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March, 2003

English Harry Potter Vs. Russian Tanya Grotter
Saturday, March 15

[Pravda] The pending case concerning Harry Potter and Tanya Grotter will get its first court decision on March 25th in Amsterdam. J.K. Rowling, her agents, to be more precise, managed to endure Tanya Grotter’s success in Russia (500 thousand books were sold in Russia over six months). They only released several unfounded plagiarism accusations against Eksmo publishing house and Tanya Grotter’s author, Dmitry Yemets. Yet, J.K. Rowling had get a lot more serious after the news about Tanya Grotter’s publishing in the Danish language.

The story started in October of the last year, when the general director of the Eksmo publishing house received a letter from the law firm LeBoeuf, Lamb, Green and MacRae, which represents Rowling’s interest, from Time Warter and from the Russian publishing house Rosman. In the letter it was said in a decisive way that publishing Tanya Grotter books should be stopped. The letters also ran that Eksmo publishing house should present the financial account about Tanya Grotter book sales. In case of non-execution of the ultimatum, the law firm claimed that it would sue Dmitry Yemets and Eksmo publishing company.

Potential claimants managed to accuse the company Eksmo of plagiarism on numerous occasions, to cancel several press briefings, and someone even said that they had nothing against Eksmo. However, the Dutch publishing house Biblos evinced its interest in Tanya Grotter, became Eksmo’s partner and acquired rights for publishing the book in the English and in the Danish languages.

The Russian publishing house Rosman, which publishes Harry Potter books in Russian, claimed that J.K. Rowling would try to prevent from publishing Harry Potter's literature clone abroad. As it was also said, the pending case in Amsterdam would become an incentive for instituting criminal proceedings against Dmitry Yemets and Eksmo at a Russian court. Aleksey Shekhov, the press secretary of the Eksmo publishing house, stated that experts found no reasons for “Tanya Grotter” to lose the lawsuit.

Dmitry Yemets, Tanya Grotter’s author, said in his interview to PRAVDA.Ru that he would prefer to have this Potter-Grotter competition as a literature dispute, but not a legal dispute: "The story with the legal dispute is not pleasant for me. However, I think that the fact that J.K. Rowling’s lawyers went to court implies the fact of weakness. I hope that Tanya Grotter will become stronger at court."

Dmitry, what is Russian readers’ attitude to the current situation? Do they accuse you of plagiarism? I receive about 30 emails a day, and only three of them are negative emails. Of course, I had to deal with those people, who do not like Tanya Grotter.

Do you agree upon the fact that literature criticism sees anything similar between Tanya Grotter in Russia and Harry Potter abroad as compared to the situation with foreign Pinochio and its Russian variant, Buratino? I acknowledge the fact that a foreign book might become successful in Russia. A foreign book might have the creative continuation in the Russian language. There is also a chance that such continuation might become more successful than the original. This has already happened before, when Russian writers developed the work of a foreign writer and achieved considerable success as a result of that. On the other hand, Tanya Grotter was not meant to become a re-development to Harry Potter. It was a Russian response to Harry Potter, a parody. Tanya Grotter is a girl with a mole on her nose. She goes to study at a school of magicians. This is the initial point of the story. Other books about Tanya do not have any reference to Rowling’s books.

Do you manage to find time for your writing against the background of the controversy with Tanya Grotter? Luckily, the controversy happens in an uneven way. I try to write every day. If I leave my text for a long time, it will get rough. Four books have already been published, there are four more plots. Eight books are planned to be published in total. Six of them are to be published until the end of the current year. Tanya Grotter leaves Harry Potter behind, casting all plagiarism talks aside.

Eight books about Tanya and that’s it? If I do not feel weary, I will keep on writing.

The presentation of the fourth book about Tanya Grotter is to take place soon at the Russian national book fair. It is interesting that the presentation of the book will take place near the Eksmo stand, which is located next to Rosman’s stand (the company, which publishes Harry Potter in Russian). The opposition between the English magic boy and the Russian sarcastic girl continues. They will see each other in Amsterdam.

Seven riddles suggest a secret city beneath Tokyo
Wednesday, March 1

[Japan Times] During the Gulf War in 1991, Shun Akiba was one of only two foreign journalists reporting from Baghdad, along with Peter Arnett of CNN. With such experience and expertise, it would be reasonable to imagine him in great demand right now. Wrong. Shun Akiba, a former high-level foreign reporter, has identified hundreds of kilometers of Tokyo tunnels whose purpose is unknown and whose very existence is denied.

