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April, 2000

The 1999 Darwin Awards


(15 July 1999, Alabama) A 25-year-old soldier died of injuries sustained from a 3-story fall, precipitated by his attempt to spit farther than his buddy. His plan was to hurl himself towards a metal guardrail while expectorating, in order to add momentum to his saliva. In a tragic miscalculation, his momentum carried him right over the railing, which he caught hold of for a few moments before his grip slipped, sending him plummeting 24 feet to the cement below. The military specialist had a blood alcohol content of 0.14%, impairing his judgement and paving the way for is opportunity to win a Darwin Award.

(11 August 1999, Germany) A 42-year-old man killed himself watching the eclipse while driving near Kaiserslautern, Germany. A witness driving behind him stated that the man was weaving back and forth as he concentrated on the partially occluded sun, when he suddenly accelerated and hit the bridge pier. He had apparently just donned his solar viewers, which are dark enough to totally obscure everything except the sun.

(25 May 1999, Ukraine) A fisherman in Kiev electrocuted himself while fishing in the river Tereblya. The 43-year-old man connected cables to the main power supply of his home, and trailed the end into the river. The electric shock killed the fish, which floated belly-up to the top of the water. The man waded in to collect his catch, neglecting to remove the live wire, and tragically suffered the same fate as the fish. In an ironic twist, the man was fishing for a mourning meal to commemorate the first anniversary of his mother-in-law's death.

(16 August 1999, Germany) A hunter from Bad Urach was shot dead by his own dog on Monday. The 51-year-old man was found sprawled next to his car in the Black Forest. A gun barrel was pointing out the window, and his bereaved dog was howling inside the car. The animal is presumed to have pressed the trigger with its paw. Police have ruled out foul play.

(1999, Teheran, Iran) Under similar circumstances, an Iranian hunter was shot to death near Tehran by a snake that coiled around his shotgun as he pinned the reptile to the ground. Another hunter reported that the victim named Ali, tried to catch the snake alive by pressing the butt of his shotgun behind its head. The snake coiled around the butt and pulled the trigger, shooting Ali in the head.

(August 1999, Australia) Drinking oneself to death need not be a long lingering process. Allan, a 33-year-old computer technician, showed his competitive spirit by dying of competitive spirits. A Sydney hotel bar held a drinking competition, known as Feral Friday, with a 100-minute time limit and a sliding point scale ranging from 1 point for beer to 8 points for hard liquor. Allan stood and cheered his winning total of 236, (winners never quit!) which had also netted him the literally staggering blood alcohol level of 0.353. After several trips to the usual temple of overindulgence, the bathroom, Allan was helped back to his workplace to sleep it off, a condition that became permanent. A forensic pharmacologist estimated that after downing 34 beers, 4 bourbons, and 17 shots of tequila within 1 hour and 40 minutes, his blood alcohol level would have been 0.41 to 0.43, but Allan had vomited several times after the drinking stopped. The cost paid by Allan was much higher than that of the hotel, which was fined the equivalent of $13,100 US dollars for not intervening. It is not known whether Allan required any further embalming.

(28 January 1999, London) A flock of sheep charged a well-meaning British farmer's wife and pushed her over a cliff to her death. Betty Stobbs, 67, was charged by dozens of sheep as she brought them a bale of hay on the back of a power bike. The sheep rushed forward and rammed the vehicle, knocking Betty and her bike over the edge of a vacant 100' quarry near Durham, in northeastern England. "I saw the sheep surround the bike. The next thing she was tumbling down the incline," neighbour Alan Renfry told reporters.

First Runner Up Award:

(22 March 1999, Phnom Penh) Decades of armed strife has littered Cambodia with unexploded munitions and ordnance. Authorities warn citizens not to tamper with the devices. Three friends recently spent an evening sharing drinks and exchanging insults at a local cafe in the southeastern province of Svay Rieng. Their companionable arguing continued for hours, until one man pulled out a 25-year-old unexploded anti-tank mine found in his backyard. He tossed it under the table, and the three men began playing Russian roulette, each tossing down a drink and then stamping on the mine. The other villagers fled in terror. Minutes later, the explosive detonated with a tremendous boom, killing the three men in the bar. "Their wives could not even find their flesh because the blast destroyed everything, " the Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper reported.

And the 1999 Darwin Award winner is.....

(5 September 1999, Jerusalem) The switch away from daylight savings time caused consternation among terrorist groups this year. At precisely 5:30 Israel time on Sunday, two coordinated car bombs exploded in different cities, killing three terrorists who were transporting the bombs. It was initially believed that the devices had been detonated prematurely by clumsy amateurs. A closer look revealed the truth behind the untimely explosions. Three days before, Israel had made a premature switch from daylight savings time to standard time in order to accommodate a week of Slihot, involving pre-sunrise prayers. Palestinians refused to "live on Zionist time". Two weeks of scheduling havoc ensued. The bombs had been prepared in a Palestine-controlled area, and set on Daylight Savings time. The confused drivers had already switched to standard time. As a result, the cars were still en-route when the explosives detonated, delivering to the terrorists their well-deserved demise.

