News you may have missed...
August 1998

Japan sweet firms look to modern Samurai

TOKYO, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Japan's confectionery industry is turning to a new target, the traditionally macho male, to boost sales as the nation faces a deepening recession. Many Japanese men still think of themselves as Samurai warriors and tend to shun buying sweets that are packaged to appeal more to women and children.

Japanese sweets, for example, are wrapped in pastel pink, yellow or bright red paper with kittens, bunnies or comic figures -- hardly the items the average Japanese man would be seen buying or eating. Which explains why most men are often fond of saying: 'I don't eat/don't like sweets,' as a sign of their machismo. It's time for an image change, sweet makers say. In response, the industry has launched a series of high-quality bitter chocolates wrapped in gold paper and presented in smart, dark-coloured boxes.

"We are hoping to expand the market to include adults, also men, from mainly children and young women," said Takatomo Etoh, a spokesman at Meiji Seika Kaisha, Ltd, the market leader in Japan's confectionery industry. "With our new products, in both packaging and taste, we are aiming at people who haven't eaten much chocolate in the past. Many Japanese men say they are embarrassed to buy chocolate themselves," Etoh told Reuters in a recent interview.

Industry officials say they are satisfied with the initial reaction to their new products, which have been on sale for the past few months. Some cocoa traders have even called them the world's best mass-produced chocolates. "They are of top quality," said a senior cocoa trader at a trading house. "Japanese use the best cocoa beans. They also have the best technology. It's only the image, in which Japanese are inferior to foreign rivals."

Nevertheless, industry officials and traders worry Japanese intake of chocolate might shrink further this year as the country struggles with the worst recession since World War Two. "It's very tough this year as the economy's in poor shape," said Fumio Sukegawa, director general at the Chocolate & Cocoa Association of Japan. "Consumption dropped already last year. Up to then, we saw growth each year, albeit small."

"Japanese have so many different confectioneries to pick from -- Western things like cream cakes, chocolates and candies as well as traditional stuff such as red bean cakes or rice crackers," said Chisa Karita, spokeswoman at Meiji. "In addition, Japanese use quite a lot of sugar in cooking so they don't feel much need for sweets after the meal," she said.

Production under licence has also had an unfortunate history. In the early 1970s, Meiji abandoned links with Swiss Jacobs Suchard after a few years because the venture was unprofitable. The only major foreign chocolate now manufactured here is Kit Kat, though it is sold in a much smaller package than in other countries. In a bid to tempt Japanese to eat more chocolate, the confectionery industry has been advocating how good chocolate is for health. Polyphenol contained in cocoa beans prevents heart disease, cancer and helps people cope with stress, it says.

So, will chocolate help people cope with the economic recession? "With natural cocoa polyphenol, you can stay healthy," says the package of one of the new bitter chocolates. "Chocolate for grown-ups who value health and taste," says another.

N.C. man charged in "cannibal corn" blackmail scheme

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Aug 4 (Reuters) - U.S. agents have charged a Charlotte man in a scheme to extort money from a movie theater chain by claiming he made "cannibal corn" by putting his aunt's cremated remains in cinema popcorn. Herb Cruse, 77, was arrested at his home in Charlotte on Monday, U.S. officials said.

He allegedly sent a letter to the Carmike Cinema chain's Columbus, Georgia, headquarters telling them that he put his aunt's ashes in the popcorn at three of its movie theaters, including the Town Cinema 6, a multiplex owned by Carmike near the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, "five or six years ago." But he told reporters late Monday that he actually had not put his aunt's ashes in the movie snack. He said he did put "just some ashes" in the popper at the theater while he was working as a salesman for Carmike.

Cruse said he was angry at a theater district supervisor who he said tried to fire him after discovering Cruse wore knee braces from injuries received at Pearl Harbor. He said the supervisor reneged on a verbal agreement to allow him to sell intermission advertising for the theater chain. He sent a letter on March 27 apologizing for the "childish prank" and said he hoped that "movie patrons who may have consumed the adulterated popcorn can forgive and forget." But federal investigators in Atlanta said Cruse had been trying to extort money from the company.

