Fire down below 


Carl Franklin, 30, was reportedly inebriated and about to urinate by a fence when Tallahassee police called out to him. Startled and intending to run but needing to zip up quickly while holding a lit cigarette, he stuffed the smoke in his pants pocket and took off. A few seconds later, officers noticed that Franklin's trousers were on fire, which did not slow him immediately. But he did trip and fall down when the elastic waistband melted, and his pants tumbled to his ankles.

Butterflies were free

A State University of New York at Buffalo professor, in a recent ecology journal, expressed confidence that scientists will soon be able to genetically alter butterflies to permit the placement of advertising logos and other designs on their wings. And in March, the British video game company, Acclaim Entertainment, announced it would "raise advertising to a new level" by offering to pay relatives of the deceased a fee if it could put small billboards on gravestones.

Death by tradition

Last month, some of the usually restrained press in Saudi Arabia complained that the deaths of 15 schoolgirls in a Mecca fire were due at least in part to their being denied permission to flee the burning building without their traditional scarves and abaya robes. Witnesses said police from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice had beaten three girls until they retreated back into the smoke-filled building. Escape was further hindered because girls are always locked in at the school, in order to keep males out.

Bar hopping

Now awaiting approval for admission to state bar associations are law-school graduates William Francis Hanlon III, 49, in Florida (a former police officer who was implicated in the 1979 fatal police beating of black Miami motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie), and James J. Hamm, 53, in Arizona (who served 17 years in prison for murdering a drifter in the 1970s).

Touchy situation

A sheriff's official in Arapahoe County, Colo., admitted last month that deputies had inadvertently placed a 16-year-old girl in a holding cell early one morning for about 40 minutes, alongside a 34-year-old man who was being detained for one sexual assault and suspected of two others. The error came to light when the girl reported to her lawyer that the man had forcibly fondled her in the cell.

Blind justice

In Fort Worth, Texas, jurors in the January murder trial of Sammy Alvarez, 54, accidentally checked the wrong box on the verdict form and sentenced Alvarez only to probation. They told reporters they had intended to give him a prison term of two to 20 years, plus probation, but marked the probation-only box. Meanwhile, the attorney general of New South Wales, Australia, began an investigation after a man who was convicted of manslaughter was inadvertently provided the names and addresses of his jurors. He had made a routine request for trial records, including the jurors' information, to help him with his appeal.

Climbing to the top

Walter Kidde Portable Equipment Inc. of Virginia Beach, Va., was confident that it would win the copyright-infringement suit brought against it by competitor X-IT. X-IT claimed that it had originated the package design Kidde was using for a fire-escape ladder it was selling. Kidde pooh-poohed the notion. X-IT, however, quickly proved that the woman and boy pictured climbing down the ladder in Kidde's design were actually the sister-in-law and nephew of X-IT founder Aldo DiBelardino. A jury awarded X-IT $116 million.

Selective service

A U.S. Treasury Department audit in December found that the Internal Revenue Service could not account for 2,300 computers supposedly in its employees' hands (but the IRS still requires taxpayers under audit to account meticulously for their assets and losses). ... A South Korean government ministry, aiming to reduce food waste, announced in March that, by its calculations, the South officially threw out more food last year than North Korea consumed. ... The Australian cell-phone company Telstra apologized for abruptly closing the account of a living cancer patient, allegedly because of a company policy encouraging the settlement of accounts before they pass on to a deceased's estate.

Swine date

Germany's agriculture ministry reports that it will implement European Union guidelines requiring pig farmers to spend quality time with their stock -- 20 seconds per head per day -- plus providing playthings and brighter lighting.


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