News you may have missed...
December, 1999

Our first story is of uncertain provenance, and may be mere classic foaf-lore [sic], like the warship/lighthouse one. But as the person who first sent it to me said, "even if it's fake, who cares?"...

Virtual kangaroos' missile attack stuns army

Reuse of some object-oriented code has caused tactical headaches for Australia's armed forces. As virtual reality simulators assume a larger role in helicopter combat training, programmers have gone to great lengths to increase the realism of their scenarios, including detailed landscapes and - in the case of the Northern Territory's Operation Phoenix - herds of kangaroos (since disturbed animals might well give away a helicopter's position). The head of the Defence Science & Technology Organization's Land Operations/Simulation division reportedly instructed developers to model the local marsupials' movements and reactions to helicopters. Being efficient programmers, they just reappropriated some code originally used to model infantry detachment reactions under the same stimuli, changed the mapped icon from a soldier to a kangaroo, and increased the figures' speed of movement. Eager to show off their flying skills for some visiting American pilots, the hotshot Aussies "buzzed" the virtual kangaroos in low flight during a simulation. The kangaroos scattered, as predicted, and the visiting Americans nodded appreciatively then did a double take as the kangaroos reappeared from behind a hill and launched a barrage of Stinger missiles at the hapless helicopter. Apparently the programmers had forgotten to remove that part of the infantry coding.

Doomsday group lives in Bible days, awaiting end

MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank, Nov 30 (Reuters) - In their handsewn linen robes, sandals and cloth head-dresses, the White family look like extras on the set of a film about the Bible. But the family of seven from Detroit, Michigan, are living the Bible days for real in the Promised Land getting ready for what they hope and pray will be the end of the world. "We're on a pilgrimage out of Babylon," said the mother of the family, Ader, 39. "I believe the millennium is Judgment Day and we are going to be judged." As Ader spoke on Tuesday, her seven-month-old daughter Serena suckled at her breast in a spartan farmhouse with no electricity, gas, running water or glass in the windows. Outside, four more children aged four to 15 tended to the donkeys, chickens and livestock the family and two friends keep in the shadow of this biblical mountain near Nablus in the West Bank that, for the Whites, is 17 hours on foot from Jerusalem. "We just wait. And if we die waiting, fair enough," said John Kohath, a 74-year-old retired maintenance worker from Guildford, England, with a flowing white beard and a belief that the end might almost be nigh.

The approach of 2000 has proved a magnetic draw to the Holy Land for religious cultists, many of them fringe Christians from the United States and Europe, who interpret the start of a new millennium on January 1 as the sign of the Second Coming. That's not what the Whites think. By their estimate, based on what they say is a corrected reading of the Hebrew calendar, the year is now 6000 and the end will come when the lost biblical Ark of the Covenant reappears at the dawn of 6001 sometime next spring. "We're convinced it is in Jerusalem in a cave in the Old City. My husband has been there. He knows," said Ader of the Ark. "The millennium of Yehoah (God) starts this March or April. It depends on the first new moon after the vernal equinox," she said.

In Detroit, Ader, a former Seventh Day Adventist who changed her first name from Darcy, put her business management skills to use running her husband's business as a chiropractor and lived in a six-bedroom house set in 40 acres of land. Home is now a few bare cement rooms the Whites get rent-free from an expatriate Palestinian in return for tending his olive trees. It is the 38th place they have lived since selling all their worldly goods and flying to Israel five years ago. "I was considered lunatic fringe back then because I wasn't mainline Christian," said Ader. She rejects any suggestion of fanaticism or mental instability. "Why should we be fanatics for wanting to dress as it says in our kingdom?" she asked. The children -- bright, lively and eager to show visitors around the smallholding -- have never been to school. "Green grass for the animals" is all Matthew, the eldest, says he misses from Detroit.

