News you may have missed...
June, 2000

Submarine in Ukraine steppes? Why not?

YEVHENIVKA, Ukraine, May 28 (Reuters) - A sharp hissing sound and an upsurge of bubbles suddenly disturbs the serenity of a small lake in the sun-baked Ukrainian steppes, scaring the wild ducks and a group of cows grazing nearby. A periscope emerges from the muddy water followed seconds later by a tiny, bizarre-looking, green vessel which resembles a large bug rather than the dolphin after which it is named. The skipper, squeezing through a narrow hatch from his 3.5 metre (10 foot) submarine, hardly looks the swashbuckling type. Coy and bespectacled, 58-year-old local driver Volodymyr Pylypenko pilots the vessel he designed himself. His pride and excitement are obvious. "I can hardly explain what I feel down there," he said, smiling happily after his 10th dive. "Your heart throbs and you hold your breath when you dive into the unknown. These thrilling moments alone are worth living for."

Pylypenko, who made his first submarine dive last year, takes special pride in defying the popular saying used across the former Soviet Union to denote anything unreal or impossible -- "a submarine in the steppes of Ukraine". The inhabitants of this village some 900 km (560 miles) southeast of the capital Kiev, lacking the social life of the big city, gather at the lake each time they see Pylypenko towing the submarine, mounted on a primitive chassis, behind his old Soviet four-wheel-drive for another diving test. His is the only functioning submarine in Ukraine. The one obsolete diesel submarine which it inherited from the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet is rusting away and lacks electric accumulators. Pylypenko's two-seat sub, the construction of which took 20 years, has turned into something much bigger than just a device for winning the respect of his neighbours. "I did not seek popularity," he says. "I built it to have something to live for. You first have a sleepless night, then you change something in the morning, and then you find an even better solution."

Born in Yevhenivka, a village of 270 residents lost in the windswept steppes of the Donetsk region, Pylypenko acquired his passion for the underwater world after moving to the Azov Sea town of Mariupol, where he worked at a metallurgical plant. Pylypenko said that practising aquatic sports in Mariupol, he decided to build an apparatus which would allow him to explore the depths. Returning to Yevhenivka 20 years ago, he started to realise his dream. Smothered in lilac bushes and mulberry trees, the quiet courtyard of Pylypenko's house saw the start of the project. "I remember a huge pipe unloaded here," said Tetyana, Pylypenko's 30-year-old elder daughter. "My father told neighbours he would build a submarine, but they just laughed at him." Pylypenko was deeply hurt by their reaction. "This attitude nearly killed me," he said with a sigh. "Some would gesture with their finger at the head, suggesting I had a cylinder missing and was not quite all there. "But finally I achieved my goal, although during my first dive many hoped I would never come back to the surface."

Apart from the psychological stress and misunderstanding, the project left a big gap in the family budget. "From time to time I would sell a bull or a piglet to get some money to buy gasoline or go round local scrap heaps and look for possible parts," he said. "For every screw or bolt I would have to pay in cash or my own moonshine." In Soviet times, Pylypenko's slow but steady progress puzzled not only his sceptical neighbours but the local branch of the KGB secret police. "Police officers, apparently sent by the KGB, visited me and asked why I was building the submarine. They feared I wanted to escape abroad, but I managed to dispel their fears," Pylypenko said with a smile. "Volodymyr is a respected person now," said Grigory, who calls himself "an entrepreneur" and assists Pylypenko's dives. Though pursued by local and foreign journalists, Pylypenko has no time to rest on his laurels. He wants to improve the Dolphin by increasing the power of two small electric engines to boost underwater speed from the current three knots (3.6 km) an hour and raise the capacity of the Kingston valves for more water displacement to dive faster.

A local mining businessman, described by Pylypenko as "a fanatic of underwater adventures", has offered to pay $15,000 for the submarine and promised to take it for more serious tests in the Azov and Black Seas, where the water is much clearer. The self-made inventor says he has still not decided whether to sell his creation. A fierce admirer of the late French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, he is already thinking of a more grandiose project, which one potential buyer has promised to finance -- building a saucer-shaped "bathyscaph" submarine for four or five people. Amid all his hectic activity and planning, one thought still gives Pylypenko no rest -- the lack of followers. "I would like my two grandsons to follow in my steps, but football is their only craze," he says glumly. But daughter Tetyana and wife Anna, who have followed the submarine saga from the very beginning, remain devoted. "I never allow them to accompany me to the lake before each dive -- crying women before a voyage are an ominous sign for real sailors," Pyplypenko says. "But otherwise they help me and always wait impatiently for my return."

