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July 1999

Historian charts ecstasy of war

LONDON, June 27 (Reuters) - Dive-bombing the Japanese was like sipping champagne on a sunny morning. To bayonet a Prussian was "beautiful work" while slaughter in Vietnam was an almost sexual thrill. War, it seems, is not all bad. "I believe that most men who have been to war would have to admit, if they are honest, that somewhere inside themselves they loved it too," said former U.S. marine William Broyles, one of hundreds of combatants in a new book about modern warfare. "An Intimate History of Killing", by historian Joanna Bourke, looks at the way soldiers experience killing, how society organises it and how it fits into 20th century culture. Duty and fear, she finds, are not the sole motivation at the front, where squaddies can discover the "joy of slaughter" and sexual excitement. Covering both world wars and Vietnam, Bourke re-visits the letters, memoirs, diaries and autobiographies of hundreds of combatants from Britain, the United States and Australia. Her subjects are mostly ordinary men, conscripts and volunteers rather than professional soldiers, but her findings are anything but. Gone is the haunting smell of gas, the sweaty night-time flashback, the mind-numbing squalor of Europe's trenches and the brutality waged under swaying Asian palms. In trauma's place: the thrill of the kill.

"Sickening yet exhilarating butchery" was "joy unspeakable" for one New Zealand sapper, while bayoneting a Turk unleashed "the fiercest individual excitement" for another combatant. Henry de Man had believed himself above the butchery of World War One until he "saw bodies or parts of bodies go up in the air, and heard the desperate yelling of the wounded or the runaways. I had to confess to myself that it was one of the happiest moments of my life." Half a century later, the same ecstasy touched Vietnam. "I enjoyed the shooting and the killing. I was literally turned on when I saw a gook get shot," recalled one U.S. marine. For an 18-year-old radio operator, Vietnam was like Hollywood, only more fun, a place where he "loved to just sit in the ditch and watch people die. As bad as that sounds, I just liked to watch no matter what happened, sitting back with my home-made cup of hot chocolate. It was like a big movie." A big movie -- but no popcorn and real blood. "Of course there is trauma with the pleasure but the notion of fun is always vanished after a war. It's almost like a curtain of taboo is drawn over it," said Bourke in an interview. A New Zealander who travelled the world with her Christian missionary parents, Bourke is now Reader in History at London's Birkbeck College. As a cultural historian, she says military men resent her "putting the killing back in the story" but plenty of ex-soldiers have come out in support. Just released in Britain, the book is due out in the United States in September and in Australia later this month. Bourke explodes plenty of old war myths -- redheads make the best killers, black Americans can't fight -- and shows that 'the fairer sex' can also warm to the kill. "But it's not my men or my women who make the wars. They are largely reluctant combatants, despite their aggressive instincts. It's failed governments that make wars," Bourke said.

Sex, not surprisingly, looms largest for the front's pleasure-seekers, though soldiers frequently wield sporting metaphors and the language of childbirth to describe the kill. "I do think that a sizeable minority find it (killing) sexually exhilarating. There is the whole release of tension: the waiting to go over, followed by a great burst of adrenaline and finally the sleepy lull that we all know," Bourke said. "For these men, it is a sexual experience. More common are the men trying to convey the most powerful experience they've ever had to a family that simply cannot understand," she said. Public school boys frequently resort to the jargon of blood sports to convey their joy at "bagging" an enemy, while lowlier men turn to labour to explain their agony-ecstasy. "There is blood and pain and achievement but it's also a rite of passage. Just as having a child makes you a 'real' woman, going through this painful, exhilarating thing that is killing makes a man of you," said Bourke.

Take Captain Julian Grenfell, an aristocrat who came to war via the privilege of Eton and Oxford only to declare in one letter home: "It is all the most wonderful fun. "Better fun than one could ever imagine. I hope it goes on a nice long time; but pig-sticking will be the only tolerable pursuit after this or one will die of sheer ennui." He logged his kills in a game book, along with partridges he had bagged, before a German gunner saved him from both the pigs and the ennui in a May 1915 shelling. "Very few people like war but when placed in that situation, most do find ways of enjoying it, such is the creativity of the human imagination," said Bourke. "So if we can be so creative -- against such odds, amid such ugliness -- surely we can do it in such a way as to obviate the need for war?"