Cruse said he put the ashes in the popcorn several years ago, but someone had circulated fliers in the Town Cinema 6 parking lot last week calling the theater's treat "cannibal corn" and enlisting anyone interested in filing a class action suit against the company to contact Cruise. U.S. prosecutors declined comment on the case. Cruse said he would go to Atlanta and talk to the U.S. Attorney's office there about the case.

In a post script to his letter, Cruse added: "In the process of cremation the temperature rises to 1,600 up to 2,000 degrees, leaving the ash remains 100 percent pure, this is not nearly as bad as feeding our children Crack Cocaine, Marijuana Grass ... or Jerry Springer!" Carmike Assistant Vice President and Controller Phillip Smitley told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer newspaper in Tuesday's editions that "there is no evidence whatsoever" that Cruse actually put human remains in popcorn. Cruse was free on an unsecured bond and scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Columbus on Thursday.

When wife's away Italian men won't play...they say

ROME, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Italian men claim to be remarkably faithful during the summer when many wives are away at the beach or in the mountains with the children, a poll on Monday showed. Belying the image of the Italian lothario, just 20 percent of the 675 men questioned in the poll, carried out by national Radio 105 Network, said they would consider betraying their wives in their absence.

Asked why they might be unfaithful, 24 percent said to combat loneliness, 18 percent because they were convinced their partners would do the same and 15 percent because they were sexually bored. Another 11 percent said their infidelity was provoked by irresistible urges brought on by the seasonal warm weather, while 10 percent said they betrayed their wives all year round, so why not in the summer?

Those who pledged to remain faithful said they would deal with their solitude by going for a bicycle ride, walking in the park, going out for a drink with friends, watching television or reading -- at least, that's what they said.

Calif. man hangs himself after Stevie Nicks concert

CONCORD, Calif., Aug 3 (Reuters) - Hundreds of fans leaving a concert by Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks watched in horror as a man hanged himself from a utility pole after having argued with his estranged wife, officials said on Monday. The man, who has not been identified, argued with his wife after meeting her on Sunday night at an outdoor amphitheater in Concord, a suburb of San Francisco.

A spokeswoman for the city of Concord said the wife, who had a restraining order against her husband, notified authorities. The man, carrying a set of car battery jumper cables, then scaled a utility pole near the entrance of the pavilion. As police and fire crews arrived, the man attached the cables to the top of the pole and threatened to kill himself. It was not immediately clear whether he slipped accidentally or deliberately hanged himself, the spokeswoman said.

The incident was not the first to tarnish a concert by Nicks. Last month, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a restraining order against a psychiatric patient who believes the rock star is a witch who can "heal" him of his homosexuality. The order bars Ronald Anacelteo from all concerts, venues or recording studios where the 50-year-old singer is performing, as well as from her home and workplace.

Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, and her stage persona -- long blonde hair and flowing costumes -- has long defined the band for many of its fans. The singer recently reunited with Fleetwood Mac for a tour in support of "The Dance," an album culled from a special concert performance on MTV, and in April she released a three-volume retrospective box set, "Enchanted," that spans her solo career.

Crackdown on near-naked Australian outback barmaids

KALGOORLIE, Australia, Aug 5 (Reuters) - The long-running tradition of near-naked young women tending bar in the rough outback mining towns of Western Australia state may be coming to an end. Kalgoorlie has been known as much for its relaxed attitude to prostitution and drinking as for being the heart of the Australian gold mining industry.

But police are cracking down on female bartenders, known to locals as "skimpies" who work in their underwear and give patrons a peek of their breasts and buttocks for a small fee. Rowdy patrons of the Federal Hotel caused a near-riot when police detained a barmaid for showing her breasts earlier this week. "I don't get it," the Federal's owner, Alan Hinchcliffe, told Reuters on Wednesday. "We've had skimpies for 15 years and 10 other pubs in Kalgoorlie do the same and only now they crack down."

