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September, 2000

Japan stands defiant as world condemns whaling

TOKYO, Aug 16 (Reuters) - What's wrong with Japanese whaling? Nothing, according to Takao Suzuki, a customer at one of Tokyo's most famous whale restaurants. "This is part of Japanese culture," he said, tucking into a lunch special of fried whale meat and soup at the Kujiraya, or House of Whales, restaurant in the trendy Shibuya area of Tokyo. It may be that very culture that Japan is trying to defend as one of its largest whaling fleets in years sails through the northwestern Pacific in search of whales its people have not tasted since 1988. Japanese eat little whalemeat any more, now that the near-starvation days of the postwar period are barely a memory. Officials say their whaling is not to supply diners with what has now become a scarce, luxury sushi ingredient but to engage in scientific research about a mammal they fear is depleting the seas of smaller fish.

The truth may lie somewhere in between, possibly not with diners or with researchers, but with national pride. Last month, a whaling fleet departed for a Pacific hunt that will take not only the minke whales, hunted without a break even when whales were at their most protected. They will also seek out the larger Bryde's and the huge sperm whale that have been safe from harpoons for years. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) says minke whales are so numerous they are no longer endangered, but debate simmers over the numbers of Bryde's and sperm whales. Both Britain and the United States blasted the expanded hunt, with Bill Clinton and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair sending letters of protest to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. Washington has even threatened trade sanctions. A decision is likely in September, after the fleet returns with its catch.

Although many reasons lie behind the research, one goal is to see what, and how much, whales eat, said Joji Morishita, deputy director of the far seas division at the Fisheries Agency. "There is evidence that minke whales, for example, take more of some kinds of fish than the fishermen," he said, reflecting similar arguments from other pro-whaling nations, like Iceland. Japan gave up commercial whaling in compliance with an international moratorium that took effect in 1986 but has conducted what it calls scientific research whaling since 1987. Last year, it took more than 500 whales. The 3,000-4,000 metric tonnes of whale meat sold in Japan annually are a by-product of these research missions. A minke weighs around 10 tonnes and a sperm whale can weigh as much as 57 tonnes. "To use the resources of the ocean efficiently, you need to know what is being eaten by other predators," said Konomu Kubo at the Japan Whaling Association.

However, environmental groups question this. "Fishermen always like to blame something else," said Cassandra Phillips, Coordinator for Whales at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). "Whether it's seals or whales. When actually it's their own big ships that don't leave any fish to catch." "This whole thing must be seen from the larger perspective of imposing another set of values on a culture," said Morishita of the Fisheries Agency. "Beef is sacred to many people in India, yet they don't ask the United States to stop eating beef," he said. "This is the way we view whaling." Much ire is directed at Japan while the world's other leading whaling nation, Norway, takes more whales and openly engages in commercial whaling and yet encounters less outrage, he said.

At least part of Japan's wish to go whaling is cultural -- a reflection of a general aversion to change, acknowledged Phillips of the WWF. "It seems to take people a lot of time to realise that things may no longer fit the modern world," she said. Japan must also be anxious that if it gives in on whaling it could be setting itself up for an endless list of similar demands on one of the world's biggest fish-eating nations. Tuna -- without which no sushi dinner is complete -- has already become a target. An international court just this month rejected a plea by Australia and New Zealand that Japan halt its research fishing of southern bluefish tuna. The two had argued that Japan was violating an international fisheries convention. "Whaling isn't only about whaling," said Kubo at the Whaling Association. "If one species is set aside as such a very special thing, then they'll set aside another, and another, until there's no end. What will be next?" Phillips said Japan was exaggerating. "Nobody is going to ask Japan to stop fishing. But fishing must be sustainable -- which fishermen should understand."

In fact, whale is far from being a staple in Japan. Most older Japanese remember eating whale in their primary school lunches. It was fried, boiled or smoked for whale bacon. But a more diverse diet, dwindling stocks and skyrocketing prices have made it a gourmet food. A set lunch at Kujiraya will set a diner back 1,000-2,000 yen ($10-$20) while the deluxe "Antarctic" dinner costs 8,000 yen. At Kujiraya, whale is fried, stewed, grilled in steaks and served raw. The blubber, boiled until it turns white and crinkly, is eaten with a dressing of chopped pickled plums. Connoisseurs say fried whale is tender with a strong flavour a little like beef, but with a slight fishy aftertaste. Apart from the yen factor, another reason that fewer Japanese are eating whale may be a generation shift in taste. Hiroyasu Ono, a Kujiraya diner, said he had brought his 10-year-old daughter in for her first taste of whale. "She said it tasted bad," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, they can give up whaling and I won't complain. After all, we've now got beef and pork. We don't really have to eat it any more."

