News you may have missed...
May 1999

Mad Monks report on cities' souls

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jim Crotty is an odd duck. He refers to himself as "Monk" and a "mutant of Omaha," often claims to be an "outlaw" and refuses to use a cellular phone even though he lives and runs his business from a Winnebago. Despite his oddball character, or perhaps because of it, he presides over a small travel-writing business empire that he hopes will bloom one day into a household name like "Lonely Planet," "Rough Guide" or more traditional "Fodor's" guides. After living on the road since 1986, Crotty and his cohort Michael Lane, collectively known as the "Mad Monks," are getting ready for the big time. Their first travel book, "The Mad Monks' Guide to New York City," has just been released by Macmillan Travel and a book on California is set for September release. Unlike traditional travel books, the Monks' guides cut right to what Crotty calls the "soul of the city." Their New York book avoids dwelling on well-worn landmarks such as the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, focusing more on the eccentric and offbeat such as "Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls," "Fly Fishing in Central Park" and even "Toxic Tourism" like Staten Island's Fresh Kills Dump, the world's largest garbage dump/landfill. Along with the sublime and the bizarre is a cornucopia of the great city's diverse culture, from bars and restaurants to entertainment spots, making it probably as useful for those who live in the city as for those planning to visit it.

The Monks' books go further than most guide books, offering irreverent essays on cities and their people and interviews with some of the more interesting residents. In the soon-to-be-released book on California, Crotty's essay on Los Angeles describes the sprawling metropolis as "The land of riots, smog, gangs, congestion, ethnic rivalry, poor city planning, tabloid murder, surgically enhanced (or disfigured) celebrities, and of course police brutality. Los Angeles is America's demon nightmare city." In true "Mad Monk" fashion, Crotty gave Reuters an interview while leading a correspondent on a whirlwind tour through the dilapidated downtown area of the City of Angels. His abbreviated tour included the futuristic Victorian-era Bradbury Building, revered for a century as one of the finest examples of American interior architecture and, according to Crotty, home to the shop where O.J. Simpson bought "the knife" -- i.e. the weapon that police, at one point, believed was used to kill his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The knife was never found. From there it went to a downtown market where lunch can still be had for the odd sum of $2.03 before climbing a hill on the Angel's Flight, the world's shortest railroad, separating downtown L.A's ethnic squalor from gleaming glass skyscrapers. Then it was back in the car for a quick stop at the Los Angeles Gun Club, where you can pump metal into targets during your lunch hour using rented state-of the-art firearms or six-shooters of the Wild West variety. On the way, Crotty repeatedly hollered out his car window at Angeleno pedestrians, "Do you know where the Metro Rail is?" No one seemed to know the answer, which was Crotty's point.

"The subway here is like an amusement ride. Where are the people? Where are the rats?" Crotty asked with a laugh. "The last time I was down there there were more people shooting commercials than passengers." Other "tourist" spots to be listed in the upcoming book include Bischoff's Taxidermy in Burbank. It will "immortalize your Costa Rican tiger," if you want, but these days it makes most of its income from renting stuffed beasts to Hollywood. "The unimposing warehouse is not open to the public, but you can pass yourself off as a prop manager and gain easy entrance," according to the book. Crotty, or Jim Monk as he calls himself, spent the years after leaving college on a New Age spiritual tour of the United States that included, among other things, a stint as assistant to a Tibetan Lama living in New York's Harlem. But his strange journey began in earnest on April Fools Day, 1985, when he met Lane, whom he describes as the "quintessential 1960s hippie." Despite being a self-professed "straight white male," Crotty fell in love with Lane and the two have lived and worked together ever since. "I tried to be his homosexual lover but I failed at that," Crotty said of his relationship with his fellow Mad Monk. "I'll try anything once, I suppose."