Barmaids who wear see-through underwear or bare their breasts or buttocks in a game of "heads and tails" with patrons were violating liquor licence laws, acting police inspector Brian Cunningham said. Hinchcliffe said the crackdown was probably aimed at presenting a cleaner image of Kalgoorlie during this week's annual Diggers and Dealers mining conference, which attracts many overseas visitors.

Man strung up on meat hooks sets new world record

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Aug 5 (Reuters) - John Kamakaze, Scotland's self-styled "Prince of Pain", set a stomach-churning world record on Wednesday when he spent 15 minutes suspended in mid-air by meat hooks imbedded in his back. A smiling Kamakaze, with eight meat hooks stuck in his back, and one in each leg, said pain was all in the mind. "It didn't hurt a bit. It's just a case of mind over matter," Kamakaze told Reuters afterwards. "I'm perfectly happy. The only thing that hurts is a blister on my foot from walking about too much yesterday." Unsurprisingly, the stunt has never before been attempted. Kamakaze and his performance group, the Kamakaze Freak Show, were performing on the Fringe of Scotland's annual Edinburgh Festival - the world's largest arts festival. "I like to take things to the extreme," Kamakaze said of the stunt that made one photographer faint clean away.

Florida undertaker said to lay voodoo curse on rivals

BRADENTON, Fla., Aug 5 (Reuters) - A Florida funeral home owner stuffed voodoo dolls into a corpse in a death curse against her competitors in the burial business and other enemies, police said on Wednesday. A report for police by a Miami voodoo expert said Paula Green-Albritton, owner of Green's Funeral Home in Bradenton, invoked the voodoo deity Damballah in the hope that people whose names she had written on notes pinned to the dolls would die.

She allegedly severed the left hand of the corpse, garbage collector Willie Suttle who had died of natural causes, and placed 12 dolls inside the chest cavity. "These dolls were placed inside a body that was to be buried and will decompose with time," voodoo expert Rafael Martinez said in his report, which police gave to Reuters on Wednesday. "By placing these dolls inside Mr. Suttle's body this voodoo practitioner intended to destroy the enemies represented by each," he said. "The invocations and curses mentioned in the notes clearly indicate that Paula Green-Albritton was performing some type of black or malevolent magic based on the voodoo religion."

Richard Woodie of the Westside Funeral Home was one of least two people whose names were attached to the dolls who were connected to the funeral home business. "Be gone and may you rot in the grave Richard Woodie -- Damballah curse him as I curse him, and spoil him as a spoil him -- by the fire at night," one note said. Green-Albritton was arrested last month along with her son Jimmy Lee Clarke. She pleaded not guilty on Friday to tampering with a corpse. No date was set for trial.

Police began the investigation after a civic worker found a severed hand on the beach of the Manatee River in June. A fingerprint test led them to the garbage collector's grave. When the body was exhumed, they found the hand severed and the chest cavity packed with the 12 dolls. Each doll also had a pin inserted under the left arm as if to pierce the heart. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail or a $10,000 fine.

Stand clear of the doors, please...

Here's this week's little jaw-dropping piece of multi-media, on which I have no information at all. Again, you are warned that this movie clip is not for the faint-hearted [255K]

Sony shutters camera that sees through clothes

TOKYO, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Electronics giant Sony Corp said on Wednesday it had halted shipments of some video cameras after finding they could be used for filming more of their subjects than meets the eye. Some versions of the Handycam have infrared technology which lets users shoot at night or in darkness in a "night shot" mode.

But magazine reports revealed that when the special feature is used in daylight or a lighted room with a special filter it can "see through" clothing -- underwear can show up, especially on those lightly dressed, and people wearing swimsuits look almost naked. A Sony spokesman said the first the company knew of the camera's surprise feature was when reporters started asking for comments on the "new way" of using the camera. Sony technicians then experimented and confirmed that the technology had the unintended capability.

