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January 1999

Trash-talking Santa yanked from Canadian stores

TORONTO, Dec 17 (Reuters) - A major Canadian retailer has ordered six-inch singing Santa figurines removed from store shelves after complaints that the song they sing is an obscene version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". The battery-powered Santas warbled a locker-room version of the Christmas tune in a voice similar to that of the late singer Burl Ives, a spokesman for Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. said on Thursday. Santa was pulled after a Welland, Ontario, store received a complaint from a concerned customer.

"I had to listen to it three times. I thought it was a skip, but then I heard it," said Frank Ehrhardt, assistant manager of hardware and other goods at the Welland store. The lyrics were in part: "Rudolph the red nose dickhead, has a shiny nose that blows." The chain has agreed to offer full refunds to customers who return the C$30 Santas, which were made in China. The glitch was likely caused by "someone at the manufacturing plant having a bad night," Ehrhardt said.

Women kidnap Josephs from Belgian Christmas cribs

BRUSSELS, Dec 30 (Reuters) - A group of single mothers calling for the right to artificial insemination and "immaculate conception" kidnapped nine statues of Joseph from Christmas cribs in Belgium, Belgian news agency Belga said on Wednesday. "Mary was an independent woman. We will hold the Josephs hostage until our demands are met," said a note left at one of the cribs, which were all in public places, by the previously unknown Association for Consciously Single Mothers. Belga added: "In its statement, the feminist group demands equally the right to self-determination (for women), to artificial insemination, to voluntary single motherhood and to...immaculate conception." Police in Harelbeke, in western Belgium, declined to comment.

Singing tree tattles on burglar suspects in U.S.

BATON ROUGE, La., Jan 5 (Reuters) - A singing Christmas tree tattled on two teenage burglary suspects in Louisiana, leaving the boys with backsides full of buckshot rather than handfuls of loot, police said Tuesday. Businessman Leon Wilson, Sr., 59, had been robbed twice last week, so he started sleeping in his store Friday night and set up a makeshift burglar alarm -- a motion-activated toy Christmas tree his wife had perched near the store's cash register. Wilson said the toy annoyed him everytime someone walked by. When motion is detected, the tree's eyes pop open, its mouth moves and it calls out "Merry Christmas, Everybody!" before singing "Jingle Bells." Wilson set up the toy near the door and stretched out on a couch in the back.

Early Monday morning, the singing Christmas tree went off and he spotted two burglars near the cash register, armed with a crowbar they allegedly used to pry open the door, Wilson said. "They spotted me and bolted for the door and I started shooting, aiming low cause I didn't want to kill them," he said. "I don't think the Lord would have blessed me for that. But now, maybe, burglars won't come back here." Baton Rouge police said the two 16-year-old suspects, one with buckshot in his buttocks and the other with a minor leg wound, were arrested on burglary charges and released to their parents. Police did not identify the boys because they are juveniles. Police said no charges were filed against Wilson, although the case will be forwarded to the district attorney for review.

Voodoo latrine leads to lost Jamaican mail

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Dec 31 (Reuters) - A musical greeting card tinkled out the tune to "Silent Night" from the depths of a Jamaican latrine, prompting a voodoo scare that led to a cache of missing mail, the Caribbean News Agency reported on Thursday. The musical card was among hundreds of letters found dumped into the post office latrine in Kingston's Grove Town community, the agency said. The letters were discovered on December 19, when a man using the pit-style latrine heard the instrumental version of "Silent Night" ringing up from the depths of the facility. Believing he was the victim of a voodoo curse, the frightened man alerted neighbors, who searched the latrine and discovered the undelivered mail, the agency said. Police were still investigating how the mail ended up in the latrine. They said the post office did not appear to have been broken into.

Japanese holiday rice cakes kill three in Tokyo

TOKYO, Jan 2 (Reuters) - Sticky, chewy rice cakes -- the silent killers of the Japanese New Year season -- claimed three lives in Tokyo this year, fire officials said on Saturday. The rice cakes known in Japanese as "mochi" are a traditional part of New Year family feasts, but every year many people die when the sticky cakes lodge in their throats. The three victims in Tokyo were a 92-year-old woman, a 74-year-old man and a 62-year-old woman, fire officials said. Another six people were rushed to hospital and they recovered. "The elderly are particularly susceptible to choking on rice cakes because they often cannot chew them thoroughly," a fire official told Reuters. "We are asking people to cut rice cakes into small pieces for elderly family members," the official added. Last year, eight people died in Tokyo, and 21 nationwide, after choking on the holiday food.