Crime Scene Cleaners carve out a gory niche

RICHMOND, Calif. (Reuters) - So, you've got brains splattered all over the kitchen, a decomposing corpse moldering on your sofa, a trail of bloody footprints leading down to the basement -- and dinner guests due in an hour. Who are you going to call? Well, the cops, obviously. But after they are finished, Neal Smithers hopes you will call him, so his team of Crime Scene Cleaners can get to work. "We're the ones who can get it done," Smithers said in an interview. "That stuff doesn't bother me." His 4-year-old company, based in the San Francisco Bay area, has taken a hard-sell marketing approach to one of the most gruesome areas of human endeavor: mopping up the blood, guts and gore left behind by horrific crimes and macabre misadventures. Heads blown off with shotguns, slit wrists or drug overdoses in the bathtub, forgotten bodies: All just stock in trade for Crime Scene Cleaners, which proudly boasts that it specializes in "the cleanup of homicide, suicide and accidental death." "Look, if you come home and find that grandma's been rotting on the floor for a month, you've got a problem," Smithers said over a hearty lunch of eggs and hash browns. "But for us, it's straight manual labor."

At first glance, Smithers, 33, seems an unlikely man to fill what many people would regard as one of the most harrowing jobs imaginable. Compact, athletic and hailing originally from the sunny California surf town of Santa Cruz, he looks like he would be more at home catching waves than bagging bodies. But between drags of a cigarette, he lets slip a darker -- or at least more pragmatic -- world view. "People are dirtbags, face it," he said, shaking his head. "You would not believe some of the stuff we see out there." His hard-boiled persona is no accident. A former banker who once considered becoming a mortician, he hit on the idea for Crime Scene Cleaners after watching 1994 movie "Pulp Fiction" and its blood-drenched scene in which a clean-up man is brought in to mop up after someone's head is shot to pieces in a car. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, that's pretty killer,'" Smithers said. "I thought that was something I could do, and something I could make money at." He did his research, contacted police and fire agencies, and set up shop. His first job was a cancer victim who killed herself with a gun after her disease came out of remission. "I scrubbed it down, dumped the load, and got paid," Smithers said proudly. He has never looked back.

Crime Scene Cleaners, Inc. is now a growing operation. Along with three full-time staffers at the northern California home office, the company is expanding with franchises or branch offices in Texas, Utah, Nevada, Kansas, and Oregon. Equipped with full body protective suits, breathing gear and an arsenal of cleaning equipment, the Crime Scene Cleaner team has also benefited from a California state law that forbids the cleanup of bodily fluids by anyone who has not been licensed by the state -- forcing hotel chains, restaurants, supermarkets and other businesses to turn to companies like Smithers' to deal with everything from minor accidents to major bloodbaths. Charging anywhere from a couple of hundred to several thousand dollars, "for really messy work," Smithers estimated that nationwide the firm would rack up almost $750,000 in sales this year, and that number could top $1 million by 2002. "I'm in this to make money. I make no bones about it," he said. "I want to be the blood powerhouse of the nation. Either I will win or I will go broke trying."

Like almost all businesses, Smithers' grisly empire will be built one job at a time. And to hear the Crime Scene team tell it, they have already been hit with pretty much the worst death and decay the world has to offer. "I try to look at it just like a job," said Matt Jones, 22, a beefy former roofer who joined about six months ago. "I'm there to do a job for people who can't do it themselves ... but I don't like looking at bodies. I'm not a body man." There are, however, bodies aplenty. From the Heaven's Gate mass suicide cult mansion to local random shooting sites, Crime Scene Cleaners has been called in to cope not only with actual crime scenes but also with places just too filthy -- or horrible -- for normal clean-up work. There are cheap hotel rooms that have been transformed into temporary methamphetamine production labs, filled with dangerous chemicals. There are "garbage houses" where loners dig in amid piles of paper, excrement and garbage and packs of feral cats. There was the dead whale that washed up in a local estuary, and the boy who plunged 200 feet (66 metres) off an amusement park ride, landing head first. And then there are the "de-comps" -- decomposing bodies of people who die alone and rot for days or weeks before they are discovered. "The worst? De-comp on a water bed. No question," Smithers said. Because the beds are usually heated and covered in plastic or rubber, they make for an exceptionally wretched day at Crime Scene Cleaners. "The bodies just turn into these gelatinous piles of maggots," he said with a shudder, his business-like bravado faltering just a tiny bit. "OK, I don't like maggots. Maggots bother me. I can't stand them."

