News you may have missed...
March, 2000

After last month's "probable urban legend, but far too good to miss", we were made aware of a couple of other candidates. These are reproduced with absolutely no claims as to their authenticity...

Stories not to be read before lunch...

About 7 am on August 25th 1998, thirty-six year old Mrs Sarah Jenson started her period. By the time she arrived at work an hour later, she had started to experience a chronic itching sensation in her crotch. Sarah worked as an advisor in a call centre and had recently received a final warning about her poor attendence record. To keep her job, she tried to ignore the itch and got on with answering customers' calls. At 11:25 am she reported to her boss that she was suffering from severe abdominal pain and it was only when she collapsed in her own vomit that he called for an ambulance.

She was admitted to the Lincoln Hospital, Texas where doctors dicovered that her vagina was greatly swollen and her labia had distended to three times normal size. Whilst cleaning the inflamed area, a tampon was found and it was sent away for analysis. Suspecting Toxic Shock Syndrome, Sarah was kept under close observation until her condition was no longer critical. One week later the Lab results on the tampon arrived and doctors were baffled to find that it contained traces of wasp venom. It transpires that Sarah was having an affair with her aerobics instructor, and when her husband Mr Henry Jenson found out, he was so enraged he wanted revenge. Knowing his wife was allergic to insect stings, he purchased wasp venom through a biochemicals company. He lightly coated his wife's tampons with the venom, resealed the individual wrappers and replaced them in their box. Mrs Jenson has filed for a divorce and a case of greviously bodily harm. Mr Jenson is reported as saying, "I just wanted her to have a swell time without me.

In March 1997, Brian Cranshaw, a chemical engineer from West London, returned to the UK after spending the previous six months overseeing work at a petrochemcials plant in Nigeria. During his first week back, his wife complained that he seemed to have difficulty listening properly. Brian suggested that his ears had not fully recovered from the air pressure changes experienced during his flight. Over the next two weeks, Brian's condition worsened as he started to feel tickling sensations deep in his ears. Thinking the trouble was caused by loosened ear wax, he attempted to clean his ears with a ballpoint pen. When he pressed it into his right ear, he heard a cracking sound and saw the pen covered in a yellow goo. He went to his local GP claiming he had punctured his ear drum.

The GP reached into Brian's right ear with a pair of tweezers and pulled out what appeared to be an insect antenna. During the examination Brian was horrified to learn that he had a total of 5 African cockroaches living in his head. Four cockroaches were alive and one cockroach was dead, presumabley crushed by Brian's pen attack. An investigation revealed that when Brian was in Nigeria, a female African cockroach must have laid numerous eggs in the toiletries bag where he kept his cotton buds. When he was cleaning his ears, he was also transfering the cockroach eggs to his inner ear where they started to hatch.

On September 4 1999 at 9.30 a.m. Ron Guptey of N.S.W Australia went into hospital complaining of severe pain in the rectum area. The doctor on call examined him, he found severe swelling around the anus but was left puzzled because he had not seen such a thing before. Two more doctors examined Ron but they too were left confused about what washappening. Through the day Ron's was deteriorating he had developed a fever and was suffering a lot of pain around his abdomen. The doctors gave pain killers but the symptoms worsened until 2.57 p.m. when he lapsed into a coma and 2 hours later was pronounced dead. An investigation was carried out to discover the reason of death. In a post mortem, traces of wood bark were found inside the rectal passage, but as the examination went further the doctor discovered about 3 or 4 black widow spiders in Ron's intestine. The police had found a tree with a cut of branch along the side in Ron's back yard, there were traces of KY jelly and traces of rectal juices along the branch. There was also Black widow egg shells found inside the bark.

Ron was apparently satisfying himself with this tree stump, but failed to notice the black widow nest on the tree. During his sexual act he had impregnated himself with the black widow eggs. The eggs had embedded in his rectal passage walls and were kept at the required temperature for the eggs to develop and finally hatch. once the baby spiders were hatched they had bitten him and had poisoned him from the inside.

Tennessee farm is laboratory of human flesh

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) - Professor William Bass spends most of his waking hours dedicated to a science that would make most people sick. Walking around three acres (1.2 hectares) of nondescript forested land near Knoxville, Tennessee, Bass is in his element as the energetic, flamboyant spokesman for the macabre yet invaluable science of studying the rotting of human flesh. This is the outdoor laboratory of the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility -- better known as the Body Farm. At any time, at least 20 donated bodies in various stages of decomposition are scattered around the farm, some in the open, some in shallow graves, some stuffed in suitcases and some wrapped in cloth and submerged in water.