The Lady Wore a Trenchcoat

In Roman Intrigue, Our Reporter Encounters a High-Heeled Gumshoe

ROME -- The porter at 116 Via Veneto had a broken toothpick in his pouchy mouth. "Fifth floor, next to Paradisi the dentist," he scowled. It was a muggy May afternoon, but the ride to the top was fast and filled with the smell of perfume, a high-priced aroma that led directly to the locked office overlooking Frederico Fellini Square. I swallowed hard and thumped the buzzer. Private eye Miriam Ponzi was no Miss Marple. She had raven hair and signature eyes like Bacall in "The Big Sleep." Pearls weren't a nuisance around her neck, and the small Dutch cigar cuddled between her thumb and trigger finger looked as good as the expensive paintings that lined her steamy office. The daylight was beginning to fade, but I declined the drink and watched the world's most sought-after high-heeled gumshoe slip like silk into a soft leather chair. "Businessmen aren't afraid to confide in me," purred the president of Tom Ponzi Investigations. "Of course, it's easier for a woman to deal with a corporate executive in trouble." The Italian kitten voice was chilly and professional. "All right, how did you find out about me," demanded the 48-year-old daughter of the legendary Italian detective known as Peeping Tom Ponzi, who favored unfiltered cigarettes, using truth serum on the bad guys, and never left home without two 7.65-millimeter Berettas and a pair of Sylvania night-vision goggles.

Tommazo Ponzi was no pulp-fiction creation and, besides, he knew Rita Hayworth. The bullets were real and Playboy magazine said he was cool. Upon his death in 1997, Ms. Ponzi inherited the TPI brand and a business in which she already had clocked 27 years sleuthing for the likes of Vatican priests, wheelmen Gianni Agnelli and Enzo Ferrari and enough European politicos to fill a circus tent. She helped shake down hundreds of white-collar crime rackets and kidnapping rings, and lent her street-smarts to many of the 40,000 conjugal infidelity investigations her father had conducted for the rich and famous. "Cheating wives have to be trapped, unfaithful husbands trap themselves," was his motto back in the 1960s and 1970s. But sex no longer pays the bills here at what's perhaps the most celebrated private-detective agency since Spade and Archer in the "The Maltese Falcon." These days, divorce cases make up less than 15% of TPI's annual turnover. Investigating insider-trading deals and "Chinese boxing," deciphering the intricate global lacing on multinational contracts and bank transactions, are two of the firm's hottest products. "Our growth area is corporate counterespionage," Ms. Ponzi says. "All corporations have employees who cheat, and the New Economy has been very good for our business. We have over 100 contracts with corporations to monitor computer crime." Nevertheless, she says it helps to have good looks and a dozen reformed hackers on the payroll. A suspicious nature is also required when outsiders show up asking questions about big-name clients and large corporations whose lives have turned dark with something more than night.

The philosophy of TPI is simple: what's public is propaganda, what's secret is serious. She threw her head back, exhaling blue smoke toward the tall ceiling. "I'm not telling you anything specific, so don't try," Ms. Ponzi says. "We don't look for clients. They look for us and I don't advertise. Our former clients send us more than enough new clients...all of them come to see me after they've traveled well beyond a suspicion of something gone wrong." Although no hatchet-faced men in baggy suits and cheap toupees walk the corridors of TPI, there is a coat rack that's held its share of shoulder holsters and a secret stash of file cabinets that contain dossiers going back to 1950 on over 100,000 individuals and businesses. "A very helpful archive," Ms. Ponzi says enticingly. There are also lots of ashtrays on the tables, sophisticated listening devices in the bookcases and expressionless faces in front of the watercooler. "I start my day with a cup of warm milk and status reports from field agents," Ms. Ponzi says. It's a business of wildly contrasting logic that orbits around the phrase l'acqua in bocca, or "water in the mouth," a Sicilian warning to keep your trap shut. "My work is a film that can never be made," says the windsurfing single mother with a master's degree in criminology from Cambridge University. "Sure my image is good for the company, but all our contracts contain privacy clauses that prevent me from talking. This firm never has been involved in a double-cross -- and believe me, double-crosses happen all the time in this business because someone violates a confidentiality agreement."

