News you may have missed...
October 1999

"Priests" make unholy buck at Tokyo altars

TOKYO, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Uji Okada's wedding was like a dream come true. Wearing a fairytale bridal dress, she married her childhood sweetheart Mika Nakada before an altar strewn with lilies. To Okada, it mattered not in the least that the chapel was on the third floor of a Tokyo hotel, that its stone walls were plastic, or that the handsome celebrant was plain Chris Dixon, 33, an English teacher from London moonlighting as a minister. And Masahito Nagai, whose firm, Zion Co, laid on the nuptials, isn't complaining either. "Business is fantastic," he says. "Women love the white dress, the foreign priest, the exotic atmosphere, and hotels love the fact that we can get through up to eight weddings in a day." But a group of evangelist missionaries is not at all happy. "Phoney baloney preachers are giving us a bad name," says Kenny Joseph, president of the Japan Association of Preachers and Ministers. "And Im going to weed them out."

Although only about one percent of Japanese are Christian, around 70 percent of couples choose a Christian-style wedding ceremony, instead of the traditional Shinto rites. Services typically come in hotel packages, which include a reception and cost on average 2.5 million yen ($23,150). The result is an industry worth in excess of one trillion yen per year, said the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and a demand for priests, especially of the "exotic" Western variety, which far outstrips the bona fide supply. This is good news for Japan's itinerant expatriates. At 10,000 to 15,000 yen per 23-minute ceremony, helping to tie the knot has become an excellent way of making ends meet. And Nagai, who recruits and trains a small stable of celebrants, is convinced that part-timers do a better job anyway. "It's much easier to train beginners to give couples what they want. I've employed real priests before, but they tend to be a bit severe and not very theatrical. "This is business," he stresses. "It doesn't really matter what the priest believes, so long as he looks the part and provides a good service."

None of Japan's Christian denominations officially approves the hotel chapels, so the field is anyway open to amateurs. "I've heard of both Japanese and foreign ministers doing this on the sly to put their children through university," says Shinji Kayama, a novice of the United Church of Christ. "But I honestly don't think I could." However, to non-denominational evangelists, unholy racket or not, the trend is heaven sent. "God is building churches with the world's money!" writes Doyle Book in the missionary journal Japan Harvest. "The thought is almost too much for me to contain emotionally!" Joseph, of the preachers and ministers' association, agrees that the industry is a financial godsend. Since bringing his Reinforcing Evangelists and Aiding Pastors mission to Japan after World War Two, he has spent millions of yen on publicity for prayer meetings. Now he is being paid to preach. "For the opportunity of introducing the Lord to a hundred strangers, I would pay good money," he says. "The Bible teaches not to marry a believer to an unbeliever, but it is silent about marrying two unbelievers." Joseph has no idea whether a single conversion has occurred during his 15 years in the wedding business, but he defends its value as "pre-evangelism". He fills the three to four minutes with a synopsis of the Christian faith, from Genesis to Jesus, then issues the couple with bibles, and hopes his seed takes root. "We'll reap if we faint not," he says.

The Japan Association of Preachers and Ministers was set up four years ago to sort the good sowers from the bad. Joseph evaluates prospective celebrants in categories including "Ceremonial Atmosphere", "Minister's Demeanour" and "Personal Appearance". Strangely, only one of the 10 categories, "Philosophy of Chapel Weddings", addresses either the candidate's knowledge of Christianity or his religious beliefs. Of the 25 tested so far, 21 scored over 70 percent and were issued with the association's Certificate of Ministry for Christian Weddings. Joseph charges 30,000 yen for an hour-long evaluation, with a bible and a cross thrown in. Approved celebrants are included in Joseph's Registry of Emergency Active Preachers, a rapid-response, dial-a-celebrant hotline. The registry comprises 150 evangelists and is accessed by around 25 bridal companies. But those Joseph disapproves of are blacklisted, whether they take the association's test or not. For example, an American ordained by the Progressive Universal Life Church through the Internet for "a small love offering" of $19.50 was soon put out of business. As a result of the association's efforts, says Joseph, there are only two or three fake priests at large on Japan's wedding scene.

But Nagai, who believes Joseph overcharges at 15,000 yen per nuptial, tells a different story. He says 90 percent of around 200 celebrants in Tokyo alone are fakes. And as he slips into Dixon's vestments -- for the wedding following Okada's is to have a more Japanese feel -- he insists Joseph is missing the point. "Obviously this is a solemn occasion," he says. "It's just that it has nothing to do with religious belief." Meanwhile, Toyoaki Kutsuna's bridal company, Indo Pacific International, is attempting to reverse the cultural flow by offering traditional Shinto weddings for foreigners. For 370,000 yen it will lay on a blessing ceremony at Tokyo's Senso-ji shrine, two Shinto priests, wedding kimonos, marriage feast, the traditional works. And the Shinto priests? "Of course they're real!" chuckles Kutsuna. "Otherwise what would be the point?"