Mysterious "Area 51" photos prompt Web meltdown

SAN FRANCISCO, April 18 (Reuters) - Perhaps the aliens pulled the plug. A U.S. company's move to post Russian spy satellite photos of "Area 51", the mysterious U.S. Air Force test site in Nevada, on the Internet prompted a Web meltdown on Tuesday as UFO buffs jammed its computers looking for insights into one of the world's most enduring real life X-Files. "We are being overwhelmed by the level of traffic that is hitting us," David Mountain, marketing director for Aerial Images Inc., said on Tuesday. "We are in the process of getting some additional hardware on line to cope...the interest has really been phenomenal." Aerial Images, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, sparked the frenzy on Monday when it began posting five images of the Nevada site on its web site.

The photos, taken in 1998 by a satellite launched by the Russian agency Sovinformsputnik, show the barren desert region about 75 miles (120 km) northwest of Las Vegas complete with airfields, outbuildings and bomb craters from U.S. nuclear tests in the 1950s. "There is a surprising number of discrete facilities out there in the middle of nowhere," Mountain said. Area 51, officially the Groom Dry Lake Air Force Base, has been a favorite focus of conspiracy theorists, alien abduction enthusiasts, and probers of the paranormal for years. Long a testing ground for top secret U.S. aircraft ranging from the U-2 spy plane to the B-2 stealth bomber, the base was dubbed Area 51 after its designation on bomb-testing maps. So shrouded in secrecy that the U.S. Air Force only recently admitted to its existence, the base is believed by some to be a repository for wreckage from alien UFOs, which is supposedly being studied by the U.S. military. Satellite photographs of the area have been taken before. But Aerial Images claims the new pictures -- taken after a 1994 presidential order allowing such space photography to be made public -- provide some of the clearest and highest resolution to date.

Mountain said that as the first word of the Area 51 photos began to filter out over the Internet, traffic at the company's servers started to spike. When the CBS Evening News mentioned them on Monday evening, the company's computers were swiftly swamped. By mid-day Tuesday, the Aerial Images site was still down. Mountain said the surge in interest was not unexpected -- noting that Area 51 had long been at the top of the list of items sought by customers for Aerial Images' database of satellite photography. "Since we've been in this business the single most commonly requested site has been Area 51," Mountain said. "There had been a lot of speculation that the government was not allowing us to put it up. That's not the case...we've never had any government interference."

While word of the Area 51 pictures kept the Internet abuzz on Tuesday, reaction was distinctly cooler in two quarters which might seem natural constituencies for fresh news about the shadowy base. Mountain said television director Chris Carter, who helped push Area 51 mania into the mainstream through his popular conspiracy show "The X-Files", was unimpressed when Aerial Images approached him with news about the new imagery. "He didn't believe we had it," Mountain said. Doubts were also voiced at the Area 51 Research Center on the base's doorstep in Rachel, Nevada. "We haven't seen 'em," said a man who answered the telephone Tuesday at the yellow trailer housing the unofficial research center. "It's not such a big thing. Who knows where these photographs are coming from."

Mr. Skin peers beneath Oscar dresses

LOS ANGELES, March 24 (Reuters) - While Hollywood's fashion mavens are abuzz over what the stars will wear on Oscar night, a Web site is offering fans a peek at what the nominated actresses look like with their clothes off -- for $19.95 a month, that is. It turns out that all 10 nominees for best actress and best supporting actress have done nude scenes at some point in their careers. And all of them are posted at the site created last August by a 37-year-old former mercantile exchange trader in Chicago who calls himself Mr. Skin. Indeed, the scene-stealing shots of Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Janet McTeer, Hilary Swank, Angelina Jolie, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Samantha Morton and Chloe Sevigny represent a mere fraction of Mr. Skin's collection. He boasts a catalog of movie clips and photos showing some 1,100 film and TV actresses in various stages of undress, comprising 2,000 video snippets plus 3,000 "collages" of still photos.