The waiter at the Argentine steak restaurant across the street from the U.S. Embassy had a worried face, slightly nicotine-stained fingernails and walked like he had a corn on his left foot. Ms. Ponzi stopped talking until he had hobbled back into the kitchen. She unbuttons her creamy calfskin trench coat and says "quick heist" kidnappings are the principal and least-known danger facing the masters of the New Economy. According to British insurance company Hiscox Group, there were 1,644 recorded ransom kidnappings in 1999, mostly in Colombia, Mexico and throughout the old Soviet Union. The report said victims tended to be wealthy locals, with the 10 riskiest countries accounting for 92% of the abductions. Ms. Ponzi isn't surprised no European country made the list. Most kidnappings within the European Union, she suggests, go unreported. "The big, multimillion-dollar ransom kidnappings aren't a real problem anymore in Europe," Ms. Ponzi explains with a hard look. "It's the small-change kidnappings, the ones that never make the paper or the police." The quick heist is a predominantly amateur job, a junkyard crime that's grubby in planning, effective in execution and, Ms. Ponzi says, concluded without fanfare, like paying off a nuisance lawsuit before it hits the court. "Wealthy and important people are now frequently snatched and ransomed for $100,000 (111,235 euros) after usually no more than three days," she explains. "This type of heist is much less dangerous than a big kidnapping. People pay the ransom because it's cheaper than having your life made public."

To combat the trend, Ms. Ponzi says TPI counterintelligence technicians over the past year have embedded miniaturized global positioning transmitters under the skin of 25 European executives and their family members. "The procedure is becoming very popular," she says. Ms. Ponzi puts down her napkin and picks up the mobile phone without looking at it. She says "tomorrow morning" and casually tugged the green gemstone on her ear before hanging up. She says nothing of the call, but reveals a quick, nervous smile, perhaps the result of her recent trip to meet with a "political client" in Moscow, or maybe some unforeseen fallout from successfully nabbing the swindlers who were counterfeiting Italian automotive parts after hours on a chocolate-molding machine in a confectionery factory. "I wear 100 masks, but I'm not so tough," Ms. Ponzi says between sips of black coffee. "I talk to doormen. I look in garbage cans. I sleep with a hot water bottle on my stomach. I should carry a gun more often." Pursuing the hot water-bottle angle was clearly hazardous material. The gun was safer, particularly since Ms. Ponzi and many of her 300 employees and consultants, who range from 18-year-old students to an 87-year-old actor, have been shot at, kidnapped and run down by speeding cars. Back at the office and fingering like a knife thrower one of the seven antique magnifying glasses on her desk, she recalls her first case, the time her father asked if she was interested in infiltrating a Marseilles drug mob to track down a missing 18-year-old girl. Ms. Ponzi was 20 years old and almost had her throat slit. "I had a transmitter in my wristwatch," Ms. Ponzi says. "My dad brought the cavalry to the rescue just in time. I got the girl out, though." The experience left her with a soft spot for tracking down lost kids. "When a child goes missing, I get angry," Ms. Ponzi says. "Finding children is my personal expertise."

Of course, sometimes it's wiser to walk away from a case. Like the morning earlier this year when a lawyer representing 122 indicted Mafia dons strolled into the office to solicit TPI's help in proving that 61 of his clients were innocent. "I believed the lawyer," Ms. Ponzi says. "But I said no because it was the Mafia." The Italian attorney returned a few days later with three wise guys to help plead his case. She told them to take a hike. "Dealing with those kind of people is all instinct," Ms. Ponzi says. "I must be okay because I'm not dead yet." To be sure, Ms. Ponzi enjoys working the shadows, and the Italian women's fashion magazines love publishing pictures of her. "This is still a mysterious job," she says. "We have over 50 active operations right now in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Balkans." Ms. Ponzi says TPI's security work for European executives traveling into the troubled Balkan region is a big rainmaker for the firm. Tracking the activities of Japanese corporations, she adds, is another boom market. "Japanese firms are big into corporate espionage," Ms. Ponzi asserts. "Theft is the quickest means of getting ideas in the New Economy. I have to be quicker. War is no longer waged to conquer territory, but to discover the commercial secrets of others."

The tempo of a 21st-century private eye might be more high-octane and high-tech than what Dashiell Hammett had in mind when he sent Sam Spade after the Maltese Falcon, but the plots that confront Ms. Ponzi more often than not remain the same. Earlier this year, for example, Ms. Ponzi was hired to investigate a satanic cult in England that had lured into its ranks the son of a wealthy European executive. At first, the young man's father wanted to find out why his heir had joined the group and if he was in danger. The reason, of course, was a dame. Moreover, Ms. Ponzi discovered a group of nefarious characters had planted the lady in bed with the young man for the sole purpose of harvesting information about his powerful father and intelligence on how he managed the corporation. "What at first appears to be a relatively simple matter for our level of clients has a way of turning into a complex fiscal investigation," Ms. Ponzi explains. "I'm sure my job is more pragmatic, and certainly more adventurous, than what you see in the movie house."

