News you may have missed...
August 1999

Ancient mountain empire offers off-beat travel

SHATILI, Georgia, July 27 (Reuters) - The hub of this rugged mountain region, renowned in Georgian history as a haven for fugitives and fiercely independent traditions, has just 60 residents, no electricity and one telephone line. If stomach-churning horseback rides with Kalashnikov-toting guards sound appealing, Khevsureti could be your next holiday destination. Locals hope the breathtaking scenery and sense of total isolation will lure tourists to Khevsureti, still struggling to recover after Soviet authorities deported the entire population in the 1950s. "The deportations virtually wiped out our way of life. Now there is little work and we are really struggling. Many of our people hope this will help ease the problems and develop our community," said 42-year-old local Vazha Chincharauli.

The heart of Khevsureti, which hugs the border with Russia's rebel Chechnya region, is a bone-jarring three-hour drive along rocky trails north of Tbilisi. Primitive even by spartan Georgian standards, many of its tiny, ancient slate fortress hamlets amid towering peaks have changed little from mediaeval days. Residents clad in threadbare clothing still rely on subsistence farming and herding, and there are few modern conveniences. Heavy snows in the 4,500-metre (14,800-foot) mountains keep the north of the region, with just 400 people scattered over several hundred square km (miles), accessible only by helicopter seven months a year. "When there is electricity we can listen to the radio and find out what is happening in the rest of Georgia. Otherwise we are completely cut off," said Vazha.

Khevsurs, literally meaning "men of the passes", have always been known as fiercely independent and were noted by travellers for their unusual, sometimes bizarre customs. Georgian princes and their Persian, Ottoman, and Russian overlords never conquered the Khevsurs, who lived in small, egalitarian clans. The people speak the Georgian language and share the country's predominant Christian faith. Khevsurs have always had close ties to the Chechens, just across the rugged Russian frontier. The mostly Moslem Chechens could escape blood feuds at home and stay in Khevsureti if they agreed to convert to Christianity. Some Khevsurs fought for Chechnya during its 1994-96 independence war with Russian troops.

One early chronicler described the Khevsurs as having "the strangest customs of any of the peoples of Asia", reflecting a mix of Moslem, Christian, Jewish, and Animist faiths. Blood feuds could wipe out dozens of men at a time. French writer Odette Keun, who visited in 1921, was especially surprised by the hardened ways of Khevsur women. She noted they were required to give birth alone in isolated huts, even if temperatures plunged way below zero. Barred from human contact for weeks, they even cut the umbilical cords of their own offspring. "When the mother's cries tell that the confinement is a difficult one, the husband, who wanders round the hut but on no pretext can rejoin his wife, encourages the sufferer by firing shots from his gun," noted Keun. Others noted villages where women "sat upon the roof and eat incredible quantities of wild herbs" during menstruation. Khevsur women were also unique in openly having lovers before wedlock, unlike most in the Caucasus, where pre-marital virginity was sacred. There was one caveat, however. "If he makes her a mother she is obliged to hang or shoot herself," noted Keun.

So resistant to Soviet rule were the Khevsurs that Communist authorities forcibly deported the entire lot to other areas of Georgia in 1952-54, a devastating blow. Khevsureti was left almost uninhabited for years and even now, the 22 Shatili families are far less than it once boasted. "Without an aristocracy or hierarchy, no one was there to represent us or influence the government," said Vazha.

The few dozen or so foreigners visiting each year stick mostly to Shatili's impressive eighth-century fortress city built of slate, carved into a mountainside. The fortress was once home to local villagers, most of whom now live in the more modern dwellings lining a nearby cliff. A $350,000 World Bank loan has been approved for Shatili. Some of that will help refurbish the fortress. "Everyone has an ancestral space in the fort and many of our people want to make them into small hotels," said Vazha. Locals now rent out rooms in their homes for around $20 a night per person, including food, home-made moonshine, and oil lamps for the otherwise darkened quarters.