Shun is on some kind of invisible blacklist. His book "Teito Tokyo Kakusareta Chikamono Himitsu" ("Imperial City Tokyo: Secret of a Hidden Underground Network"), published by Yosensha in late 2002, is already in its fifth edition. Yet Shun has found it impossible to get the media to take serious note, write reviews or offer interviews. This is very strange because he has a great story -- evidence of a network of tunnels and possibly an underground city beneath Tokyo that the public is totally unaware of. "Why am I ignored? Can I be on to something, and there is a conspiracy to silence me? I believe so."

Shun's father was a journalist with the Asahi newspaper. "I hated his lifestyle. Preferring to work in entertainment, I steered myself into TV. Finding myself in the news section, I decided to go abroad." Working for Asahi TV, he covered the U.S. military invasion of Panama, leftwing guerrilla actions in Peru, peacekeeping activities in Cambodia, and the Gulf War as a foreign correspondent. Then in 1996, he decided to go freelance, recasting himself as a writer. "I wrote a mystery novel, called 'Director's Cut,' never thinking I'd go back to journalism."

What changed his life was finding an old map in a secondhand bookstore. Comparing it to a contemporary map, he found significant variations. "Close to the Diet in Nagata-cho, current maps show two subways crossing. In the old map, they are parallel." The journalist in him taking over, he sought out construction records. When responses proved defensive and noncooperative -- "lips zipped tight" -- he set out to prove that the two subway tunnels could not cross: "Engineering cannot lie."

This inconsistency is just the first of seven riddles that he investigates in his book. The second reveals a secret underground complex between Kokkai-gijidomae and the prime minister's residence. A prewar map (riddle No. 3) shows the Diet in a huge empty space surrounded by paddy fields: "What was the military covering up?" New maps (No. 4) are full of inconsistencies: "People are still trying to hide things." The postwar General Headquarters (No. 5) was a most mysterious place. Eidan's records of the construction of the Hibiya Line (No. 6) are hazy to say the least. As for the "new" O-Edo Line (No. 7), "that existed already." Which begs the question, where did all the money go allocated for the tunneling?

The bulk of Shun's book covers the development of the subway system and questions the many inconsistencies between maps of the past and present -- even those that were contemporaneous. "Even allowing for errors, there are too many oddities." Shun claims to have uncovered a secret code that links a complex network of tunnels unknown to the general public. "Every city with a historic subterranean transport system has secrets," he says. "In London, for example, some lines are near the surface and others very deep, for no obvious reason."

Sitting on the Ginza subway from Suehirocho to Kanda, he says, you can see many mysterious tunnels leading off from the main track. "No such routes are shown on maps." Traveling from Kasumigaseki to Kokkai-gijidomae, there is a line off to the left that is not shown on any map. Nor is it indicated in subway construction records. At Tameike-sanno on the Ginza Line, the first basement level is closed off, for official use only. "Go to the toilet on B2 and there is a door to B1, but locked." Also he investigates three large buildings in Hibiya that share an enormous underground car park. "This space was there before the buildings were independently constructed. What was it for?"

As for the Diet Library, this runs to eight floors underground, all closed to the public. A magazine that asks repeatedly to look around is always denied access. "Subway officials treat me as if I'm a drunk or a madman," Shun notes with a wry smile. "Tokyo is said to have 12 subways and 250 km of tunneling. I'd say that last figure is closer to 2,000 km. It's clear to me that the tunnels for the Namboku, Hanzomon and O-Edo lines existed before decisions were made to turn them into public subways."

What most concerns Shun is not the existence of this network, but why it is a carefully preserved secret. He can understand why maybe before World War II the government thought it prudent that the public remain in ignorance. "Not wanting the enemy to know, it was decided to tell no one and let the population survive as best it could." At the end of the war, the Cold War took root. "It seems likely that the subterranean complex was prepared for a possible nuclear attack." What is going on right now under our feet, he wonders, with scares of war in the Middle East and within missile range of North Korea.