Dutch Oven: Game Pits Nine Players Against 24 Cameras

ALMERE, the Netherlands -- One night last week, Maurice, a 25-year-old Dutch car salesman, did what millions of Europeans do each evening: He took a shower, brushed his teeth, looked at the sky to check the weather and hit the sack. But this was bedtime with a difference: For as Maurice stripped to his underwear and slipped between the sheets, more than one million home viewers were watching him on prime-time television. It's hardly high drama, but that's just the point. Maurice is starring in "Big Brother," a new Dutch television game that features nine total strangers shut up in a house where their every yawn, sneeze and trip to the toilet is recorded by 24 cameras (some of them infrared) and 59 microphones, 24 hours a day -- even in the shower and bedrooms.

If you're thinking you've seen it all before on MTV's "The Real World," think again. These contestants have been cut off from the outside world -- deprived of visitors, television, radio and the Net. And as if that weren't bad enough, they have an incentive to get on each others' nerves: The last person left in the house at the end of 100 days wins 250,000 guilders (113,445 euros). "One hundred days without sex, locked up with people you don't know," Maurice says just hours before kissing his girlfriend goodbye and entering the house last week. "There are going to be tough situations." Bashful boys and girls need not apply. Each day's domestic highlights are edited into a half-hour program and shown on Dutch television channel Veronica every weekday at 8 p.m., starting last Thursday, complete with mood music and story lines. An unedited, 24-hour-a-day live broadband feed can be viewed on the Internet.

The participants, who were selected from 3,000 applicants, are granted a couple of basic human rights: They may bail out of the game at will, forfeiting their chance at the prize. And the producer, John de Mol Productions BV of the Netherlands, withholds their surnames from the public. Apart from that, though, there's no escape from the unrelenting eye of a video nation and the meddling hand of the producer. From time to time, for example, contestants are asked to nominate two members of the group for expulsion. The TV audience then gets to vote on which of the two must move out. "This is really sick," says one contestant, a former social worker named Bianca, as she discusses the nomination process with her new roommates two days after entering the house, a barracks-like building in the middle of a largely deserted industrial park in Almere, due east of Amsterdam. She's hardly alone in that appraisal. The Netherlands Institute of Psychologists has slammed the show as "irresponsible and unethical," even though the contestants were chosen with the help of four psychologists.

"Big Brother" borrows its title from "1984," George Orwell's dark novel about a totalitarian state where everyone is under constant surveillance. But the Dutch program actually says less about yesterday's communist regimes than it does about today's television business, where the line between fact and factoid, reality and drama is increasingly blurred. Although "reality TV" has existed since the 1960s, "Big Brother" drops the traditional documentary format in favor of pure commercial entertainment. It's the latest push of the envelope in a business that brought us "The Jerry Springer Show" and Switzerland's "Expedition Robinson." The Net feed takes the trend one step further by allowing viewers to switch freely between edited footage and raw material, between art and life. "It's the first time TV is so directly linked with the Internet," says Wim Staat, a film and television expert at the University of Amsterdam. "People can choose what they like: The real thing or a reality-based story."

Whatever the approach, "Big Brother" is already a hit in an overcrowded country that has been ambivalent about privacy ever since the Reformation. Back then, Calvinist clergymen encouraged their parishioners to leave their curtains open at night so that neighbors could check if they were drinking or gambling. Last Thursday, the show's television premier attracted 1.1 million viewers, a record for any one show aired on Veronica. The "Big Brother" Internet feed, meanwhile, has become the Netherlands's hottest Web site, racking up 2.5 million hits since the live footage started rolling. People keep coming back for more: The second and third TV broadcasts drew audiences of up to 700,000 apiece, more than double the show's target. Advertising slots for the program are sold out for a month to come, and more than 50 producers from around the globe have put in requests to visit the set.

The program was the brainchild of John de Mol, the 44-year-old head of John de Mol Productions and chief executive of its parent, television-production giant Endemol Entertainment NV. Sitting before a television monitor in a dimly lit room, Mr. de Mol lights up a Philip Morris cigarette while watching a live feed from the house. He's in a philosophic mood. "You have to be careful not to start acting like God," he says. "It's not our plan to drench these people in catastrophe." Lesser interventions, however, are considered fair game. Soon, the producers say, contestants will be offered a daily newspaper -- but only if they unanimously agree on which paper it will be. The producers also plan to let one person in the house make a three-minute phone call sometime during the three-month season; a unanimous decision is again required. A stone's throw away from the control room, the new roommates are getting acquainted during their first night together. They've already had a look around their new home, which in addition to the usual living room, kitchen, bedrooms and bathroom includes a tiny windowless space called "The Confession Room." Contestants can go there to pour their hearts out to a camera and talk to the producers. Their fellow contestants won't hear them, although the rest of the world will. Now, as the night wears on, the contestants sit comfortably around a dining table, sipping red wine, munching cheese, smoking cigarettes and exchanging their life stories. They seem relaxed despite the wireless microphones attached to their clothes. At 1.50 a.m., they agree to turn in for the night and head for two dormitory-style bedrooms to unpack.