In 1986, sick of being slaves to their appointment books, the pair sold everything and moved from San Francisco to Eugene, Oregon, in search of a more organic lifestyle. After working as gardeners for a few months, they bought a Winnebago recreational vehicle, dubbed it the Monkmobile and, with their two cats, hit the road, where they have remained for 13 years. With no obvious way of making money, they began to cobble together Monk magazine, a hodgepodge of New Age spiritualism, holistic medicine and travel scribblings. The magazine was initially offered to friends. Those willing to pay $100 were given a lifetime subscription, while $50 secured a subscription and a piece of a wool sweater. Slowly the magazine, which Crotty claims was the pioneer in the field of "dashboard publishing," mutated into a travel periodical charting the Monks' experiences. Crotty worked the phones (public pay phones) and became a dab hand at selling advertising as the magazine gained a nationwide cult following and built a subscription base of almost 40,000 readers. After 13 years on the road, Crotty and Lane have written several books, together and separately, including Crotty's "How to Speak America," released to shining reviews last year. The Monks also work as roving travel writers for Playboy online. After 13 years on the road there is not much in America they have not seen, but that does not mean they are going to stop moving. Asked what was next on his agenda, Crotty rubbed his hands with glee and spoke with a sparkle in his eye about his plans to conquer England as "the ugly American."

Members only at Iceland phallological museum

REYKJAVIK, May 17 (Reuters) - At the Icelandic Phallological Museum it's members only. Eighty-two of them. Either dried on wall mounts or pickled in preserving jars. The aim of what founder and director Sigurdur Hjartarson describes as a unique museum is to exhibit at least one specimen of the penis of every mammal native to Iceland or its waters. When man first settled the rugged North Atlantic island in the ninth century, there was only one native mammal, the Arctic fox. Others have come with man, and now there are about 38 species in all, including around 15 whales, depending on how many whales you count as Icelandic. So far Hjartarson, a bearded figure who could pass for a mild-mannered Icelandic troll, has 36 of them, and is now lacking just one small whale and a man. The man is taken care of, however.

On the wall is an official letter from 83-year-old Pall Arason, who describes himself as "a worthy disciple of Don Juan" and who has promised his organ to the museum on his death. Arason, a pioneer of the tourist industry on the sparsely inhabited island, where he is a noted womaniser, now lives in retirement on his farm of Bugur in northern Iceland, but has already been awarded the title of honorary member of the museum. Two local doctors are on standby for his demise -- if they can get to him while he is still warm they will be able to exhibit his penis erect, Hjartarson says.

Not surprisingly, the longest exhibit is that of a blue whale, the world's biggest living creature, although like most of the whale specimens, only the tip is present. Nevertheless, about one third of a blue whale penis measures about one metre (39 inches) and weighs 36 kilos (80 lb). A full specimen would have been about three metres (10 feet). The largest in terms of girth is the sperm whale phallus. Again, only the tip, about 40 percent of the full organ, is present, but it weighs in at 57 kilos (120 lb). The smallest is the penis of a field mouse. Unfortunately, most of the whale organs were not scientifically prepared, which is why only the tips are exhibited. Most were retrieved from stranded whales. When a whale dies part of its penis dangles out of its body, but the base is still held inside. Nevertheless, even the tips of these huge mammals can cause difficulties. "The problem with big pieces is I can't get big bottles," Hjartarson said. Now he uses plexiglass cylinders, sealed off at the end.

The idea for the museum gradually unfolded in 1987, when Hjartarson was a headmaster in the fishing town of Akranes in western Iceland. Some of his teachers worked part-time at the local whaling station, and brought him sample penises. "Then the idea developed that it might be interesting to get specimens from all of the Icelandic mammals," he said. The museum finally opened in August 1997, with a 200,000 Icelandic crown ($2,700) grant from Reykjavik city council, in which a feminist party is part of the ruling coalition. Either because of, or despite, the feminists, the grant was approved, as the city is keen to develop tourism. Hjartarson, 57, says he has had 3,000 visitors in the 21 months since the museum opened, and the main revenue is the 300 crown ($4.00) entrance fee.

There is also a wide range of shiny wooden phallic keyrings, salt and pepper pots, lavatory roll holders and the like, all carved by Hjartarson, but sales are not significant. "I'm almost breaking even. I haven't got back my investment but I'll try another summer," he said. So the museum is mainly a hobby, he says. "What I like most is seeing the reaction of people...Some people think I'm a little crazy or queer, but I don't mind." Neither the school where he now teaches in Reykjavik, nor the parents of his pupils have criticised his endeavour.

Some scientists come to inspect the collection. It is also popular with groups of women. On a recent Saturday afternoon two Icelandic youths were looking round, followed by a party of Hawaiian tourists. "Foreigners come more out of curiosity, because this is unique in the world, Hjartarson said. "But what I'm trying to do is to present a serious collection, like any other collection." Hjartarson, a specialist in Latin American history, has led an eventful life, living in Scotland, Sweden, Spain and Mexico. His wife of 40 years -- they have four children and seven grandchildren -- fully supports him in the project, he says.