Mr. Skin, who says he has never publicly given his real name in some 200 radio and TV interviews, told Reuters Thursday that he has been collecting female nude scenes since he was 17, taping movies from cable television, then excerpting and cataloging the naughty bits. His interest lies strictly in "famous" TV and movie personalities, rather than B-movie actresses or porn stars. "This is stuff you can find at neighborhood video stores. It's all rated R, or N-17," he said. "I do not do X-rated or porn stuff. There's plenty of that on the Web already." Over the years, he has amassed perhaps the biggest collection of its kind, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of Hollywood women in the buff. "He's like the Roger Ebert of celebrity nudity," enthused Hank Butler, the Webmaster who oversees technical and marketing operations for the site. Mr. Skin insists his fascination with actresses undressed is nothing more than a hobby, albeit one he takes very seriously. "Some guys collect baseball cards. I do this," he said.

The site has proven so popular -- it averages 150,000 page views per day, with 4.5 million hits in February alone -- that Mr. Skin gave up his trading job months ago to devote himself full time to the Web venture. "You grow up with these TV and movie stars ... and they almost become part of your family," he said. "It's like the girl next door or the girlfriend you never had, and all of the sudden you find out there's a movie they did naked. It's a big thrill for a guy to check it out." Although nearly all the images come from R-rated movies, the site is restricted to viewers 18 years or older, and the nudity can only be seen by purchasing a three-day trial subscription for $4.95 or for $19.95 a month.

Most of today's stars have disrobed for the camera at least once, with some notable exceptions including Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder. Mr Skin said the the majority of nude scenes happen early in a star's career. But even among this year's crop of 10 Oscar-nominated actresses, some of their nudity is far from obscure. Bening, considered a favorite to win the best-actress trophy for "American Beauty," bared all in 1990 in "The Grifters." And Jolie, a front-runner for best supporting actress in "Girl Interrupted," did a substantial amount of nude work in the 1998 HBO movie "Gia." Streep, earning her 12th Oscar nomination for her role in "Music of the Heart," briefly flashed a breast in a nuclear power plant scene 24 minutes into the 1983 film "Silkwood." Mr. Skin describes it as "nice but not enough to cause a meltdown." Swank, whose character in "Boys Don't Cry" is forcibly stripped in a bathroom by a group of young toughs, is the only actress to appear nude in the film for which she is nominated this year, but her scene is far from sexy, Mr. Skin said.

Mr. Skin's picks for the best nude scenes of the remaining six Oscar-nominated actresses are: Moore in the 1993 Robert Altman film "Short Cuts"; McTeer in the British TV mini-series "Portrait of a Marriage," Keener in "The Real Blonde" (1997); Collette in "Velvet Goldmine" (1998); Morton in "Under the Skin" (1997) and Sevigny in "Gummo" (1998). For now, his site is devoted entirely to female performers, but at some point in the future, Mr. Skin says he'll expand it to include male nudity on the big screen. "But it won't be the labor of love that this was."

Rebel Georgian region survives on smuggling

TSKHINVALI, Georgia, April 7 (Reuters) - Shunned by the world and eking out an existence based on smuggling, independence-minded South Ossetia is ignoring Georgia's presidential election on Sunday. Along with Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast, the tiny mountain statelet of about 75,000 people is one of two chunks lopped off from the rest of country. Both were battlegrounds between Georgians and separatist fighters in the early 1990s. Despite having their own presidents and governments, and cosmetic trappings such as flags and postage stamps, they live in bizarre purgatory, de facto independent but recognised abroad as part of Georgia, which rules out letting them go. They pose a great challenge for President Eduard Shevardnadze, who is seeking another five year term.

A ramshackle booth slapped together from sheets of metal and plywood topped by the red, white, and yellow national tricolour mark a line where the Republic of South Ossetia says it begins. "You have a visa?" grunts one of the scruffy young border guards, dressed in blue camouflage. "Then do you have a mobile phone?" he asks when reminded that South Ossetia has no embassies abroad. "We have no telephones here and we need to call the government to see if you're allowed in." A notice nailed to the wall informs South Ossetian border guards of the procedure for processing asylum applicants. "But we haven't had any yet," he says. An intrepid Japanese tourist, a rarity judging from the puzzled reaction of the guards, is under interrogation after being hauled off a bus crossing the "border". "Find out if he's a terrorist," the border guard asks this correspondent, translating Russian to English. "Also, ask him what that Band-Aid is on his neck. Maybe he's a drug addict." After he finishes eating a sandwich pulled from his knapsack, the guards "deport" the disappointed wayward Japanese traveller, who wanted to see the grim, crumbling regional capital Tskhinvali, back to Georgia.