The group instinctively splits in two, the four women taking one room and the five men the other. Ruud, a heavy-set 44-year-old man, heads for the wrong room and jokes that he wouldn't mind sleeping there. This from a man who just hours earlier left his common-law wife and crying five-year-old daughter to take what he called "a big step into the darkness." The women ignore his remark and continue unpacking, leaving a bored-looking Ruud to stroll over to the men's bedroom, where Maurice and three other guys are settling in. "I'll take this bed," Ruud says, stripping naked but for his two large earrings before climbing into bed. A camera catches his bare behind and the baffled expression on his roommates' faces. It's the first of many clues to come about the personalities in play.

By the next day, the characters in this drama become clear. Willem, 37, a newly divorced teacher, turns out to be a born leader. Entrepreneur Martin, 32, is the silent type. Jobless Bart, 23, likes attention and shows off his muscles at every opportunity. Ruud is the joker, while Maurice, a former navy petty officer, just tags along. The female cast features Karin, a chatty 39-year-old mother of four who wants "to see how her family will survive without her." Sabine, 26, is a single woman with a deep tan and braided hair reminiscent of Bo Derek in the movie "10." Tara is a shapely 21-year-old shoe sales clerk with an air of glamour. And then there's Bianca, 25, who wears tight leather skirts, reads poetry aloud and has a tattoo of a face that covers her back.

Day Two finds Ruud awaking from a nap and reading a magazine. Maurice lies down on a stretcher and chats with Bianca about transvestites. Out back, Bart stares straight into a camera mounted on a pole and starts jumping up and down. The camera moves in sync. "These cameras are moronic," he says, ducking to get out of viewing range. There's no escape: A wide-angle shot from a camera inside the house captures his every move. By early Friday, antics and ennui give way to a small revolution. Tara and Bianca decide to snip photographs of eyes out of magazines and paste them to the wall wherever a camera is hidden. But when Tara stands on a chair to tape an eye over one camera lens, a voice-over rings through the house: "You are not allowed to do that because it would cause technical problems."

Back in the control room, directors and editors work in shifts, monitoring the cameras around the clock and selecting footage with a digital editing system. "We're trying to build plots and tell stories," says Paul Romer, the show's executive producer. "We'll capture anything that looks interesting and create a real-life soap." But Mr. Romer may soon get a taste of his own medicine. Broadband research and development company Jamby BV in Amsterdam, which handles the live feed from the house to the Net, wants to install a camera inside the control room, too. So far, the producer is resisting, but Jamby is adamant. "`Big Brother' is watching the house," says Jamby's general manager, Arjan Postma. "But we want to watch `Big Brother' himself."

Alien issue splits Vancouver's sasquatch believers

VANCOUVER, Sept 26 (Reuters) - For sasquatch fans gathered in Vancouver this weekend, the debate is not over the reality of the large, apelike animal but over its relation to UFOs. "It's a huge divide," Stephen Harvey, organizer of the International Sasquatch Symposium, said in describing the dispute between the cryptozoology and paranormal wings of sasquatch studies. Sasquatch -- aka Bigfoot -- is an ordinary flesh-and-blood creature that just happens to have avoided capture, according to the cryptozoologists, or students of hidden animals. But to believers in the paranormal, or psychic phenomena, sasquatch is also an "interdimensional" being with strange powers and ties to extraterrestrials aboard UFOs.

Both camps tend to think there must be more than one specimen around. And neither seems worried that no live or dead sasquatch has ever been produced for study or that mainstream science considers the idea of such an animal lurking in the forests of North America complete nonsense. "How can you expect a creature that can't build a fire to fly a spaceship?" grumbled Bill Miller of Illinois, one of about 150 people who came in Vancouver to trade the latest reports of sightings and accounts of their personal experiences. Miller's own brush with sasquatch took place in northern Minnesota in 1980. "Who'd have thought it would happen outside of the Pacific Northwest? But it turns out there are a lot of sightings in northern Minnesota," he said.