Looking like an episode from popular television series "The X-Files," the farm is a morbid hybrid of serene woodland and violent crime scene. The silence is unsettling as you walk through snow-covered land littered with exposed cadavers and body bags with an occasional decaying limb peeking out. But Bass has respect for those who inhabit his farm and for its serious purpose. Law enforcement and forensic medicine students from all over the country come to study the effects of different environments on the decay of bodies. The knowledge gained has been used around the world from solving murders to investigating war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.. "I'm really surprised that so many people are interested in the Body Farm," Bass mused. "This was set up because I needed to know what happened to bodies decaying in Tennessee. I never thought I would be famous." Bullet holes in the skulls of some inhabitants show they were the victims of violent crimes, while others appear to have died peacefully in their sleep. But the ultimate fate of every resident of the farm means the many faces of death are on equal standing. More than 200 corpses have rotted to skin and bones on the facility since it opened some 30 years ago.

The university collects bodies from three main sources: the unclaimed dead, those who have donated their bodies to science and those who have specifically stated they want to spend their afterlife on the farm. There is even a waiting list. Every corpse is tagged to identify it after decomposition, but the details of the bodies other than age, race, sex and cause of death are kept secret to protect their identity. While the notion of bodies decomposing in a field may be disturbing, knowledge gleaned from the farm provides local, state and federal law enforcement agencies with a critical understanding of death and homicide. "Most law enforcement officers have never seen a dead body," Bass said as he pointed to a decrepit shell of a man with a fresh layer of snow gently blanketing his sunken features. "We're not a culture of death. Somebody dies and they put a sheet over the body. A mortician comes and hauls them off, never to be seen again except sometimes at a funeral."

While it is said that "dead men tell no tales," the soil and insects near a body speak volumes to criminal investigators about when a person died and how. The leaching of volatile fatty acids from a body into the ground holds critical clues even if the body itself is missing. Bass and his students have placed bodies in all imaginable positions: in suitcases, car trunks, shallow graves and underwater -- all in the name of science. The merits of the farm's research have been proved over the years. When the Justice Department investigated the deaths in the Waco standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidian sect, Bass was called in. One of his former students, William Rodriguez, works for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office and collects evidence of war crimes in the Balkans. Bass, considered a pioneer in the field, is responsible for training and nurturing most of the forensic anthropologists practicing today. "I'm proud of my kids, " he said of his graduates. "They're working at the Smithsonian, the Armed Forced Medical Examiner's Office ... my life's work is continued through them."

His desire to learn more about the body and specifically bones developed after a stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Although Bass studied psychology in college, he decided he was more interested in learning about the body than the mind and focused his attention on getting his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1961. From the plains of South Dakota to burial excavations in Azerbaijan, Iran, Bass has spent most of his summers digging for facts about the ever-changing physical properties of man. He joined the University of Tennessee-Knoxville as head of the Anthropology Department in 1971 and continued his research only to discover that he needed a place to study bodies as they decomposed into skeletons. After what can only be described as an "interesting" conversation with university officials, he was given a former dump site -- now the Body Farm. Although the work there is scientific, the nature of the facility inspires intrigue, especially among curiousity seekers and teenagers. To stave off theft and desecration, an outer chain link fence and an inner wooden "modesty" fence with small "No Trespassing" signs surround the facility. "We don't fear the dead getting out," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "It's the living we're concerned about." Several attempts to sneak in have resulted in serious injuries to thrillseekers who jumped the fence only to be sliced by deadly loops of razor wire around the perimeter.

As Bass opens the gates, he jokes that winter is the perfect time to visit. "It's cold so the smell won't knock you out," he said, adding that the living can smell the dead only from less than 30 yards (metres) away. But what a smell it is. The odor of death is reminiscent of freshly tilled earth mixed with the sickeningly sweet and acrid smell of decay. "What we have here are bodies in various states of disrepair," he said -- a phrase he often uses to describe the skeletal remains of fossilizing and rotting cadavers. Gingerly lifting a blue tarp, he points to the steaming, oozing remains of a body and identifies, in his words, "Mother Nature's little helpers" -- maggot masses. "During the hot, humid months, maggots can reduce a fresh body to bones in less than two weeks," he said with awe and respect. About three or four times a year, after the maggots have done their job and consumed the soft flesh, graduate students from the anthropology department have "cleanup parties." Wearing protective clothing including plastic gloves and boots, they place the fragile human remains in large plastic bags with "biohazard" emblazoned on the side. The bags are then taken to a small, nondescript building near the university's football stadium for processing.