The family shuns modern transport as far as possible, preferring to walk everywhere or travel by donkey. Camels were the Whites' preferred mode of transport until they found the ships of the desert fared poorly in 20th century traffic. The group is strictly vegetarian and lives off food cooked over wood by Rivkah Olson, a former piano teacher from Texas. "When I came here I changed my name because I realised Roxy doesn't fit in this country," said Olson, 63, explaining that she, like the others, had adopted a Hebrew first name. The group regards photographs as ungodly idolatry and burned their passports for that reason when they arrived in Israel. "All the police in this area know us. They say we're 100 percent okay," said Ader. But now there is a problem. Ader's 42-year-old husband Shomer, who changed his name from Mark, got a new U.S. passport in Jerusalem recently so he could fly back to the United States to visit his mother. He is stuck in Germany trying to return to the Promised Land because the Israeli authorities, waging a pre-millennium crackdown on fringe cultists, refuse to allow him back in. The crisis means the Whites have had to borrow an unbiblical mobile telephone to stay in touch and Ader says it is all because her husband had his passport photograph taken. "My husband is in the Valley of Decision," she said. "Yehoah is saying to him: 'If you want to stand before my throne you can't do it with a picture.'"

Y2K doomsayer has waited a lifetime to prove himself

HORNING'S MILLS, Ontario, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Bruce Beach has buried 42 school buses underground near his home in a rural Ontario hamlet in anticipation of the worst disaster mankind has ever seen. Beach is an experienced bomb-shelter builder and a self-professed doomsayer with an inkling that his moment of truth is finally looming. It may not be January 1, 2000, but it may not be too much later, either. With help from his son-in-law and three hired handymen the buses have been knitted together in an underground steel labyrinth. He's working on his bunker late into December because the weather is unseasonably warm and time is running out. The moment he's waited a lifetime for could be just days away. "Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and expect something in between," is his Y2K motto.

With sleeping rotations, Beach believes he can shelter nearly 500 people. The facility includes air intakes, a nursery, a dentist's chair, a decontamination area and a sound-proof room for people who may have a breakdown. "If government and big business are concerned enough and making preparations, shutting down pipelines and stockpiling with food...it seems prudent for us to make preparations," said Beach, a 65-year-old with a big white beard who lives with his wife and looks after his 99-year-old mother. Few Canadians have devoted as much time and effort to safeguard against millennium mishaps as this survivalist, who describes himself as "misunderstood". But then few believe the apocalypse is around the corner.

The disregard for the perils of life in this century has left Beach, a transplanted American, spooked and isolated. As a young American soldier in the 1960s he was inspecting missile launch sites and had "first-hand experience of a nuclear threat, and prepared." He built his first bunker in 1964 in Kansas, and would eventually lend a hand in constructing more than 20 of them. Now he has just this one near his house in Horning's Mills, about 100 miles north of Toronto. He started buying and burying school buses in the early 1980s, a decade after he moved to Canada. He made the move because, he said, he feared landing in a U.S. concentration camp for social agitators. Beach held a wedding party for his daughter in the bunker and it has suffered petty vandalism on several occasions, but otherwise it has gone quietly through the decades. "It's too creepy to work here full-time," said a handyman replacing rotted floor paneling. He added that Beach has always made lunch or bought pizza for workers at the bunker.

He has received e-mails of interest in bunker-making from as far away as Australia and Russia. But he can't find anyone closer to home who shares his interest. "If I knew how to find them I would," he said with a shrug. And even in this time of marketable doom and gloom, he has been unsuccessful at selling his bunker as a place to be at New Year's. He advertised an overnight Y2K party in his bunker with a big screen television and lots of food and fun in Toronto newspapers. No one responded. He said most people are not interested because they didn't experience the bedlam of the 1960s or the big New York electrical blackout of the same decade. Beach hopes his Web site, www.webpal.org/ArkTwo, will spark some enthusiasm. He believes the millennium bug may not abruptly end the world on January 1 but he says the end could come six months later, following a cascade of geopolitical problems. "Of course everybody just says 'Beach the nut.'"