In addition to Shatili, Khevsureti is dotted with mediaeval fortress towns like Musso, 15 km (nine miles) away, described by early Georgian writers as "impenetrable". Perched precariously on a ledge 2,300 metres (7,500 feet) up, it is now uninhabited, probably not least because reaching it takes a gruelling crawl at a 60-degree angle up the mountain. Another, Adoty, is home to just a single family. Horses can barely negotiate the three-hour journey down a hair-raising set of trails etched into cliffs, criss-crossing icy, rushing streams and occasional small glaciers. "Not many tourists come down these trails and I was worried about being able to get through," said our guide, Barak, after one particularly scary section of the journey. "Sometimes the locals get drunk, take it too fast, and fall into the ravines," he added. Such mishaps are usually fatal. The deep ravines are lined with glass-sharp slate and boulders.

Bakar, bearded and amicable if somewhat laconic, is always accompanied by his Kalashnikov, which he says is to head off possible brigands or kidnappers. There are concerns that capture-for-ransom incidents now plaguing Chechnya may spill over the border. Bakar cocks his rifle any time we cross open land. The typical three-day horse trek through Khevsureti -- cars will not complete it -- traverses a 3,300 metre (10,800 feet) pass. The land around is covered with stunning mountain flowers and wild strawberries. Natural springs offer refreshment. For those who remain unimpressed, there is the more challenging, glaciered 4,492-metre (14,738 foot) Mt. Tebulos. Closer to Shatili and far less dangerous is bathing in some of the hundreds of local waterfalls and natural swimming pools. A quirkier attraction, five km (three miles) from Shatili, is a group of skull and bone-filled slate huts. Locals infected with cholera or plague centuries ago were required to go quietly to die in the huts, sometimes lying down right on top of decomposed skeletons. Piles of bones can still be viewed through the tiny windows of the huts.

"Cinema Paradiso" in Baltimore's Little Italy

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - On a typical Friday night, the corner of High and Stiles streets in Baltimore's Little Italy is jammed with cars and sated pedestrians spilling out of their favorite eateries. But, since July 4, the Friday night crowd at the heart of the neighborhood's restaurant district has been so hushed it barely stirs. At sunset, on rows of folding metal chairs emblazoned with the stencil "St. Leo's Church," hundreds of people sit with eyes turned upward -- just south of heaven -- to a billboard that will do double duty until Sept. 3 as a movie screen. There is more than the scent of garlic in the air in Little Italy this summer -- there is a hint of popcorn. The neighborhood is hosting a summer-long outdoor film festival, recreating a tradition that one of its organizers first experienced in Palermo in Sicily where she saw a piazza filled with townspeople transfixed by the magic of the movies -- a scene right out of the 1988 film "Cinema Paradiso."

Little Italy's film festival is a surprise happy ending to a zoning squabble. Last year, a request by the 16-member Little Italy Restaurant Association for permission for a mural advertising their restaurants was denied by city fathers who bowed to residents' concerns that the sign could one day be used for non-restaurant advertising. But the billboard on which the mural was to have been painted was already up. It remained there for a year -- empty and white -- a reminder of strains within a neighborhood that is home to 700 people but is also a thriving business center. LIRA held a meeting this spring to decide what to do with the board. "I'm looking at these 16 guys," LIRA president Mary Ann Cricchio said, "and I'm saying, 'Come on, tell me what you want to do with this board.' One of them jokingly said, 'I think we should just show movies on it 'cause it looks like a drive-in.'" Then Cricchio remembered Sicily. "Last summer, when we went to visit relatives in Palermo, of course we eat at the house, but our big thing is to walk down to the piazza to get an ice cream," she recalled. "We're getting seven cones and I'm standing there looking at all these people gathered in the square and I thought, 'Isn't this nice, all these Italian people gathered there?' Then I looked up at this building and they're showing a film."