The oldest exhibit dates from 1974 and is a tanned bull's penis, traditionally used as a whip on Icelandic farms, where every bit of an animal was put to use. The strangest is probably a horse penis, smoked in memory of one Jonas Halldorsson, who lived from 1853 to 1931, and was a well-known gourmet who enjoyed a bit of smoked horse penis now and then. Traditional Icelandic delicacies range from putrefied shark to boiled sheep's head, so a taste for smoked horse penis seems quite understandable.

Austin Powers sequel title goes local in Singapore

SINGAPORE, May 12 (Reuters) - Singapore's Board of Film Censors has drawn the line against racy British slang in the title of a new spy movie. The film "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me", has become "The Spy Who Shioked Me", the Straits Times newspaper said on Wednesday. Ken Low, general manager of Singapore distributor Warner Brothers, said the board rejected the original title and Warner Brothers chose "shioked" instead. The word means "good" or "nice" in Singapore's mix of English, Malay and Chinese dialects dubbed Singlish. The paper said the Board called use of the word "crude and offensive". The word will be removed from banners and publicity material for the film, starring comedian Mike Myers, which opens in Singapore on June 24, Low said. The film is a sequel to a 1997 movie "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" which spoofed spy movies of the 1960s and was a worldwide hit.

'Diff'rent Strokes' actress dies of apparent overdose

LOS ANGELES, May 9 (Reuters) - Actress Dana Plato, a child star of the "Diff'rent Strokes" television sitcom who later descended into drug abuse and trouble with the law, has died of an apparent drug overdose, police said on Sunday. Plato, 34, apparently overdosed on a mixture of prescription drugs on Saturday night while paying a Mother's Day visit to the home of her fiance's parents in Moore, Oklahoma, Sgt. Scott Singer said. Singer said Plato was found "unresponsive and cold to the touch" after taking medication and lying down for a nap. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital after attempts to resuscitate her failed. "Preliminary reports indicated Ms. Plato may have died as a result of an overdose," Singer said, adding that a doctor in Tulsa had prescribed her the drugs, the painkiller Loritab and Valium, a tranquilizer.

Plato and her fiance, 28-year-old Robert Menchaca, were on their way to Los Angeles when they stopped in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City which was hit hard in tornadoes last week. Half of the town's 15,000 homes in the town were destroyed or badly damaged in the twisters which killed 41 people in Oklahoma. Plato played Kimberly Drummond during the show's run from 1978 to 1984. Like her young co-stars Gary Coleman, who played Arnold, and Todd Bridges, who played Willis, she ran into trouble after the show's cancellation. In 1991, she was handed five years probation after being arrested for robbing a Las Vegas video store. She was given another five years' in 1992 for forging Valium prescriptions.

In her last interview, Plato appeared on the Howard Stern radio show on Friday to try to revive her career. She said that she had been sober and off drugs for 10 years, but said she had been taking painkillers for lingering pain after having her wisdom teeth removed more than three months ago. In response to a call from a listener who accused her of still abusing drugs, she offered to take a drug test. Saying she was getting her life back on track, Plato said she hoped to land more acting roles after appearing in several "B" movies. Plato also modelled for Playboy magazine and Victoria's Secret lingerie catalog. Plato's fellow actors on "Diff'rent Strokes" also ran into trouble with the law. Coleman, 30, who now works as a security guard, was fined and given a suspended jail sentence in February for punching a woman who asked for his autograph. Plato is survived by her 14-year-old son, Tyler, from an earlier marriage.

New Colombian condom to help quick, safe sex

BOGOTA, May 13 (Reuters) - A Colombian condom-maker has come up with a garment to help time-pressed lovers have safe sex without even taking their panties off. The so-called Panty Condom, trumpeted as the first of its kind, consists of lacy panties, in black or white, with an opening in the crotch. A thin resin membrane stuck to the inside of the underwear stretches like a condom. Bogota-based manufacturer Natural Sensation launched the condom-with-a-difference at a Bogota hotel late Wednesday. It is set to retail in Colombian supermarkets and pharmacies for about $3.60, including two spare membranes. The membranes are made of a resin called AT-10 rather than the latex used in traditional condoms. Inventor Max Abadi said the company aimed to sell 50,000 Panty Condoms this year -- equivalent to about three percent of the national condom market. He is also eyeing what he hopes will be lucrative export markets in Central and South America.