On call 24-hours a day and pledged to respond within two hours of a service request, Crime Scene Cleaners is a tough business in more ways than one. But for Smithers, it's a niche that promises plenty of room for expansion, and he pushes it constantly by seeking new corporate contracts, promoting news coverage and handing out free Crime Scene T-shirts. "We trade on public fear. None of our competitors was marketing it that way," he said. The Crime Scene team buys into few of those fears, calmly discussing tactics for scraping up dried human brain or "bombing" bloody carpets with disinfectant. But Smithers did admit that his day job -- the stuff of many people's nightmares -- had left him with one new phobia. "I am definitely being cremated, if I have time to plan it," he said. "I don't want some company like mine coming in to clean me up when I'm just a dark stain on some mattress."

One man's meat was a neighbor in U.S. southwest

WASHINGTON, Sept 6 (Reuters) - It's official -- early Americans practiced cannibalism, at least at one site in the U.S. Southwest, researchers said on Wednesday. Cut-up bones and human blood found in cooking pots had long suggested that someone cooked seven people at an Anasazi site in southwest Colorado, but tests of human feces found at the site prove that someone ate them, according to Richard Marlar of the University of Colorado and colleagues. The site, which seems to have been abandoned suddenly around 1150 A.D., has long intrigued scientists and provoked lengthy and often heated debate about what happened there. "Several lines of evidence indicate that during the abandonment or soon after, the bodies of seven people of both sexes and various ages were disarticulated, defleshed and apparently cooked as if for consumption by other humans," Marlar and colleagues wrote in their report, published in the science journal Nature. "Here we show consumption of human flesh did occur as demonstrated in preserved human waste containing identifiable human tissue remains," they wrote.

That someone was cut up and cooked is not in dispute -- the bones were clearly butchered and human blood was found in cooking pots. But some scientists have argued that this could have been part of a funerary ritual, or perhaps a deliberate act of terrorism by a small group of people aimed at scaring others away. Something bad certainly seems to have happened at the settlement, one of many abandoned by people now known as the Anasazi, which means "ancient enemy" in Navajo. The Anasazi mysteriously disappeared, but are believed to have been the ancestors of the modern-day Hopi and Zuni people, the so-called Pueblo Indians who built complex settlements. Usually, Native Americans carefully cleaned up before they left a village or settlement, collecting valuables, stripping logs and roofing, and then often torching what was left. Not at Cowboy Wash, Colorado. There, cooking pots were left behind, as were tools, ornaments and construction materials. And, scattered among them were human bones that had been cut up, cracked open and burned. Perhaps left as one last insult was a lump of human excrement, laid in the ashy hearth.

It was this single turd -- a coprolite in scientific terminology -- that provided the proof. Marlar's team needed solid evidence that the men, women and children whose bones were found had been eaten. So Marlar's team looked for myoglobin, a human protein, in the feces -- and they found it. "Human myoglobin should only be present in fecal material if it is consumed and passed through the digestive system by the depositor of the feces," the team wrote. The finding is certain to be controversial. "Fur is probably going to fly over this," said Tim White, an anthropologist at the University of California Berkeley who has studied early humans and who found evidence last year that some Neanderthals practiced cannibalism. Cannibalism was used by many as an excuse to justify "civilizing" native cultures -- or for wiping them out. Accusing early Native Americans of a practice so abhorrent to so many societies will not be popular.

But anthropologist Christy Turner of Arizona State University has studied many southwestern sites where human bones appear to have been butchered. He describes evidence of cannibalism at 38 sites in his book "Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest." White thinks the evidence is pretty clear. "Some of the long bones (such as leg bones) at these sites don't have any ends to them at all," White said in a telephone interview. That, he said, suggests they were processed to get the grease out -- something people commonly do with animal bones. Why would anyone do that? "They were hungry," he answered.