Cricchio, co-owner of Da Mimmo's restaurant, and her fellow LIRA members decided to give the movie idea a try. They would offer free Italian films every Friday night through the summer -- a use for the empty billboard that might also help heal whatever wounds still lingered between residents and restaurateurs over the zoning fight. Tom Kiefaber, owner of the 60-year-old Senator Theatre, was approached by LIRA members who said city officials thought he might help make the festival happen. But Kiefaber, up to his ears in "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace" at the time, was skeptical -- until he saw a picture of the billboard. "This sign is big, it's exactly the ratio of a 16-millimeter frame," he said. Then he spotted a house in the photograph that could serve as a projection booth. "I asked, 'What about this house here?' The way this thing is laid out there's a straight shot from the house with a 103-foot throw. From a film presentation perspective, it was perfect," he said.

The whole project hinged on approval from John Pente, the 89-year-old unofficial mayor of Little Italy. Kiefaber needed to commandeer for three months Pente's third-floor bedroom, which has a window overlooking the square where the movie would be screened, for a 300-pound (136 kg) projector. Mr. John, as he is respectfully called, agreed. Cricchio said it took three men to lift the projector up the three flights of stairs, with Kiefaber standing behind them as they rested the bulky German-made Bauer on every step. "I told them to put No-Neck Pasquale on it, he can lift anything," Cricchio said of one of her employees, but the three continued their heavy lifting on their own under Kiefaber's watchful eye until they reached the top of Mr. John's house.

After a bit of rewiring, and a coat of non-reflective paint on the billboard, the group was ready to select some movies. Restaurant owner Guido DeFranco was given the task of coming up with 12 movie titles -- steamier, R-rated-and-above movies were not considered and neither were violent pictures. What the group ultimately selected were 10 films that represent a rich mix of Italian and Italian American classics such as Federico Fellini's "La Strada," Vittorio De Sica's "The Bicycle Thief" and the Sylvester Stallone classic "Rocky." The list passed muster with the neighborhood church, St. Leo's. The Rev. Mike Salerno lent the effort 200 folding chairs and stuffed 500 flyers about the festival into the bulletins handed out at Mass. He called the festival a "shot in the arm" for Little Italy and St. Leo's because it gave visitors a reason other than food to visit the neighborhood and St. Leo's association with it would make it more than just the "ravioli church." The Senator supplied the projectionist and popcorn, LIRA spent about $4,000 for publicity and renting the projector and the films. And the garlic? DeFranco, whose restaurant Caesar's Den is just opposite where the films are screened, admitted that most likely he is responsible for the tempting scent, but he was quick to assure, "That too is free of charge."

At a recent screening of "Il Postino," American and Italian flags fluttered in the breeze, people vied for space in the area set aside for moviegoers and a man caught up by the movie and the magic of a sultry summer night took a few dance steps, twirling his partner as Phillipe Noiret, playing Pablo Neruda, had just done in the picture. Even the festival's organizers marvel at how well it has been received. Since its official opening on July 4, nearly 2,000 people have attended.

Roland Keh, owner of Amicci's restaurant, said the success is especially sweet because the festival is the brainchild of a younger generation of Little Italy business owners who are still proving to their elders that they have good ideas. "It's beautiful," said Little Italy resident John Trovato. "It brings the whole neighborhood together." He said a quarter of the people who come are former neighborhood residents who use the time before the film to catch up on news. "Now everybody knows everything," he said. But the main reason people turn out is for the movies. "I haven't been to a movie at the theater -- it's got to be between seven, eight or nine years. Now I go every weekend," Trovato said. "I can't wait for it." The festival celebrates its midway point this Friday with a screening of "Moonstruck" and free cannoli from Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop for the first 300 people who show up for the 9 p.m. film. Films scheduled for the remainder of the festival are: "The Name of the Rose" on Aug. 6, "Enchanted April" Aug. 13, "The Bicycle Thief" Aug. 20, "La Traviata" Aug. 27 and "Cinema Paradiso" on Sept. 3.