Flock of mystery balloons puzzles Japan police

TOKYO, May 19 (Reuters) - The discovery of more than 20 mysterious balloons across central Japan, some with boxes attached to them containing batteries, had Japanese police scratching their heads on Wednesday. Around 28 of the roughly conical balloons, which police described as being made of vinyl and measuring six metres by two metres (18 feet by six feet), were discovered across a wide range of coastal and inland central Japanese towns on May 18 and 19. A police spokesman in the central Japanese town of Fuji, near Mount Fuji, said the four deflated balloons found caught in trees and telephone wires appeared to each be attached to a small box containing two batteries and two empty white plastic containers. "We do not know what the purpose of these could be," he said. There was nothing found with the balloons to indicate their origin. There was a similar incident in 1997, with balloons believed to have been made in North Korea. But police declined to speculate. "This is nothing particularly noteworthy," said one spokesman in Ishikawa on the Japan Sea coast. Japanese tensions about North Korea, high since August 1998 when the secretive Socialist nation launched a rocket that overflew northern Japan, were ratcheted to fever pitch in March, when two North Korean ships entered Japanese waters.

US attorney sues to enter "lawyer-free" community

BAKERSFIELD, Calif., May 19 (Reuters) - The developers of the new Fairway Oaks community designed their dream homes to have five bedrooms, a Jacuzzi, a yard roomy enough for an in-ground pool -- and no lawyers. That made attorney Timothy Liebaert angry enough to sue. "I was very mad," Liebaert told Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle after learning that his offer on a new Fairway Oaks house in central California had been rejected because of his profession. "One (colleague) said I was so mad that I left burn holes in his carpet. It was an immediate, visceral reaction." Liebaert's next reaction was to sue Fairway Oaks developer Donavan Judkins, saying that his civil rights had been violated because of anti-lawyer discrimination. The developer's lawyers say the "no lawyer" policy is the builder's prerogative based on sound business reasoning: lawyers, in general, are more apt to threaten litigation, requiring greater management time and legal fees. Thomas Clark, part of Judkins' legal team, told the Chronicle that the move to bar Liebaert was "a valid and rational business decision" and therefore not subject to California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which bans many kinds of discrimination, including that of sex, race and religion.

Liebaert, who with his wife had already picked out the carpet and tile colors for their new, $149,600 Fairway Oaks home when the deal was canceled, said that discrimination was discrimination and should be fought. "I think that is repugnant to the American brand of freedom," he told the Chronicle. "Who is next? Maybe they are afraid if they sell to a police officer that a crime would be exposed." California officials said Liebaert's case, which began on Wednesday before a Kern County Superior Court judge, was taking the law into uncharted waters. "As far as I know, there is no case law deciding this one way or another," Ann Noel of the state's Fair Employment and Housing Commission told the newspaper.

Ancient salami puts 200 refugees in hospital

LONDON, May 23 (Reuters) - Some 200 Kosovo refugees at a camp in Albania are in hospital with food poisoning after eating imported Ukrainian salami that was 11 years past its expiry date, Kosovo Albanian Radio 21. The radio, whose web site was monitored on Saturday by the BBC, said the refugees were from the Librazhde camp and quoted an Albanian doctor as saying poisoning from food distributed as humanitarian aid was becoming a common problem. Dr Islam Cani, head of the Albanian Consumers' Association, said canned food was a particular hazard. Many tinned items had been withdrawn from camps because of corroded containers, non-existent product expiry dates, poor quality and for other health-related reasons. He said the government was "only interested in the quantity of food produced and not its quality", the radio reported. His association had set up six regional offices to gather information on the problem, it added.