Starbucks sued over alleged crushed penis

NEW YORK, Nov 29 (Reuters) - A Canadian tourist who claims that his penis was crushed by a faulty toilet seat at a Starbucks Corp restaurant has sued the giant coffee retailer for $1.5 million, his attorney said on Monday. "Our client, Edward Skwarek, was in a seated position on the toilet when he turned to retrieve the toilet paper in back of the seat when the seat shifted causing his penis to be caught and crushed between the seat and the bowl," said Richard Robbins, the lawyer for Skwarek, 37, of Toronto. The suit, filed Nov. 26 in Manhattan Supreme Court, alleges the coffee house was careless in "allowing a defective toilet seat to remain open ... causing a hazardous and unsafe condition ... in its public restrooms." Skwarek, a government financial worker, alleged that the incident took place on Aug. 20, 1999 at a Starbucks in the Chelsea district of Manhattan where he and his wife, Sherrie, 37, dropped in for some coffee. The suit also claims that as a result of Starbucks' carelessness, Skwarek suffered a "crushed penis, Peyronie's disease, retrograde ejaculation with consequent substantial reduction in sperm count, infertility, severe bruising to his penis and sexual function impairment." Peyronie's disease usually causes deviation of the erect penis to one side. Skwarek seeks $1 million in damages and his wife $500,000 because she has been "deprived of his services." Alan Gulick, a spokesman at Starbucks in Seattle, where the company is based, said Starbucks does not comment on pending litigation.

Arizona man makes "mummy" out of his wife

PHOENIX, Ariz., Nov 30 (Reuters) - Robert Horton either does not trust his wife or loves his money. In either case, he was not about to forfeit the $170 he had posted to get her out of jail. So, he took matters into his own hands. Faced with the sticky situation that she might not show up for a Monday court date, Horton grabbed some duct tape and went to work on Belinda, his 44-year-old spouse, trussing her up so that she looked like a "mummy," police said. He taped her mouth tightly shut, bound her legs from her ankles to knees and secured her arms across her chest at their Phoenix home. Then Horton, 52, placed his bound and silent wife into the family car, drove her to Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix and dropped her off at the security officer's desk as a sheriff's deputy watched in amazement. "He said something like, 'Here she is," said Sgt. Dave Trombi, a sheriff's spokesman. Witnesses said she looked like a mummy. Authorities said the woman was arrested Nov. 19 for investigation of obstructing a highway or public thoroughfare, aggravated assault on a police officer, failing to obey a police officer and resisting arrest. She was released five days later. This time, there was no resisting. Trombi said she would not even talk to authorities once they performed the delicate task of removing the tape. Authorities said they were considering whether to bring charges against her husband. Trombi said the moral of the story is a simple one: "Read the warning on the duct tape label -- it's intended for everything other than human use or abuse."

Retiree blows pension on one-night stand

NAIROBI, Dec 2 (Reuters) - A sugar company employee who took early retirement lost his $3,600 pension in a one-night orgy of beer, women and song, Kenyan newspapers reported on Thursday. The man, who was unnamed, cashed his 270,000 shilling pension cheque as soon as he stopped work and headed for a bar. "Feeling thoroughly liquid and hence unstoppable, he set to conquer a woman from a neighbouring country," the Kenya Times said. "The retiree, together with his newfound lover... proceeded to drown other revellers in free beers for hours on end." When the bars ran out of beer the couple staggered to a hotel. "I shall now go for the real thing since the hours seem to be running away," the pensioner declared. When he woke, the woman and the last of his pension were gone. She was last seen boarding an early-morning long-distance bus.