After "Teito Tokyo Kakusareta Chikamono no Himitsu" was published, a reader wrote to Shun saying he had worked on a new subway using a diamond cutter on old concrete -- concrete that was already there. "I want to make a TV documentary. I think we have the right to know what lies beneath our feet, don't you?" Shun, who lives with his family in Ochanomizu, says his wife worries a lot, especially about money. But when he told his son at age 12 what he was doing, and why, the youngster's response was immediate: "It's OK, Dad. I think what you're doing is right. Don't worry about us. Go for it."

Worst U.S. Industrial Tragedy All but Forgotten
Friday, March 28

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Half a century before Timothy McVeigh used ammonium nitrate to blow up a U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City, the same substance nearly wiped a place called Texas City off the map. The explosion, believed to have been caused by an errant cigarette, was the worst U.S. industrial accident ever. It killed as many as 800 people and injured some 5,000, yet today is all but forgotten -- mostly, says the author of a new book on the subject, because no one wanted to remember.

In a blast so ferocious it knocked aircraft from the skies and rattled buildings hundreds of miles away, the French freighter Grandcamp, loaded with ammonium nitrate, exploded on April 16, 1947, while docked at Texas City on Galveston Bay 40 miles south of Houston. The story dominated front pages across the nation for a few days, then faded from view. Texas City was a long way from any major media centers and there was little television in those days, but what really put the tragedy on history's back burner was its timing, said Bill Minutaglio, author of the newly published "City on Fire," a detailed chronicle of the disaster.

The blast came at a time when the United States was flush from victory in World War II and intent on building the world in its own modernist image. The Texas City disaster suggested that maybe the new world was not all it was cracked up to be. It was a message that few people wanted to hear. "The nation wasn't ready to fully absorb and linger with a big, internal nightmare," Minutaglio told Reuters in an interview. "This was a time when the 'age of chemistry' was unfolding, when corporations were suggesting that, through chemicals and petrochemicals many of the world's problems would be solved. After all, scientists had just won World War II by harnessing atomic energy.

"But then, this disaster suggested something was wrong with the so-called military-industrial complex in the United States. That it wasn't as efficient and safe as the government, scientists and business leaders led Americans to believe," he said. Texas City was particularly representative of the new age of chemistry because it was one of the main centers for petrochemical refining and production in the country. The town of 15,000 on Galveston Bay was ringed with huge plants that took petroleum from the Texas oil fields and created new wonder products such as plastic.

Ammonium nitrate had a prominent place in the new world. As Minutaglio writes, it was truly a wondrous substance -- a volatile explosive that had been used in Allied bombs to help win the war but also a potent agricultural fertilizer. In the Cold War that followed World War II, U.S. president Harry Truman decided ammonium nitrate would be used to win the peace. If countries were given the substance and used it to grow food for their people, they might be kept out of the Soviet Union's sphere of influence, he reasoned.

So, war factories that had made ammonium nitrate for bombs were told to keep producing it, but this time for fertilizer to be given to U.S. allies. And so it was that the Grandcamp was loaded with 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate bound for France where it was to help grow food for western Europe struggling to recover from the war. On the day of the blast, the substance caught fire in the Grandcamp's hull, most likely from a cigarette tossed in by one of the ship's crew, and sent an unusual orange and red smoke into the sky.

During the war, ammonium nitrate shipments had been carefully handled by a U.S. military fully aware of its explosive power. But in the post-war peace it was shipped through civilian ports and handled by civilians not told that the paper bags of fertilizer presented a special danger. When the colorful smoke began circling into the sky and the fire department went to the ship, hundreds of people went to the docks to watch. They had all gathered near the dock at 9:12 a.m. when the fertilizer exploded in a blast that one veteran war reporter likened to the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on the Japanese city of Nagasaki during the war.

The explosion was 300 times stronger than the ammonium nitrate truck bomb that anti-government extremist McVeigh ignited on April 19, 1995, in downtown Oklahoma City, destroying the Alfred P. Murrah federal building and killing 168 people. The chaos that followed the 1947 explosion was something out of a Hollywood horror film. The dead littered Texas City's streets and floated in Galveston Bay, while the wounded and lost wandered through the stunned town looking for help.

The first explosion was followed by others as nearby ships and oil tanks at the refineries ringing Texas City caught fire. The blast damaged or destroyed thousands of buildings. The Grandcamp's 3,000 lb (1,361 kg) anchor was blown two miles away. It rests there still, a solemn memorial to the disaster. In the end, no one really knew how many had died, but estimates ranged from 600 to 800. Many of the victims simply vanished in the blast, never to be seen again.

