Run, robot, run: In June in Rotherham, England, Gaak the robot, who 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." Operation enduring advances: About 2,500 festive marchers turned out for Jerusalem's first gay pride day in June, including a few Palestinians. And according to reports in The New York Times, The Times of London and The Scotsman, U.S. and British troops fighting in Afghanistan have been hit on by that country's apparently numerous (and decreasingly closeted) gay farmers. (Afghan men's brazenly taking boy lovers was a major impetus for the Taliban to take power in 1994, and press reports say that practice is slowly re-emerging.)
Smugglers with bright ideas: A woman's snakeskin "belt" was confiscated by airport customs officials when they realized it was an actual snake (exotic and endangered, yet harmless, which had been sedated by chilling but which had heated up) (Glasgow, Scotland, February). Authorities in Chicago and Orlando recently confiscated shirts from Thailand and Colombia, respectively, that had been "starched" with heroin and which would later be chemically soaked to extract the drug. 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.
Crime does pay: 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.
People different from us: 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.
Feline hate crime: A year ago, News of the Weird reported that a library's resident cat had attacked Richard R. Espinosa's assistance dog, whose injuries have so discomforted Espinosa that he believes he needs $1.5 million to recover from the stress (i.e., his "terror, humiliation, shame, embarrassment, mortification, chagrin, depression, panic, anxiety, flashbacks [and] nightmares"). In April 2002, Espinosa amended his complaint (which is against the city of Escondido, Calif.) to take account that, with his disability, he is in a law-protected class and thus that the cat's actions should be considered a "hate crime" attributable to the library.
Also, in the last month: A jury concluded that Suzanne Vasquez's epilepsy was not caused by the 13-pound Wal-Mart ham that allegedly fell on her head from over the meat cooler while she looked up to check its price (Bradenton, Fla.). Canadian officials said they could not find a crime to charge a man with after catching him selling "upskirt" videos, in that the female victims could not be identified by just their legs (Toronto). An Australian National University research team succeeded in teleporting (disassembling, then re-assembling) a several-billion-proton laser containing a radio message a distance of about one meter (Canberra).