Odd news -- December 28, 2009

Holiday Shopping:
NEW YORK (AP) - Merchants may have some reason to celebrate. New numbers indicate that holiday shoppers spent a little more this season. It would mean that retailers managed to avoid a repeat of last year's disaster, even though credit is tight and unemployment is in double-digits. According to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks
all forms of payment -- including cash -- retail sales rose by 3.6 percent from the beginning of November through Christmas Eve. When adjusted for an extra shopping day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the number was closer to a 1 percent gain. The higher spending should bring healthier profits, since stores had a year in which to plan their inventories to match consumer demand, and didn't have to resort to drastic price-cutting.

Airline Safety Review:
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration is promising a sweeping review of aviation security after a Nigerian man allegedly attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight as it made its descent to Detroit on Christmas Day. Investigators are now trying to piece together how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the deadly explosive material escaped detection. Law enforcement officials believe Abdulmutallab tried to ignite a two-part concoction of PETN and possibly a glycol-based liquid explosive, setting off popping, smoke and some fire but no deadly detonation. PETN is the primary ingredient in detonating cords used for industrial explosions. They say the suspect hid the material in a small bag below his torso. Experts say airport "puffer" machines that blow air on a passenger to collect and analyze residues would probably have detected the powder, as would bomb-sniffing dogs or a hands-on search using a swab.

Security Further Fouls Holiday Air Travel:
DETROIT (AP) - The holiday travel season is always busy and this year it's been marked by heavy weather in several parts of the country. Now, it's being further complicated by tighter security after a failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound plane. Airports worldwide have tightened security in the aftermath. Passengers are getting extra pat-downs before boarding and being instructed to stay in their seats without blankets or pillows for the last hour of the flight. Air Canada also says that passengers won't be allowed access to carryon baggage or to have any items on their laps during the last hour. Passenger and law enforcement officials accounts describe Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab leaving his seating for 20 minutes to go to the bathroom. He returned complaining of an upset stomach and covered himself with a blanket. After that, passengers say they heard a pop like a firecracker and saw flames.

Profiling Fears:
WASHINGTON (AP) - A Muslim advocacy group is urging passengers, crews and security personnel to avoid ethnic and religious "profiling" in the wake of the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight in Detroit on Christmas Day. In a statement, Ibrahim Hooper of the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations says, "While everyone supports robust airline security measures, racial and religious profiling are in fact counterproductive and can lead to a climate of insecurity and fear." CAIR issued the statement following two false alarms aboard U.S. airliners this weekend. In one of them, the FBI says passengers on a U.S. Airways flight from Orlando to Phoenix last night reported that two men, described as Middle Eastern, had been acting in a suspicious manner. The men have been released, after being questioned by federal anti-terrorism authorities.

Paper Airplane Flight:
TOKYO (AP) - It lasted a tick more than 26 seconds but it still goes down as a world flight record -- for paper airplanes. Japanese paper airplane virtuoso Takuo Toda had hoped to reach the holy grail of paper-only flight -- 30 seconds -- but fell just short at 26.1 seconds, his best of 10 attempts. Toda flew a roughly 4-inch-long craft of his own design following Origami rules -- no paste and no cutting. His best ever flight was 27.9 seconds with an asterisk. That plane had some tape on it. In the world of competitive paper airplane throwing, Toda is the only man who has ever come close to the 30 second barrier. He says it's just a matter of time. His actual best throw today was ruled a foul -- because it hit a jet parked in the Tokyo hangar where the event took place. Toda says he'd like to launch a paper airplane from space and thinks he has a design that could survive re-entry.

New Uses for Auto Showrooms:
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - As auto showrooms close nationwide, schools, day care centers, stores and other activities are filling some of the void. An art college in Columbus, Ohio. A yoga studio in Los Angeles. A food bank warehouse in Oregon. Each has taken over one of the windowed, boxy spaces that used to tease passers-by with the view of shiny cars. Architects and historians say depressed real estate values and enthusiasm for green energy are contributing to a high level of interest in reusing showrooms. The showrooms are especially sturdy, naturally lit and often ideally located in high-traffic areas. U.S. auto sales fell to a 26-year low in 2009, and General Motors and Chrysler shed dealerships as they struggled in the bad economy.

Battle over field:
PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) - Parents of public school students are accusing a Rhode Island city of favoring a private Catholic school by granting it exclusive access to a public playing field. Parents who have sued the city of Pawtucket say the dispute is as much about the Constitution as it is about sports. The case resonates in heavily Catholic Rhode Island, where tussles over the separation between church and state are common. Saint Raphael Academy has played on city fields for decades since it doesn't have its own field. The city allows it to practice football on a public field even though a public middle school has asked to use it for soccer. City officials deny preferential treatment, saying field permits
are handed out based on factors including field conditions and team schedules.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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