The tragedy was followed by a lawsuit seeking restitution from the U.S. government. The legal wrangling dragged on for years and finally ended with the Texas City victims getting a payment of $12,000 each. Two years after the blast, Texas City banned ammonium nitrate shipments through its port on the grounds that it was too dangerous to handle. Minutaglio, a longtime Texas newspaperman who earlier wrote "First Son," a biography of President Bush, was drawn to the story by the astonishing dimensions of the tragedy and the fact that it had been forgotten by most of the world.

But as he delved into it for two years, he came away most impressed by the heroism of the Texas City people in the aftermath. In a scene not unlike those that followed the Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, those who were not badly injured pitched in to rescue those who were and find the dead even as their town burned. "The Texas City disaster taught us, yet again, how resilient ordinary people can be, how they define beyond any political notion of the word, what it means to be a patriot," he said. "It taught us that ordinary folks often behave in extraordinary ways."

How to 'beat the small men' in Hong Kong
Tuesday, March 7

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Under a flyover in Hong Kong, dozens of people wait in line to hire old women, adept with curses, to smack paper effigies representing their enemies. For a small fee, they hope this age-old Chinese superstition, called "beating the small men" -- referring to those who behave shamefully -- will end their money problems. "I want to get (Chief Executive) Tung Chee-hwa and (Financial Secretary) Antony Leung beaten," said waitress Lin Ning. "The economy is getting worse and worse," the 49-year-old said. "And Antony Leung is raising taxes!"

Plagued with all sorts of money woes from pay cuts and retrenchment to higher taxes, many in Hong Kong are turning to superstition in a desperate bid to ditch their bad luck. For just four pounds, the old women, experts in the ritual, begin "beating" the effigies in front of a small altar and some burning candles, casting curses on the unknowing enemies. "Let me beat your head, you small man, so you can't breathe. Beat your hands, so they can't move," one old woman mumbled.

Leung announced broad tax hikes in his budget speech on Wednesday to bridge a gaping deficit, promptly infuriating many. The territory has been plagued by joblessness, pay cuts and a sluggish economy for several years. "With this poor economy, more people have come to beat their small men," said one of the old women. Another, who identified herself as "Grandmother Kam", said her clientele now included a lot of young people in their 20s with problems at work.

"Quite a lot of housewives also have small men beaten for their sons, hoping they can keep their jobs," Kam said. The ritual is mostly on the "Waking of Insects" day annually, which fell on Thursday, March 6, this year. In ancient times, Chinese believed insects rouse from hibernation that day and they would begin beating the pests. Over time, this tradition grew into one of symbolically beating one's enemies.

Single parent Lin says her employer is among her "small men". "In the past two years, my boss cut my salary three times and reduced my holidays," she said, holding back tears. "By beating the small men, I hope my job will be secure." Even those not feeling the pinch of the economic downturn are trying to pre-empt future misfortunes. "We're not in financial difficulty yet. But as the economy is not good, we feel safer to beat the small men in good time just in case," said Theresa Poon, a housewife in her 40s, who opted to perform the ritual herself to avoid having to line up.

Brothel for Sex-Starved Dogs
Tuesday, March 4

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German artist has applied for a license to open a brothel in Berlin for sexually frustrated dogs and says it will be the first of its kind anywhere. Karl-Friedrich Lenze, 54, said he planned to charge dog owners $27 per half hour of happiness. "If dogs can't get what they want, they get cranky -- just like people," Lenze told Reuters. The establishment would offer patrons a variety of carefully vetted "employees" of both sexes, rooms for private encounters and even a "bar" where customers could sniff out their preferred partners

Police Nab Boy Torching Goldfish with Flame-thrower
Wednesday, March 12

BERLIN (Reuters) - German police apprehended an 11-year-old boy as he torched stolen goldfish with a homemade flame-thrower, police said on Wednesday. They discovered the boy roasting the fish with a device made from a water pistol, a cigarette lighter and a stolen petrol canister. "It was a lethal contraption. He was jolly lucky it didn't explode in his face," said a police spokesman. Locals had alerted police on Monday after noticing a fire in a yard in the western town of Kellinghusen. Police confiscated the flame-thrower, but were too late to save the goldfish, which were stolen from a neighbor's pond. The boy's age means he will not be prosecuted.