The legend of a large, hairy creature lurking in the mountains of western Canada and the United States goes back to a time before Europeans settled the continent. The word "sasquatch" was derived in the 1920s from tales of the Chehalis Indians in British Columbia. Stories about sasquatch and his connection with flying saucers are also staples of supermarket tabloids -- a fact that has the cryptozoologists complaining that the paranormals give sasquatch research a bad name. "I mean, if you call the police to report a murder and describe what happened and say you saw little green men, how long before the police officer stops taking notes?" Miller asked a reporter. Members of the paranormal wing contend that their opponents' minds are closed and say that is why the cryptozoologists have never been able to produce more than circumstantial evidence -- such as alleged footprints -- of the creature's existence. "The way to go is to become more evolved ourselves," argued Jack "Kewaunee" Lapseritis, the author of "Physic Sasquatch" and a member of the Self-Mastery Earth Institute in Trout Lake, Washington. Lapseritis, who reported having had five dealings with sasquatch in the last seven weeks, contended that since the creature could travel between dimensions of reality and space, it would not be found unless it wanted to be. So deep is the divide between the two schools of sasquatch thought that Harvey ended up scheduling their discussion sessions on different days. "I sort of had to segregate them," he said, alluding to problems at past gatherings.

If cryptos and paras have common ground, it is in complaining that mainstream science and news media will not take sasquatch, or their efforts to find him, seriously. "Mainstream scientists think they have a monopoly on knowledge," said Lapseritis, who described his research methods as being identical to those used by primatologist Jane Goodall in studying chimpanzees in Africa. "Yes, the evidence (of sasquatch's existence) is circumstantial. ... But if this were a murder trial, then sasquatch would have been convicted long ago," Chad Deetken of Vancouver said. Deetken, who also researches such puzzles as crop circles and was initially reluctant to give his name, said scientists needed to show "the same courage as Columbus" did in trying to prove the Earth was round. As for the future of the divided sasquatch research community, members of each side were quick to say they had no "personal animosity" toward the other but gave no hint of willingness to compromise. "I also believe in extraterrestrials ... but there is simply no connection (with sasquatch)," Miller said, shaking his head.

Ukrainian in the sun after 57 years of fear

MONCHYNTSI, Ukraine, Oct 1 (Reuters) - A feeble, stooped old man with palsied hands slowly comes out of his peasant house, a slight smile lightening his emaciated face. "Now I can see the sun," he says pensively. "I finally decided, let them try me or shoot me, but I cannot live like this any longer." Fifty-seven years ago Stepan Kovalchuk, now 76, went into hiding, seized by panic and fear after seeing the atrocities committed by the invading Nazi Germans. Later, he dodged the attacking Red Army and then he was afraid of being tried by the Soviets as a deserter. Kovalchuk, who last month ended decades of self-imposed confinement in the hay loft of his house and went out to see his fellow villagers, told Reuters the story of a life ruined by the century's brutality and an ingrained fear.

Born into a poor family in a small village some 320 km (200 miles) southwest of the capital Kiev, Kovalchuk was 18 in 1942 when the Nazis took the first of his fellow villagers to labour camps in Germany. Deeply religious and sensing he might also be dragged off to Germany, Kovalchuk and his mother made a pilgrimage to an ancient monastery. The long journey was shocking. "The sides of the road were all fresh graves of Jews, and Germans boasted that they would be killing 100 men in revenge for every German soldier killed," Kovalchuk said. "I was terrified thinking of that on my way back (from the pilgrimage)," he said. "At that time I was afraid not of work (in Germany) but of lying in a grave." Kovalchuk decided to hide in a nearby forest to escape the Germans. His mother and sister told fellow villagers that Stepan had disappeared during the pilgrimage, after which Kovalchuk hid in the hay loft or behind the stove of their tiny house.

In 1944, the Red Army regained control of western Ukraine, and again the instinct of self-preservation won. "At that time I had a lung disease and had to wear a warm jacket. I realised that no one would give me a similar jacket in the Red Army and I would die. It was winter and I decided to wait until spring," Kovalchuk said. Many young villagers of Stepan's age joined Soviet troops and, inexperienced and poorly armed, soon perished as cannon fodder in the forests of the nearby Ternopil region. "When too many of our young men died near Ternopil, I got frightened and decided to stay at home," Kovalchuk said. Thought to be missing or most likely dead, Kovalchuk whiled away his time helping his disabled sister, who made a modest living as a dressmaker for fellow villagers. Transcribing religious texts, fasting and praying consumed the rest of the time.

Fearing a severe punishment for being a Red Army deserter, Stepan, then a young man, subdued even his sexual instinct to remain alive. His voluntary confinement turned into a prison. "When I was free, we were very poor and I had no silly thoughts," he said of the period before his hiding. "Then, when thoughts of women visited me, I would drive them off." The only women he worshipped were his mother and sister. But even the death of his mother in 1975 did not persuade Stepan to come out of hiding. Only in 1984 did Kovalchuk take the risk of going to a remote church, where no one would recognise him, and make a confession to "clear the soul". That was the first time he had seen a bus, and Kovalchuk said he had been shocked and almost gave himself away when he saw the bus doors shut automatically. Only when his beloved sister Melania was dying of cancer did he decide to end his imprisonment for good. On September 9, on the ninth day after Melania's death, Stepan left the hay loft and presented himself to his cousin. "Even she did not recognise me at once," Kovalchuk said.

