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October, 2000

Dracula relative wants your blood

[Daily Express, London, 16 October 2000] DRACULA wants blood - and he is coming to Britain to get it. The last living member of the legendary vampire's clan hopes to get a job with the blood transfusion service in the UK. It sounds like a line from the Roman Polanski horror spoof Dance Of The Vampires, but according to Dracula it is no laughing matter. The count, alias Ottomar Rudolphe Vlad Dracula, or Prince Kretzulesco to friends, has been forced to flee his castle in a German village after neo-Nazi death threats and arson attacks. The scion of Transylvania's most famous clan, who has already persuaded thousands of Germans to give blood, is now banking on helping British blood donation chiefs, once he convinces them he can offer more than a bite on the neck.

"I could do great things with the British blood service people," he said. "I plan to come over first and do a special event for free, to lend my name to getting people to donate blood to save lives." The 60-year-old prince has lived in the village of Schenkendorf in the state of Brandenburg for six years and has turned his Castle Dracula into a tourist attraction, bringing money to the economically depressed region in former East Germany. But far from the locals counting their blessings, Dracula says he is victimised by people who have tried to set his castle on fire 10 times and daubed swastikas and neo-Nazi slogans on the walls. He believes he may have upset neo-Nazi youths because his ancestors are connected with non-Christian activities. Because of death threats he is packing up. "I am frightened," he said. "I don't feel secure in my own castle, and the grounds, at 160,000 square metres, are simply too big to make secure from people determined to break in. "I have been offered two castles and a monastery in Bavaria and am looking at my options, but I cannot stay here."

The prince, whose family were once rulers of Romania and owners of 11 castles, lost everything under the communists. He made new fortunes, first in the catering and entertainment business and then as an antiques dealer. In recent years Dracula has had to turn his hand to attracting tourists in order to earn enough money to keep the castle running. Castle Dracula is often hired out for exclusive parties and jousting contests. Tourists come to look round and buy souvenirs, including blood-red schnapps and garlic. He was persuaded to take part in collecting blood by the German Red Cross, which decided that Dracula would be the perfect person to bring glamour and attention to the need for donors. Since then parties at Castle Dracula have regularly attracted more than 12,000 guests who make financial as well as blood donations to the last of the Dracula dynasty. Despite their success, the fund-raising activities at the castle - actually an ornate Italian Renaissance-style villa - have sparked numerous complaints about noise. One family even persuaded a court to stop the outdoor parties. "I'm sure Britain would be different," said the prince. "I could work with someone to create another Castle Dracula. Britain has lots of castles and old stately homes which could benefit from being turned into a Dracula home. I am the only person in the world with the name and I am going to use it for good causes."

For now, though, he is heading to Bavaria for a much-needed holiday. He plans to enjoy the local blood sausage and sauerkraut and the only serious drinking will be at local beer festivals.

Bare-breasted poet takes on Calif. loggers

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 18 (Reuters) - She thinks she knows what lumberjacks want. A California performance artist has launched what she hopes will be a new women's movement against logging ancient redwoods -- baring her breasts and reciting poetry to stunned timber crews. "They stop their chainsaws and they stop their trucks and they pay attention," Dona Nieto, who goes by the name "La Tigresa", said Wednesday as she prepared another demonstration. "I've changed some of these guys' lives. But I'd like to change the laws, and I'd like to change history." Since beginning her protests last week, La Tigresa has brought what she calls "Goddess-based, nude Buddhist guerrilla poetry" to a number of timber and logging sites in and around northern Mendocino County -- an area some 120 miles (193 km) north of San Francisco that marks one of the main battlegrounds in the long fight between environmentalists and timber companies.

La Tigresa is not the first protester to develop unusual tactics in the fight to save California's redwoods, ancient giants renowned as the tallest trees in the world. Julia "Butterfly" Hill won international headlines for perching atop a redwood she dubbed "Luna" for two years, a marathon "tree-sit" which in 1999 led to an agreement with the local timber company to preserve the tree. Other environmental activists have undertaken different "tree-sits", while celebrities including singers Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez and actor Woody Harrelson have lent their star power to the environmentalist cause. But La Tigresa has opted for a whole new tactic, confronting logging workers in the forests with little but her poetry and her dedication. "There are very few people who would go into an active logging operation to perform," said Darryl Cherney, a longtime organizer with the EarthFirst! environmental group who has started helping La Tigresa publicize her events. "She's definitely brazen and wild and bit crazy. But she definitely cares about the environment. She's putting her body where her mouth is."