The lab is full of buzzing flies and the fetid smell of death as black bags of body parts are left in a storage room waiting to be cleaned. A large handwritten sign on the wall says: "Do not place anything with flesh in this freezer." The anthropology department shares its frozen resources with zoology students so the remains of a dead squirrel may share a freezer with a human limb. Given the department's limited resources, Bass had to be creative in finding a place to store the former residents of the farm. Wearing goggles and special gloves, graduate students deposit the remains unceremoniously into a large stainless steel kettle once used by a cafeteria to make soups and stews. "Sometimes we have to cut them apart to fit in here," Michelle Hamilton, a graduate assistant in the forensic anthropology department who helps clean the skeletons, said with a smirk. With the casualness of doing laundry, she runs warm water into the kettle and adds body parts, detergent and bleach to allow the enzymes and nature to take their course. After the bones have been steamed cleaned, they go onto a metal counter where remaining flesh is delicately removed using an old toothbrush, scissors and old-fashioned elbow grease. For small parts such as the skull, hands and feet, the bones are simmered in small electric pots labeled, appropriately enough, Skull Pot #1 and Body Parts #2.

The glass tops reveal the gruesome contents, including one of the metal tags used to identify the body. From there, bones are dried and meticulously labeled so that if they are ever separated they can be reassembled without confusion. Regardless of the size of the adult body in life, almost every skeleton can be neatly tucked into a box measuring 3 feet (1 metre) by 1 foot by 1 foot. The final resting place of farm residents is a small room in the Anthropology Department. On large metal racks lining the cinder-block walls are rows upon rows of boxes containing the bones of more than 200 donated bodies. Only the outside labels on the boxes hint at what is inside: white man, 45 years old, heart attack. Bass, who retired from the university in 1999 but remains a professor emeritus and head of the Forensic Anthropology Center, believes research on the dead is all about recycling. His curious occupation begs the obvious question: What are his own plans for the afterlife? Bass smiles as he gives his response. "I haven't discussed it with my wife, but I think it's a terrible thing to waste a good skeleton."

Man converts pudding into travel

From newspaper article from the San Francisco Examiner:

Phillips, a civil engineer at UC-Davis, has become a cult hero in the obsessive subculture of people who collect frequent-flier miles by parlaying $3,150 worth of pudding into 1.2 million miles. Oh, yeah - he's also going to claim an $815 tax write-off.

Last May, Phillips was pushing his shopping cart down the frozen-food aisle of his local supermarket when a promotion on a Healthy Choice frozen entree caught his eye: He could earn 500 miles for every 10 Universal Product Codes (bar codes) from Healthy Choice products he sent to the company by Dec.31. Even better: Any bar codes mailed by the end of the month would rack up double the mileage, or 1,000 miles for every 10 labels. "I started doing the math, and I realized that this was a great deal," he said. "I wanted to take my family to Europe this summer, and this could be the way." Frozen entrees were about $2 apiece, but a few aisles away Phillips found cans of Healthy Choice soups at 90 cents each. He filled his cart with them, and then headed to his local Grocery Outlet, a warehouse-style discount store. And there he hit the mother lode. "They had individual servings of chocolate pudding for 25 cents apiece, "he said. "And each serving had its own bar code on it. I did some more math and decided to escalate my plans."

Phillips cleaned the store out - bought every last cup of pudding in the warehouse. He then asked the manager for the addresses of all the other Grocery Outlet in the Central Valley and, with his mother-in-law riding shotgun in his van, spent a weekend scouring the shelves of every store from Davis to Fresno. "There were 10 stores in all," he said. "Luckily, most of them were right off the freeway." He filled his garage to the rafters with chocolate pudding and stacked additional cases in his living room. But Phillips wasn't finished yet - he had the manager of his local Grocery Outlet order him 60 more cases. "A few days later I went out behind the store," he said, "and there were two whole pallets of chocolate pudding with my name on them." All in all, he'd purchased 12,150 individual servings of pudding.

Around this time, Phillips began to reveal his scheme to fellow readers of the Webflyer Web site, where he posted an account under the name "Pudding Guy." Phillips' tale was met with skepticism, if not outright disbelief, until he uploaded photos of his haul. But then Pudding Guy discovered he had a problem on his hands: The headline for earning double miles was quickly approaching, and there was simply no way Phillips and his wife could tear off all those bar codes in time. "I had to come up with something to do with all that pudding, fast" he said. Phillips trucked the pudding to two local food banks and the Salvation Army, which agreed to tear off the bar codes in exchange for the food donation. "We'd never seen anything like it," said Larry Hostetler, community relations director for the Sacramento Salvation Army. "We've gotten some big donations, but always from companies and institutions, not individual people." Phillips got his bar codes in the mail in time to beat the deadline, and then held his breath.