HK enjoys name game for ex-colonial abode

HONG KONG, July 21 (Reuters) - After months of agonising, Hong Kong renamed the old British governor's mansion "the Guest House", which in Chinese sounds a bit like a funeral parlour. The government's tortuous quest to find a politically correct post-colonial name stirred up a hilarious row and took a year of squabbling to find the seemingly simple solution. The new name for the home overlooking central Hong Kong took effect on July 1 -- the second anniversary of Britain's departure after 156 years of colonial rule. Critics saw the renaming as an effort by the territory's new Chinese masters to erase all vestiges of its colourful colonial past. Hong Kong's Beijing-anointed leader, Tung Chee-hwa, wanted a Chinese name for the old-fashioned colonial building nestled amid the towering glass skyscrapers of the central business district. The name of the 144-year-old home must reflect its new role as a venue for official events, said Tung. He refused from the outset to live in the building surrounded by lush tropical gardens and formerly known in Chinese as "Governor House".

Tung's drive to change the name has drawn criticism and jeers from many quarters. "It's meaningless to rename it. I suspect the move reflects Tung's own psychological problem," said legislator Lee Cheuk-yan. "He doesn't want the place where he entertains foreign guests to have a colonial feel...He wants no shadow of colonial days." Legislator Cheung Man-kwong of the popular Democratic Party said: "There are so many things...awaiting the government's handling but it preferred to indulge itself on such a question." Top chat show host Albert Cheng has had a field day with the government's awkward struggle to find an appropriate name. "I think they dislike calling it the 'Former Governor House' because they want to disclaim colonialism," he said. "More than half of our callers see no need for any name change at all."

Tung's advisory cabinet grappled with the thorny issue and came up with "Purple Cottage", the colour of the city's floral bauhinia emblem. Radio talk shows were jammed with calls chiding the proposal. "All opposed the name of Purple Cottage," Cheng said. "They said it sounds like 'pig sty' in Shanghainese and 'paper cottage' in the local Cantonese language." The government, stung by the criticism, retreated and called on the public to offer suggestions. But it only got worse. There was "Purple Palace", sounding like "womb" in Cantonese, and "Whisky's Home", after the beloved dog of Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten. Then there was "House for Us All", which in Cantonese sounds like "we are all miserable" and finally the winning title "Hong Kong Lai Bun Fu", meaning "Hong Kong Guest House". But critical commentators quickly pointed out that that sounded like "Hong Kong Bun Yee Goon", a funeral parlour. Since July 1, Tung has been as silent as the grave over the subject.

El Full Monty causes storm in macho Mexico

MEXICO CITY, June 25 (Reuters) - Producers of a Mexican male strip show defended their act on Friday, accusing critics of being hypocrites who have no objection to women taking off their clothes. "How is it possible that they allow table dancing to go on in their red-light districts and then they shut down (our show)," producer Sergio Mayer, who also performs in the show, asked in comments published in La Reforma newspaper. The touring show -- in which Mayer and eight other men perform choreographed strip acts, ending up naked with their backs to the audience -- has run into trouble from one end of Mexico to the other. While no one blinked when the show ran in sophisticated Mexico City, church and civil groups have raised a fuss in more conservative provincial capitals from Merida in the southern state of Yucatan to Tijuana in Baja California. "A sexist mentality still exists in Mexico, and it violates women's rights," Mayer said. "If the groups who criticize the show spent their money on programs to really help women, that would be one thing. But they'd rather spend money on anonymous pamphlets about a show they haven't even gone to see."

In Merida the city government closed the show after civic groups complained it promoted homosexuality. The groups feared men would dress in drag and sneak into the theater. In Guadalajara, Chihuahua and Veracruz, authorities have put strict limits on the show -- no full nudity, no getting off the stage and dancing in the audience. Co-producer Alexis Ayala said he was astonished at criticism of the show, particularly at the women protesters who have staked out theater entrances and screamed "shameless" at other women coming in to see it. In Veracruz state, family groups ran an advertisement in newspapers pleading with the wife of the governor to have the show banned because it was "pornography disguised as entertainment." In Matamoros, Roman Catholic Rev. Jesus Robledo said table dancing was bad, but stripping by men for female audiences was worse because women are the "pillar of their families." Ayala said the hullabaloo was free publicity for the show. He said it would continue all scheduled performances through the end of September then begin a tour of Central and South America.

German police seek iguana spurned by hotel cashier

SCHWERIN, Germany, July 5 (Reuters) - German police said on Monday they were looking for an escaped iguana, which a man had earlier tried to use as payment for a hotel bill. Rostock police said the "clearly disturbed" 36-year-old man had released the 1.5-metre-long lizard after a hotel in the northeastern town refused to accept his unusual alternative to cash and called the police. At another hotel, police located two more young iguanas belonging to the man, who was now receiving medical attention. The police said there was no need for panic. Iguanas pose no danger to humans except through a hefty swish of their tails when they feel threatened.