Boy Sparks Inferno with Paper Airplane
Thursday, March 13

BERLIN (Reuters) - A 12-year-old boy accidentally burned down a poolhouse and a summer pavilion with a flaming paper airplane, causing more than $40,000 in damage, police in southern Germany said on Thursday. The airplane ignited a hedge next to the swimming pool building and summer house in the Bavarian town of Oberasbach on Tuesday. By the time the fire services put out the blaze, both buildings were gutted and two garages slightly charred. "The boy wasn't looking to start a fire," said police spokesman Dieter Eilert. "He just wanted to light his plane."

Baked Bean Foot Prankster Dupes Shopkeeper
Monday, March 10

LONDON (Reuters) - A young shop assistant was tricked into letting a complete stranger smear her bare feet with baked beans and syrup "for charity." The woman in her 20s was alone in the Edinburgh shop when the man came in, police said on Friday. She agreed to his bizarre request, which he said was aimed at raising money for Comic Relief.

"He brought foodstuffs with him and made her lie back with her eyes closed before proceeding to pour gunk on her feet. He then asked her if she could identify what they were," said police spokeswoman Ruth MacCleod. The stranger, believed to be in his early 30s, also took several photographs, particularly of her feet.

Lothian and Borders Police said the man then thanked the woman and left. It was only when she told her flatmates about it later on Tuesday evening that she became alarmed. "The woman's friends told her: 'What on Earth were you thinking? He's obviously a total weirdo'" MacCleod said. She added that the man had done nothing to physically harm the her and she had not felt threatened.

The man's behavior was not necessarily criminal, MacCleod said. "The reason we've put this story out is because the man said he had other sponsors he would get to do the same thing. It's just in case he goes and visits another female working in a shop on her own and things go a bit awry... progressing from the feet."

'N Sync Defense Gets Murder Acquittal
Thursday, March 13

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas jury acquitted on Wednesday a man who defended himself against a murder charge by saying an assailant threatened to carve up his face because he resembled a member of the boy band 'N Sync. Richard Brown, 23, testified that he shot Eric Acosta to death at a party in San Antonio, Texas, last year because he feared Acosta, 34, had a knife when he menaced him about looking like 'N Sync member Lance Bass.

"He said, 'I'm going to cut your face up,'" Brown told jurors when he took the stand on Tuesday. "He said 'You won't be pretty for long, and you're never going to be able to get a girl again.'" Brown, who resembles the pop star and would-be space tourist Bass, said he tried to get away after the two had a fistfight. He said he went and got a pistol because he feared Acosta had a knife and fired in self-defense after Acosta chased him when the two met again.

"I saw his arm going up and I knew exactly what he was going to do," Brown said. "That's when I raised up the gun and shot." Prosecutors had rejected Brown's claim, saying he fought Acosta and returned later with the gun to kill him in cold blood. Brown had faced a sentence of up to 99 years in prison if convicted.

Three Die Retrieving Phone from Latrine
Friday, March 14

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Three Kenyans died trying to retrieve a mobile phone that slipped down an open-pit latrine while its owner answered a call of nature, a newspaper reported on Friday. Anxious to recover her phone, the owner in the coastal town of Mombasa offered 1,000 shillings ($13.09) to anyone who would recover it, the Daily Nation said. The first to try -- a 30-year-old radio technician -- failed to resurface after disappearing down a ladder into the latrine. His friend went after him but slipped and fell. The third casualty, trying to rescue the others, was hauled out of the pit by neighbors after he inhaled the fumes and lost consciousness. The man was rushed to hospital but died on the way. "The fumes inside must be extremely poisonous considering the short time it was taking to disable the retrievers," acting Mombasa police chief Peter Njenga was reported as saying. The Daily Nation said police prevented a fourth man from climbing into the latrine and the search for the phone was eventually abandoned.

Two-headed Calf Born in Russia’s Vologda Region
Monday, March 13

[Pravda] Recently a two-headed calf was born at a farm in Russia’s Vologda region. Unfortunately, farmers failed to save its life At the end of February milkmaids at the Zarya farm clutched their heads in horror: their favorite cow named Toma delivered an unusual animal: it was a calf with two necks and two heads. The farmers were unhappy to see that the two-headed calf died during difficult confinement. Fortunately, the cow itself survived.