The promotion specifically said I could get the miles for any Healthy Choice product," he said. "But still, it seemed like there was a good chance they'd get me on some technicality." But then packages - large packages - started arriving in the mail from Healthy Choice. In all, they contained 2,506 certificates, each good for 500 miles. That's 1,253,000 miles. Under the terms of the promotion, Phillips could have the mileage posted in any airline account. He split 216,000 between his United, Delta and Northwest accounts and posted the rest - 1,037,000 miles - to his American Airlines account. By surpassing the million-mile mark, Pudding Guy now has AAdvantage Gold status for life, entitling him to a special reservations number, priority boarding, upgrades and bonus miles. While we talked on the phone, Pudding Guy did a little math - as you might have noticed by now, he's very, very good at math - and figured out that scheme netted him enough miles for 31 round-trip coach tickets to Europe, or 42 tickets to Hawaii, or 21 tickets to Australia, or 50 tickets anywhere in the U.S. "Wow - 31 trips to Europe for a little over $3,000," I said. "That's less than $100 a ticket." "Oh, it's better than that," Phillips said. "Since I gave the pudding to charity I can take a tax write-off of $815. So that brings the cost of a ticket to Europe down to $75."

As it turns out, Pudding Guy didn't donate all his stash to the food banks. He kept about 100 servings for himself, and he's just about finished them."Actually," he said, "I really like the stuff."

Axes whetted for Norway ice-hacking sport

ASKER, Norway, March 7 (Reuters) - An almost forgotten Norwegian industry that once provided the ice to chill Queen Victoria's drinks in London is being reborn, but this time as a sport. "Remember the ice will be used by English Lords," a sign by a frozen lake near Oslo told ice-cutters about a century ago to discourage them from chewing tobacco and spitting as they hacked chunks from frozen lakes using axes and saws. At the time, ice was a luxury export to nations like Britain, Germany and France. If winds were favourable, shipments could sometimes reach as far as Portugal or North Africa before melting away.

Trying to revive a forgotten piece of their heritage, Norwegians recently staged an ice-cutting championship on Semsvannet lake in Asker south of Oslo, on ice about 50 cms (30 inches) thick. "It may be some time before this becomes a Winter Olympic sport. It's back-breaking," said Svein Beksrud, whose five-member team finished first out of 10. In ice-cutting competition, burly teams race to hew out 15 blocks of ice that each weigh about 150 kg (330 lbs). They use giant saws, axes, metal tongs, pincers and other traditional tools, some of them originals found rusting in barns or museums. Beksrud's ice-cutting prowess may run in his blood. His great-grandfather was one of 20,000 Norwegians who found work cutting and exporting ice from artificial lakes built along the Oslo fjord to support the industry.

In the 1890s, Norway shipped more than 400,000 tonnes of its frozen assets each year to the residents of more southern regions eager to keep food fresh and chill summer drinks. Britain's Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837-1901, was said to insist on ice from the Baaruds pond in Roeyken south of Oslo. Apart from coldness, clarity was essential -- 60-cm (two feet) cubes were meant to be so flawless that buyers could read a newspaper through them. Electric refrigerators killed the ice trade in the early 20th century but the industry had hardly been a cash cow even in its heyday. Ice prices varied wildly, from two to 30 crowns ($0.16 to $3.6 at current rates) per tonne, according to Ida Vesseltun of Oslo University. Refrigerators took time, however, to supplant ice for cooling food. The first known artificial refrigeration was devised in 1748 by William Cullen in Scotland, based on so-called evaporative cooling of ethyl ether, but it was only in the early 1900s that refrigeration really began to move out of the laboratory and into the kitchen.

In fact, the idea of storing ice for the summer was old news many centuries ago. The ancient Romans and Greeks carried ice down from mountainous regions for use in towns. But in Norway, ice cutting became something of an art. After smashing a hole in the ice with axes, sending chips flying, the ice-cutters' main tool is the one-man saw, about two metres (six feet) long with giant teeth. This was adapted from the two-man saw used for felling trees. "People were often surprised to see just one man sawing. The joke was that the man on the other end took up his position in September, before the lake froze," said Fredrikke Hegnar, the judge of the Semsvannet contest and director of the local Asker museum.

After their win, Beksrud's team, from Svestad south of Oslo, stood on gleaming blocks of ice and raised their arms to cheers from several hundred spectators. They celebrated with a bottle of aquavit potato liquor, wrapped in a woollen sock to keep it from smashing if dropped. Among the team's winning tips -- once a block of ice is cut loose, you can lift it more easily by stepping on it so it bobs back up well above the surface, where others can grab it with spikes. Tricks of the trade or no, ice cutting was often a grim job. According to Oslo University's Vesseltun, the wife of an ice cutter, Anna Kristiansen, once described her husband as a block of ice when he came home. "There were icicles hanging in his beard, his boots were frozen solid. He often had to sit a whole hour in front of the fire before he could get his boots off," she said.