It's Superman vs. Cashman in Canadian court

TORONTO, July 23 (Reuters) - Truth, Justice and the American Way could be up for grabs in a Canadian court this summer if DC Comics follows through on its lawsuit against a spandex-clad, cape-wearing Canadian jeweler. DC Comics, a division of U.S. media giant Time Warner Entertainment Co. , recently filed a C$300,000 civil lawsuit against Russell Oliver and his Toronto jewelry business for copyright and trademark violations of the Superman comicstrip character. The suit alleges a series of television ads, in which "Cashman" Oliver emerges from a phone booth sporting a cape, red and blue leotards and a large dollar sign on his chest, confuses the public and depreciates the value of the Superman character.

Superman was one of the world's earliest and most popular comic heroes. The U.S.-based company said it wrote a letter last summer asking Oliver to stop using the character that has become a cult-like, late-night staple on Toronto area television. But it noticed shortly afterward that the ad ran twice during a Canadian television show. Oliver, who was in costume early on Friday, said it was ridiculous to mistake him -- a paunchy Canadian jeweler -- for the Krypton-born superhero who lept tall buildings, courted the lovely Lois Lane and saved the world from evil. "It's comical and we're making fun of it. I have never met Lois Lane, I can't fly and Kryptonite has no effect on me," Oliver told Reuters in a phone interview. Oliver is expected to file a defence faster than a speeding bullet, or failing that, sometime next week.

Atlanta killer's letter gives details of slayings

ATLANTA, Ga., July 30 (Reuters) - A letter and three brief notes were found in the home where the wife and two children of mass murderer Mark Barton were found on Thursday. Henry County Police Chief Jimmy Mercer read the letter at a news conference on Friday, saying it was "purportedly" written on Barton's stationery and signed by him. It was dated July 29, 6:38 a.m. Here are the letter and notes as read by Mercer:
"To Whom It May Concern,

"Leigh Ann is in the master bedroom closet under a blanket. I killed her on Tuesday night. I killed Matthew and Michelle Wednesday night.

"There may be similarities between these deaths and the death of my first wife, Deborah Spivey. However, I did not kill her and her mother. There is no reason for me to lie now.

"It just seemed like a quiet way to kill and a relatively painless way to die. There was little pain. All of them were dead in less than five minutes. I hit them with a hammer in their sleep and then put them face down in the bathtub to make sure they did not wake up in pain. To make sure they were dead.

"I am so sorry. I wish I didn't. Words cannot tell the agony. Why did I?

"I have been dying since October. Wake up at night so afraid, so terrified, that I couldn't be that afraid while awake. It has taken its toll. I have come to hate this life in this system of things. I have come to have no hope. I killed the children to exchange them for five minutes of pain for a lifetime of pain.

"I forced myself to do it to keep them from suffering so much later. No mother, no father, no relatives. The fears of the father are transferred to the son. It was from my father to me and from me to my son. He already had it and now to be left alone, I had to take him with me.

"I killed Leigh Ann because she was one of the main reasons for my demise. As I planned to kill the others. I really wish I hadn't killed her now. She really couldn't help it and I love her so much anyway. I know that Jehovah will take care of all of them in the next life.

"I'm sure that the details don't matter. There is no excuse, no good reason. I am sure no one will understand. If they could, I wouldn't want them to. I just write these things to say why.

"Please know that I love Leigh Ann, Matthew and Michelle with all my heart. If Jehovah's willing, I would like to see them all again in the resurrection, to have a second chance.

"I don't plan to live very much longer, just long enough to kill as many of the people that greedily sought my destruction.

"You should kill me if you can."

Wild cats go crazy for Calvin Klein

DALLAS, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Dallas Zoo researchers looking for ways to save the ocelot by encouraging the endangered cats to breed have found a scent that drives them wild -- Calvin Klein Obsession for Men cologne. Four female ocelots in captivity reacted more powerfully to the cologne than to natural odors tested in a project aimed at using scents to guide ocelots to each other in the wild, Dallas Zoo research curator Dr Cynthia Bennett said. "We thought about what would work with them and used things like rat feces and ocelot scent," Bennett told Reuters. "Then on a lark my research technician brought in cologne because a lot of other animals like it and we put Obsession out and our ocelots went wild over it," she said. The cats reacted by rolling and rubbing themselves against the spot where the scent was applied in a response much like domestic cats show to catnip, Bennett said.