Flight attendant tells all in musical revue

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ah, the glamorous life of a flight attendant. Traveling the world. Meeting new people. Offering them headphones. Picking up their trash. It's enough to drive you to drink -- or to write a musical comedy. So flight attendant Rene Foss wrote and performs in "Around the World in a Bad Mood," a musical revue that tells the real story of air travel -- from behind the food cart. The show takes a look inside WAFTI (We Apologize For This Inconvenience) Airlines, which at the start has "hired one more ticket agent, just to keep things moving quickly." The airline does not offer magazines but has pamphlets entitled "How to Deal With Your Anger in a Positive, Non-Violent Way." If you believe Foss' opening monologue, the idea for the show came during a bender in Flint, Michigan, because "what else is there to do for 54 hours in downtown Flint but think about your pain?" The show is full of insider secrets such as the two words air travel professionals dread most ("summer sale") and what flight attendants really mean when they say "I'll be right back." (Use your own imagination here.)

Foss, 38, went into the business 16 years ago despite theatrical ambitions, convinced by her parents to find a job with benefits. She wrote the show three years ago to correct the common misimpression "that flight attendants are merely waitresses in the sky." The show is running during September and October at Rose's Turn in New York's Greenwich Village, performed by Foss, one other flight attendant and several professional actors. Foss still flies, but only on weekends. "Sometimes I step outside myself and just observe and I'll see myself walking down the airplane aisle and literally picking up trash and saying 'Thank you' -- thanks for that trash!" she said in an interview. But, she said, "It kind of gets in your blood. It's a lifestyle. It's very hard to quit because you have a very flexible schedule and you don't work with the same people every day, you meet different people and go to different places. "If you're kind of a free spirit like I am that's very appealing. But at the same time a lot of the tasks associated with it are less than glamorous." A lot has changed since Foss' mother started her career as a flight attendant in 1951, when they were almost all women and were known as stewardesses or hostesses.

In her mother's day, Foss says, flight attendants served Lobster Thermidor and practiced the art of polite conversation to better serve their elite clients. Now they train to defend against air rage, put handcuffs on unruly passengers and use heart defibrillators. And of course, in her mother's day, stewardesses were forced to wear girdles, had weight checks and had to quit when they got married or turned 32, whichever came first. "It's interesting to see how times have changed," Foss said. Between when her mother left the job in 1959 and when Foss started at Northwest Airlines in 1985, airlines were deregulated, leading to sweeping changes including a lowering of ticket prices and a greater number of travelers. Asked whether she would recommend the job to someone just starting out, Foss hesitated. "I think it's a really great entree into travel. You certainly travel and you see the world. There is definitely a personality type for the job. Some people should stay away from it altogether for their sanity."

Now people seem to have a love/hate relationship with air travel, she said. "Air travel has this hangover from the '50s and '60s where it was really glamorous and sort of elitist. Not anyone could just buy a ticket on for 60 bucks. You had to plan it, you dressed up and it was a big occasion. The reality is a lot different from what we have in our minds." Foss defends the role of the flight attendant, despite the trash and air rage. "There's a kind of dignity associated with serving. Sometimes a little old lady is traveling alone and needs some help," she said. "Even though we don't have much control over when the flights leave or what kind of food is served, people see us as the airline. We're the face."

Brain injury gives hand a mind of its own

LONDON, Sept 7 (Reuters) - A rare, poorly understood and often misdiagnosed brain injury is causing sufferers to lose control of a hand so it behaves as if it has a mind of its own, an Italian scientist said on Thursday. Dubbed the "Dr Strangelove Syndrome" after the character created by the late comedian Peter Sellers in the film of the same name, anarchic hand sufferers have one hand that performs against their will. "This is a bizarre symptom," Professor Sergio Della Sala, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, told the British Association for the Advancement of Science festival. "There are patients with lesions in the frontal lobes of the brain who have one hand that behaves in capricious ways. So one hand performs actions that the patient does not want to perform." Because they cannot control what one hand will do, the two hands often end up fighting with each other much like Sellers' Dr Strangelove character. In the 1964 black comedy the wheelchair-bound scientist's hand kept attacking him and going into a Nazi salute which he continually tried to stop with his other hand. "The patients are exactly like Peter Sellers. They come and they slam their hand and they shout: 'my hand does things that I don't want to do,'" Della Sala told a news conference.