"When we developed this feature for the Handycam, we were thinking of people filming night views -- their children sleeping, or perhaps the nocturnal behaviour of animals," the spokesman said. Concerned at the possibility of less innocent users taking advantage of the technology, Sony has modified the camera so the "night shot" mode only works in the dark.

Shipment of the new versions have already begun, replacing the original ones, which hit the market in March and had sold around 180,000 units in the domestic market up to the end of July, the spokesman said. It sold 870,000 of the original cameras worldwide by the end of June, including 400,000 in North America and 290,000 in Europe. The spokesman said it is now shipping the modified version overseas. He denied local media reports that it had asked stores to remove the original versions from their shelves. The company declined to confirm retail prices, but media reports said the cameras range from 100,000 yen ($684) to 200,000 yen in Japan.

Greek groom in wedding gown frays bride's nerves

ATHENS, Aug 13 (Reuters) - A bride-to-be suffered a nervous breakdown the night before her wedding on the Greek island of Crete when she discovered the groom, dressed in her wedding gown, in the arms of his best man. The future husband and wife were celebrating at separate parties when the bride's friends asked to go to the couple's new home to take a peek at the wedding dress, the semi-official Athens news agency reported. When they arrived, they found the gown-clad groom locked in a passionate embrace with the best man. The young woman has been treated at a clinic in the town of Iraklion since the incident on Saturday, the agency said. The wedding did not take place.

Pipeline to oblivion

VILNIUS, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Lithuanian alcohol producers have reported falling profits recently and local police may have discovered one reason why -- a three kilometre (1.8 mile) pipeline smuggling high proof spirits from neighbouring Latvia. Police on Tuesday seized the small country house of a former border guard in northern Lithuania after discovering a spring of the contraband alcohol flowing via an underground plastic pipeline from Latvia. "After several days of surveillance we discovered a plastic underground pipeline of around three kilometres in length used for smuggling strong spirits from Latvia," policeman Stanislovas Stonys told Reuters. "There was even a small pump installed, to pump alcohol to a capacity of around 12 cubic meters," he added. The Lithuanian government has said that fighting alcohol smuggling will be among its top priorities after first-half excise duties fell some 139 million litas ($34.8 million) short.

Hey, hey, it's the Monk-ees...

PHNOM PENH - A Cambodian monk was expelled after he was caught sneaking out of his temple at night to indulge his secret passion -- karaoke singing. By day Kung Bunchhoeun, 22, wore the simple orange robes of a monk but at night he would don ordinary garb and slip out of his Phnom Penh temple to croon in nearby karaoke bars, the Koh Santipheap newspaper reported. He also occasionally went dancing, the paper said. "We no longer accept this monk because he has too much freedom, his conduct violates Buddhist discipline," the abbot at his pagoda told the newspaper.

Chinese carry-out

BEIJING - Frustrated Chinese desperate to answer nature's call in unfamiliar cities devoid of public toilets may now find relief just around the corner -- and on three wheels. Taiyuan, capital of the northern province of Shanxi, has deployed roving privies mounted on tricycles to service crowded sites such as railway stations and public squares, the Xinhua news agency said. "The toilets are convenient for pedestrians and the floating population of migrant workers, who have difficulty finding a toilet in large cities," Xinhua quoted Xue Mingyuan, inventor of the pedal-power potties, as saying.

Singapore toilets scrub up for title fight

SINGAPORE, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Public spaces in Singapore can never be clean enough -- whether on the street or in the toilet. Known for its litter-free, green and spacious boulevards -- and for the heavy fines that keep them that way -- the island state is now turning its energies to creating a similar ambiance for its public toilets. One way to reinforce good toilet behavior is to fine those who don't flush the toilets or are caught urinating in lifts, many of which are armed with Urine Detection Devices (UDD).