For Neanderthals, life was a meaty problem

WASHINGTON, June 12 (Reuters) - Neanderthals feasted on meat, meat and more meat, researchers said on Monday in a report that adds to a growing body of evidence that they were skilled hunters and not the grunting, witless cave men they are often portrayed as. Chemical analysis of bones found in caves in Croatia showed Neanderthals ate a diet similar to that of wolves and lions, and probably hunted woolly mammoths, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Our findings provide conclusive proof that European Neanderthals were top-level carnivores who lived on a diet of mainly hunted animal meat," Fred Smith, chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Northern Illinois University, said in a statement. Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, said the findings will help settle the debate about just how advanced the Neanderthals, whose skeletal remains were first found in Germany's Neander Valley, were.

"It is becoming clear that Neanderthals were not randomly wandering around the landscape, stumbling on an animal they could kill or a carcass they could scavenge," Trinkaus, who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview. The researchers analyzed the 29,000-year-old bones looking for variants, or isotopes, of nitrogen. These isotopes preserved in mammal bone collagen can reveal whether an animal had been consuming primarily animals or plants during the last several years of its life. The verdict was clear -- these two Neanderthals, found in Vindija Cave near the Croatian capital Zagreb, ate a lot of meat, Trinkaus said. "With a diet dominated by animal protein, the Neanderthals must have been effective predators," he said. "This implies a much higher degree of social organization and behavioral complexity than is frequently attributed to the Neanderthals." Trinkaus said the new evidence adds to an evolving picture that scientists have of Neanderthals. Just a few years ago they were thought to be primitive offshoots of the pre-human line, who were well-adapted to cold Ice Age conditions but who died out as a species. Anthropologists have since found that Neanderthals lived side-by-side with modern humans as recently as 24,000 years ago, that they made and wore jewelry, had fairly sophisticated tools and weapons and, perhaps most controversially, may have interbred with modern Homo sapiens. "In terms of their ability to produce art and complex burials, the differences between them and early modern humans are becoming smaller and smaller," Trinkaus said. "There's no reason to believe Neanderthals were any less efficient exploiters of the environment than modern humans," Smith added.

Nonetheless, life for them was nasty, brutish and short. "We see a lot of trauma, a lot of developmental lesions, a lot of low life expectancy," he said. Trinkaus said if Neanderthals ate a lot of meat, they would have had to hunt, because they could not have survived by scavenging meat alone. "The only committed scavengers are birds," he said. "If you are walking around, the time and energy it takes to find (carcasses) is too great for what you get. And carnivores protect their kills. Humans would become one more prey animal for the large carnivores. It's an unpredictable and risky business." Trinkaus said the diet would have been unhealthful by today's standards, but the Neanderthals were trying to survive in a cold climate where not a lot of plant food was available. "If you have low life expectancy and you are very physically active, you don't worry about cholesterol," he said. "In fact you want cholesterol. And they weren't just eating steaks off these animals -- they were eating everything that was edible. They were smashing up the skulls and eating brains. They were eating tongues."

Thai massage parlours score with Euro 2000 colours

BANGKOK, June 14 (Reuters) - Thai masseuses have donned uniforms of their favourite European soccer teams to lure clients during the Euro 2000 football championships. Millions of fans in soccer-mad Thailand have stayed up late to watch the matches and massage parlours were worried they would lose business during the June 10-July 2 tournament. Most of the matches are broadcast in the middle of the night in Thailand, which is seven hours ahead of GMT. So the parlours are showning soccer on karaoke screens in their lounges and massage rooms and have dressed masseuses in European soccer colours to head off the competition. Navarat Entertainment massage parlour in northern Bangkok has draped its walls in European flags and suspended balls from the ceiling and says it has seen a 30 percent increase in clients since it tried the new pitch. "We put on this dress to match the Euro 2000 fever and the customers like it," said Kesorn Boonthichak, 20, wearing a David Beckham Manchester United shirt. "The customers lie on the bench watching TV as I massage them. My goal is to make them happy," she said.

Euro2000 Tournament bad for sex business

ROTTERDAM, June 15 (Reuters) - The Netherlands may be gripped by Euro 2000 fever but the country's prostitutes can't wait for the tournament to end, Dutch news agency ANP reported on Thursday. The European soccer championship has meant customers are either glued to the television, in bars or at the stadiums instead of in brothels, escort clubs and massage parlours. "In our club, footballers and ladies appear to compete against each other, and the men seem to prefer footballers," the manageress of the Kamasutra in Kerkrade said. In Amsterdam's red light district, business was no busier than normal. Mariska Majoor of the Prostitutes Information Centre (PIC) said the influx of supporters had replaced the normal visitors and tourists. "We are seeing many people wearing the shirts of their country," she said, adding most were British -- not the most popular nation among prostitutes. "They are a either a pain in the backside or too drunk to perform," Majoor said. For the window sex trade in The Hague, Euro 2000 is a "heavy blow," a spokesman for the town's brothel keepers said. "It's enormously quiet during the matches. After that, customers begin to drift in, but then we have to close. The spokesman said around half of The Hague's prostitutes had moved their business to the towns where Euro 2000 matches are taking place. Others worked only in the afternoons or had been forced to take a holiday during the three-week tournament.