Russian may face jail for strange holiday toast

MINSK, July 6 (Reuters) - A Russian businessman may face a term in prison, and 115 air-gun wielding teenagers have been deported, after they staged a mock assault on a village to toast a holiday, Belarus police said. The police press service said Anatoly Selivonchik, of the Siberian town of Surgut and the teenagers -- Russian pupils at a survival school he sponsored -- staged an assault on Selivonchik's native village to mark last week's anniversary of liberation of Belarus from the Germans in World War Two. The teenagers, wielding pneumatic guns, rounded up villagers in Nikolayevka, 200 km (125 miles) south of the capital Minsk, and herded them into a stadium. There, Selivonchik greeted them and offered them vodka to toast the national holiday. Some villagers were hurt by metal balls fired from the air guns. If convicted, on charges of "hooliganism", Selivonchik faces up to five years in prison, the press service said.

Naked corpse found on whale in Florida's SeaWorld

ORLANDO, Fla., July 6 (Reuters) - An unidentified man was found naked and dead on the back of a killer whale in a tank at SeaWorld Orlando on Tuesday morning, apparently after hiding in the Florida theme park after closing time, police said. "The man was sort of draped over the whale's back behind the dorsal fin," said Jim Solomons, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's office. "There was no obvious trauma -- he wasn't bitten or chewed up or anything." The 11,000-pound (4,990 kg) orca named Tillikum, the largest at any theme park in the world, may have thought the 180-pound (82 kg) man was something to play with, like a squeeze toy, Solomons said. Investigators said an autopsy would determine the cause of death, with drowning considered a strong possibility. Police said the victim was a 27-year-old Miami man, based on identification papers found in some clothes stashed near the whale tank, but they were withholding his name pending verification. Swimming trunks were found at the bottom of the pool. "We believe this might have been a man who was seen around the park for several days taking an interest in the whales," said SeaWorld general manager Vic Abbey. "He may have been hiding until the park closed."

Trainers said the orca whale, a retired performer from a defunct park in Victoria, British Columbia, was sometimes used in shows, but trainers and performers do not go into his tank. Tillikum is never allowed to interact with park guests. The whale has not been in the water with a human since an incident in which a trainer in Canada was killed, Abbey said. He spends his Florida retirement performing stud services and has sired four calves. "We've never had any trouble with this animal," trainer Chuck Thompkins said. "I've never noticed any aggressive behavior. "This isn't a bad animal; he's a good animal," Abbey said. Abbey said this was the first incident of its kind in the 35-year history of the SeaWorld parks. The SeaWorld marine parks, in Orlando, Cleveland, Ohio, San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego, are owned by Anheuser-Busch Cos.

High-tech toilet fires put Japanese in hot water

TOKYO, July 7 (Reuters) - Japan's high-tech toilets are giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "in the hot seat". Consumers keen on toilets equipped with heated seats and automated warm-water bidets are being warned of possible dire consequences after fires were sparked by worn-out wiring on older models. "If you see any sort of malfunction with them, you should get the toilet checked immediately and get it repaired," said Shoichi Yashiro of the local Higashi-Murayama Fire Department in Tokyo. At least four fires this year have been traced to older versions of the "Washlet" toilets, which often baffle foreigners with their plethora of buttons but are de rigueur for many Japanese households. No one has been injured so far. The toilets -- priced at $600 to $3,500 -- are so popular after two decades on the market that nearly 40 percent of households have one or more units. A spokesman for toilet maker Toto said not all older models were dangerous and the devices were good for about a decade of use. But he added that units should be replaced at the first sign of trouble.