One patient he treated arrived with the anarchic hand tied behind her back because she was afraid of what it would do. Another patient had difficulty eating a fish meal because the anarchic hand kept putting leftover fish bones back into her mouth. "The phenomenon greatly distresses sufferers and disrupts their daily life," he said, adding that it is so grotesque it often borders on the comic. Only 40 cases of the syndrome have been recorded in medical literature, with the first reported in Germany in 1909. Della Sala believes it has occurred more frequently but that sufferers were misdiagnosed and treated for psychiatric problems. The condition is caused by damage to the supplementary motor areas of brain which can occur during an accident, injury or stroke. It can happen to anyone and to either hand. One case of anarchic foot has also been documented, according to Della Sala.

Tour organisers fear prostitutes may disrupt time trial

MADRID, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Organisers of the Tour of Spain are concerned prostitutes on the route of the final stage in Madrid could disrupt the finish, according to a report in Spanish newspaper El Pais on Friday. The Tour is due to end with a 38-km individual time trial around Madrid on 17 September, with the route involving a circuit of the city's biggest park, the Casa de Campo. It is here on the roads that criss-cross the park that several hundred prostitutes ply their trade. Madrid's local authorities and Unipublic, the organisers of the Tour, are concerned about the image of the city that could be projected by large numbers of prostitutes lining the route. "They could upset the concentration of the competitors and give a negative image of Madrid as the race will be televised all over Spain," a municipal spokesman told El Pais. A spokesman from Unipublic confirmed the organisers' concerns. "Seeing prostitutes along the length of the route isn't exactly showing the best side of Madrid, especially if they aren't wearing many clothes." The prostitutes said they believed that there would be little disruption to the event. "In any case at the time of day when the race is going to be held there aren't many clients," one prostitute told the paper.

Real fight for director's chair in Russia

YEKATERINBURG, Russia, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Authorities in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg stepped in to defuse a conflict on Thursday at a chemicals factory where two men had fought for control of the director's chair -- literally. Russian television showed footage of Wednesday's fighting, in which two rival groups of shareholders punched, shoved and sprayed a fire extinguisher at each other at the Uralkhimmash factory. One group of shareholders was shown hacking through the door of the director's office with an axe, only to be repulsed by a blast of white gas sprayed from the fire extinguisher. Later, two men struggled to occupy the leather seat behind the director's desk. Yekaterinburg mayor Arkady Chernetsky chaired arbritration talks between the two sides on Thursday after police broke up the fight. A spokesman for the mayor told Reuters both groups controlled around 40 percent of the firm's shares. Violent conflicts between rival groups seeking to control factories are relatively common in Russia, where ownership laws are hazy and the fruits of post-Soviet privatisations are jealously fought over. Two rival directors set up camp at Moscow's Kristall vodka factory last month, each supported by gun-toting security guards. One controls the main plant, while the other has seized the neighbouring administrative buildings.

Need to store cocaine? try Venezuela's Central Bank

CARACAS, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Drug-trafficking in some Latin American countries knows no limits. On Thursday it reached Venezuela's Central Bank. The bank's cavernous vaults received an unusual deposit: 290 pounds (130 kilos) of pure cocaine. But it was all legitimate. The Public Prosecutor's office asked the Central Bank to help store the drugs for a while because police had run out of space following record hauls of narcotics this year in the South American country. Seized illicit drugs in Venezuela by law cannot be destroyed until an investigation is carried out. "We hope it (the cocaine) stays there no more than a month," said Javier Carrera, anti-narcotics director at the Public Prosecutor's office. "Anti-narcotics police have storage areas but they're completely full, there is even drugs in the director's office," he added. Venezuela has become in recent years a major smuggling route for cocaine from the world's largest producer, neighboring Colombia, to markets in the United States and Europe. A record 17 tons of drugs have been seized so far this year, 70 percent more than during the whole of 1999, including 8.2 tonnes confiscated last month in a billion-dollar international bust, the country's largest-ever haul.

Chocolates and porno greet Dubai students

DUBAI, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Parents anticipating an innocent cartoon show to help nudge their children back to school were up for a big shock. Newspapers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reported on Sunday that instead of the cartoons, videocassettes tucked inside promotional chocolate boxes offered by a popular retail store contained pornographic scenes. "After we enjoyed the chocolate, my children sat down to watch the video. But instead of the cartoon show, it was a disaster," wrote Khamis Mohammed al-Suweidi in an open letter published in the semi-official al-Ittihad newspaper. The embarrassed father said he rushed to turn off the videocassette recorder when he realised it was showing "obscene scenes that encouraged homosexuality". The newspapers said that Dubai police had seized some 400 cassettes and were investigating.