La Tigresa herself says she was spurred into action after being awakened by chainsaws early one morning as loggers went to work on a nearby parcel of land recently acquired from an elderly retiree. "This is a country under siege," she said. So she gathered a group of several women friends, dubbed them "the Goddess Squaddess", and set out to deliver a message of preservation and poetry to the logging workers. Removing the top of her faux tiger skin sarong and launching in to her pro-environment poem "Suck Any Strawberry" ("I am the goddess, I speak now from the mouth of all women...in the creases of my inner thighs lies your salvation, get down on your knees and worship me"), La Tigresa sought to startle the loggers into inactivity. And, La Tigresa reports, it worked -- leading the Goddess Squadess to mount similar poetry-reading protests at other sites around the region. She said the logging workers were generally surprised, but receptive. "They respond, it's powerful. I'm putting their brains on tilt," La Tigresa said. "People don't like getting yelled at. But they like a sexy woman. And in this there's a mixture of sexuality, spirituality, nature. They don't know what to think. And that's exactly what I want."

La Tigresa's bodice-ripping campaign has already won national notice, including mention on Jay Leno's Tonight Show and a scoffing review by conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. And she has vowed to continue -- hoping to spur other women into standing up and stripping down for the environment. "I'm not giving up. I will go where I am called. La Tigresa is like a super hero character, and we're hoping other women will imitate (her)," La Tigresa said. "I want to start an international movement of women who are willing to bear witness and bare whatever else to tell the bare-naked truth."

Ukraine's Army Wants You -- for a holiday

DESNA MILITARY BASE, Ukraine, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Ukraine's cash-strapped military has been looking long and hard for fresh sources of revenue -- and hit upon a whole new brand of tourism. In what it says is a first in the former Soviet Union, Ukraine's armed forces are throwing open 11 military training grounds and three air bases, inviting fee-paying tourists, and offering them the chance to play soldiers. From AK-47 assault rifles to T-72 tanks and Mig-29 fighter jets, Ukraine is offering anyone with money to burn the opportunity to fire, drive and fly the same military equipment which during the Cold War was on hair-trigger alert for a NATO attack. "Today's tourists are hard to surprise with anything, so we decided to offer something really spicy -- military tourism," said Hryhory Zhorov, the head of the Alaris travel agency which, with arms exporter Ukrspetsexport and the Defence Ministry, is organising the project. He said they hoped to accommodate 1,000 well-heeled travellers every month. Flanked by senior generals, Zhorov showed reporters around one of the bases, Desna, 70 km (43 miles) northeast of the capital, Kiev. The generals spared no effort, as well as cartridges and artillery rounds, to impress an army of invited reporters in order to promote the sprawling base, covering an area of 2,100 square km (810 square miles).

Armoured vehicles roared through picturesque pine groves, which echoed to a thunder of small arms fire. One young woman journalist stunned officers by driving a modern T-80 tank after only brief instructions. "It was great! I had never driven even a car, but today I drove a tank!" she said, emerging from the turret of the 1,200-horsepower monster. But the freebie was soon over, and future excursions to Ukrainian military sites will cost each traveller a tidy sum. Alaris' web site (www.alaris.com.ua) says a one hour flight as a co-pilot in the supersonic fighter Mig-29 will cost $8,500, while one of the same duration in the Su-27 ground attack jet will be $9,600. Surface weapons are also expensive. It costs $400 to drive six km in a T-72 battle tank, or $250 to test drive the BMP-2 armoured personnel carrier. A shot from a sniper rifle will cost "just" $20, while a round for a Soviet-made RPG-7 hand-held grenade discharger is a more expensive thrill at $50 per shot.