Daredevil Norwegian parachutist dies in accident

OSLO, July 7 (Reuters) - A daredevil Norwegian parachutist, who gained fame with jumps from New York skyscrapers and the Eiffel Tower, has died in an accident on a 1,000-metre (3,300- foot) high cliff in western Norway, police said on Wednesday. Thor Alex Kappfjell, 32, known as "The Human Fly", apparently lost his bearings in fog on Tuesday after his parachute opened and he hit the side of the cliff, they said. Colleagues were planning a new jump on Wednesday from the same spot to honour Kappfjell, a pioneer of a sport on the edge of legality who had spent a week in a New York jail earlier this year for jumping from Manhattan skyscrapers. Kappfjell had made about 225 jumps from mountains, radio and television masts, bridges and buildings, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris. In New York, he had jumped from the Empire State Building, World Trade Center, Chrysler Building and Trump Tower. He rated the Eiffel Tower, World Trade Center and Empire State as his main conquests. He had also jumped from lower buildings, including the 16-storey offices of Norway's prime minister in Oslo. He told Reuters last month that his next target was the 442 metres (1,450 feet) Sears Tower in Chicago, the world's highest building until it was overtaken in 1996 by the 452 metre (1,483 feet) Petronas Towers in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. He said no one had previously jumped from the Sears Tower, making it more attractive than the already conquered Petronas Towers. Kappfjell had recently become a full-time parachutist, or "professional athlete" as he preferred to call himself. One television commercial for a Norwegian bicycle maker shows him riding off a cliff into a void.
This was the guy we covered in last month's edition -- maybe we should do something on Tony Blair while we're at it...

Italy porn diva resumes love affair with politics

CATANIA, Sicily, July 10 (Reuters) - Former Italian porn diva Ilona Staller, better known as "Cicciolina", said on Saturday she planned to resume her career in politics. "I'll stand in the general elections in two years' time," she said in the Sicilian city of Catania. "I will revive the Love Party...It's something I still believe in," the Hungarian-born Staller said. Staller and Moana Pozzi, the queen of Italian hard-core porn movies who died in 1994, set up the Love Party on a ticket of legalising brothels, creating "love parks" and improving sex education but failed to win a seat in 1992 elections. Staller, whose nickname means "Cuddles", became a household name after she was elected to parliament in 1987 for a five-year stint on the ticket of the maverick Radical Party. The peroxide blonde had a habit of baring her right breast in public. She has shunned the limelight for several years to focus on fighting her ex-husband, American sculptor Jeff Koons, for custody of their five-year-old son Ludwig. She won in June 1998. Italy's next general election is due in 2001.

Pork scratchings -- from bar snack to high art

LONDON, July 12 (Reuters) - A London artist has startled British pub-goers by creating a "masterpiece" out of one of the country's most popular bar snacks -- pork scratchings. Funded by Britain's National Lottery, artist Anthony Key, 49, has spent six months visiting pubs all over the country to collect different examples of the humble scratching. He has displayed 20 of the best in a glass case, each scratching individually labelled. "They'll stay fresh for months," Key told The Sun newspaper. "Each one is carefully pinned in the case with its name and origin underneath." But Eddie Dale, manager of the Black Swan pub in Walsall, central England, saw it differently. "It's a waste of money," he said.

Robber, alias "Whisky", captures Hungarian hearts

BUDAPEST, July 14 (Reuters) - A Hungarian Internet poll on Wednesday revealed a new national hero, bank robber Attila "Whisky" Ambrus, who escaped from jail four days ago. In the poll, 1,008 Hungarians hoped Ambrus, who never harmed anyone during his 27 bank robberies, would avoid the police's clutches. Only 91 people wanted him caught. Ambrus, 32, has stolen 142 million Hungarian forints ($578,100) at gunpoint in the last six years. He was initially arrested on January 15 after losing precious time during a getaway trying to recover his dog, Don. Police nicknamed him "Whisky" when investigations showed that each robbery was preceded by reconnaissance during which he drank at least one shot of the drink in a bar near his target. Press reports said a U.S. film producer had offered Ambrus more than the sum of his ill-gotten gains for movie rights to his story, and Hungarian publishers were racing to get book rights for memoirs he had started writing before he escaped from prison. Hungarian police were baffled by Ambrus's popularity. "This is human stupidity," Budapest police spokesman Mihaly Dezsi told Reuters. "It was 27 counts of armed robbery. Full stop."

Sex prevents headaches, German scientist says

BONN, July 20 (Reuters) - Sex will not only make you healthier, happier and wiser but it can also help prevent headaches, a German women's magazine reported on Tuesday. Offering readers tips for their next encounter with the "headache excuse", the weekly Freundin said scientists have found that regular sex produces hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol that stimulate the brain and help prevent migraines. "Sex promotes our ability to concentrate, lengthens our attention span, and stimulates creativity and ideas," said Werner Habermehl, a professor at the Sexology Institute in Hamburg. "In short, sex makes you smarter." Habermehl told Freundin that adrenalin and cortisol are produced during sexual activity. Endorphines are released that have an effect similar to morphium and eliminate migraines. "People who have regular sex are training their bodies physically and psychologically to be in top form," Habermehl said. "During sexual intercourse, our bodies manufacture a powerful hormone cocktail that has an immensely positive impact."
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