Near the border post, bargain hunters can find what is perhaps the world's biggest duty free shop. Smugglers use South Ossetia's ambiguous international status to circumvent customs into Georgia, whose government fears that afraid erecting a post would be an admission of Ossetian independence. Rather than the perfumes, video recorders, and compact discs found in many airports, there are truckloads of cigarettes with no excise stamps, tankers of petrol and natural gas, and cut-rate pasta, brought by way of South Ossetia's northern border with Russia. The market, where prices are roughly half of that in Georgia, is the length of several football fields. A litre of petrol costs seven Russian roubles ($0.25), compared to one Georgian lari ($0.50) in the capital Tbilisi. Enterprising Georgians use South Ossetia to cheaply import automobiles to the country. Instead of the normal $500 Georgian duty, they pay just $100. The legions of Georgian cars with Cyrillic-character Ossetian number plates bear witness to the booming business, though Georgia has moved to close the loophole of late. "We are in a very convenient position," says South Ossetian Information Minister Kosta Dzugayev. "There is a really big trade going on. Most of our people are involved."

The business helps float an otherwise moribund economy in an even worse state than the rest of Georgia. His ministerial office on a recent day had no electricity, water, or heat. Ministry employees piled firewood into a makeshift metal stove whose smokestack thrust from a hole cut in a grimy window. "The typewriter is broken so I had to write out the figures by hand," said a grandmotherly secretary, handing him a set of documents. "No problem," says Dzugayev, looking at his watch, which is on Moscow time, one hour earlier than in Georgia. The business fostered by the smuggling between Ossetians and Georgians has helped heal wounds opened by the 1991-92 war here which killed more than 1,000 people. Ossetians, like other minorities at the time, were frightened by a wave of Georgian nationalism and intolerance. They made moves towards independence. Violence between Ossetians and Georgians followed. "Five years ago Ossetians were terrified to go to Georgia and Georgians wouldn't be caught dead here," said one official with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which fosters dialogue between the sides. "Now there is a huge flow of traffic and people."

The trade has its ugly side. Georgia says Ossetia is also being used by drug smugglers to bring narcotics into the country, though this is fiercely denied by South Ossetia. Government officials do, however, admit an epidemic of drug addition among young people, many of whom have no regular jobs. "This is a very severe and extremely painful problem for us. We are seeing ever stronger drugs -- heroin, LSD, and the like," says Dzugayev. South Ossetia has instituted the death penalty for the trade or manufacture of illegal narcotics, much of which grows in the labyrinthine valleys of its snow-capped mountains. Peace talks have helped build trust, but no political resolution is in sight. Ideally, Ossetia would like to join its ethnic kin in North Ossetia, a constituent republic in Russia. "We are looking for a formula. We think it should be possible to satisfy Georgia's demand for territorial integrity and our right to self-determination," Dzugayev says.

Many Ossetians, whose ancestors, the Alans, were once the dominant tribe in the Caucasus mountains and who speak a language related to Persian, say too much blood was spilled and they will never reunite with Georgians. They cite another bloody conflict between the groups earlier in the century as additional proof. "Even the couples in mixed marriages have got divorced since the war," says 40-year-old Yura Kukuyev, hawking cotton candy for three roubles (11 cents) near the Tskhinvali central market. The self-declared republic will celebrate its 10th anniversary on April 20 with a parade along Ulitsa Stalina (Stalin Street), the decrepit capital's main thoroughfare. The late Soviet dictator was thought to be of Ossetian descent. "We are not a banana republic. Our young men fought and died for this country," said one South Ossetian official.

Ultraman comes alive in Hong Kong eatery

HONG KONG, April 11 (Reuters) - Mouths wide open, a dozen Hong Kong toddlers gape at a timeless hero who has mesmerised fans for decades with daring exploits and tireless wars against beasts and monsters. Occasionally, the children shout out the hero's famous cries of war, words which fathers and uncles can probably recall. Ultraman, Japan's Superman who has captured the hearts of millions of television viewers, is enjoying a comeback in Hong Kong with a restaurant in the New Territories. It is the first such Ultraman eatery outside Japan. At the 5,000 square ft (464.5 square metre) restaurant, young fans gobble spaghetti bolognaise and omelettes decorated to look like the beasts Ultraman beat up. Even parents are eager to pose next to the silver and red statues of the superhero.

Compared with slick superheroes of today, Ultraman, created in 1966 by the late special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya, looks decidedly dated with his horned mask of plastic and boots that resemble Wellingtons. But for his young fans, perhaps even their parents, he still epitomises all that is good and courageous, and its triumph over evil. "Ultraman is good, I like Ultraman," declared three-year-old Wong Pui-him, wearing an Ultraman t-shirt and holding up his arms in an "L" shape, a famous pose of the bug-eyed superhero. "He is my hero too," said the boy's father, Vincent Wong, as he snapped away with his camera, urging his son to strike another Ultraman pose. "I took leave today just to bring my family here. This is simply wonderful,"

Thirty-four years on, Ultraman commands a cult following. Dozens of Internet Web sites are dedicated to the superhero, whose exploits fired the imagination of Asian children, even Western audiences, since the late 1960s. Available are chat rooms, detailed chronologies and eulogies of the science fiction series and scores of sites selling paraphernalia of Ultraman and his beastly enemies. Committed to protecting Earth from wicked space monsters, Ultraman hails from a distant civilisation in outer space -- or M-78 Nebula to be exact, three million light years away. Its first series hit Japanese television in January 1966, spawning many other series and a host of Ultraman characters. That same series, 115 episodes broadcast from 1966 to 1968 including the "Ultra Q" and "Ultra Seven", are available on DVD.