Zhorov said that despite the high prices Alaris had already received many requests from potential tourists from all over the world, including the United States, Germany and Britain. He said a programme dubbed the "extremely ascetic life of a rank-and-file soldier" was most popular with prospective clients. The holiday mimics the daily routine of a Ukrainian private -- getting up at 6.30 a.m., doing morning exercises and sharing frugal meals with ordinary soldiers before embarking on their daily chores. "The age of our potential clients ranges from 20 to 53," Zhorov said. "They include former military servicemen or people who have never heard about armed forces, but wish to escape from the monotony of life for one or two weeks." Alaris says only the physically and mentally sound may join its different programmes, and each future participant has to pass medical tests, and undergo checks by the security forces.

The offbeat idea of the whole project is founded on some harsh financial realities for Ukraine, which ranked as the world's third biggest nuclear power before it gave up atom bombs in exchange for energy supplies during the mid-1990s. What was the southwest frontline of the Soviet Union is now struggling to feed and clothe an army of 400,000 -- which had been slashed by half from 800,000 when Ukraine gained independence in late 1991. The country of 50 million had originally planned to spend a meagre 2.4 billion hryvnias ($441.3 million) on its army this year, including some 900 million hryvnias that the defence ministry had to earn "by various repair and transport services". The military complain that the army does not receive even that amount, saying only 60 percent of the earmarked funds actually end up on its budget. "We were forced to seek unusual ways to earn money and are now laying our hopes on military tourism," said Lieutenant-Colonel Yury Dumansky, deputy commander of the Desna training ground. "We need to earn additional funds to maintain arms and preserve fighting efficiency," he said. Officials decline to give exact forecasts for how much the tourism programme may fetch, but agree that only very wealthy people can afford it. They also say military tourism will help promote Ukrainian arms on international arms markets where former imperial master Russia has managed to occupy a much more prominent place. "We have to use every chance to promote our arms," said Heorhiy Mazurov, head of Ukrspetsexport's regional department. "We also want to show that our armed forces exist and are able to defend the country."

Bogong moths the perfect omelette filling

SYDNEY, Sept 25 (Reuters) - If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em. Those big, fat hairy bogong moths that have invaded the Olympics taste delicious in an omelette or maybe caramelised in a tartlet. And if that doesn't whet your appetite, how about kangaroo in a corn and pumpkin relish or tempura of crocodile? But to top it all, nothing beats a barbecued chunk of "fat-arsed wombat". When it comes to nibbling in the outback, Jennice Kersh has no peers. Now she is determined to educate Olympic visitors in the delights of eating Australian wildlife. Defying protests from animal liberation activists, the flamboyant restaurateur argues: "Who wrote the rule book on what is right and wrong to eat?" She and her brother Raymond run Edna's Table, a Sydney restaurant where they have offered everything from emus to witchety grubs. Now she is feeding the international media at Olympic Park. "Animal liberation people have marched twice on Edna's Table this year. Paul McCartney and Brigitte Bardot said that women should not be allowed to serve kangaroo at the Olympics. What do they know? They are just a pair of middle-aged carrot killers."

Kersh, happy to put anything in her pot and full of admiration for the way Aborigines can cook up a storm out of nothing, said: "We have 35 million kangaroos in Australia, eight million wallabies and only 20 million people. "We cull only six percent of the kangaroo population. The meat has only 0.3 percent cholesterol." She blames it all on "Skippy", the children's television programme about a cuddly kangaroo. "Skippy has a lot to answer for just as Bambi did. I believe in kangaroo for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you are a great meat eater," she said.

The Sydney Olympics have been hit by an unlikely bug -- giant moths called bogongs who have been drawn off their migration route by the glare stadium lights. The insects, an Aboriginal delicacy which are quite harmless, have descended on Olympic Park in their millions. Spectators duck and swat. Athletes have to watch out for the dive-bombers. So stadium lights are being dimmed every night after the last event in the hope they might fly away. But Kersh says this surprise harvest should not be wasted. "I could have bring-in and takeaway. We could put them in an omelette or maybe caramelised in a tartlet." The wombat is another creature under fire at the Olympics. Australia is using the boxing kangaroo as its mascot but a cartoon character from a television satire show -- Fatso The Fat-Arsed Wombat -- is gaining in popularity. That is enough to have Kersh licking her lips in anticipation: "I love wombat. What could be more delicious than a lovely piece of char-grilled wombat arse?"