Bangkok police threaten red card for Euro 2000 topless show

BANGKOK, June 21 (AFP) - Bangkok police angered by a nightclub show featuring topless women that cashed in on Euro 2000 fever have threatened to close down unlicensed venues that stage nude dancing, reports said Wednesday. The crackdown on the city's notorious red light district came after one night spot staged a show celebrating the soccer championship, parading women who sported the teams' names written on their chests in whipped cream. They also featured the times of the kick-offs and carried the national flags of the teams competing in the tournament which has taken Thailand by storm. Police Major General Wongkot Maneerin said he had sent notices to unlicensed entertainment venues that were staging risque shows. He ordered the dancers to cover up or the nightclubs and bars would face "immediate closure", the Bangkok Post and The Nation newspapers reported. He said the soccer revue was obscene and illegal and could not be performed in an ordinary entertainment venue. Any police officer found involved would face disciplinary action. Foreign tourists flock to the hundreds of go-go bars in Bangkok that feature nude dancers.

Dame Edna's gladioli toss lands in court

MELBOURNE, May 25 (Reuters) - Australia's "housewife turned superstar" Dame Edna Everage may have to think twice before showering the audience with gladioli as a finale to her show. Melbourne law firm Maurice Blackburn Cashman said on Thursday one of its clients was taking legal action after being hit in the eye by the stem of one of the large flowers thrown by Dame Edna, who is played by Australian Barry Humphries. It said 49-year-old singing teacher Gary May was sueing Duet Entertainments Pty Ltd, the company which organised a performance by Humphries in his home town of Melbourne last year. "As the show came to a close Dame Edna was tossing gladioli into the crowd and unfortunately one of the gladioli which travelled a fair distance struck our client in the left eye," Maurice Blackburn Cashman partner Eugene Arocca told Reuters. Arocca said his client, who was taken to hospital after the incident, received a temporary eye injury and would be seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering, loss of income and medical expenses. A pre-hearing of the case is set for June 29 at the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Fake badges bypass U.S. government security

WASHINGTON, May 25 (Reuters) - Investigators flashing fake law enforcement badges and declaring they were armed bypassed security measures and entered Justice Department, Pentagon, CIA, FBI, and State Department headquarters, the General Accounting Office said on Thursday. The GAO, which conducts investigations for Congress, was told to acquire fictitious law enforcement badges publicly available on the Internet and elsewhere and try to gain access to secure facilities in a way in which weapons, explosives, chemical and biological agents and listening devices could be taken inside. The House Judiciary crime subcommittee wanted to test how readily available was such identification which could be used by criminals, terrorists and foreign intelligence agents.

The undercover investigators tried to get into 19 federal buildings and two airports -- Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington and Orlando International Airport in Florida. They succeeded entering all sites, 18 on the first attempt and three on the second try. They were waved around metal detectors, their bag was not searched and in some instances they were allowed to keep their purported weapons. "At no time during the undercover visits were our agents' bogus credentials or badges challenged by anyone," Robert Hast, GAO assistant comptroller general for investigations, testified to the subcommittee on Thursday. Badges used included a movie prop of a police badge, a counterfeit federal badge and a fake drug task force badge. The investigators used commercially available software to create the identification that bore no resemblance to any genuine credentials, he said. "At the 21 sites that our undercover agent successfully penetrated they could have carried in weapons, listening devices, explosives, chemical/biological agents," Hast said.

The State Department has been under fire recently for security lapses that included a missing laptop computer containing highly sensitive information and the discovery of a Russian eavesdropping device in a conference room. State security is proposing expanding the security perimeter so people are checked before entering the building, which could lead to street closures, a State official said. GAO investigators entered the suite of the head of the Pentagon and the Justice Department, got near the chief's suite at the State Department and the FBI, but not at CIA, the GAO said. The Justice Department turned the investigators away the first time, but the second time allowed them to enter and park a rented minivan in the courtyard. Attorney General Janet Reno, asked whether they got into her office, said: "I understood they stood at the doorway there and looked at the conference room." A Justice Department official said now local law enforcement officers visiting the building must be escorted, store their firearms in a vault near the entrance, go through a magnetometer and there would no longer be visitor parking.