Bennett said there are about 100 to 120 of the Texas subspecies of ocelot left in the wild, living in scattered habitats. The zoo's research aims to find a way to guide them together along scent corridors so they can breed more easily and often. Zoo researchers have contacted the Calvin Klein Cosmetics Co., a unit of Unilever , about the findings, Bennett said. "They thought it was cute. I think they were grateful we weren't trying it on vultures," she said.

Calif. dentist's new tie line is infectious

LOS ANGELES, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Nice tie, man. Is that pattern Gonorrhea? Malaria? Black Plague? Herpes? AIDS? An Encino, Calif.-company, Infectious Awareables, has introduced a line of silk and cotton garments featuring the patterns as seen under a microscope of more than 15 different infectious diseases and bacteria. They come in bright colors. The line's developer, Roger Freeman, a dentist and lecturer on infectious diseases, said Tuberculosis, Herpes, AIDS, Chlamydia, Ebola, the Black Plague and Influenza are among the diseases included as tie and underwear patterns. "The Gonorrhea tie is the best looking tie in the whole lot," Freeman said. "The Syphilis tie is gorgeous, the Plague tie is pretty. It's sold out. The Malaria tie, well the artist may have been on something when he did that one, it's really psychedelic, but then, Malaria is a tropical disease. Staph comes in three colors: blue green and red."

Freeman said he stumbled on the concept when someone presented him with a Herpes necktie at one of his lectures. He called the company that manufactured the ties and found they were having difficulty placing them in department stores and were willing to sell Freeman rights to the whole line. "The problem was you plop down a Gonorrhea tie in the middle of a department store and people aren't going to get it. Timing is everything," said Freeman, who saw the ties more appropriately niche marketed in the scientific and biomedical communities. Freeman built on the idea. He began using actual medical slides of a host of different diseases provided by medical centers. He then hired artists to transfer the accurate patterns to silk and cotton fabrics. Each tie features facts about its disease on the back. Four percent of profits go to education or research.

That the ties are conversation pieces is a good thing, he said, citing the day he went to a dinner with five businessmen wearing a "Chlamydia tie," bearing a pattern of the most common sexually transmitted disease. "They were talking about a joint venture until conversation turned to my tie. I said I'm wearing a Chlamydia tie. They said what's that? Where else can you have dinner in a restaurant and talk about Chlamydia with five computer professionals?" Freeman said he plans to include additional disease patterns, as well as biohazards. But he added that he draws the line at parasitic worms and fungi.

It's no act: Oscar winner among US Olympic archery hopefuls

BLOOMFIELD, New Jersey, Aug 6 (AFP) - Actress Geena Davis is among 32 women who will compete in the United States Olympic archery trials here later this month - although her chances of reaching Sydney are slim. The Oscar-winning actress finished 29th among 300 competitors at the US championships last week, where the top 32 advanced to trials here that will decide eight finalists for three US berths at the 2000 Sydney Games. The top eight finishers here during the trials August 22-24 will compete September 4-5 in Chula Vista, California for places on the US team.

Davis began archery lessons two years ago and practices five hours a day, firing 300 arrows a session six days a week. But knowledge of her arrow firing was not public until this week. "This was my little secret," Davis told the New York Times. "I'm just considered one of the archers. But at the beginning, when people saw me shooting, they said, 'What?' That was kind of fun, just seeing their reactions." Davis said she won a tournament in Florence while vacationing in Italy and was inspired to take up the sport by watching Justin Huish, an American who won two gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. "He made it sound fun and that eventually inspired me to look into it," Davis said. Davis won the 1988 supporting actress Academy Award for her role in "The Accidental Tourist" and co-starred in "Thelma and Louise."