Stuffed wombat may get kicked out of Games

SYDNEY, Sept 24 (Reuters) - What do you get when a big-bummed wombat muscles in on a boxing kangaroo? The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) is wrestling with that question, at least as it applies to stuffed toys. The AOC is using the Boxing Kangaroo as its mascot for the Sydney Olympics after buying the intellectual property rights to the sporting symbol from failed tycoon Alan Bond in 1993. It hopes to rake in a fortune from sales of the stuffed toys and from flags, pins and other souvenirs bearing the mascot after a A$15 million ($8 million) pre-Games marketing drive. So brows have been furrowing since some of Australia's top swimmers at the Olympics, including Grant Hackett, Michael Klim and Susie O'Neill, took to the medals podium waving stuffed models of Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat into the television cameras. The creature is the creation of "The Dream", a two-hour late night television show that has hit huge ratings with its tongue-in-cheek look at the Olympics since the Games began. Hosts Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson told viewers on Saturday night that Fatso's days were numbered and the wombat was facing a ban from the Olympics because of his unofficial status.

So delicate is the matter that Peter Montgomery, head of mission of the Australian Olympic team, deflected a question to Hackett and Klim about Fatso at a news conference on Sunday. He also declined to say whether the AOC has ordered its athletes to keep the wide-bottomed wombat, a cuddly bear-like crature, off the podium. "It's a matter of some commercial sensitivity at the moment and I'd prefer not to answer the question," Montgomery said. "The Dream" is aired on Seven Network, which has exclusive broadcast rights in Australia to the 17-day Games. A cartoon version of Fatso walks across the television screen leaving droppings in his wake during replays of less than glorious Olympic moments re-run on the show. A spokeswoman for Seven Network, which shares a Games website with the AOC at www.olympics.com.au, could not immediately say whether Fatso had become a former Olympian. Sydney Games organisers SOCOG, whose official mascots are Syd the platypus, Millie the spiny anteater and Olly the kookaburra, and the International Olympic Committee also have merchandising deals to protect. For the moment at least, though, Fatso seemed safe from them. "I'm not aware of banning Fatso," said IOC director general Francois Carrard.

Olympic fame's OK -- but you've got to look good too

SYDNEY, Sept 27 (Reuters) - For Tatiana Grigorieva, an Olympic silver medal in the pole vault could make her a millionaire overnight. And she is not alone. With the eyes of the world on Sydney, the Olympics are a marketing man's dream. Russian-born Grigorieva, who only became a naturalised Australian four months ago, had the 112,000-capacity crowd screaming for her to topple American Stacy Dragila in an epic final. Now the 24-year-old glamour queen of the new women's event could be heading for a modelling and advertising goldmine. "She is the complete package whichever way you look at it," her agent Rick Carter told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I honestly believe that if you combine her competition, endorsement and modelling work, she could soon be earning between 500,000 and one million dollars a year."

Only three years ago, she and her husband, fellow pole vaulter Viktor Chistiakov, didn't have enough money to put a deposit down on a house. Now the lithe and long-legged blonde is posing nude for sporting calendars. But what about accusations that this is pure sexism or blatant exploitation of women. Dragila the gold medallist has no objections. "Back when I started, meet directors didn't want us. They thought we were boring. Now there are hot chicks out there clearing 15 feet, they want us," Grigorieva said. The same applied down at Bondi Beach, Australia's famous beach that played host to the Olympic beach volleyball tournament. It was a rousing success. Sex appeal certainly played its part in attracting capacity houses but bikini-clad Australian gold medallist Natalie Cook said she hoped ogling fans would now fall for the sport's athletic achievements as well.

But if they want to capitalise on the instant worldwide fame that comes with Olympic glory, athletes have to move fast. "Marketers would have to act quickly to sign these people up and have them start promoting their goods and services in the next couple of weeks before the euphoria wears off," warned Greg Daniel of the marketing group Issues and Images. The Australian newspaper said: "The Games may be about the Olympic ideal of faster, higher and stronger but they are also about the idyll of the body beautiful." From Michael Johnson's golden shoes and Cathy Freeman's space-aged track outfit to swimmers adorned in "second skin" fast suits, designers are clamouring to climb the podium. For, as the paper concluded in a splash review of what it called the "Sex Games", it's all about excellence and image. "Gold is good but elite athletes have to strut and preen and look hotter than supermodels to satisfy spectators and sponsors."

