In June in Rotherham, England, Gaak the robot, which is part of a research project into equipping robots to think for themselves, escaped from the lab while it was momentarily unattended and made it as far as the parking lot of the Magna science center before being stopped by a visitor's car. It had forced its way out of a small pen used to house units scheduled for repair. Said Professor Noel Sharkey, "[The robots] have all learned a significant amount and are becoming more intelligent by the day."
Welcome to the hole-y land
About 2,500 marchers turned out for Jerusalem's first-ever gay pride day in June, including a few Palestinians. And, according to reports in The New York Times and The Times of London, quite a few U.S. and British troops stationed in Afghanistan have been hit on by that country's apparently numerous -- and decreasingly closeted -- gay farmers. The taking of young male lovers by Afghan men was a significant impetus for the Taliban to take power in 1994, and press reports say that practice is slowly reemerging.
Chimp off the old block
The Agence France-Presse news service reported in April that a severely disabled boy (believed to be about age 7) had been taken in by a children's home in Kano, Nigeria, in 1996 after having been abandoned by his nomadic parents and raised with chimpanzees for 18 months. The nursing staff at the Tudun Maliki Torrey home said that the kid no longer drags his hands on the ground as he walks, but still often springs at people and makes chimplike noises. The nomadic Fulani people of Nigeria have been known to reject disabled children as too difficult to travel with.
Authorities in Orlando and Chicago recently confiscated shirts from Colombia and Thailand, respectively, that had been "starched" with heroin and which would later be chemically soaked to extract the drug. ... A woman's snakeskin "belt" was confiscated by airport customs officials in Glasgow, Scotland, when they realized it was an actual snake. The endangered and exotic (yet harmless) creature had been sedated by chilling, but during its wait at the airport, it heated up. ... And since Sept. 11, Customs officials say drug cartels' Mexico-to-U.S. tunneling activity has increased, with five new tunnels recently raided, including one that ended near the parking lot of the Customs office in Nogales, Ariz.
Flushed with success
Russ and Sandy Asbury of Whitewater, Wis., told an Associated Press reporter that their two cats, Boots and Bandit, both 2 years old, have driven up the couple's water bill lately because they have learned to flush toilets. Said Russ, "We have to shut the bathroom door when we go to bed. Otherwise one or the other of the cats are in there flushing away all night."
Putting the 'ass' in 'assailant'
In June, the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, awarded Damien Keller, 31, the equivalent of $313,000 (U.S.) for injuries he suffered while robbing a taxi driver at knifepoint in 1994. Although the driver had fled the robbery, Keller chased him until the cornered driver was forced to hit Keller with a stick and punch him in the face. Keller suffered brain damage because, he said, the police and ambulance service did not treat him speedily enough.
Apparently angry because local doctors kept telling him nothing was wrong with him, Shawn Eric Bird, 40, allegedly mailed more than 100 envelopes containing notes with childlike insults and smeared cat feces and urine to medical offices and other establishments around Belleville, Ontario, before being arrested in May. Police finally caught him when Bird (referring to himself as the "Spider-Man" character, the Green Goblin) called a station house to chide them for incompetence, and officers surmised from the background noise where Bird was calling from.
One for the bean counters
No brewed coffee may be sold in Berkeley, Calif., unless it comes from "organic, shade-grown" or "Fair-Trade-certified" beans, according to a 2002 voter initiative being advanced by 35-year-old lawyer Rick Young. ... At least 10 people were killed after steady rains waterlogged and toppled a huge mountain of garbage (tens of thousands of square meters' worth) piled adjacent to a workers' dormitory in Shandong, China. ... A jury in Bradenton, Fla., has concluded that Suzanne Vasquez's epilepsy was not caused by the 13-pound Wal-Mart ham that allegedly fell on her head from atop the meat cooler while she looked up to check its price.