French mock designer's doomsday eclipse warning

PARIS, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Fashion designer Paco Rabanne may be predicting that the city of light will disappear in a ball of fire on Wednesday during the eclipse, but at least a band of Paris residents are maintaining their sang froid. The group, called "Fuck the apocalypse", has invited fellow residents of the city to a "survivor's aperitif" in front of Rabanne's boutique on the fashionable Rue du Cherche-Midi. The party is scheduled for 12:23 pm (1023 GMT), exactly one minute after the predicted devastation of the city. Rabanne, famed for his far-out designs, has written a book predicting that the Russian space station Mir will tumble into Paris and destroy the city on Wednesday. His forecast is based on writings by the 16th century seer Nostradamus. Meanwhile, a residents' association in the southeastern city of Lyon has created a "provisional government of France without Paris", which will take control of the country if Rabanne's prediction comes true. The "government" will have a Minister for the Reconstruction of Paris on Wheels, so the rebuilt city can be moved to safety if any more disaster comes its way. If Paris is still standing after the eclipse, the Lyon government will disband and plans a congratulatory message to Paris.

Last roundup at Nevada's Mustang Ranch brothel

RENO, Nevada, Aug 9 (Reuters) - The Mustang Ranch, Nevada's most famous bordello for more than 40 years, closed its gates on Monday, surrendering to the chill embrace of its new owner, the federal government. "We are closed even as we speak. The girls have a couple of hours to move their stuff out, and that's it," said George Flint, a spokesman for the Mustang Ranch and executive director of the Nevada Brothel Owners trade group. The Mustang Ranch, a pink stucco pleasure palace in desert scrub land about 10 miles (16 km) east of Reno, had been publicly welcoming lonesome cowboys since 1971, when it became Nevada's first government-sanctioned house of prostitution.

Despite its fame, the ranch has had a checkered career -- alternately praised and reviled by local officials, attacked by religious groups and dogged by federal tax officials. Launched in 1955 in a mobile trailer to keep one step ahead of the law, the Mustang Ranch blossomed after the legalization of prostitution in certain parts of Nevada in the 1970s. With between 80 and 100 "working girls" operating in the brothel as independent contractors, the Mustang Ranch evolved into a 24-hour complex of swimming pools, hot tubs, disco dancing and sex. "I think it's a damn shame that they're closing it, I really do," Carl Tink, vice chairman of the Storey County Commission, told one reporter. "They're good neighbors, and we get a good percentage of our fees from them." Taxes, however, proved to be the undoing of the Mustang Ranch -- along with the brothel's colorful founder, Joe Conforte, a cigar-chomping former cab driver who took the bordello legal in 1971 and fled to Brazil 10 years later after being convicted of tax evasion.

With Conforte gone, the 1980s turned into a rough ride at the ranch, which in 1982 was placed under court supervision as it tried to pay off its debts. Wall Street was unimpressed with two attempts to float Mustang Ranch stock, and in 1990 the federal government seized the brothel and began auctioning off its goods to souvenir-hungry patrons. Shortly thereafter, federal officials charge, Conforte began exerting his influence from Brazilian exile, setting up dummy corporations which successfully bought the Mustang Ranch back from the government for pennies on the dollar -- neatly escaping his huge tax burden. Last month, a federal jury convicted the ranch's corporate owners as well as a former Mustang madam of concealing Conforte's ownership, forfeiting the property back to the federal government. Late Monday afternoon, a federal official was due to put the final padlock on the ranch's metal gates. After a suitably wild last weekend, which saw the ranch parking lot almost full and the hot tubs, lounges and discos crowded with last customers, the women who worked there spent Monday taking their belongings to waiting cars and taxis. "The mood today is very sad, obviously," Flint said. "This is the break-up of a family."

Brazil city in uproar over phallic beacon statue

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Plans to build a glowing sculpture that looks like a phallus in Brazil's Recife has plunged the seaside city into such an uproar that its gun-toting mayor even stormed a newspaper and threatened to kill the art critic and a gossip columnist. Debate over the enormous penis-shaped statue erupted in local media after a city committee voted to censor the commissioned artist, Francisco Brennand, said Rossini Barreira, president of the Union of Pernambuco Journalists, on Tuesday. Brennand, one of Brazil's most famous artists, is known for his erotically charged ceramic sculptures. But he says that his design for the 100-foot (30-metre) tower, which is part of city improvement project, represents a beacon to outer space rather than anything phallic. The design as shown on television reports, however, did appear to be a giant male sex organ.