Hundreds of thousands have visited the restaurant since it opened in January after local food chain Maxims bought the Hong Kong franchise from Tsuburaya Productions Co, the Tokyo-based company that produced the Ultraman TV series. Lines form outside the restaurant at the weekend when customers number at least 3,000 daily. The eatery notches up a respectable 1,500-strong patronage on a regular weekday. "Even when the lines are very long, the parents will wait because they don't want to disappoint their children," said Wicky Wong, a manager at the Ultraman outlet. The restaurant, which uses Ultraman's giant legs for pillars, looks like the basement of a battleground where the superhero has been thrashing about with monsters. Ripping through the ceiling are two giant claws of a mutant lobster. Elsewhere, the head of another fallen beast hangs upside down, yet another trophy of the great Ultraman. At the entrance, one of Wong's colleagues tries to calm a group of adrenalin-charged children who have scrambled in front of the television screens upon hearing the signature song of the Ultraman television series. "The funniest and most memorable moment for me is when we play the song, the kids all start singing together," Wong said.

Frenchman caught smuggling boa in underpants

PARIS, March 21 (Reuters) - French police on Tuesday caught a man trying to sneak through Paris airport customs with a boa snake hidden in his underpants, an airport spokeswoman said. The 30-year-old Frenchman, who was trying to smuggle the 40-cm (16 inch) snake into Roissy airport from Colombia, was caught out after a sniffer dog latched on to the reptile's scent through his bulging trousers, she said. The man told customs officials he wanted to add the snake -- export of which is outlawed as an endangered species -- to his reptile collection. The boa was confiscated and placed in the temporary care of airport officials.

Devil in the numbers for Russian tax ID card plan

MOSCOW, March 23 (Reuters) - The devil is in the numbers for Russia's Christian Orthodox movement when it comes to government proposals to give every citizen a tax identification code. Conservative Orthodox representatives said on Thursday that the bar code on planned new ID cards, aimed at simplifying tax collection and avoiding confusion among people with the same names, contained the series 666 -- the number of the beast, according to the Bible. "We all know that on these cards there is the number of the Antichrist, the number 666," said Leonid Simonovich, head of the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers. "We propose that if the government really needs such cards, then they should change the number from 666 to 888, eight being associated with all that is positive." The tax ministry has said it wants to issue people with an individual taxpayer identification number. Proponents say it could then serve as the equivalent of a social security card, eventually replacing passports. There has even been talk of using the card instead of cash in shops and markets across the world's largest country.

The Orthodox Church, which plays a big role in post-Soviet affairs of state, has issued a strong official protest. "Deliberately or not, the developers of the global strip-code system...chose a symbol which is offensive and disturbing for Christians and which appears to be at the very least impertinent mockery," its official website said. "The innovation has caused concern among believers, who are worried about authorities' totalitarian control over people's personal and social lives," it added. Its fears reflect broader nervousness in Russia over the prospect of Acting President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy, returning to a strong-arm style of leadership should he win Sunday's presidential election as predicted. "The card idea is just the first step in this direction," said Vladimir Osipov, head of the Orthodox Revival Union. "But then there will be a second, and then a third." He said detailed personal information could be accessed from computers at the press of a button if the plan were to go ahead. The government, on the other hand, desperately wants to streamline an inefficient tax collection system which has contributed to huge budget revenue shortfalls in recent years.

South Korea bakery uses Hitler model in TV ad

SEOUL, March 23 (Reuters) - A South Korean bakery has incurred the anger of Jewish communities at home and abroad by using a model imitating Adolf Hitler to promote its cream cakes. Crown Bakery Co has launched a television advertising campaign in which a popular local comedian dressed up as Hitler holds out a box of cakes as if he is executing the Nazi salute "Heil Hitler". "It is outrageous," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper at Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group. A domestic newspaper quoted an official at Crown Bakery as saying its advertisment was not meant to praise or glorify Hitler. "We just borrowed a Hitler motif from the movie 'The Dictator' starring Charlie Chaplin. We never meant to praise or glorify Hitler," the official was quoted as saying. Earlier in March a local bar in Seoul called "The Third Reich" had to remove all its Nazi-theme decorations after protests from the Israeli Embassy in Seoul and other Jewish groups. The bar, which opened about a year ago, featured Nazi flags, photographs of Hitler, waiters and waitresses serving in clothes reminiscent of Nazi uniforms, and a cocktail named after Hitler. The Korea Herald newspaper said in a recent edition the recent uproar over the Nazi-theme cafe shamefully revealed the insensitivity among Koreans to the atrocities committed by Nazis during World War Two. "Ordinary Koreans do not seem to possess the same level of awareness of the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities that other peoples do," said the Korea Herald.