New Zealand noise man serves up party revenge

WELLINGTON, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Apartment dwellers have a new weapon to use on noisy neighbours, with a New Zealand man recording a compact disc of 64 minutes of lawnmower noise. "If your neighbours have a party on Saturday night fairly late...what you do is you get up at seven o'clock in the morning, put the hour of lawnmoving sound on and go out to a cafe," Wellington noise man and cafe owner Geoff Marsland told Reuters on Monday. The astro-turf covered CD offers listeners general lawnmower sounds along with feature moments such as the emptying of the catcher and stones hitting the blades. Five thousand of the CDs are on the market, of which more than 4,000 have been snapped up by local retailers, Marsland said. The album is his second. He previously sold around 4,200 copies of an album of urban noise such as a car alarm sounding off and a revving motorcycle. That album -- entitled Urban Assault -- also featured three minutes of a baby crying, which Marsland described as the ultimate contraceptive.

Naked drug-runners nabbed off Colombia coast

BOGOTA, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Talk about the gang that couldn't shoot straight! Seven naked drug-runners were nabbed off Colombia's coast after they dumped millions of dollars worth of cocaine into the ocean, doused themselves with gasoline, and then rammed a U.S. Navy vessel with their speedboat, authorities said Thursday. A statement from the Colombian Navy said the kamikaze-style traffickers, who may have sampled a bit too much of their own merchandise, were arrested Wednesday in one of the wackiest drug busts in recent memory. American sailors aboard the USS De Werth had spotted the men and what they suspected to be their cocaine-laden boat while on routine patrol in international waters off Colombia's main Pacific coast port of Buenaventura, the statement said. In a clumsy attempt at cover up as the De Werth closed in on them, the smugglers dumped 40 packets, each containing 50 pounds (22.5 kg) of cocaine, into the water, the navy statement said. It said they then stripped naked and poured gasoline over themselves, to wash off any traces of the white powder drug. And in a crazed attempt to get rid of their boat, along with any other tell-tale signs of their illicit cargo, the men then tried to sink it by plowing into the De Werth, the statement said. It said the cocaine was recovered and the unlucky smugglers, one of whom was injured in the high seas collision, were all taken into custody. They were identified as six Colombians and a Nicaraguan. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration cocaine sells for between $10,500 and $36,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) wholesale in the United States. That means that Wednesday's consignment from Colombia, by far the world's leading supplier of cocaine, would have been worth up to $32.5 million if it had made its way onto the U.S. market.

Gator carcasses spill on Florida highway

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Oct 4 (Reuters) - A trailer truck loaded with dead alligators overturned and spilled its cargo on a busy Florida highway on Wednesday, forcing police to close one lane while workers retrieved scattered gator carcasses. The pickup truck was towing a refrigerated trailer carrying 26 alligator carcasses to a processing plant to be skinned and butchered, the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) said. Driver Robert Collins lost control when the trailer began to sway, and drove into a median on Interstate Highway 595 west of Fort Lauderdale, causing the trailer to flip and spill open, the FHP said. Troopers closed one lane of the highway while workers gathered the alligators and loaded them onto a flatbed truck for the rest of the journey. The cargo weighed about 10,000 pounds (4,500 kgs), the highway patrol said. Traffic in the other lanes sped by without incident and no injuries were reported. Alligators are a protected species and are raised on commercial farms or hunted in the wild under strict regulations. Collins' cargo carried the proper tags and permits, the FHP said.

Swedish paper offers elk hunting on the Web

STOCKHOLM, Oct 5 (Reuters) - A Swedish newspaper is offering Internet-crazy Swedes the chance to go elk hunting via their computer screens. Svenska Dagbladet has set up a digital camera in the depths of the Swedish forest, which delivers a snapshot to its website roughly every minute. If you spot an elk in the photo you fill in a form attached to the site, giving the date and time. The first 10 viewers to spot an elk will win a fresh elk steak or other game delicacies. The catch is you have to refresh the window to get the updated photos. Elk hunting is a national pastime in autumn and winter, especially in Sweden's frozen north. There is roughly one elk for every 30 Swedes and around 300,000 people go hunting, bagging about 100,000 elk a year. Svenska Dagbladet tried out the game last year and said its svd.se site attracted a 20 percent rise in hits as a result.