Every autumn, workers had to clear the bottom of lakes to keep weeds and leaves away from the ice. When snow fell, crews had to sweep it away -- a blanket of snow insulated the ice and slowed its thickening. After cutting began, a worker had to trail a stick in the water each night to keep the new holes from freezing over. A fresh layer of ice made it harder to get the saws through the ice in the morning. After cutting, the ice was hauled off on horse-drawn sledges to warehouses. Among the first ice shipments from Norway was one recorded in 1822, when Englishman William Leftwich imported 300 tonnes to London. The trip was profitable even, but Leftwich grumbled that he was held up by customs and a lot of the cargo melted.

Mexican Roman Catholic archdiocese attacks Pokemon

MEXICO CITY, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The principal Roman Catholic archdiocese in Mexico attacked the hugely popular Pokemon cartoon series on Monday, saying the characters incited violence and sexual perversity among children. "Pokemon is not as innocent as some believe," the Mexico City Archdiocese said in its weekly publication Desde La Fe, distributed on Monday. "Behind the huge merchandising phenomenon one finds, as in many Japanese cartoons, a combination of elements that incite violence and sexual perversion among children," the publication said. "This is the tip of an iceberg that could have dramatic consequences." The publication also said sexual references in the cartoon series failed to take into account children's level of "maturity and comprehension."

Is Your Computer Possessed by a Demon?

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Your computer may be possessed by a demon, a leading minister warns. "While the Computer Age has ushered in many advances, it has also opened yet another door through which Lucifer and his minions can enter and corrupt men's souls," said the Reverend Jim Peasboro, author of an upcoming book, The Devil in the Machine. Demons are able to possess anything with a brain, from a chicken to a human being. And today's thinking machines have enough space on their hard drives to accommodate Satan or his pals. "Any PC built after 1985 has the storage capacity to house an evil spirit," the minister confirmed.

The Savannah clergyman says he became aware of the problem from counseling churchgoers. "I learned that many members of my congregation became in touch with a dark force whenever they used their computers," he said. "Decent, happily married family men were drawn irresistibly to pornographic websites and forced to witness unspeakable abominations. "Housewives who had never expressed an impure thought were entering Internet chat rooms and found themselves spewing foul, debasing language they would never use normally. "One woman wept as she confessed to me, 'I feel when I'm on the computer as if someone else or something else just takes over.' "

The minister said he probed one such case, actually logging onto the parishioner's computer himself. To his surprise, an artificial-intelligence program fired up -- without him clicking it on. "The program began talking directly to me, openly mocked me," he recalls. "It typed out, 'Preacher, you are a weakling and your God is a damn liar.' " Then the device went haywire and started printing out what looked like gobbledygook. "I later had an expert in dead languages examine the text," the minister said. "It turned out to be a stream of obscenities written in a 2,800-year-old Mesopotamian dialect!" Since, then, Rev. Peasboro has researched the problem further and uncovered alarming facts. "I learned most of the youths involved in school shootings like the tragedy at Columbine were computer buffs," he said. "I have no doubt that computer demons exerted an influence on them."

The minister estimates that one in 10 computers in America now houses some type of evil spirit. Rev. Peasboro advises that if you suspect your computer is possessed, you consult a clergyman or, if the computer is still under warranty, take it in for servicing. He says, "Technicians can replace the hard drive and reinstall the software, getting rid of the wicked spirit permanently."

Shocked Florida man sues bars that served him

TAMPA, Fla., March 3 (Reuters) - A Florida man who said he was shocked by 13,000 volts of electricity after climbing up a transformer in a "drunken stupor" has sued six bars and stores that allegedly sold him alcohol. Ed O'Rourke also named Tampa Electric Co. as a defendant in the lawsuit filed on Thursday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court in Tampa. He said the utility did not do enough to prevent him from slipping into a fenced, gated and locked substation and scaling the electrical transformer late one night in May 1996. O'Rourke said he was thrown more than 40 feet (12 metres) from the transformer and burned over 60 percent of his body, leaving him with permanent immobility in his right arm and severe scarring. He is seeking unspecified compensation for emotional and other damages.

The lawsuit said O'Rourke is "unable to control his urge to drink alcoholic beverages" and that the bars and stores negligently served or sold him alcohol despite his "continual consumption." The owner of The Waterhole Sports Bar, one of those O'Rourke sued, said he remembers the transformer incident but denied that O'Rourke drank at his bar the night it happened. "Because he was [previously] thrown out of here because he was writing on the bathroom walls," bar owner Bruce Martin told the Tampa Tribune. "I think it's frivolous. I think it's ridiculous," he said of the lawsuit.