Veterinary specialists of the Vologda region say that appearance of the mutant calf is closely connected with worsening ecological situation in the region. Vets say that soils in the area where the strange calf was born catastrophically lack selenium and iodine, this fact causes anomalies. For instance, a calf without a tail was born at a neighboring farm last year. This was the first time that a two-headed calf was born.

Instances of births of such calves are rare in the world as well. In the spring of 2001 a cow delivered a two-headed calf in a village 70 kilometers to the south of Tirana (Albania). Legends in that place say that birth of such animals brings misfortune, that is why the owner of the strange calf was in despair. However, the woman cheered up when the US Vet Association offered her to sell the mutant for 25 USD. In the spring of 2002 a two-headed calf was also born in a farm in Russia’s Ulyanovsk region. Last summer similar mutant was born in Honduras. When the calf came to the world, owner of the cow nearly fainted as he saw the calf had two heads. At first, the two heads bellowed simultaneously and then tried to drive the whole of the body. However, the calf died in half an hour.

Scientists explain that such phenomena appear as a result of mutations in the organism in the period of embryonic growth of tissues. Mutations can be caused by unfavorable environmental situation first of all, high concentration of toxic substances and radiation.

Sex Museum Seeks to Break Taboos
Monday, March 24

BOMBAY (Reuters) - It tells you all you ever wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask. India's first sex museum in the western city of Bombay takes curious visitors on a journey into a world that is still considered taboo in the tradition-bound country. Unlike similar museums in the West, the Bombay museum aims to tutor rather than titillate. "This is not a place that will arouse passions," said Arvind Shah, a doctor and a founder of the museum. "We have designed the museum to educate and provide correct information." Tucked away in a century-old building near a red-light district, the museum juxtaposes ancient texts with modern caricatures and models to educate people on a range of subjects from reproduction to the dangers of AIDS.

"For the first time I learned how a baby was born," said Sher Singh, 22, father of a seven-month-old baby. The museum, named "Antaranga," or "Inner Self," begins with abstract drawings of entwined couples and verses from the "Kamasutra," India's ancient treatise on the art of love. The exhibits are a mix of the academic and the explicit. Apart from clay sculptures of sex godesses, the museum also uses fiber-glass models of human genitalia as well as Adam and Eve statues locked in a passionate embrace.

"What are we ashamed about?" asked Dr Shah. "Young people are usually confused. We want to clear their minds." A 16-year-old student, Rahul Jadhav, said he felt awkward looking at the naked figures but the museum was a "storehouse of information." Apart from providing sex education, the museum also seeks to build awareness about AIDS through real-life stories, explanations on how to use condoms and illustrations of the HIV virus depicted like a vulture eating into the human body. India has nearly four million people suffering from HIV/AIDS, second only to South Africa, and health experts warn the numbers could spiral if urgent steps are not taken. While critics say the museum is a bit too explicit, visitors say it is a good way of educating people in a country where people tend to shy away from any discussion of sex.

Drug Dealers Go on Strike
Wednesday, March 26

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Drug dealers in Copenhagen's Christiania hippie colony took novel action on Wednesday by going on strike to protest against proposals to bulldoze the alternative "free city." Some politicians, mainly from the ruling center-right Liberals party, have called for the 30-year-old colony to be demolished to make way for a big urban renewal scheme. "All trade has been stopped since this morning and we do not know how long this strike will take, maybe days, maybe months," Pernilla Hansen at the Christiania information office told Reuters. Drug Dealers Go on Strike "We want to show the government that an open market for soft drugs is better then forcing people on to streets where much harder stuff is sold illegally," she said. The 75-acre former military compound bordering a picturesque area in downtown Copenhagen was occupied by hippie squatters in 1971 and declared an autonomous "free city" and alternative society. With a population of around 1,000, it is one of Copenhagen's most popular tourist attractions, visited by about half a million people a year, many to buy soft drugs such as cannabis.

Korea's 'lucky' triplets seized
Sunday, March 30

[Daily Telegraph] All triplets in North Korea are being forcibly removed from parents after their birth and dumped in bleak orphanages. The policy is carried out on the orders of Stalinist dictator Kim Jong-il, who has an irrational belief that a triplet could one day topple his regime. The number three is thought to be auspicious in North Korea and triplets are revered. It is believed they are likely to rise to positions of power, which accounts for Kim's insistence that they are all raised in state-run orphanages, where their development can be controlled.