Government aid for Britney Spears impersonator

LONDON, Oct 5 (Reuters) - A woman hoping to find work as a Britney Spears impersonator is receiving help from a government job training scheme, a newspaper said on Thursday. Debbie Lancaster, 24, has been given advice and backing CDs under the government's New Deal scheme, the Daily Telegraph reported. The paper carried a picture of the aspiring singer wearing US pop star Britney's trademark red PVC catsuit. "We are providing only the essentials for her act. She will have to provide her own stage costumes and any other little extras," Lancaster's New Deal adviser, Jonathan Beeston, told the newspaper. Lancaster, who according to the Telegraph gave an impromptu performance at her local Job Centre to secure New Deal assistance, hopes to be singing in pubs and clubs around her home in Tidworth, southern England, by December. The New Deal scheme, a centrepiece of the ruling Labour government's employment policy, aims to help young unemployed people find work.

Hungarian police detains pyromaniac fireman

BUDAPEST, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Hungarian police detained a volunteer fireman who admitted committing arson at least nine times because he could not resist the lure of dry leaves. The 23-year old, identified as Zsolt F., had caused 180 million forints ($597,800) in damage to pine woods and houses around Ruzsa village in southern Hungary, the national news agency MTI quoted local political officials on Friday as saying. Zsolt, who lives in Ruzsa, told police he had felt an irresistible inclination to set ablaze the dry forest floor with his lighter. The report did not say whether the he had helped extinguish the fires he caused.

Maltese actors beaten after staging bag snatching

VALLETTA, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Maltese actors who staged a bag snatching in Valletta's busiest street got more than they bargained for when they were chased and beaten, a newspaper said on Tuesday. The television programme Xarabank staged the mugging in order to interview witnesses on what they had seen. "People have a tendency to see what they want to see and the purpose of the exercise was to show how people see different things at the same event," one of the producers said. But after an actor snatched the bag, fiction turned to reality when he was chased and set upon by onlookers, the Times said. A member of the production team who tried to explain that they were actors was also punched by bystanders who thought he was inventing a story to assist the "thief".

Australians put privates on parade for stage hit

LONDON, Oct 14 (Reuters) - A pair of irrepressible Australian comics have taken London's theatreland by storm with the help of two very unlikely props -- their penises. Simon Morley and David Friend are breaking box office records with "Puppetry of the Penis" which they hail as a celebration of the ancient Australian art of genital origami. The Eiffel Tower and the Loch Ness Monster never looked like this before and Kentucky Fried Chicken certainly won't taste the same again once you have seen their "fast food" version. For what these irreverent wits have done is to strip down to the bare essentials, manipulate their genitalia into some startling effects and project the results onto a giant screen. Audiences howl with laughter as they admire the baby kangaroo in his pouch or try to coax the mollusc out of his shell. But they are warned, amid all the contortions: "Do not try this at home." The show at London's Whitehall Theatre -- appropriately set between Nelson's Column and London's famed Big Ben clock -- has now been extended until next year. Seats are selling fast. Despite its startlingly frank content, the show is not smutty. The puerile puppeteers frolic innocently round the stage like two little boys who have just discovered what is happening "Down Under" for the first time.

Critics have hailed "the outgoing Aussie personalities that are as big as their very public private parts". "It is very juvenile art," the 33-year-old Morley concedes. "But it is art. Andy Warhol would stick up for us." They are never tempted to rise to the occasion on stage. "You get a tingle now and then but nothing ever comes of it," said 31-year-old Friend. The pair first teamed up back home in Melbourne where they took the city's Comedy Festival by storm. "Princes of Protuberance," proclaimed the critics. Next came acclaim at the Edinburgh Arts Festival. Now it's London. After that could come a European tour. It may not be quite what their parents had in mind for their sons and Simon Morley admits: "My mother is tortured by what we do. But David's mum thinks it's funny. She just wishes he was someone else's son." The audiences certainly rave about the genital gymnasts -- especially women who shriek with unabashed laughter at their unusual interpretations of boomerangs, emus and didgeridoos. And the show certainly demystifies sex with a vengeance. One 60-year-old woman, still guffawing, came up to them afterwards and said: "I have been waiting 40 years to laugh at a penis like that."