Chinese baby survives high-speed train fall

BEIJING, May 24 (Reuters) - A newborn Chinese baby who dropped through the squat toilet of a high-speed train was alive and well after landing on the tracks, the official Xinhua news agency reported. The mother, a migrant worker nine months pregnant, had squatted down to relieve herself but gave birth instead. Panicked, she ripped off the umbilical cord with her bare hands but fumbled the baby boy and let him slip through the toilet hole and onto the tracks below. Just as three railway workers spotted the infant another train hurtled over his body, Xinhua said in an overnight report seen on Monday. "When that train passed and the three approached the rails they could hardly believe their eyes: the baby was still alive with his hands and legs quivering," Xinhua reported. The 2.7 kg (5.9 lb) baby suffered slight bruising and a small cut on the head, which required three stitches. Mother and baby were in hospitals in the southern city of Guangzhou.

Ex-Marine is Pa. town's "Naked Bandit"

ALLENTOWN, Pa., May 13 (Reuters) - A 41-year-old Allentown man known to police as "The Naked Bandit" pleaded guilty to robbing a string of convenience stores while in the nude, authorities said on Thursday. Ex-Marine Stanley Heiserman once stole $400 from a roadside mini-market while naked, save for the underwear on his head. Days later, two cashiers handed over the money before bursting into laughter as he left. "It's nuts. You don't hear of things like this happening too often. But this is what happened in four separate robberies," said assistant Lehigh County District Attorney James Anthony. Heiserman's naked aggression came to an end on Wednesday when he pleaded guilty to committing six robberies in all, two while fully clothed. Police said he never had a weapon but once claimed to be carrying a shotgun in a gym bag and on another occasion a pistol wrapped in a flannel shirt around his hand. "His logic was that the last time he did some robberies, he had clothes on and was identified by his clothes," said Anthony. Heiserman, who said he was honorably discharged from the Marines, told county judge Robert Steinberg that he turned to crime while on drugs and emotionally distraught about his dying mother. He will be sentenced June 17 and faces a maximum of eight to 40 years in prison under the plea agreement.

Police hunt "very ugly woman" for Arizona crimes

PHOENIX, Ariz., May 13 (Reuters) - Police said on Thursday they were hunting a "very ugly woman" suspected of a string of bank robberies in Arizona and justify using the description by saying it's the best they have. She is believed to have robbed seven Phoenix-area bank branches in the last month, including three on Tuesday. "She's been described by every victim who has seen her as a very ugly woman," said Sgt. John Van Reusen, of the Phoenix Police Department. "It's kind of insulting, but maybe that will tick her off -- maybe she'll call me." Police said the routine was always the same. Pretending to be armed, the robber demanded money, stuffed it into a handbag and fled on foot. The robber has been seen wearing at least four different colored wigs and puts on heavy make-up. Van Reusen said police were keeping an open mind. "We haven't eliminated the possibility that it could be an ugly man posing as an ugly woman," he said. "You never can tell."

Animals in Trinidad dressed to steal

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, May 14 (Reuters) - The sheep wore a dress. The goats wore shirts, pants and hats. Police in Trinidad said on Friday they found a collection of nattily attired livestock on Wednesday as they pursued a complaint from a farmer in Chaguanas in central Trinidad that someone had made off with his animals. They said they gave chase after they saw a rental car driving with its headlights off. The driver abandoned the vehicle, and police officers found the dressed up sheep and goat in the back seat, and two more goats -- in shirts and pants -- in the trunk. Police said they believed the thieves had dressed the animals to fool people into thinking they were people.

Mars Attacks...

TORONTO - A Canadian judge dismissed a claim that Defence Minister Art Eggleton, Citibank and several drug-store chains were part of a conspiracy to kill a complainant because he is a Martian. Turning the tables on the "Martian", an Ontario Superior Court judge dismissed Rene Joly's "vexatious" case on the grounds that he claimed not to be human and therefore had no status before the courts. Joly, described by a lawyer in the case as 'not your typical Martian', began the action in April, contending that the Shopper's Drug Mart chain had sold him poison instead of medication, that Canadian troops in Germany had implanted a microchip in his brain and that Citibank had perpetrated a credit card fraud on him. On Friday, 13 lawyers appeared in court to file a motion of dismissal on behalf of their clients, including doctors, dentists, hospitals and several drug-store chains. Joly, 34, a college-educated sales manager, who began his crusade three years ago, represented himself before the courts. "Genetically speaking, I'm a Martian, yes," Joly told Reuters. "And the judge's decision is tantamount to doing nothing about flagrant crimes that have been committed. Notwithstanding my allegations, the fact that we're allowing these crimes to continue unabated and unpunished is a very bad thing."