Doctors remove 83-pound tumor from Honduran woman

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Honduran doctors have removed an 83-pound (37-kg) tumor from the abdomen of a 25-year-old woman who originally thought she was pregnant, a doctor said on Wednesday. It was the largest tumor on record in Honduras and maybe one of the 10 largest in the world, gynecologist Jose Arita told Reuters. The tumor weighed three pounds (1.35 kg) more than the woman did after the operation.

Reina Alvarado, a peasant from Nombre de Culmi, some 105 miles (170 km) north of the capital Tegucigalpa, was in stable condition and expected to recover. She had been treated as pregnant for nearly a year in a rural health clinic. She was eventually transferred to a hospital in Tegucigalpa, where she was operated on last week, Arita said. "It was a benign tumor but because of its size caused severe problems for this woman," the doctor said. "This is the biggest tumor ever documented in Honduras and possibly one of the 10 largest ever registered in the world."

An early contender for least plausible excuse of 1999

MIAMI, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Two Florida teenagers charged with repeatedly raping their 8-year-old half-sister said they did it after seeing a program about incest on the controversial Jerry Springer television talk show, police said Thursday. The 15- and 13-year-old brothers, of Hollywood, Florida, showed no emotion or regret during interrogation as the older boy told detectives that they sexually abused their half-sister at least 10 times over a period of years, police said. "They showed absolutely no remorse. This was cold as ice," said Hollywood Police Detective Curt Navarro, who interrogated the children before filing four counts of sexual battery -- rape under Florida law -- against each. "When I asked 'Where did you learn this?' there was no pause, no eyes rolling back, no thinking 'How do I get out of this,'" he said. "He (the older boy) said 'I learned it on The Jerry Springer Show.'"

Springer, a lawyer and former mayor of Cincinnati, has become a lightning rod for criticism of U.S. tabloid television because his sensational show centers on dysfunctional guests who frequently come to blows on camera. A publicist for the show said Springer was aware of the Hollywood case but was not immediately available for comment. "We've never had a show that is remotely close to this situation and unfortunately, there are situations in this world for which we are blamed," the publicist, Linda Shafran, said. "They probably never had a show with a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old engaging in oral, anal and vaginal sex with an 8-year-old sister," Navarro said. "But I believe they (the boys) definitely watched a show about incest."

Springer's show, sometimes compared to professional wrestling in the U.S. press for the frequency of fights that critics believe are staged, spotlights tangled webs of sexual intrigue and deviance. This week, Springer scheduled: men who share girlfriends; a mother who was sleeping with her daughter's best friend; a man who was sleeping with his fiancee's sister; and a woman who confessed to her boyfriend that she was having a lesbian affair, only to learn he was having sex with another man. The 8-year-old show, owned by Studios USA and seen in 190 U.S. markets and 40 other nations, is among the most popular daytime television programs.

Miami man seeks one-second cut in jail term

MIAMI, Jan 8 (Reuters) - A Cuban-born prisoner is seeking a retroactive one-second reduction in his 365-day jail term to avoid deportation under a U.S. law targeting felons who serve sentences of a year or more, the Miami Herald said on Friday. The prisoner, Jorge De Cardenas, is a lobbyist sentenced to 365 days in jail for obstructing justice in a contract kickback scheme at Miami City Hall. He is a Cuban exile who has lived in the United States for years, but never sought U.S. citizenship.