Officially, the policy was introduced to help poverty-stricken parents in a country where hunger is widespread. But aid agencies and diplomats have dismissed this: triplets born to high-ranking officials are also seized. "There is no doubt that the policy is compulsory and universal," a veteran Western diplomat told London's Daily Telegraph newspaper. "It may be officially atheistic and Stalinist, but North Korea essentially operates a state religion infused with superstition, astrology and a personality cult that glorifies Kim as a unique individual. "You don't take any chances with rivals in that system," the diplomat said.

The children are housed in "triplet rooms", which visitors describe as bare but clean. They are said to receive good foreign-aid food, but none of the love and affection bestowed on most children. A member of a foreign delegation that visited one such orphanage said they were greeted with a vision of desperate isolation and sadness. The triplets were placed together in one room, with many of them rocking backwards and forwards in an almost trance-like state. "Our people were stunned into silence," the delegate told the Telegraph. A pediatrician who studied evidence from the visit diagnosed severe emotional trauma.

Delegates reported a high standard of care in the triplet rooms. "But none of those infants knows what affection is," a delegate said. "Our staff tried to cuddle them for a few minutes, but then, of course, we had to leave." The seizure of triplets is an extension of a policy designed to ensure absolute loyalty to Kim. The children of all high-ranking government officials are taken from their parents at the age of two and transferred to state-controlled schools where family bonds are broken and devotion to Kim is instilled.

More than 300 sets of triplets are born in North Korea every year and their well-being has raised worries among aid agencies, despite official claims the policy represents an act of kindness. In a statement to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, North Korea said: "Triplets are supplied by the state free of charge with clothing, bedding, a one-year supply of dairy products and a pre-school subsidy, and special medical workers take charge of such mothers and children and care for their health."

Tony's incredible rubber ball falls flat
Thursday, March 27

[Western Mail] THE world's biggest rubber band ball has been dropped from an aeroplane a mile up to see if it would bounce when it landed - but things didn't go exactly according to plan. The ball, which weighed an incredible 2,600lb, was sent plunging to earth for a television show. Experts thought the ball would bounce hundreds of feet into the air. Instead, it created a massive crater when it crashed into the sun-baked earth of the Mojave Desert in Arizona at 400mph.

The ball was created by Tony Evans, from Swansea, who knotted together six million elastic bands over five years. The end result was the massive rubber sphere with a 14ft 8in circumference. Although it was large enough to make it into the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest ever, it couldn't fit inside Tony's home. A US television company then offered to give the ball a spectacular send-off by dropping it from a plane and filming what happened when it hit the ground.

Ripleys Believe It Or Not flew Tony, 54, and his wife Liz, 53, to America to watch the bizarre event. The producers spent an estimated $4m on the episode, which began by taking the ball on a nationwide tour of America and ended with it being thrown from the back of the plane. Three skydivers filmed the descent. Back home, Tony said, "It was an incredible sight. I've spent years working on that ball and it was my pride and joy. But even after all that I wanted to know what would happen to it. People would always ask me: What would happen if the ball was dropped from a great height? Would it bounce or would it explode? No one knew and now we had the chance to find out."

"Even though it was dropped from over a mile up, it took about 20 seconds for it to hit the ground. The producers had cleared one square mile around the drop zone for safety reasons but we still saw it hit the ground. There was a huge cloud of dust which went about 15ft-20ft into the air but we didn't see the ball bounce back up. We raced over to the scene and saw this huge crater, about 9ft wide, and the ball a few feet away from it. There were elastic bands everywhere, hundreds of them, and I could see that the ball had literally jumped out of its skin. It used to be over 4ft wide, but now it was just three feet six. The impact had knocked inches off it. I didn't mind though. I couldn't keep the ball in the house anyway and it was a great experience going to America. But it would be nice to get my ball back and do something else with it."

Tony's ball was so heavy it had to be put on scales normally used for weighing jumbo jets. The retired taxi driver used elastic bands donated from all over Britain after news that he was working on the ball began to spread. Rubber bands came from Harrods, the DVLA in Swansea, the Royal Mail which sent 20,000, and 1,000lb of bands from a woman in Edinburgh. "It all started as something to play with in an idle moment but over time it grew and grew and I didn't want to stop," Tony recalled. "Eventually I decided to go for the British record and once I cracked that I vowed to break the world record. I wasn't going to give up until I'd finished."

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