Weekly sex may prevent colds and flu - study

LONDON, April 14 (Reuters) - Having sex once or twice a week gives a boost to the immune system that could help ward off colds and flu, New Scientist magazine said on Wednesday. Moderate sexual activity increases levels of a compound in the body called immunoglobulin A (IgA) that binds to bacteria and triggers the immune system to destroy them. "IgA is the first line of defence against colds and flu," Carl Charnetski, of Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, told the weekly science magazine.

To prove the benefits of healthy but not overactive sex life, Charnetski and his colleague Frank Brennan measured levels of IgA in the saliva of 111 college students and questioned them about how often they had had sex in the previous month. Students who had sex less than once a week had a small increase in the antigen compared to pupils who were celibate. Those who had sex once or twice a week had a 30 percent rise in IgA. Ironically the more sexually active people had lower levels of the compound than students who had not had sex. "My feeling is that the people in the very-frequent-sex group may be in obsessive or poor relationships that are causing them a lot of anxiety," said Charnetski. "We know that stress and anxiety make IgA go down."

Taqueria's free lunch bill could come to $5.8 mln

SAN FRANCISCO, April 14 (Reuters) - No such thing as a free lunch? Tell that to Casa Sanchez. The small, family-run San Francisco taqueria came up with a novel promotional scheme last year: a lifetime of free burrito or taco lunches for anyone sporting a tattoo of the Casa Sanchez logo. This week the 40th hungry person showed up tattooed with the logo -- a kid in a sombrero riding an ear of corn shaped like a rocket ship -- and the Sanchez family got worried. "The food is great," bartender Greg Tietz told Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle, showing off his $80 Casa Sanchez tattoo from a San Francisco parlor which now specializes in the "Corn Man" logo design. "I'm way ahead. I feel like I'm part of the family. I think I got the better end of the deal."

Martha Sanchez, the restaurant owner's granddaughter, came up with logo idea believing no one would submit to the tattooer's needle simply for a lifetime of free lunches. But as more and more tattooed people began arriving at the restaurant, she started to do the math -- figuring that feeding 40 young people with free, $8 lunches for 50 years could end up costing more than $5.8 million. The Sanchez family has vowed not to renege on the free lunch offer, but is now beginning to interview potential tattoo candidates to weed out any that look "too hungry". They also said that, over time, even the biggest burrito addicts may think twice before arriving to collect their heavy daily meal. "You'd get sick of this food if you ate it for 50 years," a hopeful Martha Sanchez told the Chronicle.

Las Vegas casino erects Lenin statue, axes head

LAS VEGAS, April 14 (Reuters) - Visitors to Mandalay Bay, the newest mega-resort to grace that symbol of capitalism run amok, the Las Vegas strip, are asking why? Why -- amid robotic waiters, a four-story wine cellar, a faux beach with artificial waves -- would the beach-themed hotel erect a 20-foot (6 metres) statue of the founder of Soviet Communism Vladimir Lenin? And why have him overlooking the slot machines?

The Lenin statue, a monument to Soviet realism, stands with one hand outreached and the other clutching a worker's cap just outside the Red Square vodka and caviar restaurant in the hotel's restaurant row. The Miami, Fla.-based China Grill group, which owns Red Square, decided to erect the statue in the walkway outside the restaurant in order to attract patrons inside. Officials at casino giant Circus Circus Enterprises Inc., which built the $1 billion Mandalay Bay, were initially happy with the statue which follows a trend in Las Vegas toward large, garish renderings of historical landmarks. After all, just up the street Park Place Entertainment Inc. is getting ready to open a $750 million resort that's a near perfect replica of the Eiffel Tower. And two weeks from now billionaire Sheldon Adelson will open a $1.3 billion Italian-themed resort called The Venetian, complete with a real moat, real gondolas with singing gondoliers.

But Lenin was not well received. Patrons, insulted by the Communist symbol, were likening it to a statue of Hitler or Mussolini. Most of the complaints were coming from U.S. service men and women, Circus Circus spokeswoman Sarah Ralston said. The story does not end there. Lenin's 250-pound (113 kg) head is now missing. Management, one night late last month, chopped it off, on orders of Circus Circus Chief Executive Glenn Schaeffer, Ralston said. Schaeffer also ordered that the decapitated statue be splattered with white paint made to look like bird droppings, she added. "We debated how to deal with the issue. There were several options. One was riding it out, hoping people would appreciate the irony of it, the other was removing it," Ralston said.