After his return to normal life, Kovalchuk and his tiny house, which lacks radio or television and where the two frugal rooms are decorated with numerous icons, have become objects of pilgrimage for fellow villagers. Neighbours help Stepan, who is almost deaf and has poor eyesight and a hernia. They bring water, milk and bread and help tend a tiny garden with several apple trees, maize and pumpkins. Many of those who lost their relatives during the war have forgiven their reclusive neighbour. "Stepan is not guilty of anything. The war is to blame," said Aniska Maksimova, 84. Kovalchuk considers himself culpable. "I am guilty before the state," he said. "As for God, let him judge himself." The district administration promises to pay Kovalchuk a modest pension of 37 hryvnias ($8), and a photographer took his picture for a passport to allow him to vote in Ukraine's presidential election this month. Despite the warm welcome, Soviet-era fears are still alive in Kovalchuk, who prefers to discuss only personal issues. Asked what he thought about Ukraine finally winning independence eight years ago, he said: "This is none of my business. This is a state affair." He said he would vote in the election because it was a duty. "The authorities will tell me whom to support."

Snake, Sir, or something more exotic?

YAOUNDE, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Restaurant owners flock to Cameroon's Elig-Edzoa market daily in search of something different. As little as five years ago, its stock in trade, like markets across Africa, was fruit and vegetables and conventional cuts of meat such as lamb, chicken or beef. Today, it is the penultimate stop in a food chain that could spell disaster for the central African nation's wildlife. "Cameroon's national animal heritage is in danger of disappearing," Environment and Forestry Minister Sylvestre Na'ah Ondoa warned in August. Bushmeat, as Elig-Edzoa's new stock in trade is quaintly called, is likely to be poached -- in all senses of the word. For diners who fancy a walk on the wild side, it is a source of endless opportunity. For the restaurant owners, some of them abroad, it is big business.

Elephant, monkey, chimpanzee, buffalo, hare, deer or antelope, porcupine, tortoise, viper or wildcat -- the meat from just about any living creature in Cameroon can be found here. It comes in all shapes and sizes -- whole or in pieces, smoked, semi-smoked or fresh. For wildlife experts and conservationists, it is a disaster unfolding before their eyes. The Rainforest Action Network says that logging companies cutting roads into the heart of the rainforest have exposed remote forest regions to a new danger. "The commercial hunting of wild animals has reached a fever pitch, far outstripping sustainable consumption," it adds in a report. "The chimpanzee (and) other great apes and endangered species are in peril of being of being wiped out by this so-named 'bushmeat' trade." The trade breaches the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Donors such as the European Union, under pressure from environmental lobby groups, have threatened to limit aid if nothing is done to curb the problem. The government had hoped to regulate hunting and turn it into a sustainable business.

But poachers, driven initially by poverty, but also by a growing demand for bushmeat in the cities and the prospect of easy pickings have forced it to think again. The proliferation of high-powered weapons of war in Central Africa has compounded the problem. So too has the use of toxic chemicals to kill game. That threatens flora and fauna alike. Mamman Jeannette, who runs a stall at Elig-Edzoa, says that the animals are killed hundreds of kilometres away in the central, southern and eastern forest and the northern savanna. A trafficking network brings it to the city, making light of obstacles such as anti-poaching legislation and game wardens. "It is a complicated process," says Manuel Yab, a former middleman. The overnight train from the north is one link. Jute bags are hurled from the carriages as the train slows on the approach to Yaounde. Waiting men collect them. In some cases, the owners of the sacks leave the train and walk back to fetch them.

Most of the bushmeat finds its way into Yaounde restaurants but some is smuggled to Europe. Critics talk of an expanding market in countries such as Belgium, France and Britain. Local people are involved in poaching but the Cameroon Programme Office of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) says that outsiders have a much greater impact. They give rifles and ammunition to the local people to go deep into the forest. The law prescribes stiff penalties, including long prison terms, for the illegal killing of wild animals but environmentalists say that forestry and wildlife officials are fighting a losing battle against poachers who are better armed and sometimes enjoy high-level connections. "Our government has a good wildlife conservation policy but we lack the means to implement it," Djoh Diang, a senior official at the Environment and Forestry Ministry's wildlife department, told Reuters. "Forestry and game wardens are often posted to far-flung areas without any firearms. Moreover, they lack means of transport and communications, while their poor pay makes them vulnerable to bribes," he added.