Police free Frenchman after night in sex shop

PARIS, March 7 (Reuters) - A young Frenchman who dozed off while watching a porn film in a sex shop on Saturday had to be rescued by police after he woke up in the middle of the night to find the shop locked and the owner gone for the weekend. The 25-year-old managed to amuse himself for most of Sunday, the daily Liberation said. But by mid-afternoon his interest in the material available finally ran out and he phoned the police to free him from the shop in Reims, northeast France.

California dog lost to "road rage" sparks outcry

SAN FRANCISCO, March 8 (Reuters) - The reward for information on the killer has grown to almost $50,000. Police have photos of possible suspects. Expressions of grief and sympathy pour in from around the world. The saga of "Leo", the Bichon Frise lapdog hurled into traffic in a bizarre case of California road rage, continues to grip animal lovers who are determined to track down the culprit. "We've been inundated with phone calls. The outpouring has been incredible," said Leslie Baikie of the Humane Society of Santa Clara Valley, which has been coordinating response to the alleged attack.

News of the alleged attack surfaced last week when Sara McBurnett, owner of the 10-year-old fluffy white dog, went public with a horrific tale of a fender bender gone awry. McBurnett, of Incline Village, Nevada, was in traffic headed for San Jose International Airport last month when she allegedly lightly bumped the vehicle in front of her. The driver of the other car, a sport utility vehicle with Virginia license plates, stormed back and began berating McBurnett. When she opened her window to respond, he reached in, grabbed Leo the dog by the collar and threw him into three lanes of oncoming traffic. "I'm not doing well," a sobbing McBurnett told the San Jose Mercury News. "I keep seeing his little body going under the car. He made a sound I've never heard before. My heart is broken. He was my baby." Local newspapers, radio and television stations quickly took up the story, transforming Leo into a cause celebre which has touched people as far away as Norway and Australia.

"My heart goes out to the woman whose beloved little dog Leo was hurled to his death by a road-rage warrior," one reader wrote to the San Francisco Examiner. "The story has haunted me for the last couple of days." The emotional pull of Leo's story has prompted hundreds of people to give to a reward fund established to track down the alleged killer, and many have pledged donations in the future, Baikie of the Humane Society said. "People have been sending in checks and cash and stuff like that. ... Basically we've gotten in something in the high 20s so far. People have pledged more," Baikie said, adding that the total was probably closing in on the $50,000 mentioned in some news reports.

Meanwhile, police reported that after talking to McBurnett and witnesses they had narrowed their search to a dark-colored Ford Explorer and had driver's license photos from Virginia of a number of potential suspects -- described generally as a thin white man in his 20s with a goatee. "Hopefully we'll be able to present that in a photo line-up to the witnesses and the victim," San Jose Police Department Rubens Dalaison said. While some local commentators have compared the white-hot public outrage surrounding Leo's death with the relatively cool public reaction to other local tragedies such as child murders, McBurnett herself said she hoped Leo's story would serve as a wake-up call to the broader dangers of violence in society. "This isn't meant to invalidate anything else," she told the San Jose Mercury News. "It's so symbolic that such an innocent fluffy little ball of life could be taken by such needless violence."

Rio's pet owners dress dogs, hamsters for Carnival

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 2 (Reuters) - Rio's pampered pets can now get into the spirit of the city's world-famous Carnival with party costumes including tutus and wedding gowns to take them through five days of revelry. The options are limitless for those owners wanting to indulge their dogs, hamsters or parrots with the ultimate holiday treat. A ballerina or a bridal outfit? A bow-tie or a veil? "Whatever the customer asks for we will make it, for all types of animals" said Monica Morgata, owner of the "Mon Amie" pet store in Rio's fashionable Ipanema district. Carnival kicks off on Friday evening with a street parade in the city center and will continue next week. "We've got tuxedos and ballerina outfits for hamsters and we've already done a small parade for them. Cats don't really like dressing up but we have bow ties for them and we once made an outfit for a parrot. But that didn't last too long."

Other fashion accessories include masks similar to that worn by last year's unofficial Carnival queen, Tiazinha, a scantily-clad dominatrix whose trademark is a black eye mask and riding crop to whip her admirers into line. The most popular item was a T-shirt for dogs with this year's official theme of Brazil's 500-year anniversary, retailing at just five reais ($2.85), said Morgata. "Carnival is for everyone. People like to joke around and get into the Carnival spirit, so they dress their dogs up when they go parading," she said. "Last week I saw somebody dressed as a dog in a parade. So why not the other way around?"

Topless takes center stage at Rio Carnival parades

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 6 (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro revelled in more controversy on Monday as topless muses reigned over samba schools on the final day of the world famous Carnival parades. Many of the bare-breasted women dancing down the Sambadrome runway represented plumed Indian princesses who dominated the colourful floats as the schools honoured this year's theme -- the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Portuguese explorers in Brazil. Most spectators cheered the decadent display, but Monday's first parade -- which featured semi-nude dancers attending a mock Mass -- is sure to fuel a debate raging with Rio's archbishop.

