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LEAD STORY: Most competent criminal: Jeffrey "Roofman" Manchester, 33, was finally recaptured after six months of inspired police-dodging in Charlotte, after having smuggled himself out of a previously escape-proof prison nearby. According to a January profile in the San Francisco Chronicle, Manchester (a handsome, athletic, personable man who got his nickname from a multistate series of ceiling-entry burglaries) built an ingenious home behind a cubbyhole at a Toys-R-Us, then at an abandoned Circuit City next door, outfitting both digs with various conveniences, including a protective surveillance camera. The dashing Manchester volunteered at a church, befriending the pastor and dating a parishioner, who eventually helped police capture him. Said a police sergeant, "We can learn a lot from him."

Male Flies, Monkeys Are Just Dogs: In articles in recent issues of Current Biology, researchers separately studying the dance fly and the rhesus macaque monkey concluded that males will be males. The male dance fly was found by a team from the University of Western Australia to sometimes present a female with worthless tokens for the opportunity to mate with her, but by the time she discovered their worth, he had already hit and run. A team from Duke University found that the male monkey will forgo his own rewards (juice) in exchange for being permitted to view pictures of female monkeys' bottoms.

News That Sounds Like a Joke: 1) According to a January Associated Press dispatch, an outfit called Rent-a-Priest supplies independent Catholic clergy to perform mass and communion onboard cruise ships, even though the reason some are independent is that they're no longer in good standing. (The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it has begun to screen out unqualified candidates for cruise line jobs.) 2) In a January CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, in answer to the question whether President Bush is a "uniter" or a "divider," exactly 49 percent of Americans said he was a uniter, and exactly 49 percent said he was a divider.

Compelling Explanations: Ms. Sandu Florenta, 18, a Romanian, was arrested for shoplifting at a Tesco store in Wrexham, Wales, in December with "four packs of frozen lamb, three fresh chickens, three packs of stock cubes, finger chillies, a packet of burgers, garlic, peppers, socks and underwear, plus almost five pounds of oranges and apples" in a special sack under her robes. She told police that not many stores in Romania have carts, and thus, this is how people shop.Pro boxer Hector Macho Camacho Sr. was arrested in Gulfport, Miss., for a Christmastime incident in which he, feeling morose, broke into the computer store next to his office in order to get his computer (in the shop for repairs) so he could e-mail family members, and that meant climbing over a wall and onto ceiling panels, which gave way, sending Camacho crashing onto several computers. Said Macho, according to police: "I don't see myself looking too good." Later, describing his motivation for the break-in: "I guess I ran out of ideas."

Alan Johnson was arrested in Taunton, Mass., in November and charged with burning his girlfriend's 19-month-old boy with a cigarette lighter while baby-sitting. Johnson's explanation: The boy went into a seizure, and Johnson, recalling his lifeguard training, thought the solution was to raise the boy's body temperature to alleviate the seizure.

Recurring Themes: "I don't think I've done more than two days' work in three years," said the New York Liquor Authority's director of wholesale services, Patricia Freund, explaining to the New York Post in December that she is another example of how bureaucracies deal with "problem" workers who are hard to fire. Freund was exiled to an office with no work and no responsibilities (though continuing to draw her $82,000 salary), which she said was in retaliation for raising a stink about Gov. George Pataki's Christian prayer breakfasts and Jesus-laden mementoes, which she said was discriminatory toward Jewish employees, such as herself.

Readers' Choice: Thinning the herd: A 21-year-old student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln was killed when, not belted in, he was ejected from the backseat of an SUV in a crash; the student was prominent for his libertarian political views, including a defiant stand in the student newspaper against mandatory seat belt laws. (He described himself as one of "a die-hard group of non-wearers out there who simply do not wish to buckle up.") (January).

© 2004 Chuck Shepherd

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