But the government is also taking a soft approach. The month-long Clean Public Toilets Campaign kicked off on July 30 with cleaners gearing up to polish toilet bowls and wax floors to win the "People's Choice Award" as the model toilet. "As a nation, Singapore has a strong reputation for cleanliness, but if our public toilets are not of a high standard, then our reputation will suffer," Commissioner of Public Health Daniel Wang said at the launch of the campaign. "Keeping public toilets clean is one simple way we can all help maintain the good name we have built for Singapore."

"What makes a model toilet?" asked an advertisement carried by Singapore's two biggest newspapers, in English and Chinese. "Besides toilet paper, soap dispensers and hand dryers, what else should a model public toilet have?" It offered three choices. Option one: Flushed toilet, wet floor, dirty seats. Option two: Flushed toilet, dry floor, no litter. Option three: Dry floor, no litter, choked basin. "Congratulations. You are now eligible to enter the People's Choice Award," the hotline responds to the correct answer. Asia's financial crisis has not deterred organisers from offering as top prize this year a free trip for two to Australia -- last year the lucky ones only got as far as Hong Kong -- in a bid to inveigle people to vote for their favourite public toilets.

Specially designed stickers, bookmarks, badges and keychains carrying the message "Let's keep our toilets clean and dry", have been handed out across the island. Radio Corporation of Singapore (RCS) is not lagging behind. "Make our public toilets look like your living room" was one of the messages NTUC's Radio Heart programme advocated in 1996. This year, RCS is featuring trailer promotions, information capsules with contests, a chat show and a roving report during the crusade for cleanliness.

The campaign made its debut in 1996, after Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong singled out clean public toilets as one of the two indices of social graces. The other marker is the ability to appreciate music. It's "different and interesting" to do public relations work on toilets, said Catherine Rolfe at Fleishman-Hillard Hickson, which has been commissioned by the government to organise events and draw participation to the campaign. Events include a "Scavenger Hunt" for families and in-house educational activities at all educational institutions. The three-year-old drive has notched up some achievements in Singapore, known for its public campaigns to promote causes ranging from washing your hands to having more children. In an annual government survey, 122 of 770 public toilets in Singapore were categorised "excellent" in 1998. In 1997 and 1996, none had made the grade. The survey rated toilets in categories from "poor" to "excellent" based on how dirty, wet or stained the floors are and whether the toilet bowls were flushed. The number of public toilets rated "poor" and "not quite satisfactory" dropped to 184 against 300 last year. "I do appreciate the government's effort to keep toilets clean," said Tan, an office worker in her 30s. "I don't have to worry if I have to use a public toilet."

The government will release a set of guidelines for public toilet design by the end of 1998, but they may prove unnecessary for the Great World City shopping centre, which opened recently. Its toilets score high on both grace indices. There are clean and dry "theme toilets" for shoppers featuring themes tied to seven countries spanning Asia, America, Europe and Africa. And music swirls through each sparkling room. "We call them Seven Wonders. I don't think you can see anything close to this in this region," said Jenny Ong, advertising and promotion manager of the shopping centre. "We want people to get a refreshing feeling after using our toilets. It's something people will remember," Ong said. Great World City spent S$1 million (US$588,000) on its seven toilets, which shoppers have described as "cool" and "excellent". "The feedback has been very good so far. Of course we hope we can win the award this year," Ong said with a laugh.

Tamagotchi inventor to produce vibrating musical lollipops

TOKYO (AFX) - Bandai Co Ltd, inventor of the Tamagotchi virtual pets, has been licensed by a U.S. toymaker to produce and market vibrating lollipops that conduct the sound of music through the skull. It said it will launch on the domestic market in mid-September a U.S.-developed gadget to transmit music vibrations directly to the skull from a lollipop in the mouth.

Dubbed "Silent Shout", the contraption is an outgrowth of hearing aids which transmit soundwaves to the inner ear directly via the skull. The hand-held machine, 25 cm long, gives out sound vibrations to the teeth by way of an attached lollipop. The music can be heard only by the user. "We wish to be active in providing merchandise in unprecedented forms of entertainment as the times are looking after new things and new sensations," Bandai said in a statement. The company plans to sell 1 mln Silent Shouts, priced at 1,480 yen each in the first six months. The product is mainly targeted at women in their teens and early twenties.