China police open brothel, crack down to make cash

SHANGHAI, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Police in China's eastern province of Jiangsu found a novel way to fill their pockets with cash: They opened a brothel, arrested the customers and "fined" them. With seed money of 6,000 yuan ($725), Lishui County police substation deputy chief Gao Mingliang set up operations in a brothel disguised as a restaurant in May last year, Shanghai's Xinmin Evening News reported on Monday. Prostitutes would entice their customers into the back rooms. After a while, the police would raid the rooms, arrest the customers, haul them down to the police substation and fine them, it said. "Depending on how much money the police station pulled in, they would issue a performance bonus to the girls," the paper said. Between May and August last year, the bureau racked up more than 80,000 yuan through the scheme. The Lishui County police plan unravelled when a neighbouring police substation arrested the man listed as owning the restaurant and sentenced him to a year in a labour camp for running a brothel, it said. Upset after a year of hard labour, the man sent a petition to high level officials who uncovered Gao's scam, the paper said. Gao later confessed and in September a Nanjing District Court sentenced him to one year in prison for abusing his authority.

Breast implant tax break for Danish massage worker

COPENHAGEN, Sept 19 (Reuters) - A tax appeals board in Denmark has allowed a massage parlour worker to deduct the cost of breast implants, newspapers reported on Tuesday. The board decided that the surgery represented a legitimate investment. Danish corporate tax law says investments to improve or maintain facilities for running a business are tax-deductible. The municipal tax authority had initially rejected the claim.

"Sprints!" "Relays!" and "Marathons!" in Olympic sex tout

SYDNEY, Sept 20 (AFP) - Brothels in Sydney have mounted an Olympic marketing push, touting "Sprints!" "Relays!" and "Marathons!" in a bid to lure customers in town for the games. Sex workers in Sydney, where prostitution is legal, have long been forecasting an Olympic rush and the arrival of the Games prompted an influx of sex workers into Sydney from other parts of Australia and overseas. But while taxi drivers are complaining about a lack of business, in at least some parts of the city, the Olympic sex rush seems actually to have materialised. "In town for the Games? We have Sydney's Winning Team?" one brothel near the Olympic complex offered in an advertisement in tabloid The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday. "Gold Medal Specialists," the ad went on. "Sprints! Relays! Marathons! Hot and Raring to Go!"

The ads for the brothel, which sits a few steps away from a key Olympic railway link, seem to have worked. "We have definitely had a lot of Olympics-related business," "Dee", the brothel's owner, told AFP on Wednesday. "In some way or another they (customers) are all related to the Olympics, whether its volunteers or journalists or drivers." Has she had any athletes looking for a post-competition celebration or a pre-game warmup dropping in? "No," she said. "But we are quite discreet too. We wouldn't give out that information." She has managed to identify one distinguishing characteristic of her Olympic visitors so far. "They're wonderful," she said. "They're very big tippers." Not all of the visitors to the Olympic city have greeted sex workers with open arms though. Security officials launched an investigation last week after three prostitutes slipped into the Olympic media village, touting their business for 500 Australian (275 US) dollars an hour to visiting journalists.

Russian doctors remove live grenade from soldier

MOSCOW, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Russian doctors have operated to remove a live grenade from the leg of a soldier wounded in Chechnya, the armed forces newspaper reported on Wednesday. Doctors and nurses performed the surgery clad in body armour and helmets, and draped flak jackets over the patient, who was hit by a grenade-launcher round in a battle near the southern Chechen town of Urus Martan. The grenade did not explode, but was trapped, still live, in his right leg near the knee, according to accounts in the military's official newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star). "Military doctors had to de-mine Junior Sergeant Andrian Chebodayev," the paper said. The operation was carried out in an open field rather than inside a hospital, so that if the grenade blew up it would be less dangerous for the medical staff. "We silence, understanding each other perfectly," surgeon Yuri Sikorsky told the newspaper. "The de-mining experts warned us the grenade still had one live capsule, which could explode. Physically, the work was not difficult, but the moral responsibility was 100 times greater. We really wanted to save the guy." The surgeons removed the grenade and put it in a metal box for de-mining experts to defuse, the paper said.