Dead moose don't float -- and they're hard to drag

PITTSBURGH, N.H. (Reuters) - Several thousand hunters are set to invade northern New England's forests this month to face the biggest challenge of their careers: dragging the half-ton moose they just killed out of the woods. "Be careful where you shoot them," advised Buster Hutchins, standing at the counter of his Wilderness Sport fishing and hunting goods store. "They drag damn hard." Moose have flourished this year in Maine, where they are the official state animal, as well as in New Hampshire and Vermont. To help cull the herds, the three states have issued some 4,000 permits to hunters this season. The hunt, which runs Oct. 4-24, also helps reduce the hundreds of sometimes-fatal moose-car collisions each year.

An adult bull North American moose can weigh up to 1,200 pounds (544 kg), stand 7-1/2 feet (2.5 metres) tall and have an enormous set of antlers -- perhaps the biggest obstacle to extracting the dead game from the thick woods and lakes that are their habitat. "The antlers dig in. They get tangled in the brush. It can be a real chore," said Hutchins, who provides ammunition, advice and occasionally a helping hand to hunters in this town just south of the Canadian border. "Easy part is finding the moose and shooting it. Then the fun stops and your moose-hunting experience has just started," he said with a smile. Hutchins removes his ragged cap, runs callused fingers though his gray hair and recalls the time he spent 10 hours helping a hunter bring a moose out of the woods. "The darn thing stumbled on into the swamp where it dropped. Moose don't float, you know," he said. Using block and tackle and plenty of rope, the hunter, Hutchins and two other men hoisted the enormous carcass onto relatively dry land, where they gutted and quartered it. Then each took a piece and hiked out. The fellow carrying the head, with its big spread of antlers, brought up the rear.

"Hunting season follows rutting (mating season), so these moose are still giving off some scent. The scent attracted another bull. He darn near charged the poor guy," Hutchins recalled. Asked what happened, he replied: "That's why you carry a second gun." He added: "You got to be prepared. Preparation is key. You need two guns, plenty of gear and (proper clothing to) be comfortable standing around." Indeed, the best times for spotting moose are in the chill and drear hours of dusk and dawn. The states try to prepare hunters. New Hampshire requires moose permit holders to attend a four-hour class that discusses field dressing, shot placement and "moose management." The permits are won in state lotteries designed to give as many hunters as possible the chance to participate. This has created a cottage industry in the area: folks who specialize in helping hapless hunters extract their prizes. In nearby Island Pond, Vermont, taxidermist Walt Driscoll turned away hunters who wanted to have their trophies mounted. "My freezers are full. I've got a year's worth of work ahead of me. I'm not taking any moose," Driscoll said. So he refers them to a taxidermist in New Hampshire and tells a reporter: "There's just too much work around here for us. We could use another taxidermist to come on up." Driscoll has noticed a change in who hunts for moose in the area: "It used to be mostly trophy hunters, but now more and more people are coming and they're using the meat." A moose can easily yield 600 pounds (270 kg) or more of meat -- "more than a family can eat in a winter. But folks are pretty generous with it. Come the last week in October, there will be plenty of moose meat being offered to helpers, friends and neighbors," Driscoll said. "Moose meat's pretty tasty if it's done right with onions and garlic. It's not as gamey as venison and it's really lean."

World's best-preserved giant squid displayed in NY

NEW YORK, Oct 12 (Reuters) - It may have arrived in New York in a box labeled "seafood," but this squid isn't your ordinary calamari. The American Museum of Natural History on Tuesday opened to the public its display of the world's best-preserved specimen of a giant squid, a mysterious, deep-sea creature whose habits never have been observed in the wild. The squid, netted by commercial fisherman off the coast of New Zealand in 1997, is a 25-foot (7.6-metres) long male weighing 250 pounds (113 kg). It's so large that the museum had to fold its two long tentacles to fit the creature into a specially designed display case. "It reminds us of the wonderful life we have on Earth," said Neil Landman, the museum's paleontology curator and an expert in cephalopods, the class of marine mollusks that includes squids.

The giant squid, or Architeuthis kirki, is the stuff of legend. Jules Verne made the elusive animal a bloodthirsty beast in his "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Fantastic tales of sea monsters, krakens and serpents have been told by mariners since the time of Homer. Everything about the giant squid is on a gigantic scale. It's the world's largest invertebrate, attaining lengths of up to 70 feet (21.3 metres) from the tip of its head to the tip of its tentacles. It has eyes the size of soccer balls, a huge, parrot-like beak, eight arms and two long tentacles, each equipped with dozens of suckers armed with small teeth. Giant squids live at depths of 3,000 feet (914 metres) below the sea, dine on fish and other squids and are suspected of being one of the more intelligent species in the ocean. Its mortal enemy, the sperm whale, is one of the world's largest mammals. Circular scars on beached or captured whales are evidence of epic, deep-ocean battles between the two sea creatures, Landman said. Scientists admit that they know little about giant squids. "It comes from the depths ... yet we know so little about it," Landman said.

