to fly 50 miles from its offices and the data to be downloaded. During that time, only 4 percent of the data was transferred using a Telkom line.

What cannon?

Police in Fayette County, Pa., confiscated an 80-pound homemade cannon after William Edward Maser, 54, fired it in his yard, sending a 2-pound lead ball through the side of a neighbor's house. State Trooper Brian Burden told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the cannonball broke a window and traveled through a wall before landing in a clothes closet.

Clear-cut path

Bhutan warned its citizens they're threatening the Buddhist kingdom's lush scenery and their own national happiness by cutting down 60,000 young trees each year to make prayer flags, which Himalayan Buddhists display for good luck and to help the dead find the right path to their next life. Buddhist monks say fresh poles must be used each time. "If you re-use an old flagpole, you aren't putting in effort, which means the merit earned is compromised," monk Lopon Gyem Tshering told Reuters. Bhutan's constitution emphasizes the importance of Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product and stipulates the country must have at least 60 percent forest cover.

Handy pants

The British store Debenhams began selling underpants for left-handed men, allowing them to go to the bathroom as quickly and efficiently as right-handed men. The garments, made by Hom, have a horizontal opening instead of a vertical slit accessed from the right-hand side, breaking a 75-year tradition. Almost 10 percent of British men are believed to be left-handed, but Y-fronted underpants have traditionally had a right-handed opening. "As a result," Debenhams said, "left-handed men have to reach much further into their pants, performing a Z-shaped maneuver through two 180-degree angles before achieving the result that right-handed men perform with ease." Previously, the store added, boxer shorts, with an adaptable, ambidextrous opening in the middle, have been the underpants of choice for left-handed men. "Switching the opening from vertical to horizontal may sound like a small step, but it's the major breakthrough that many have been waiting for," said Debenhams' Rob Faucherand.

Fixation of the week

Jerry Lowery, 38, told police he robbed three Milwaukee-area optical shops because he "really likes to be around glasses." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that in all three robberies, he took no cash, instead making off with high-end eyeglass frames. According to the criminal complaint, after Lowery surrendered, he "became very emotional" when talking to a detective about the robberies and said eyewear has been a problem for him for 15 years.

Pointed problems

Arkansas authorities charged Betsey Wright, 66, a former top aide of Bill Clinton when he was governor, with trying to smuggle a knife and 48 tattoo needles onto the state's death row. A guard found the needles inside a Doritos bag. Insisting she found the Doritos bag lying in the bottom of a vending machine at the prison, Wright said, "They think it's me, but it's not."

Is bigger better?

A Saudi businessman ordered an 18-carat gold penis enlarger worth $47,000, according to X4 Labs, a Canadian manufacturer of medical devices. Explaining that the unidentified client requested gold because he has a severe skin allergy to stainless steel, the company said, "This male health accessory is the most expensive traction device ever produced and will likely become a historical benchmark for the adult novelty industry."

Health officials reported that at least three men in Guilford County, N.C., became severely infected after receiving injections to enlarge their penises. The homemade concoctions may have been "some kind of mineral oil and vitamin E" packaged as a legitimate product, epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore of the N.C. Department of Public Health told the Greensboro News-Record.

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