Unidos da Tijuca, the first of the seven schools to parade Monday, hit the runway with plenty of advance publicity after wrestling with the church over a giant cross and a painting of the Virgin Mary on its floats. Police acting upon the request of the city's archdiocese confiscated the religious props, but Unidos won a court order to get them back. "This was marvellous publicity for the school," said Gilson Martins, who leads one of its 30 dancing sections. "But, really, how were we supposed to talk about the discovery of Brazil and not depict the first Mass celebrated in the country?" Topless Indians and tigresses wearing nothing but long spotted tails and ears were followed by more sombre dancers in monks' robes and controversial 13 foot (4-metre) wooden cross. A dancer who dared to paint the Brazilian flag on her nude body, attracting the notice of the police as well as the crowds during Sunday's parade, was still the talk of the town on Monday. "It was an homage to the flag at a time when we are celebrating Brazil's 500 years," an irritated Angela Bismarck told TV Globo.

The topless craze -- which has swept Carnival the same year that Rio women won the right to sunbathe without bikini tops -- even spread to the spectators as women in one of the VIP boxes casually removed their shirts. "I think it's great that everyone shows everything," said Brazil's most international fashion designer Ocimar Versolato. "Besides, with the 500 years of Brazil theme, it is completely appropriate." Many of the schools are also providing fresh topics for debate with references to racism, torture, corruption and censorship in Brazil's history. The Caprichosos de Pilares school had a naked dancer painted with red whip marks hanging upside down on a float that depicted a 1964-1985 dictatorship.

One of the perennial favourites, the Mangueira school, told the story of Afro-Brazilians' fight for freedom from slavery. Men in ankle and neck chains and silver briefs lead the parade that featured floats with black deities, part of the local Candomble religion. Another front-runner for the 2000 title, Beija Flor, is expected to act out a rape of a black woman by four white men as part of its parade called "Brazil, the country of all or a no-man's land." On Wednesday judges will name the winner of the top 14 schools, bringing an end to Brazil's biggest and most expensive pre-Lenten celebrations ever. Street parties and parades designed by some of the lower-ranking schools will continue throughout Tuesday.

Officials were outraged by Bankhead sex life

LONDON, March 2 (Reuters) - Reports of American stage and screen siren Tallulah Bankhead's "extremely immoral" sex life outraged official Britain when she visited in the 1920s. But investigation of an incident which was reported to have caused the expulsion of six boys from Britain's famed Eton College did not produce enough evidence for her to be deported. Papers released by the government on Thursday showed that Home Office (interior ministry) officials were ready to believe the worst about Bankhead, one of the American theatre's most brilliant and legendary actresses.

"She is both a lesbian and immoral with men," wrote one senior official in papers from 1928 released in line with Britain's open government initiative. "It is also said that she 'kept' a negress in America before she came to this country in 1925 and that she 'keeps' a girl in London now. "As regards her more natural proclivities, informant tells me that she bestows her favours 'generously' without payment," wrote the official, identified only by the initials FHM. "Informant added that her 'circle' is a centre of vice patronised by at least one of the most pronounced sodomites in London," FHM added.

One incident said by the Home Office to have involved Bankhead hit the headlines in 1928, when newspapers said six boys had been asked to leave Eton after a party in Bray, a short distance along the banks of the Thames. The Home Office said one boy, identified as the son of Sir Matthew 'Scatters' Wilson, had been smuggled out of the school under a rug in the back of a car. There were even rumours that some boys had flown from Eton to Bray in an aeroplane. A detective was sent to the Hotel de Paris in Bray to check out the story, but apart from concluding that it was the haunt of a "fast, smart set", he had very little to report. The police report concluded that it was "not likely that it would have been possible for the alien (Bankhead) to practice within the hotel premises any of the indecent and unnatural offences with such students, as are alleged". The Home Office got little help from the headmaster of Eton, who was determined to keep his school out of any scandal.

The files eventually concluded that "however unsavoury her personal reputation", officials would look foolish if they tried to deport the star without good reason. Bankhead, who died in 1968, retained a sense of humour. She once received from an admirer a telegram saying: "I want you for my wife". Her reply: "Splendid. Is she good-looking?"

Fear grips passengers as therapy flight backfires

LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - A therapy flight supposed to help four women get over their fear of flying left them even more scared than when they started when smoke engulfed the cabin and they were forced to make an emergency landing. "On the trip from Belfast (to Manchester) I was completely cured," said accountant Nikki Crothers, 26, who paid 155 pounds for the six week course to exorcise her fear of flying. "But when I saw what looked like smoke, everything I had achieved on the course went into reverse," she added. It was unclear whether the four would take to the skies again to deal with their worsened phobia.