Saucy ads in Los Angeles inspire fun, outrage

LOS ANGELES, March 30 (Reuters) - Some people loved them, some hated them. But no one could ignore the 1,400 saucy ads that popped up on huge billboards all over the Los Angeles area. "On Sunday, April 9th, six beautiful women will show you their panties," read one ad. "On Sunday, April 9th, 69 will not be out of the question," read another, while a third one proclaimed, "On April 9th, 12 men will go both ways." The city manager of suburban Azusa was so enraged that he procured one of the city's "cherry picker" machines to slap black paint over the ad about the beautiful women showing their panties. Another ad reading, "On Sunday, April 9th, eight Oklahoma tourists will be beaten in downtown L.A.," drew the most criticism.

Then all was revealed. Additions to the ads pasted up recently revealed that they were promoting a new "arena football" team, the Los Angeles Avengers, that will play its opening game on April 9. The six beautiful women are the team's cheerleaders, 69 refers to points, not a sexual position, and the 12 men going both ways indicates that all the players on the team play both offense and defense. And those poor tourists from Oklahoma? They are the opposing team, the Oklahoma Wranglers. "It was meant to be a bit of fun. It's an attention grabber, that's the nature of advertising. We needed to come up with something good and we did," said Avengers' spokesman John Tamahana on Thursday.

Azusa City Manager Rick Cole said he was not amused. He told Reuters he received a number of calls from offended citizens and city council members and decided to take matters into his own hands. "I was personally offended. This is a fairly pathetic football team trying to get mileage from over-the-top ads in order to sell tickets. There were two billboards close to each other and close to a school playground. One was the panties ad and the other was the 69 ad. We decided to tackle the panties ad," Cole said. "It wasn't like this was an ad for a Hollywood movie, these people were trying to sell a football team using sex. It just wasn't right," he added.

Cole said he painted out the words "their panties" on the offending ad, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office is deciding whether to charge him with criminal vandalism. "I take responsibility for my actions. Would I do it again? As a citizen I acted out of conscience. As a city manager I should have done it differently, and if the occasion arises again, I would do it differently," he said. Tamahana said the Avengers were sorry the joke backfired in Cole's case but they would not press charges and in fact had invited Cole and the Azusa City Council members to be guests of the club at the opening game. He also said the team had removed ads from billboards in the Hawthorne and Venice areas of Los Angeles after receiving complaints from officials there.

German technicians discover lizards, mice in PCs

BERLIN, March 31 (Reuters) - A salamander lizard, live mice and dead grasshoppers were among the more bizarre objects recovered by German computer technicians while servicing PCs, a computer magazine reported. Technicians at 11 large computer firms told PC Welt magazine they had come across coffee cups, decomposing sandwiches, spiders and cigarette butts alongside the usual array of paper clips and coins which find their way inside PCs. It remains a mystery how a 500-gram (1.1 lb) industrial grinding tool got into a PC. En route to the repair shop, the grinder's "on" switch was activated, demolishing cables and data processing chips.

Bare-all candidate livens up dull Greek elections

ATHENS, April 4 (Reuters) - In Greece's singularly gray election campaign, candidate Dimosthenes Vergis is a flash of shocking pink. Whether making speeches dressed in a toga or staring down from posters wearing nothing at all, Vergis is attracting more attention before the April 9 election than some candidates in expensive suits spending a fortune on television ads. "I will be the surprise of this election," the president of the Ecological Union of Greece told Reuters in an interview. "I'm successful because of my honesty and spontaneity." His appeal during a campaign that has so far left most of Greece's eight million voters yawning is unmistakable. Crowds stop by his campaign kiosk in central Athens and taxi drivers zooming by shout greetings at Vergis, a slim 59-year-old who has seen his following increase steadily since he entered politics in 1986. "When I first ran for office I got 200 votes. In the Euro-parliament election last year I got 36,000," he said.

A self-described journalist, he has a simple political message and a single purpose if he is elected to Greece's 300-seat parliament -- to fight against real Christmas trees. "I'd like to ask Mrs President of the United States, Hillary, to show more sensitivity and not to decorate 22 trees at the White House every year," Vergis said. He admits to using unusual methods to drive his message across, such as spelling his party's name on the bare buttocks of nightclub dancers or having topless models hand out campaign pamphlets on a central Athens avenue. He appeared proud that such eccentric feats got him in trouble with the inter-party election committee. "I'll wear my toga to the hearing," he said.