Clinton bans sex videos of animals being crushed

WASHINGTON, Dec 9 (Reuters) - President Bill Clinton on Thursday signed into law legislation banning so-called "crush" videos that depict women crushing small animals like mice beneath their high heels, often during sex acts. The White House said the law establishes federal criminal penalties for the creation, sale or possession of "a depiction of cruelty to animals" with the intent to distribute it within the United States or overseas. To comply with the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech, the law makes exceptions for works of "serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value." "The act would prohibit the types of depictions ... of wanton cruelty to animals designed to appeal to a prurient interest in sex," Clinton said in a statement released by the White House. According to police, as many as 2,000 "crush" videos are for sale on the Internet. In August, a California woman was ordered to stand trial on animal cruelty charges after she allegedly stomped mice to death in a pornographic video.

Art battles sex at Cairo film festival

CAIRO, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Men cluster around the billboard of a Cairo cinema loudly debating the merits of the bare-breasted actresses on display before picking which movie to see. "I tell you, this film has more sex than that one," says one man to his mates, pointing at newspaper cuttings advertising a Czech film called "Prague Stories". "No, no, this one has more hot scenes," another says, championing the American movie "Sweet Thing". This is the seamy side of the Cairo International Film Festival, an annual cultural -- and voyeuristic -- highlight for the past 23 years. The reactions it provokes, from the prurient to the prudish, reflect the taboos of a conservative, family-dominated Islamic society. Egyptian men expect to wed virgins, but many have to defer marriage until they are in their 30s for financial reasons. Outside the festival, Egyptian censors rarely let nude scenes in foreign films hit the screens.

Judging by ticket demand, the sexiest film on offer tonight is "Prague Stories", one of the 16 films from around the world competing for the festival's Golden Pyramid award. Scuffles break out as the almost exclusively male crowd surges towards the cinema hall and plainclothes policemen are forced to set up barriers to regulate entry into a film which has no Arabic subtitles, and which few will understand. One young man has come plugged into his personal stereo, clearly anticipating a purely visual cinematic experience. Inside the packed cinema, there is an eager wait for the half-naked women advertised outside, but bitter disappointment ensues. The first nude person turns out to be a man. Only one woman takes off her clothes in a brief scene. "Screw the film festival," one man shouts at the exit after the show. "What a rip-off," shouts another, amid the collective chuckles of an audience that sees the humour in their let-down.

"The film festival is about art, not about sex," festival chairman Hussein Fahmy told Reuters. "Those people who think otherwise attack me all the time. "This idea that the film festival is about sex is old fashioned, and I think a lot of people who in the past have gone to the cinema to look for sex are disappointed." Two unofficial festival newspapers on sale at many kiosks around Cairo offer fans tips and photographs purporting to reveal the sexiest bits in the programmed films. The papers are the most daring to appear in Egypt in recent years. Clippings, with titles like "Two Hours of Hot Sex" and "Silent Sex", are pasted on cinema billboards to pull crowds. Look carefully, and it is clear the photos are lifted from pornographic magazines banned in Egypt, not from festival films.

One Egyptian Islamist bi-weekly newspaper blames Culture Minister Farouk Hosni for promoting moral corruption. "An unofficial publication fell into my hands entitled 'Festival Nights'...with naked women in scandalous sexual positions. These papers belong to Farouk Hosni and Hussein Fahmy," wrote Magdy Karkar in al-Shaab. Fahmy, angered by such accusations said: "These papers don't belong to the festival...I've informed the police and the people who produce these papers have been arrested." Culture Ministry spokesman Ahmed Salah said al-Shaab was blind to everything except nudity in films. "We are used to this paper, which is right-wing and regularly attacks art, culture and the Culture Minister," he said. "They make a big issue of nudity in films but they fail to notice the art and the people in cinema whom we honour. "Sex is not one of the criteria by which we choose films," Fahmy said. "Our film festival is a respectable one with classy films of high quality."