"South Park" song poses Oscar dilemma

LOS ANGELES, March 8 (Reuters) - The Oscar-nominated song "Blame Canada," an obscenity-laced song about censorship from the "South Park" movie, has put ABC's censors and the producers of the Academy Awards in a quandary. ABC has told producers they need to either clean up or bleep out profanity in the tune so that it can be performed with the four other best-song nominees on the March 26 Oscars telecast, composer Marc Shaiman, who wrote the song with "South Park" co-creator Trey Parker, told Reuters on Wednesday. In the song, angry parents and community leaders in the United States condemn Canada for exporting an obscenity-laced kids' movie they accuse of corrupting their children. The song contains such expletives as the notorious "f"-word, a different "f"-word that means an expulsion of intestinal gas, and a swipe at a famed Canadian singer-songwriter, "that bitch Anne Murray."

"We'll figure out a creative way to make light of the whole situation," Shaiman said. "It's a song about censorship from a movie about censorship, so the irony is not lost on any of us that we're being asked to censor the song." Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, told Reuters the producers have devised a few "clever" ways to "work around the big f-word" and are trying to decide which is funniest. However, "we're not looking to pioneer in that area." Davis said the word bitch has already become fairly commonplace on prime-time television. He added, "Anne Murray has been very gracious about the reference to her and finds the song very amusing ... so we probably will deliver that line. We tried to get her to sing that line, but she's on tour and can't do it, but she liked the idea."

The big question is what to do about the second "f" word. According to Davis, the academy, songwriters and ABC are "still in conference" over that one. Shaiman joked that the academy should urge this year's Oscar presenters and recipients to "incorporate the word ... into their intros and speeches, so that by the time the song rolls around, the censors will be in a coma." "I never thought I'd grow up to be the person who is fighting the good fight so that fart could be said on the Academy Awards, but if that is my mission in life, so be it," he added. As it happens, "Blame Canada" is one of the cleaner songs from "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," whose soundtrack also includes such chestnuts as "Uncle Fukka" and "Kyle's Mom's a Bitch."

Still, the surprise nomination of "Blame Canada" is posing a unusual dilemma for this year's Oscar broadcast. "I'm not aware that we have ever had quite that problem before," Davis said. "Everybody knew what the movie was like, and part of the joke was that the songs were scatological and foul to the extreme." "Blame Canada" is up against much tamer fare in the contest for the best-song Oscar -- Diane Warren's "Music of My Heart" from "Music of the Heart"; Aimee Mann's "Save Me" from "Magnolia," Randy Newman's "When She Loved Me" from "Toy Story 2" and Phil Collins' "You'll Be In My Heart" from "Tarzan."

Kenyan women protest at drinking dens, demand sex

NAIROBI, March 15 (Reuters) - A group of women stormed a Kenyan police station to demand officers either make love to them or close illegal drinking dens they said made their husbands impotent, a local newspaper reported on Wednesday. The People newspaper said the women, from Kandara, north of Nairobi, brought business in the town to a halt with their day-long protest against excessive drinking by their menfolk. "Our men have turned to vegetables. They leave home early and come back intoxicated. There is nobody to meet the sexual needs of wives," the newspaper quoted one woman as saying. The women, drawn from 24 Catholic church groups, demanded that the officer in charge of the police station either order his men to make love to them or find them new husbands because they were sexually frustrated. The paper did not say how police reacted to their demands. The women said the population of the district was falling as a result of the poor sexual performance of the men.

Georgian girl mourns dad with cellphone

TBILISI, March 20 (Reuters) - A young woman from ex-Soviet Georgia used a mobile phone to carry out a native mourning ritual for her 75-year old late father, newspapers reported on Monday. They said the woman, who was not named, could not afford a ticket home to Georgia from Greece, where she works. Relatives instead hooked up a large speaker to a mobile phone and carried it to her father's home in a remote village about 200 km (120 miles) west of the capital Tbilisi. The woman placed a call to the phone during the funeral and performed a western Georgian ritual known as Datireba, in which relatives wail uncontrollably and scold the deceased harshly for having abandoned them. Datireba is one of several unique funeral customs in western Georgia. Another includes propping the corpse of the deceased standing upright, so that they can greet mourners as they arrive for memorial services. Most homes in isolated areas of Georgia lack regular telephone service, and in some areas lines have fallen in disrepair since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The use of portable phones in the Caucasus mountain country of 5.5 million is booming, however, and getting hooked up is an increasingly affordable alternative.


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