The specimen, donated to the museum by New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, made an epic journey halfway around the world after its capture. The fishermen who netted it in December 1997 in a deep ocean canyon, realizing the significance of their find, immediately put the dead squid on ice and contacted New Zealand scientists when they returned to port three months later. On June 8, 1998, it was shipped by air cargo to the United States in a plastic box labeled "seafood" normally used to transport tuna. It arrived in New York on June 10, but only after it was bumped from a connecting flight in Los Angeles due to weight considerations. For a group of schoolchildren who helped unveil the creature in its new display case, which took nearly a year to design and build, the squid was "cool" and "really, really gross." "I've never seen anything like it," said Melissa Magazine, a middle school student from the nearby Science Museum School. The squid, normally a reddish purple but turned a sandy color after the rigors of capture and the preservation process, will be on display at the museum on New York's Upper West Side for about two years. After that, it will go to the museum's research departments for study.

Prancing priest's "Jesus Twist" tops Brazil charts

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 11 (Reuters) - A dancing priest's second CD of aerobics music has shot to the top of Brazil's pop charts with its hit song "Vira de Jesus" ("Jesus Twist"), his record company said on Monday. Father Marcelo Rossi, 31, packs Brazil's soccer stadiums with upbeat services that appeal to younger worshippers who have been drifting away from traditional Catholic masses. He borrowed from a Portugese folk step, the Vira, to create the hit song on his new CD. "As always, he's selling really, really well," a spokeswoman at the PolyGram recording label said. Known as Father Marcelo to his fans, the 31-year-old cleric's first recording -- based on the aerobics moves that he prances out during his energetic masses -- also blazed up the charts, selling millions in a country where semi-naked Samba dancing is more the norm. In a 1991 census, 83 percent of Brazil's estimated 160 million people described themselves as Catholic, but only 15 percent of that total said they went regularly to Mass. "The church has to adapt. The philosophy doesn't change, but the form changes. It just doesn't work anymore to give a Mass in Latin," said Aurelio Cunha, secretary-general for the Christian Youth Association. Father Marcelo will get a chance to try out his new steps at Rio's famous Maracana soccer stadium on Tuesday when he and eight other pop-star priests pay homage to Brazil's Patron Saint before an expected crowd of 120,000.

Patient's literary allusion prompts suicide check

BOSTON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Be careful what you say to the nurse when you're in the hospital. A 51-year-old high school teacher, hospitalized for a heart attack and hooked to numerous machines, was forced to spend several hours talking to psychiatrists after he remarked that the constraints of all the equipment made him feel like he was "in Peter Coffin's inn." The nurse heard the word "coffin" and thought he might be suicidal. Psychiatrists were called. The reference is to Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" and the overcrowded Spouter-Inn, owned by Peter Coffin, where Ishmael must share a bed with the strange character Queequeg. In a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Howard Fischer of Children's Hospital in Detroit said the psychiatrists eventually concluded that the teacher was not suicidal. But "no one seemed to recognize the reference to 'Moby Dick.' No one had read the novel." Fischer said the incident showed medical personnel should listen more closely to what patients say and ask about unfamiliar references. It also showed "physicians and nurses need a broader education in the humanities."

Looking for a bonsai baby-sitter? Find it in Brazil

SAO PAULO, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Need a dentist for your rabbit? A baby-sitter for your bonsai tree? An anti-snoring alarm or a mechanical bull? With the help of "Curious Addresses in Sao Paulo" -- a new guide to the bizarre and obscure in one of the world's biggest cities -- you can find them. "There are few places in the world that could generate a book like this, but Sao Paulo is definitely one of them," said Marcelo Duarte, whose unusual guide to the city of 16 million went on sale on Thursday. The young journalist-turned-author has always had an eye for the odd and started jotting down locales seven years ago for a magazine article. The search became an obsession. "I just started saving ideas and addresses, things were always occurring to me," Duarte said. "Where you can buy ostrich eggs or edible flowers? Where you can buy a big wooden cake like the kind that Marilyn Monroe popped out of? Only since it's Brazil you can hire a mulatta. It's all there." The guide lists 375 rare products and services found at 510 different places in Sao Paulo. Duarte hired eight journalists for six months to flesh out his own collection with everything from swimming classes for dogs to left-handed ice picks.