The festival's promoters may emphasise its serious cultural purpose, but are not averse to a bit of glamour themselves. At the gala opening, Omar Sharif received a lifetime achievement award from his British screen colleague Peter O'Toole, evoking their glory days in the desert. The two veterans of "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) came together for the award after Egyptian and foreign cinema celebrities saw excerpts of the epic film and others starring Sharif, who made hearts throb far beyond his native Egypt. The compere referred to Alain Delon, receiving a similar award, as one of France's sexiest actors. She then drew blushes from festival director Fahmy, a film star in his own right, by telling the audience: "We have our own Alain Delon!" "Thank you, Hussein Delon," quipped the French actor. French actress Catherine Deneuve will get a lifetime achievement award at a ceremony on December 4 when a jury led by French director Yves Boisset will award the Golden Pyramid. A total of 174 films from 44 countries are showing during the festival, which runs until December 7. Even respectable film-goers sometimes find it hard to escape the sleaze surrounding the festival. "When I went to the cinema to try and see a film I found cut-outs of nude women from special festival papers on billboards," said a female bank employee. "It was disgusting, I was completely offended," she said. "When I asked for a schedule, they pointed to the billboard."

San Francisco cooking show a walk on the wild side

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - They burst into a strange house with beers in hand, head straight for the kitchen and start flinging open the cupboards in search of food. There is little time for "hellos" when Chris "Stu" Randell and Mike Yakura come around because they do not stop until they have cooked a first-rate meal. But Julia Child they are not. Mike and Stu have their own television cooking show, just as cooking maven Child does. But where Child offers refinement, good taste and French cooking, Stu and Mike showcase a brand of culinary mayhem that turns fun with food into a contact sport. "Feast or Famine" is 30 in-your-face minutes that sticks to a simple formula for success: Stu and Mike arrive at a stranger's house, Stu and Mike rummage through the kitchen, Stu and Mike drink lots of beer, Stu and Mike make a lot of noise, Stu and Mike turn whatever they find into a gourmet meal. "People that have us over are definitely expecting the worst. I think they nail everything down and hope that a tornado doesn't wreck their house, but in the end there is a big sunshiny meal for them to enjoy," Randell told Reuters.

The biweekly show has attracted a loyal following since hitting San Francisco's local cable channel 53 in February. And the cast and crew hope the program's popularity and growing media attention will pique the interest of big time television producers -- maybe at a youth-oriented network like MTV. "We're not quitting our day jobs anytime soon, but if MTV said, 'Would you like to do 20 shows?' we'd do it," Randell said. Other newfangled cooking shows such as "Doorknock Dinners," which began airing on the cable Food Network on Nov. 1 and features a former talk show host with a gourmet chef in tow surprising people at home, or Japan's "Iron Chef," a culinary game show with a cult U.S. following, are polished productions of seasoned television experts. But Stu and Mike are in a whole other league when it comes to raising a ruckus and spreading their gospel that no cupboard is too bare for a dinner on TV. "I would say the show is a twentysomething take on home cooking. The philosophy is to not be afraid of your kitchen and what lack of ingredients you might have there," Randell said.

"Feast or Famine" was born one night when a hungry group of friends were lounging around and someone challenged Yakura to make a meal with whatever he could find in the sparsely-stocked kitchen. The 26-year-old cook at Elroy's, in San Francisco's hip SoMa district, was able to whip up enough food for everyone and someone suggested the scenario might make a good TV show. "It all started as a fun thing, with no ultimate goal," said Kristin Miro, who works the camera for the show and is the "beer runner" for Mike and Stu, 25, a sous chef at Elroy's. "We all wanted to do something together and this crept up." The group borrowed equipment and started filming Stu and Mike's antics at friends' houses. When they ran out of new places to do the show, they turned to random cupboards of fans who e-mail the television show to offer their kitchens. There are also no rehearsals and no script so plots are usually decided a few minutes before filming begins. This makes for a lot of spontaneity on the show, which typically starts with the crew camped outside the home they are about to ravage with equipment and a cooler of beer in tow.