De Cardenas finished his sentence on Dec. 12. But instead of being freed he was turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and is being held at a Louisiana jail under a 1996 law allowing them to detain for deportation criminal aliens who have served at least one year in jail for aggravated felonies. Since the United States has no deportation agreement with Cuba, he could either be deported to a third country or detained indefinitely. His attorney, Linda Osberg-Braun, sent a letter to Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Laveccio seeking prosecutors' blessing before asking a federal judge to retroactively lop one second off De Cardenas' sentence. "The District Court never considered, or was asked to consider, the immigration and detention consequences of the sentence imposed," Osberg-Braun said in the letter.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, John Schlesinger, said he believed it was the first time anyone had sought such a small sentence reduction. But one of De Cardenas' co-defendants in the city hall corruption case, former Miami City Manager Cesar Odio, tried and failed to have his 365-day sentence increased by one day in the kickback scheme. Had Odio won the extension, he would have qualified to earn time off for good behavior, an option that state law makes available only to prisoners whose sentences exceed one year. That could have potentially cut his term by 47 days.

Laughing is serious business in India's clubs

BOMBAY, Jan 10 (Reuters) - For members of India's laughter clubs, their mirth is no laughing matter but a passport to healthy living. Loud cries of "I am the happiest person in this world" and screams of "Ho ho, Ha ha ha" rent the air on Sunday morning as more than 2,000 people celebrated "World Laughter Day" by laughing their guts out at a public park in central Bombay. Donning odd-shaped foam caps and sporting T-shirts, the revellers, some of them past their 70s, laughed without reason and swayed to beats from a live band belting out popular Hindi numbers. Amused passersby showed how infectious laughter can be. "Louder, still louder," called organisers from Laughter Club International, exhorting the crowd to strain its vocal cords from a makeshift stage.

"We want laughing competitions to be introduced in the Olympics... Workers should begin work in factories by laughing for 15 to 20 minutes," said Madan Kataria, founder president of Laughter Club International. The club propagates "Hasya Yoga" or "laughter Therapy", a derivative of yogic laughter, through 300 clubs in India, 60 of which are in Bombay. The practice involves laughing in a group for 15-20 minutes daily without resorting to jokes.

The sessions begin with deep breathing and a "Ho ho, ha ha ha" exercise. This is followed by a variety of non-stimulated laughter called hearty laughter, silent laughter, lion laughter and more. Kataria, a practicing physician who developed the exercises, says laughter is the antidote for stress-related disorders like high blood pressure and heart disease. Converts to Kataria's mission say they are much happier since they switched on to this therapy. "It makes me feel fresh all day," said N.B. Pise, an electrical engineer in his fifties and a religious practitioner of the therapy for nearly two years. Kataria said the stress involved in present-day living makes laughter an absolute necessity. "The laughter club is no laughing matter. It is absolutely essential for modern-day living," he said, adding his mission had begun to attract enquiries from other countries too.

Not quite the WHOLE story, I feel #1:
Russian priest sets off grenade after christening

MOSCOW - A tipsy Russian priest accidentally set off a hand grenade after a weekend christening, injuring himself and the baptised baby's grandmother. "After the christening of her grandson, they drank spirits and he accidentally removed the pin from the grenade," Itar-Tass news agency quoted police in Yaroslavl region, north of Moscow, as saying. The village priest performed the Christian ceremony on Saturday and joined relatives for traditional drinks afterward. Police said it was not clear where the grenade came from but the priest said he had not been planning to set it off.

Not quite the WHOLE story, I feel #2:
Disney recalls video with "objectionable" image

BURBANK, Calif., Jan 8 (Reuters) - The Walt Disney Co. on Friday recalled 3.4 million copies of its home video "The Rescuers," saying two frames of the 110,000-frame animated film about heroic mice contained an "objectionable background image." It was the first time that Disney has ever recalled a video tape for having an objectionable image, although in the past various groups have claimed that "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid" contained inappropriate images or language. Those claims could never be proved.

A Disney spokeswoman said the images in "The Rescuers" were placed in the film during production but she declined to say what they were or who placed them. Disney, in a statement, said the two images cannot be seen in ordinary viewing because the film runs too fast -- 30 frames per second on video. The Burbank-based Disney is the world's second largest entertainment company and the one most associated with family fare. Two days ago, Chairman Michael Eisner vowed that Disney would refocus efforts to make more family-orientated movies. The company said it is making the recall to keep its promise to families that they can trust and rely on the Disney brand to provide the finest in family entertainment.

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