"Curious Addresses" is also a rare reflection of Sao Paulo's own shifting obsessions. With the biggest Japanese community outside of Japan and a layered history of immigration from Portugal, Italy, Lebanon, Korea and Armenia, it is no surprise there is such a variety of products and services in Sao Paulo -- and that much of them are centered around food. In his search for curios, Duarte crossed out early-year finds, such as goat's milk and mascarpone cheese used in tiramissu as the delicacies became normal fare in the city of gourmet restaurants. But he added a left-handed oyster opener. The team also uncovered a wide variety of services for animals -- from cat psychiatrists to dog dermatologists -- that see big business from Sao Paulo's booming middle-class living with designer pets in thousands of sky-rise apartments throughout the city. Duarte's own experiences were key to filling the book out. "I bought a bonsai tree and nurtured it and took care of it, but it died when I went on vacation," he said. "When I bought another, they told me about a kind of bonsai hotel where they baby-sit your trees for just one real (53 cents) a day. Of course, that went into the guide." And the list goes on. This time, Duarte is shooting for 1,000 "curious addresses." "I just can't seem to stop," he said. "I think I'll have a new guide in two years."

Goalkeeper blunders, Mussolini tries to score

ROME, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Perhaps only in soccer-mad Italy could a goalkeeper's blunder stymie parliament for a day and revive the ghosts of the country's Fascist past under dictator Benito Mussolini. After struggling Parma lost a second straight match on Sunday, their international goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon appeared for a television interview with a slogan on his jersey which, roughly translated, meant: "Death to him who gives up." Buffon innocently said he had no idea that the slogan was a right-wing rallying cry, used during a 1970 revolt in the southern city of Reggio Calabria. He had merely sought to encourage his embattled team mates, he said. "I don't know anything about politics." But by the time the lower house of parliament gathered on Tuesday, Buffon's gesture had become a national political issue, provoking the ire of Interior Minister Rosa Russo Jervolino and the praise of Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of "Il Duce". "It was truly a spectacle which we would have preferred not to see," Milan's Corriere della Sera daily said in a frontpage editorial on Wednesday. Mussolini, a deputy for the far-right National Alliance party, caused uproar in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday when she appeared wearing a T-shirt on which was written: "Death to him who gives up on Buffon." Chamber President Carlo Giovanardi repeatedly invited her to cover up her shirt but Mussolini declined, sparking a boisterous row between deputies on the left and the right. Giovanardi was twice forced to suspend the session. "This is a not a sports bar," Giovanardi told the deputies. "I'm ashamed of this parliament."

The most Ig Noble of prizes awarded

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Sept 30 (Reuters) - In a spoof of the Nobel Prizes, the nutty professors at Harvard University on Thursday honored a group of researchers for their "ignoble" efforts. In a less-than-solemn ceremony at Harvard's Sanders Theatre, the annual Ig Nobel prizes were given for achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced." Coming on the same day that the Swedish Academy recognized German novelist Gunter Grass with a Nobel for literature and weeks before similar honors are to be announced for real advances in economics and the basic sciences, the Ig Nobel recognized more questionable contributions. "England has always had a reputation of really treasuring its eccentrics, and this is where it's finally paying off," said Harvard Professor Marc Abrahams, editor of the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research and master of the evening's ceremonies.

Bristol University researcher Len Fisher won the Ig Nobel for physics for his development of the proper technique for dunking a biscuit without making a gloppy mess at the bottom of a cup of tea or coffee. His fellow countrymen at the British Standards Institution were awarded the Ig Nobel for literature for their six-page specification on the proper way to make a cup of tea. "It's basically scientists pulling each others' legs," Fisher said in an interview before accepting the honor. The evening's other winners included: Dr. Arvid Vatle of Stord, Norway, who painstakingly determined which kinds of containers patients choose when submitting urine samples; Hyuk-Ho Kwon of Seoul, who developed a self-perfuming business suit; and Steve Penfold of York University in Toronto for his doctoral thesis on the sociology of Canadian donut shops. The Ig Nobel for Peace went to Chari Fourie and Michelle Wong of Johannesburg, South Africa for their car burglar alarm which consists of a detection circuit and flame thrower. Abrahams said many winners take their "honor" in stride - eight winners paid their own way to this year's ceremony, most from abroad. Sheldon Glashow, winner of a real Nobel for physics in 1978, was the prize in the annual win-a-date-with-a-Nobel- Laureate contest.

Florida robber uses clear plastic bag as mask

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Oct 1 (Reuters) - Convenience store robbers sometimes wear stockings or ski masks to hide their faces. This one used a clear plastic bag. "It looked like a big prophylactic down to his waist. Kind of translucent," said Pinellas County Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita. Police said Herman Hill, 35, a transient, did not have a disguise when he went to a St. Petersburg-area Circle K convenience store on Tuesday, allegedly to rob the place, so he grabbed a transparent garbage bag and threw it over his head. Authorities said he made off with less than $100. Hill, who told police he was a crack addict, was arrested on Thursday when authorities said he was caught trying to break into a home. He was charged with robbery, attempted burglary and trying to escape. "We got nice video from the store's camera," Tita said.
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