At a recent shoot, the crew arrived in spurts with Stu and Mike last, leaving little time to figure out what kind of havoc to wreak. The two grabbed a beer and huddled while they hashed out the opening segment: a takeoff of old kung fu movies, with some borrowed karate belts for props. "There's not always a theme unless we think of it during the day," Randell said. The rowdiness starts the minute the cast and crew burst into the house. At the recent shoot, arguments between the two cooks led Yakura to tape off half of the kitchen to keep the pair away from each other. Once they have gone through the kitchen, actually cooking the meal takes only about an hour. But the antics and the beer drinking can stretch it out to five times as long. "When we are actually shooting it's more like hanging out," said Chris Parker, who directs and edits the show. "It's like an excuse to have a party." Making fun of the contents of stranger's cupboards is also part of the routine. Randell demands to know why anyone would have two sheets of lasagna pasta and a gallon of sauce. "I guarantee you, whatever we make tonight is not going to take very long," he admonished the hosts after the first inspection of the kitchen. "There is plenty of nothing in here," Yakura chimed in as he searched through the fridge.

Courtney Young, 28, is a big fan of the show and one of the hosts at a recent shoot. But she persuaded a co-worker to welcome Stu and Mike because her kitchen was not big enough. Although the other three recent hosts were not as familiar with "Feast or Famine," they did not seem to mind having the two manic cooks in their kitchen. "If that's all we have to do is supply the food, then this is a recipe for success," said Beth Hawn, 32, who described the meal as "awesome." Nobody really minded the ribbing, which is good-natured and the price of the meal, Miro explained. The hosts usually have some idea what to expect but somebody from the show always calls beforehand to make sure, she said. "We warn them," she said as she opened her first beer of the night.

As the evening wears on, Stu and Mike begin to heat up. This could be because they are becoming more comfortable with the strange kitchen -- or it might be the alcohol. Beer figures prominently on the show and serves a variety of purposes -- a gift for the hosts, a marinade for the food and fuel for many of the unscripted moments. "Beer is a key ingredient," Parker said during a short break from filming. "It adds a bit of an edge you wouldn't see on a typical cooking show." But, not to be lost in the hullabaloo, is the fact that these guys know their way around a kitchen. From the bits and scraps they found, they whipped up a meal of braised chicken in a spinach curry sauce with hummus, flat bread and couscous. And the best part is, Stu and Mike also do the dishes. Julia Child, eat your heart out.

Mexican police search home 300 times, find nothing

CIUDAD NEZAHUALCOYOTL, Mexico, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Andres Vazquez thought his recurring nightmare was over, but it has come back to haunt him. The Mexican man says his home has been searched by police more than 300 times over the past eight years. They come looking for Mexico's most wanted drug lords, kidnappers, assassins and thieves. They never find any evidence, yet they keep coming back. Vazquez, 65, who makes a living tanning goat and lamb hides in his two-story home in Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, a working-class suburb of Mexico City, figured the worst was behind him. The late-night knocks on the door stopped back in March. Then they resumed again in November.

"We were thinking about it and reached a conclusion," said police commander Ruben Castillo of the federal anti-drug police, who visited the Vazquez home on Nov. 6 upon receiving an anonymous tip that Colombians had dropped off a cocaine shipment there. "This man works in an environment with a very strong odor, as there is some rotting of the skins. Either it's a relative or a neighbor who doesn't like the smell," Castillo said. "I'm looking for someone to advise me on what to do," said Vazquez, who complained that he once hired a lawyer and another time a private investigator to look into the mystery, but they only took his money without producing results. "What should I do? What is the course I should take?" After the first few years of searches, Vazquez began documenting and videotaping the visits, leaving no doubt that a parade of local, state and federal police agencies have invaded his home. Vazquez stands by the claim of 300 visits. Neighbors confirm that police are repeatedly drawn to his home, sometimes with dozens of heavily armed officers. His case generated media attention last year, including a report by Reuters. Police could not explain what was happening, while human rights activists suspected police corruption. Now it's happening again.