Other candidates enlist their wives and children to portray an image of wholesome family morality during the campaign. Not Vergis. He boasts of his frolickings on the nudist beaches of the island of Mykonos and publishes the pictures to prove it in his party's magazine, more an homage to his sexual prowess than a political manifesto. "I believe I have children all over the world. I've recognised 19 but I think there must be about 35," he said. He champions few causes besides Christmas trees but he said he could not help taking a political stance when Greece and Turkey came close to war over a deserted Aegean islet in 1996. Posters all over Athens showed him standing on what was supposed to be the island, naked and in a state of evident arousal, inviting Turkey's female prime minister Tansu Ciller: "Come and get it."

Turkey's oil wrestlers do not want gays watching

ISTANBUL, April 7 (Reuters) - Turkey's oil wrestlers -- burly men who cover themselves in olive oil and grapple with each other wearing leather trousers -- are trying to stop a group of homosexuals coming to watch. The group calling themselves Bears of Turkey is advertising on the Internet ( for a tour to watch the 639th Kirkpinar oil wrestling championships to be held on July 1 and 2 near Turkey's northwestern city of Edirne. "It's immoral," Anatolian news agency quoted Traditional Sports Federation Chairman Alper Yazoglu as saying. "We are trying every way to have this stopped...We shall pass this matter on to the interior, foreign and other ministries to ask for this disgusting business to be stopped." The sport of oil wrestling dates back to the Turks' exodus from Central Asia in the middle ages. The often moustachioed wrestlers, their muscles rippling in olive oil under the hot sun, try to pin each other to the ground. Putting a hand down the opponent's trousers to get a better grip is a common tactic. Homosexuality is not banned in overwhelmingly Moslem Turkey, and several big cities have thriving gay scenes, but police harassment is frequent and the issue is generally considered taboo.

Gnome Liberation Front strikes Paris show

PARIS, April 10 (Reuters) - The dormant Garden Gnome Liberation Front has sprung back to life, stealing around 20 gnomes during a night-time raid on a Paris exhibition. "We demand...that garden gnomes are no longer ridiculed and that they be released into their natural habitat," the Front's Paris wing said in a statement following its weekend strike. France's first garden gnome exhibition in the exclusive Bagatelle park on the outskirts of the capital opened last month and has been a hit with the public as chic Parisians develop a taste for kitsch culture. The Garden Gnome Liberation Front vanished from the public eye in 1997 after a northern French court handed its ringleader a suspended prison sentence and fined him for his part in the disappearance of around 150 gnomes. The only suspected sighting of the organisation since then was a mass suicide of gnomes at Briey in eastern France in September 1998, when 11 of them were found dangling by their necks under a bridge. A letter found nearby said: "When you read these few words we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decoration." Now, the sight of 2,000 of the gaudy, colourful creatures dotted around the Bagatelle gardens has clearly proved too big a temptation for the group to avoid. It warned that it would strike again unless the show was closed and all the gnomes released. Organisers told the daily Le Parisien that they had no intention of bowing to the Front's demands.

Bowl Cronje out of jail in S.Africa web game

JOHANNESBURG, April 13 (Reuters) - Fans who have not abandoned disgraced former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje can bowl him out of a New Delhi jail in a website game. "We felt that we needed something to lift South African spirits after the shock admissions by Hansie on Tuesday and thought a game in which the public can help Hansie would be the best option," said John Kuhn, spokesman for the website. Cronje was sacked as South African captain for taking between $10,000 and $15,000 from a bookmaker for information and forecasting on one-day matches, but has denied allegations of involvement in match-fixing in India. Cronje loyalists can log onto and throw cricket balls at the wall of a jail cell, while a tinny version of "I want to break free" by British rock band Queen blares out of the computer speakers. But if the player fails to hit the wall enough times in the allocated time, the wall stays up, Cronje stays in jail and South African Sports Minister Ncgonde Balfour pops onto the screen and starts crying "Oh, Hansie, my captain, my captain".

Weird and wonderful on show at Geneva inventors fair

GENEVA, April 13 (Reuters) - Ever wondered the nerve reaction time of a cockroach? Taiwanese electrician Lee Chein-Yu has the answer. He has put years of meticulous research into a device that could rid households around the world of the pest. "My experiments have shown that the speed of a cockroach's nerve reflex is 0.03 seconds. That translates into rapid leg movements in 0.045 seconds or faster than a blink of human eye," he said. Armed with that information, he has gone on to invent the "Best A.C. Defense" cockroach electrocuter. Lee's product was just one of a wide range of bizarre items that went on show on Thursday at Geneva's annual invention exhibition, the inventors' equivalent of the Olympics. "In our country we have too many cockroaches. They breed in washing machines, electric appliances. That's why I invented this device with a special electric circuit that gives a great shock to cockroaches and kills them on the spot," Lee said.