A move to tone down Brennand's original concept by making it look more like a lighthouse sparked a storm of criticism and prompted the artist on Aug. 4 to quit in a dramatic protest in which he smashed another sculpture. "I must express my deep revolt at having a work censored by people completely outside the world of culture and art," Brennand wrote in a letter to the mayor's office. Gossip columnist Orismar Rodrigues and arts critic Mario Helio wrote in the Jornal do Commercio newspaper that the mayor's conservative wife was behind the committee's censorship vote. According to witnesses, in reports confirmed by the newspaper, the mayor marched into the paper's office in Recife, opened his jacket to display a gun and issued a veiled death threat to Rodrigues and Helio. "The cultural community, the intellectuals, were all against the censorship of the project," Barreira told Reuters in a telephone interview. "Then yesterday the mayor, Roberto Magalhaes, threatened to kill anyone who smeared his name."

The Brazilian Press Association called an emergency session in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday to decide whether to take action against the Recife mayor for threatening press freedom. The mayor's office shut off incoming calls after the incident and many of those involved refused to talk to Reuters. In the meantime, local reports said that the city council had decided at the end of last week to build the original sculpture after all, with Brennand agreeing to return to the project.

Goalkeeper "drunk at match" banned for two years

WARSAW, Aug 12 (Reuters) - A goalkeeper with a Polish first divison soccer club has been banned for two years and fined $250 after being accused by his club of being drunk during a recent match, the PAP news agency said on Thursday. Jaroslaw Bako, who plays for third-placed Stomil Olsztyn, was said to have been drunk during a league game at Pogon Szczecin on July 31. Stomil lost 3-0 and club management was quoted by the sports paper Przeglad Sportowy on Thursday as blaming Bako for the defeat. Bako, who has hired lawyers, has denied the accusations, adding no one could prove he was drunk because no blood tests had been taken after the game.

"Identity thief" goofs, impersonates fugitive

OAKLAND, Calif., Aug 13 (Reuters) - Lesson for wannabe identity thieves: if you are trying to impersonate someone else, best not to make that person a wanted fugitive. A visitor from Mexico learned that lesson the hard way this week when he arrived at Oakland International Airport carrying faked U.S. documents which identified him as a fugitive wanted for felony burglary and carrying concealed weapons. The U.S. Customs Service, calling it "perhaps the easiest bust of the year", double checked the man's identity and found he was in fact a Mexican national from Zacatecas apparently attempting to sneak into the United States. "This guy basically cloned the identity of a wanted fugitive," a Customs Service spokesman said. "It seems like kind of a loser thing to do." The unfortunate identity thief was turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization service for further questioning.

Pet peeve: San Francisco to ban "owning" animals?

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Some say it is a sign of a city going to the dogs -- politically correct poodles, Dobermans with issues or activist Airedales airing assorted pet peeves. A California-based animal rights group has launched a campaign asking the city of San Francisco to phase out the legal concept of pet ownership, replacing the term "owner" with the more egalitarian "guardian" and helping tear down the idea that animals can be human property. "Society first moved away from women and wives as property, then it moved away from African-Americans as property," Elliott Katz, a licensed veterinarian and president of the group, In Defense of Animals, told Reuters on Friday. "Now a large segment of people are beginning to move away from the concept of animals as property. We are asking the city to recognize that," Katz said.