The Pentagon said it was implementing changes that would not allow law enforcement officials, including FBI agents, to enter unescorted and they would need to have an appointment. Guns would be required to be checked at the entrance. At the State Department the investigators posed as New York Police Department detectives to arrange a meeting with an official on the seventh floor where Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's office is located. They spent 15 minutes unescorted on the floor but failed to access secure rooms. They were allowed to return to the lobby unaccompanied which State officials called "a mistake." The CIA said it was reminding employees about procedures already in place for unannounced visitors. "Several GAO officials were escorted by armed CIA security personnel to our gift shop and Cold War exhibit on the first floor of our headquarters building," CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said. "At no time did they get anywhere near classified information or the offices of senior officials," he said. "They were turned away once and came back a second day and the security guys at the gate checked with some folks and agreed out of brotherly support for fellow police officers to let them go to the gift shop, but they were under armed escort at all times," Harlow said.

Congressmen noted that the investigators, former secret service agents, looked like law enforcement officers and that probably helped them gain entrance. "You guys look like cops, you walk the walk, you bear yourselves that way. How hard would it be for John Q. Public to get into one of these buildings carrying a badge and credentials like you did?" Rep. Bill McCollum, a Florida Republican who chaired the hearing asked. "I think it would be difficult for the average person to carry this off, but I think a trained intelligence officer, a terrorist, someone who had training would be able to do that," Hast said.

Tired of Internet porn, try Iowa corn

CHICAGO, May 26 (Reuters) - Tired of bare-it-all Internet porn? Consider Internet corn. Only in Iowa, where corn is the top crop, would someone flash pictures of a cornfield across the Internet. The developers of CornCam are serious that their venture has educational, if not entertainment, value. They encourage viewers to: "Count the ears in this Iowa cornfield", "Cheer as the mighty cornstalks battle wind, hail and rainstorms", and "Bring your friends back to see the plants reach for the sky." Developed by Iowa Farmer Today magazine and financed by Garst Seed Company, the CornCam automatically snaps and transmits to the Internet still pictures of a corn field owned by Jim and Sharon Grief in east central Iowa. The CornCam can be reached at "" or through the Garst site at "". The site's purpose is to educate viewers on the various stages of corn growth. The corn field was planted in late April and will be harvested next fall. There will be action: "During the damp days in June that corn can grow 1-1/2 inches (3.8 cm) a day," said Jeff Lacina, spokesman for Garst Seed Company. Also, drama: "We are predicted for a severe drought this year. That corn may not make it past July 4," he added. Stay tuned.

British rail user "injured" 49 times in one year

LONDON, May 26 (Reuters) - A single traveller claimed to have been injured 49 times on Britain's rail network during the last year, a rail industry safety report said on Friday. The man, who has not been named, accounted for 10 percent of all the injuries -- excluding train collisions -- reported on British railways during 1999/2000, the report said. "The injuries were reported at stations throughout the rail network, from Penzance to Edinburgh, sometimes twice in one day," said a spokesman for Railtrack , which compiled the report on behalf of the rail industry. "It was almost always the same reason, a shoulder dislocation." The man responsible for the reports had not made any claims for compensation, Railtrack said. His "injuries" would be removed from future industry safety statistics, the spokesman added.

Madrid mountains are sexy like Naomi, says book

MADRID, May 31 (Reuters) - Spain's Socialists have called for the withdrawal of a government-financed travel guide which compares the appeal of Madrid's mountains with that of the loins of British supermodel Naomi Campbell, newspaper El Pais reported on Wednesday. "With mountains the same thing happens as does with women, that the desire they provoke is inversely proportional to the number of times you've got on top of them," one of the chapters in the book was quoted as saying. Another section of the book describes one mountain as "black, svelte...hard and slippy, like Naomi Campbell's loins." Socialist politician Oscar Iglesias said the book was "a clear example of what the Popular Party thinks," El Pais reported. A government official said the book had been printed by mistake and had been withdrawn from sale.

Swiss "Hollywood insider" made up star interviews

LOS ANGELES, June 1 (Reuters) - Journalist Tom Kummer seemed to have a magic touch with celebrities. In a series of intimate interviews, the Hollywood-based Swiss writer cozied up to Hollywood's high and mighty, revealing their secret obsessions and private insecurities. Sharon Stone described her sexual fantasies. Courtney Love revealed how she felt "depressed, empty and stupid." Brad Pitt discussed his sloppy grooming habits, admitting that "sometimes something will be hanging out of my nose... for days." Readers in Germany, Switzerland and Scotland may have wondered how Kummer managed to elicit such private material from normally guarded public figures. Now they have their answer: He made it up.