On Nov. 6, federal anti-drug police came looking for cocaine. On Nov. 18, state investigators searched for a 12-year-old kidnap victim. In between, state police came and went without explanation. All they found were some animal skins and tanning equipment. Vazquez and his 11 children, all of whom work in the family business, have held frank discussion about who they may have angered to provoke such a response. The most remote possibilities have been considered. All were ruled out. Castillo also concluded Vazquez was an innocent victim. "We even ended up buying a jacket from him," he said.

Daredevil jumps off Rio Christ in Bond-style stunt

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 3 (Reuters) - A thrill-seeking Austrian parachutist leaped from the outstretched hand of Rio's famed Christ statue this week in a dawn jump that he described as "spiritual," organizers of the daredevil stunt said on Friday. "As I was standing on the hand, no more than 20 centimeters (8 inches) wide, looking into the rising sun I realized that I would never feel anything like this in my life again," Felix Baumgartner, 30, said in a statement. "This was real hard core and now I know why none of my colleagues has tried this before.... Apart from the extreme experience for the body balancing between life and death like that, this time the aura of the statue added a exceptional spiritual dimension," he said.

Baumgartner, who has performed similar jumps from high buildings around the world, managed to hide overnight in the security area at the base of the statue that is visited by hundreds of tourists every day. Just before dawn on Wednesday, Baumgartner fired a cable from a crossbow over the right arm of the 98-foot (30-meter) statue and climbed up to the outstretched hand. Before jumping, he left flowers on the giant's shoulder as a mark of respect. Baumgartner, who trained on a crane for weeks at his Salzburg home before traveling to Brazil to make the James Bond-style jump, then opened his parachute and steered over shantytowns to a parking lot where a getaway car was waiting. Police and administrators of the national park where the Christ statue is located were not immediately able to confirm the report. "It was really early in the morning ... and we got out of the country the day after," said Stefan Aufschnaiter, organizer of Baumgartner's jump, speaking by telephone from Austria.

The fledgling sport, known as "base" jumping -- an acronym for "Building, Antenna, Span, Earth" -- involves parachuting off fixed structures or landmarks and has a reputation as a particularly thrilling, if risky, activity. The parachute is only pulled open at the very last moment. Base jumping is illegal in most countries. "It was the first time (for the Christ statue) and I think it's the last time. It's the lowest base jump in the world. Normally you need 50 or 60 meters (164 or 196 feet). It's extremely dangerous," Aufschnaiter told Reuters. "(Baumgartner) is world champion, the craziest in the world and only had two and a half seconds from top to bottom. The parachute opened in the last possible second," he added.

A former mechanic and motocross driver, Baumgartner managed to sneak his base-jumping equipment through Brazilian customs by saying he was an archer traveling to a sports tournament. He even carried a plastic bottle "in case of urgent needs" during his brief stay on the statue, the statement said. In April Baumgartner jumped from the 1,483 foot (452-meter) Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the highest man-made structure in the world. In July he was sponsored to leap from the 449-foot (137-meter) Pirelli skyscraper in the center of Milan.

Playboy rides to rescue of their nude gymnastic model

BUCHAREST, Dec 21 dic (AFP) - Playboy, the intellectual's pornographic magazine, revealed here on Tuesday that they were to pay Romanian gymnast Corina Ungureanu 1700 dollars after the national gymnastics federation refused to pay her a bonus for being part of October's world championshp winning team. The Romanian Gymnastic Federation (FRG) decided not to pay the 20-year-old brunette, who has now retired from the sport, the bonus because they said she had violated the sport's ethics for posing nude in Playboy's Romanian edition. The Federation also left Ungureanu, who was crowned 1997 world champion in Lausanne, off a list of the country's top ten gymnasts for 1999. However, Playboy reacted angrily to the puritanical attitude of the Federation. "The FRG behaviour towards Corina was totally unjustified leaving her off the prize awards ceremony and depriving her of the bonus for the world championship winning team," a Playboy spokesman said. "In order to set this injustice right Playboy Romania will pay Corina 1700 dollars."