The Silent Shout comes in four varieties of design and music: Groove DJ (up tempo electric music); Hip Hop DJ (trendy street music); Animals (a hip-hop rhythm mixed with sounds of ducks, cows, hens and elephants); Relaxation (healing music including the sound of a brook and bird chirps).

And you look sweet...on a bulldozer made for two

AMMAN, Aug 20 (Reuters) - The bride wore white. The groom chose a traditional grey suit. And they drove off on their honeymoon in a flower-covered bulldozer. To the honking of car horns and ululating women, Jordanian bridegroom Emad Ali Mohammad and his bride Mayssa al-Abed set off in a sofa wedged to the front of the bulldozer, bedecked with flowers, white lace and the customary "Just Married" sign. "I want to be married...in a special way," Mohammad said at his wedding in Amman late on Wednesday.

The long...er, limb of the law

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - A blind man thought he positively identified a barefoot robbery suspect by feeling his feet, but police disagreed, a report said. "Being blind, I go by touch," William Bradley, 80, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Bradley was choked and robbed by a barefoot man who knocked at his door and then threw him to the floor on Monday night, according to police reports. "He had his foot on my throat and I couldn't breathe," Bradley said. "When I was trying to get his foot off my throat it was the funniest shaped foot."

The robber stole a shirt and $4 then fled when he heard a car alarm outside. A short time later, police stopped a man they suspected in the robbery, and summoned Bradley to see if he could identify him by feeling his feet. "As soon as I felt his ankles and toes I knew it was him," Bradley told the newspaper. But police were apparently not convinced that Bradley identified the correct foot and released the suspect.

U.S. sex scandal used to sell Israeli detergent

JERUSALEM, Aug 17 (Reuters) - An Israeli soap powder company is using the U.S. presidential sex scandal to sell stain-removing detergent. In a television commercial, the Lever Israel company suggests that its Biomat detergent can deal with even the most stubborn stains caused by what has euphemistically been called DNA material.

It shows "FBI agents" entering the "home" of Monica Lewinsky to remove, wash and return the dress at the centre of an investigation into whether President Bill Clinton had an affair with the former White House intern and told her to lie about it. For what the company called legal reasons, the spelling of Lewinsky's name on a mail box outside the house was Monika Lavinsky. But the two agents slip up in their apparent mission to protect the president. On leaving the house, they report by wrist radio the dress is now "whiter then white" -- only to be told by a voice in their earpieces: "White? But it's a blue dress."

The commercial, already aired on Israeli news programmes, premiered on Monday to coincide with Clinton's closed circuit television testimony to a federal grand jury. "We believe that this kind of humour will help us reach the consumer," Yair Sharett, a Lever Israel representative, told Reuters.

Scandal boosts sales of smutty Clinton dolls

NEW YORK, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Sales soared on Monday of "Fondle Me Bubba" dolls, caricatures of President Clinton that utter suggestive remarks when squeezed below the waist, the creator of the dolls said. The cloth-covered, stuffed Bubbas deliver such lines as "I'll bomb Baghdad, I'll bomb France, if you'll remove my underpants" and "Baby, you make my knees knock."

"We're getting a lot of calls," said Roseland, New Jersey-based attorney Ted Theise, who created the doll. "We've been inundated." Drawn on the body of the 16-inch (41-centimeter) doll is Bubba, clad in boxer shorts printed with red hearts. His unzipped trousers are down around his ankles.

Fitted with a voice chip, the doll has a repertoire of eight phrases created by a Clinton impersonator. Among the other phrases are "Oral sex is not adultery" and "I feel your pain." "It's not really anything nasty," Theise said. "If anything, we've probably toned down from the real Bubba." The doll, sold in novelty stores, seems to appeal to both Clinton supporters and detractors alike, Theise said.


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