In a scandal that has rocked the readerships of some of Europe's biggest publications over the last week, dozens of celebrity interviews penned by Kummer have been revealed as works of fiction. In Munich, where his interviews were featured as cover stories in a weekly magazine published by the city's respected daily newspaper, the Suddeutsche Zeitung, two editors were fired for their part in publishing the bogus exposes. "The management felt obliged to take this step in the light of the escalation of events in the past few days," the paper said reporting the departure of SZ-Magazin chief Christian Kaemmerling and its editor Ulf Poschardt. On Saturday, editors at the Suddeutsche Zeitung devoted two pages to an apology and explanation of how Kummer had filed the fabricated stories over the past two years. But the Franfurter Allgemeine Zeitung saw a bright side to Kummer's simply making it up: "If he writes down what the stars actually said, he's just making life more tedious than it is already. If he writes down what people really want to tread, he has to tell lies."

Kummer himself was defiant, calling his work "conceptual art" in a letter to his editors. "It's all about entertainment and you know it ... May the force be with me!" In an interview with a Swiss newspaper, he added: "Only in Switzerland, people still think that they (interviews) have to be true word for word." In addition to his work for the Munich newspaper, Kummer contributed celebrity interviews to Das Magazin in Switzerland and The Big Issue in Scotland, as well as writing a book about his brushes with the stars and a biography of Sharon Stone. Stone's publicist said Wednesday that the actress has never even met Kummer. She described his question-and-answer interview -- in which Stone describes her homosexual fantasies and says "men will always remain pigs" -- as "complete fabrication." The story of the deception came to light over the last few months as other foreign correspondents in Hollywood began to inquire about Kummer's extraordinary access to the stars.

Holger Hoetzel, West Coast bureau chief for the Hubert Burda Media company, which publishes Focus Magazine, says he and some reporter friends began wondering about Kummer's credibility after reading a bizarre interview with Courtney Love. The rocker and actress was credited with such nonsensical remarks as "Minotauruses are eating the genitals of the moon," and "There are seagulls on the Riviera, slurping ice-cooled gin and tonics." "That did it for me," says Hoetzel. "We all know Courtney Love is far out, but this was something else. This woman has been so controlling about all press and all interviews were conducted under extremely restrictive circumstances. And yet this guy seemed to have this incredible access." Hoetzel translated the three-year-old story and sent it to Love's publicist, who confirmed that she had no previous contact with the freelancer. "I was shocked that he got away with this for so long," says publicist Heidi Schaffer. "It's a very strange circumstance that he wasn't caught sooner." Kummer also published accounts of an "extended hunting trip" with Bruce Willis and a up-close exchange with Kim Bassinger, in which she said she kept her romance spicy by giving her husband "transparent underwear." A spokesman for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association said Kummer was not a member and said the scandal would not make much difference to foreign journalists who cover the stars. "In every profession you find a con artist now and then," said spokesman Michael Russell. "This guy wasn't so much an international journalist as a bad journalist."

No relief from that crinkly candy wrapper-report

WASHINGTON, June 2 (Reuters) - Those annoying people who unwrap candies in the theater simply cannot help making noise, researchers said on Friday. No matter how slowly a piece of wrinkled plastic is unwrapped, it will still emit sounds at a distinct frequency, they told a meeting in Atlanta of the Acoustical Society of America. Eric Kramer and colleagues at Simon's Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, said the reason was the creases in that thin little piece of cellophane. "You can check this for yourself," they said in a paper presented to the meeting. They said moving an uncreased sheet of cellophane or Mylar, like that found on a cookie package, would make little or no noise. "Next, crumple the sheet into a ball and smooth it back out," they said. "You should find that a network of sharp creases forms during the compression, and that the sheet will no longer lie flat. Repeat this procedure a few times, to generate additional creases. Now you should find that even a small deformation of the material will produce the familiar rustling sound."

Working with Alexander Lobkovsky, who is now at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, they made digital recordings of the rustling sound produced by heavily creased sheets of Mylar. Small deformations put energy into the sheet, which is stored as elastic potential energy. Each time one of the deformations was manipulated, the energy erupted and the plastic sent out a click, Kramer's team said. "This also explains a fact familiar to anyone troubled by their inability to quietly unwrap candy in a movie theater," they wrote. "You can slow down the frequency of the clicks by decreasing the rate at which you unwrap the candy, but you have no control over click loudness."