From retired Russian radio engineers to Swiss housewives, hundreds of boffins and oddball scientists are at the show where catchy ideas include: from Taiwan, an electronic, musical hoola-hoop for losing weight; from Germany, a warm-air drier for wet bodies after a shower and from Britain, a no-spill baby cup. The exhibition is not only a testament to human inventiveness but also sheds light onto national stereotypes. Who else would invent an acoustic device that aims to shame noisy people but a Swiss? From the Alpine nation obsessed with noise-control and order came the plastic ear-shaped invention of Bettina Bamert. "By repeating the sounds that people make, this device informs others that one is bothered by their noise, such as in a cinema or on the train," was the assurance its brochure offered. Where else would you go but to a German for a device "for distributing equal portions of butter in a hygienic way" and another item for painless peeling of pineapples?

From Russia came a range of offbeat products of the fertile imaginations of retired Russian army officers and engineers from the old Soviet Union's defence industry. Would you trust a Russian engineer to cure your headache with an electronic device tied to your head -- a grey metal box with a trail of spaghetti-like wires tumbling from two sides? Former military radio engineer Vladimir Kublanov said you should. The bespectacled Russian said his invention treated headaches and migraines using radiographic electro-currents. "We are preparing ourselves for mass production but unfortunately we do not have money," he said, clutching a Moscow-registered patent of the Simpatokor-01 corrector.

San Francisco court is punk pioneers' next venue

SAN FRANCISCO, April 18 (Reuters) - Three survivors of the Dead Kennedys will face Jello Biafra, the pioneer punk group's former lead singer, in court next week over the legacy of the band that made "Kill the Poor," "Religious Vomit" and "California Uber Alles." The plaintiffs -- guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Fluoride and drummer D.H. Peligro -- claim that Biafra has been using the profits from the Dead Kennedys' records to support his new career as a sometime politician and spoken-word artist. Biafra, for his part, has charged his former bandmates with trying to hijack his Alternative Tentacles record label after he refused to sell the rights to the song "Holiday in Cambodia" to Levi's for a television commercial. "It's been emotionally devastating," the San Francisco Examiner quoted Biafra as saying in its Tuesday edition. "The whole thing has pretty much wasted two years of my life." Jury selection for the trial is taking place this week, and Alternative Tentacles spokeswoman Michelle Steinberg said arguments were scheduled to start on Monday in San Francisco Superior Court.

The trial marks the culmination of several years of acrimony among members of the San Francisco-based Dead Kennedys, who broke up in 1986 after making headlines for several years with their grisly, humorous lyrics and hard-driving music. The three musicians first sued in 1998, claiming that Biafra had short-changed them on royalties and mismanaged the record label. Biafra sued back, charging them with seeking retaliation. "Their mean-spirited attack traces back to my refusal to allow 'Holiday in Cambodia' to be used in a Levi's TV commercial (Dockers Khakis, no less!)," Biafra said in a 1998 statement on his suit. "I respect how much Dead Kennedys music and message means to people. ... I can think of no worse way to stab our fans in the back than to sell out to Levi's," he said. Ray, Fluoride and Peligro say the advertisement idea was never pursued and that the singer is using it as a smokescreen for retaining Dead Kennedy profits, hundreds of thousands of dollars of which have gone into an interest-bearing account pending the outcome of the trial. "We think Biafra's acting like a capitalist in the worst sense of the word," Ray told the Examiner in an interview. "He may not be a corporation, but he certainly knows how to act like one."

Super Granny: Defender of Justice - an allegedly true story...

An elderly lady did her shopping and, upon returning to her car, found four males in the act of leaving with her car. She dropped her shopping bags and drew her handgun, proceeding to scream at them at the top of her voice, "I have a gun and I know how to use it! Get out of the car you scumbags!" The four men didn't wait around for a second invitation but gotout and ran like mad, whereupon the lady, somewhat shaken, proceeded to load her hopping bags into the back of the car and get into the driver's seat. She was so shaken that she could not get her key into the ignition. She tried and tried and then it dawned on her why. A few minutes later she found her own car parked four or five spaces farther down. She loaded her bags into her car and drove to the Police station. The sergeant to whom she told the story nearly tore himself in two with laughter and pointed to the other end of the counter, where four pale white males were reporting a car-jacking by a mad elderly woman described as white, less than 5' tall, glasses, and curly white hair carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed.

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