Chicago judge shuts down vote-buying Web site

CHICAGO, Oct 18 (Reuters) - A judge ordered an Internet site that said it was buying votes in the presidential election to shut down on Wednesday, pending further legal action. The site -- http://www.voteauction.com -- issued a notice on its pages saying that it had suspended operations in Illinois. It has also stopped doing business in California and New York state. Judge Michael Murphy of the Cook County Circuit Court granted a temporary restraining order directing the site to cease operations for the time being. He acted at the request of the Chicago Board of Elections. The site originated in New York state, where officials also moved against it. It is now owned by Hans Bernhard of Vienna, Austria, who officials in Chicago said runs a marketing company in Europe. The site says votes have been bought from several thousand people across the country. When it stopped operations in Illinois, it was offering $9.79 per vote, based on a supposed matchup in the state between campaign contributors and would-be vote sellers.

Language on the site, however, raises the possibility that its main purpose may be to comment satirically on U.S. politics. Visitors are told: "Voteauction.com is devoted to combining the American principles of democracy and capitalism by bringing the big money of campaigns directly to the voting public. We provide a forum for campaign contributors to come together for free-market exchange." Currently, the explanation continues, political consultants spend campaign contributors' money to buy advertising and charge a 10 percent to 15 percent commission based on their claimed ability to "deliver" voters. "Voteauction.com has created a new paradigm in the election industry," the site boasts. "Now the voters can take control of their voting capital and campaign investors will see a greater return on their investment." Asked on Tuesday whether the enterprise might be a spoof or stunt, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections called "its very existence" a crime at federal, state and local levels. Voteauction.com promises individuals that they will be paid by the successful bidder for their state's block of votes once they provide proof that they have voted. Chicago electoral officials say that by using absentee ballots, participants could also prove that they had voted for the agreed candidates.

Greek police bust their sponsors -- a strip club

ATHENS, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Police in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki raided the Tutti Frutti strip club on Wednesday -- only to discover it was a major sponsor of their union magazine. During the raid six women employees were arrested and detained on suspicion of being illegal immigrants. But a few hours later, police officers were red-faced to discovered the club was a financial backer of their bi-monthly magazine "Police Forum". "I saw the publication this morning with this two-page ad of the club and I was upset," said George Sourvinos, a member of the board of the Thessaloniki police officers' union. "This club should not advertise in our magazine on ethical grounds and most of all it should not be called a sponsor, as the ad reads," he added.

Curry can be addictive, British study shows

LONDON, Oct 24 (Reuters) - The curry has long been Britain's favourite ethnic food and now scientists have found out why -- the spices are addictive. Researchers at Nottingham Trent University found that eating a spicy curry prompts the kind of physiological symptoms addictive substances often provoke, including increases in the heartbeat and blood pressure. And those who eat curries often build up a tolerance to spices, and crave hotter and hotter dishes, the experts found. "What we are seeing is physiological and psychological effects combining to create an addiction," Professor Stephen Gray, who spearheaded the research, told the Times newspaper on Wednesday. "Curry gives you a natural 'high' much more powerful than anything you get with traditional British foods," he added of the study, based on the responses of 100 volunteers aged from 10 to 80.

French clerics crusade against Halloween

NICE, France, Oct 25 (Reuters) - French Roman Catholic priests organised a protest on Wednesday against Halloween, saying the autumn celebration of ghosts and goblins was "devoted to Satan, ugliness and absolute evil." The traditionalist priests, disgusted by the commercial exploitation of a festival "directly imported from the United States," demonstrated outside a church in the Riviera resort town of Saint Raphael with some 120 Catholic school students. "We should have something else to offer children besides a macabre festival," said Father Louis-Marie. "Imposing on them only that which is cold, dark and morbid is not good." Halloween, the October 31 festival when children dress up as ghosts, goblins and witches and ask neighbours for candy, has been celebrated in France with growing enthusiasm in recent years after advertisers and businesses imported it from the U.S. The clerics also criticised the fact that celebrating Halloween means holding parties on the eve of All Saint's Day, when Catholics traditionally lay flowers at the graves of deceased loved ones. "You can't celebrate both Halloween and All Saints' Day. You can't mix everything together under the pretext of having fun," Father Don Pascal said.


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