After careful research, Circus Circus chose to alter the gypsum-and-plaster statue, which was relatively inexpensive to build because it was faux. "We ran an extensive search of news clips on what happened in the Eastern bloc to the (real) Lenin statues" after the fall of Communism, Ralston said. "In many cases townships had neither resources nor manpower to physically remove these statues that in many cases weighed hundreds of tons. What they did was lop the head off. It makes the point. If there's any confusion about the symbolism, that now goes away." The hotel plans to turn the severed Lenin head into a table inside the Red Square vodka bar and restaurant, Ralston said.

KLM apologises for squirrel slaughter

AMSTERDAM, April 15 (Reuters) - KLM Royal Dutch Airlines apologised on Thursday for forcing over 400 imported ground squirrels to their deaths in a shredder at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. A KLM spokeswoman said the airline's cargo unit had thrown most of the consignment of 440 squirrels, which were bound for Athens from Beijing, into a type of shredder commonly used by the poultry industry to kill birds. The animals were killed under orders from the Dutch agriculture ministry because they lacked the proper import and health papers, KLM said earlier this week amid a public outcry over the slaughter. "Though on formal grounds the action taken was correct, KLM admits to having made a grave mistake on ethical grounds," the airline said in a statement. "The company fully endorses the criticism expressed by the general public and various organisations in the Netherlands." The employee directly responsible for the killings had been suspended, KLM said. He was right to obey the ministry's order but had "made an incorrect assessment of the solution". About 20 squirrels had escaped while they were being moved to suitable cages and were on the run, KLM said.

Honduran gives up drink after bottle found in gut

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, May 6 (Reuters) - A Honduran fisherman woke up after a drunken binge to find somebody had pushed a 4.4-inch (11 cm) bottle far up his rectum, a doctor said on Thursday. Doctors removed the bottle from Jose Lopez's intestine in an operation in the city of San Pedro Sula, some 100 miles (160 km) north of the capital Tegucigalpa, more than two weeks after it was introduced. "The foreign matter was stuck in his large intestine. We can't figure out why it rose that high instead of descending," surgeon Reiniery Jimenez told reporters. Lopez, 43, said he slept in field near his home on April 18 after drinking after drinking a quart (a litre) of aguardiente, a fiery local spirit. He said he had no idea what had happened until doctors took an X-ray. "When I woke up the next day I felt something strange which gave me some pain and prevented me from defecating. I didn't feel any pain while I slept," he told Tiempo newspaper. "It was like being pregnant because I felt it moving up or down when I walked or changed my position." Lopez said he had since given up drink. Jimenez said the patient was now in stable condition.

And finally...

CHANDLER, Ariz. - Sean Barry learned two important lessons Monday about handcuffs. First, don't play with handcuffs unless you have the key. Second, if you don't have the key, call a locksmith -- not your local police -- especially if you are a wanted man. The 23-year-old waiter learned these lessons the hard way after being arrested at a southeast Phoenix suburban home by police who responded to his telephone call for help when he put the handcuffs on and could not get them off. Officers made a routine computer check on Barry and found an outstanding arrest warrant for failing to appear in court for driving on a suspended license. Police reported that he was taken into custody without incident -- and with the handcuffs still on. "We took them off like he asked," said Sgt. Ken Phillips, a police spokesman. "Only he was in jail at the time." It was not immediately known how Barry came to have the handcuffs in the first place.

TORONTO - A Canadian candy maker said on Monday it had no intention of pulling a wrapper depicting a cartoon of Adolf Hitler, despite protests over the controversial packaging. Tofita, a soft, chewy candy produced by Turkish-based Kent Company, was pulled from the shelf of a small-town Nova Scotia convenience store last week after a teen complained to the owner and local media. The brightly colored cartoon, depicting a sheepish Hitler holding a daisy and holding a cat-o'-nine tails behind his back, is one of a series of collectable wrappers. "There is nothing making him look good here," said Aydin Eryuzlu, president of May Nina Inc., the Canadian distributor of Tofita. "It sells very well, I wouldn't pull it off the shelves unless it was bad, rotten, or has poisoned people," he told Reuters in a telephone interview from the company's headquarters in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga.

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