Her former coach Octavian Belu and deputy coach Mariana Bitang were the harshest critics of Ungureanu's photos, which they said showed a "lack of decency" that had tarnished not only her own but also her teammates' image. Responding to Belu's criticism that "she could have had the decency to wait until the (sporting) world had forgotten her," Ungureanu said "I don't think he would like to hear what I think of his decency as a man and trainer. The gymnastics authorities stuck by their hardline decision despite several Romanian sports stars rallying to her cause and the general secretary of the sports ministry Ioan Dobrescu, who said that "Corina is a great athlete and will be accorded the same honour as her colleagues." Romanian Sports Minister Crin Antonescu, asked to comment on the controversy, said that if the gymnast "was of age, everything was in order."

Daughters of Ali and Frazier may fight

NEW YORK, Dec 21 (AFP) - The daughters of former heavyweight rivals Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier could meet in the ring next year - according to a report in Tuesday's New York Post. Ali and Frazier fought three magnificent battles during the 1970s and now Frazier's daughter says she wants to fight Ali's 21-year-old daughter Laila Ali, who has already fought and won three times as a professional. Jacqui Frazier Lyde, a 38-year-old mother of three, told the Post that she believes a bout against Ali would be a major attraction. Ali, a 21-year-old former model known as "Madame Butterfly", made her debut in October, taking just 31 seconds to stop overweight waitress April Fowler. She has since won two other bouts. Frazier vs. Ali has a familiar ring to it. In the battles between the fathers, the score stands at 2-1 in favour of Ali. But Frazier Lyde would like to even the score. "It would be a great drawcard," Frazier Lyde said. "It would establish Laila financially, and then I would establish her horizontally." Frazier Lyde, a practicing lawyer, has yet to fight professionally, but says she expects to fight in Beijing, China, in April next year. Laila Ali's trainer and boyfriend, John McClain, refuses to consider an Ali-Frazier bout at this time. "We're not addressing it until Jacqui Frazier is a professional fighter," he told the Post.

Hoax of "flood victim" outrages Venezuelans

CARACAS, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Venezuelans were outraged on Tuesday by an elaborate hoax that captured the nation's hearts and fooled even President Hugo Chavez in the midst of the country's worst-ever natural disaster. Officials said a series of cellular telephone calls aired on live radio from a man claiming to be trapped underground with his family had been traced to a Caracas neighborhood unaffected by floods and landslides which killed thousands of people last week. "In these tragedies there are heroes and there are vermin too," Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel told Colombia's Radionet radio station.

The ruse began Saturday when a distressed man called a local radio station claiming to be trapped in an underground car park with his wife and two small children in a Caribbean town devastated by the mudslides. He said he was using a cellular phone that he had found with a dead body nearby. The caller, who identified himself as Luis Landaeta, was put on air live in a telephone link with Chavez. "He was very descriptive," recalled Ines Scudellari of the Union Radio station. "He said his mother lay dead beside him, that drops of mud were falling on his son's head. He even put his wife and child on. Everybody here was very moved." So was Chavez, who encouraged the caller not to lose hope and immediately ordered rescue teams to the building, the precise address of which was given by Landaeta.

Rescuers with sniffer dogs and tunneling equipment worked through the night burrowing into the thick mud and debris that had filled the car park. They found nothing. "But still we believed him," said Scudellari. "We thought that maybe we'd got the wrong building." The calls were traced to the cell phone's billing address, but authorities have not said if they know the identities of the perpetrators. On Sunday, a man called the radio station to say that he was a neighbor of Landaeta and offered to provide rescuers with plans of the building to help locate the trapped family. Later that day Landaeta's alleged wife called a television station in tears to say that her husband had fainted. "In the end it was all a lie. All that effort could have been used to save someone's life," Scudellari said. "I hope they grab him and put him in jail."


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