Mexico government gets men stripping to win votes

MEXICO CITY, June 5 (Reuters) - Mexico's long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), facing a tough test in July 2 presidential elections, has a secret weapon to win the female vote -- male strippers. The PRI, which has governed Mexico for 71 years, entertained around 150,000 citizens of a poor neighborhood just outside Mexico City one afternoon last week with "The Sexy Boys", weekly magazine Proceso reported on Sunday. The strippers performed for almost two hours, impersonating personalities and super heroes and throwing their clothes in the air in time to music. Against a backdrop of promotional banners for PRI's candidates for president and other political posts, five of them peeled down to white boxer shorts that spelled out "Vote for PRI", Proceso said. "I'm surprised. I've never seen anything like it in a Mexican political campaign," said, Josefina Franzoni, analyst at the Mexican Institute of Political Studies. Women make up 51 percent of the 59 million registered voters for Mexico's election, which pits the PRI against the conservative National Action Party (PAN), running neck-and-neck in opinion polls. The dancers performed in Mexico state, which is currently governed by the PRI and has the highest number of voters, at 7.5 million. "It's great that we can see nude men, but I would like to see more (political) proposals," said Franzoni. PAN's candidate, Vicente Fox, has seen his popularity slip, giving PRI a slim lead due mainly to the female vote, an independent newspaper poll said on Monday. Of 1,542 people surveyed May 27-28 in the nationwide poll, commissioned by the Reforma daily, 38 percent said they supported Fox, down from 40 percent in a May 12-14 Reforma poll. Labastida held steady at 42 percent, with a strong female and rural backing.

Gnaws: Crazed beaver terrorizes Canadian farm

WINNIPEG, June 6 (Reuters) - A Canadian farm woman is still shaking after a crazed beaver attacked her two giant Newfoundland dogs named Bonnie and Billy, pinning them against a fence and savaging them. "It pinned them. I never though beavers were capable of that," Sam Pshyshlak told Reuters from her Manitoba farm 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Winnipeg. "I've lost all respect for beavers. I never would have imagined this from a beaver," she said of the recent incident. She said the beaver "terrorized" her dogs, which weigh nearly 90 kilograms (200 pounds) each. "There was definitely something wrong with it," Pshyshlak said. The thick pelts of beavers were once Canada's main export and the flat-tailed animal has long occupied a place of honor on the country's five-cent coin. Most Canadians see them as cute and industrious but farmers often regard them as a nuisance for the dams they build and the flooding they cause. Pshyshlak said the animal that attacked her dogs weighed about 13.5 kilograms (30 pounds) and tore at Billy's leg and face. "In the shed, the whole floor was pooled with blood," she said. Pshyshlak said conservation authorities said they would try to trap the animal, although she said she hasn't seen hide nor hair of the beaver since the attack occurred.

NY dancer wins $30,000 for botched buttock surgery

NEW YORK, June 12 (Reuters) - A former exotic dancer won $30,000 in a jury verdict on Monday after she sued her Park Avenue plastic surgeon for using breast implants to enhance her buttocks. Mary Gale, 43, of North Miami, Fla., accused Dr. Elliot Jacobs of negligence and malpractice in the November 1990 procedure. Gale said that she suffered mental anguish and physical pain and was no longer able to earn $500 a night dancing in men's clubs. She now works as a bartender. In reaching its verdict, the civil jury in state Supreme Court in Manhattan decided that the doctor departed from "good and accepted medical practice." "I'm glad we won the case. Breast implants belong in the breast area," she said after the verdict. During the trial, Jacobs testified that Gale "knew what she was getting" when she underwent the procedure. He said he charged her $6,500 to put the implants in and another $1,500 to remove them several weeks later. There were no commercially available buttock implants on the market at the time, he said. Gale also testified, weeping as she told the jury how she had been disfigured. "I couldn't dance. I would have looked like a freak show," she said on the witness stand.

Upstate New York farmer "lord of the flies"

NAPLES, N.Y., June 20 (Reuters) - Alfred Hitchcock gave us "The Birds." Irwin Allen gave us "The Swarm." Now Naples, New York is giving us the flies. The upstate town is teeming with thousands and thousands of houseflies that hatched after damp weather combined with hundreds of tons of chicken manure spread on an 18-acre (7-hectare) farm as fertilizer. Officials have declared part of the town of 1,200 people a public health hazard, and some residents have fled their homes. "It's just a horror, a plague. It's biblical," resident Ervin Paulsen told a local television station, NewsSource 13, late on Monday. The flies enter through every crack and crevice and keep people from sleeping, he said. "When you come home from work, your whole life is flies. Taping up windows, taping up doors, taping up chimneys," he said. "Fly swatters, pest strips, vacuuming, cleaning counters. You do fly work until you go to bed." Farmer Mark Adams, who spread the manure, said he was abiding by environmental regulations when he plowed his fields with the fertilizer in late May. Now he says he is offering to pay for a private pest control company to treat the nearby infested homes. Some residents of Naples, located about 40 miles (64 km) south of Rochester, say they are considering legal action against the farmer.

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