The group went before the city's Animal Control and Welfare Commission on Thursday to seek approval for a proposal that would take the first step toward ending animal ownership by adding the words "and/or pet guardians" to every city law that mentions "pet owners." Supporters say the proposed linguistic change would recognize animal lovers who "adopt" pets from shelters rather than buy them from stores. If approved it would be the first such change in the nation. But Katz said the real goal was to start a revolution in the way humans relate to pets, gradually turning the term "owner" into an embarrassing relic from an unenlightened era that will be phased out completely. "There are a lot of people who want to be recognized as someone who feels that owning an animal is an outdated concept," Katz said. "The animal is a member of the family, an individual with its own wants and needs."

To support its campaign, dubbed "They Are Not Our Property," In Defense of Animals marshaled a raft of statements from various animal care agencies and animal rights groups -- many couched in political terminology of a war of liberation. "The real plight of equines is the societal value belief system behind ownership and performance-based value," Barbara Clarke, director of the Redwings Horse Sanctuary, said in voicing support for the anti-ownership drive. "This campaign is a vital systemic approach to elevate the legal standing and compassionate care of animals," added Ed Duvin, director of the group Project Zero. The proposal from In Defense of Animals received a fairly positive hearing at Thursday's meeting of the Animal Control and Welfare Commission, an advisory group to the city's Board of Supervisors. Commission Chairman Richard Schulke said he supported the spirit of the proposal, but more study was needed before any decision could be made on submitting it to the Board of Supervisors, which possesses the power to adjust city laws. "I'm sympathetic to the idea," Schulke said. "I've always felt that my pets were my family, not my chattel or property."

While the commission studies the proposal, the City Attorney's office is also vetting it for any possible legal problems -- such as confusing the line between a dog owner and a pet sitter, for instance. But Deputy City Attorney John Kennedy said this could be resolved by stating explicitly that a pet "guardian" has the same legal rights and responsibilities as an owner. "Off the top of my head, I don't see it as a problem," Kennedy said. "My main concern is that it doesn't conflict with state laws."

Norwegian man accuses dolphin of attempted rape

OSLO, Aug 17 (Reuters) - A Norwegian man is accusing a dolphin of attempted rape. Norway's top-selling daily Verdens Gang on Tuesday quoted the 28-year-old as saying that the dolphin apparently mistook him for a female after swimming alongside him in the sea off Farsund, south Norway, earlier this month. The dolphin's penis got caught between the man's swimming costume and his legs before the man, who declined to give his name, managed to clamber back on board his boat. "The dolphin shoved me forward two or three metres before I got loose," he said. "At first I thought it was a fin...but dolphins don't have fins on their underbellies." A friend of the man, a diving instructor who saw the attack, told Verdens Gang that the dolphin "tried it on with me too, but I was wearing protection -- a wetsuit".

Abide with me as we rob your bank, please

NAIROBI, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Six armed robbers sang hymns and invited their victims to a party before making off with over $120,000 in a three-hour heist at a bank in the Kenyan capital. The six disguised themselves as doormen and ushered unsuspecting bank employees into the Dubai-based MashreqBank on Nairobi's main street on Tuesday before robbing them of money, jewellery and watches. Bank manager Njage Makanga arrived for work and unsuspectingly greeted the disguised robbers before they held a revolver to his head and politely asked him to walk over to his colleagues who had been made to lie on top of each other, and get the keys for the safe. "They were very polite," Makanga told Reuters. "They said 'We have come to do a normal day's work just like you, so let us both conduct business as normal and cooperate with each other'."

None of the hostages were harmed but one robber, who posed as a cleaner, poured a bucket of dirty water over the head of a female bank clerk after he discovered she was wearing no jewellery. Makanga said one of the robbers became jittery as the number of hostages grew to over 20 and began to sing hymns to calm himself down. "I heard him say that if something went wrong he would only be able to kill 10 people at the most, and so he started to sing religious songs," he said. When bank staff complained that their wedding rings were being stolen, the robbers apologised and promised to post all items of sentimental value back to their victims. They made off with 9 million shillings ($120,000) of bank money as well as the valuables taken from their hostages. As they left, they invited some of the hostages to join them for a party at a city bar on Friday to celebrate their new-found wealth. "It was more Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid than a proper robbery, but we were still scared," one bank employee said.

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