US mistakenly counted two animals in tire toll

WASHINGTON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Two animals were mistakenly listed among a revised tally of U.S. traffic fatalities linked to recalled Firestone tires, government officials said on Thursday. The correct number of U.S. human deaths now associated with the tires stands at 101, instead of 103, the upward revision announced on Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson blamed the mistake on "clerical errors" by an employee transcribing data from a two-page accident questionnaire to an agency spreadsheet. "It's now 101," he said of the official toll. But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which says it succeeded in pressuring automakers to stop using animals in crash tests eight years ago, voiced dismay at taking the pets out of the official death tally. "If these animals were in the car they were obviously family members, not groceries," said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. "Death is death, and I think they should keep them in."

Monkeys pelt vehicles with fruit on U.S. highway

WASHINGTON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - A trio of monkeys threw bananas and crabapples at vehicles on the main interstate highway on the U.S. East Coast and were still at large on Friday, a Virginia state police spokeswoman said. The monkeys, described by police as brownish-gray, skinny and between two and three feet (less than a metre) tall, were seen by drivers last Sunday along a stretch of Interstate 95 close to the Virginia-North Carolina border. No one was injured, though several vehicle windows were smeared with fruit. Virginia state trooper Mike Scott was alerted to the renegade primates when he noticed a vehicle on the shoulder of I-95 north of the small town of Jarratt, Virginia, around 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, according to spokeswoman Corinne Geller. He saw what looked like a banana smeared on the rear window and when he approached the car, he found the driver with a cellphone in her hand and a strange expression on her face, Geller said. "You might think I'm crazy, but I think two monkeys threw a banana at my car," the driver told Scott.

Interstate 95, which stretches from Maine to Florida, is known for high-speed truck traffic and lengthy areas of congestion, not for marauding monkeys. The driver said she was a paleontologist who takes pictures of primates and she told Scott, "I'm pretty sure those were monkeys about a mile south of here." Sure enough, a mile (1.6 km) to the south, Scott found two more vehicles pulled to the side of the highway's northbound lanes, and a small crowd looking into the trees along the side. They were searching for the monkeys that hit them. "And just about that time a crabapple comes out of the trees and hits one of the vehicles," Geller said. Scott then saw the three miscreants, before they ran across the interstate. He and another trooper pursued them, as the monkeys swung from tree to tree, she said. But the three split up then and the troopers lost them in the underbrush. Police suspected the monkeys had escaped from vehicles traveling to the Virginia state fair in Richmond, or to a fair across the state line in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, but no one has reported the monkeys missing. "They weren't fierce or anything," Geller said by telephone. "They just seemed to be having fun throwing their fruit."

Bees get a buzz out of alcohol

Metro, 21/9/00 - Bees and humans have plenty in common - they both have a complex social structure, language and division of labour. Now scientists have found another link - they both like a drink. Researchers in the US and at the University of Hertfordshire have found the insects happily consume solutions containing ethanol. "We can even get them to drink pure ethanol and I know of no organism that drinks pure ethanol, not even a college student," said one researcher, psychologist Charles Abramson. The bees are trained to come to a third-floor window to drink and are marked for observation before buzzing away. The tests have shown alcohol impairs a bee's movement and learning ability, just as it does in people. The researchers will carry out further tests to see if bees can be used in trials on drugs to treat alcoholism.

Cor, lover duck, you're enormous

Metro, 20/9/00 - For years, naturalists puzzled over the mating rituals of the male ruddy duck. What, they wondered, was the secret of its amazing track record with females, not only from its own species, but alsowith larger, white-headed ducks. Yesterday, it emerged that size is the key factor in feather friendships and the adult male ruddy duck has an 8in penis, the same size as an ostrich's. Ornithologist Chris Mead said their penises were about half their body length. He added: "White-headed females prefer smaller, male ruddy ducks because they have bigger penises in relation to their body size than male white-headed ducks. Size is important for these female ducks. White-headed ducks are in danger of becoming a hybrid species."

Italian kills 23 in bare-handed mosquito frenzy

VALLE LOMELLINA, Italy, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Christian Rizatto has won a gold medal for mass murder. In a 15-minute frenzy, and using only his bare hands, the 24-year-old slaughtered 23 mosquitoes, in the process crowning himself Italian, and possibly world, champion mosquito killer. "It was tough," he said after his exertions on Saturday night. Twenty male contestants fought it out for the top prize -- a gold medal in the shape of a mosquito. The organiser of the event, barber Simone Accardo, said the slaughter might have been greater if conditions had been better. "It was a bit cold and there weren't that many mosquitoes around," he said, lamenting the fading northern Italian summer.
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