Monday, July 30, 2007

Mystery money in Japan appears in mailboxes, falls from sky

TOKYO (AFP) - A mystery gripping Japan over anonymous cash gifts has taken a new twist. For those who want the next batch of giveaways, the place to look is in their mailboxes -- or even right at their feet.

Residents of a Tokyo apartment building are baffled after a total of 1.81 million yen (15,210 dollars) was found in 18 mailboxes by Saturday, a police spokesman said.

"The money was in identical plain envelopes, which were unsealed and carried no names or messages," the spokesman told AFP.

But residents became "spooked" rather than pleased with the anonymous gifts -- and were too upright to pocket the money secretly.

"Some people initially suspected they were fake bills. When they realised the bills were real, they reported them to us," the spokesman said.

The predominantly middle-class apartment building in Tokyo is not alone. An envelope with one million yen was left in the mailbox of a 31-year-old woman in the western city of Kobe on Wednesday.

Police admit they have no idea who is leaving the cash -- whether a few people are behind the bizarre giveaways or if Japan is witnessing a craze of copycat benevolence.

Since June, dozens of city halls and other public buildings across the country have reported finding neatly packaged envelopes full of cash in men's restrooms.

The bathroom money has come with identical letters asking people to do good deeds -- leading to speculation that the benefactor may be a public servant trying to cheer up his profession or perhaps a member of a new-age religion.

Japanese cash dropoffs are not always so neat.

On Wednesday, bills worth 960,000 yen were inexplicably seen "falling" in front of a convenience store.

"We can just say the money came from the skies," a puzzled police official said. "There were other passers-by outside and customers in the store but the incident caused no confusion," he said.

"People thought it was too eerie to touch."

A man who contacted police saying his daughter had dropped the money had his claim rejected as groundless, the official said.

The largest single dropoff so far was in the ancient city of Kyoto on July 23, astonishing a 67-year-old woman who found an envelope containing 10 million yen of stacked bills in her mailbox.

But mystery money does not always reach police intact.

A woman walking on a bridge over Tokyo's Sumida River told officers that she saw bills falling at her feet from an elevated expressway above on July 6.

She believes 30 to 40 notes fell but police managed to collect only six notes worth 46,000 yen by the time they arrived.

"Some people were picking the money up on the bridge," the Tokyo Shimbun quoted the woman as saying.

No one can say if more people have collected money and not told police.

Media tallies suggest more than four million yen, including some found last year, has been found in the public restrooms.

Dutifully, police are holding most of the money in case the rightful owner eventually decides to reveal their identity.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

As tasty as a truckload of rats

BEIJING (Reuters) - Live rats are being trucked from central China, suffering a plague of a reported 2 billion rodents displaced by a flooded lake, to the south to end up in restaurant dishes, Chinese media reported.

Rats had been doing a roaring trade thanks to strong supply over the last two weeks, the China News Service quoted vendors as saying.

"Recently there have been a lot of rats... Guangzhou people are rich and like to eat exotic things, so business is very good," it quoted a vendor as saying, referring to the capital of Guangdong province, where people are reputed to eat anything that moves.

Some vendors, who declined to reveal their names, had asked people from a village in Hunan province, near Dongting Lake, to sell them live rats, the Beijing News said Monday.

"The buyers offered 6 yuan for a kg, but as to where they will sell the rats, they would not say," the newspaper quoted a local resident as saying, adding that villagers had to catch the rats alive.

"If we want to do that, there is no problem. We could catch 150 kg of rats in one night...but we will not do this against our conscience," the villager was quoted as saying.

Some Guangdong restaurants were promoting "rat banquets," charging 136 yuan ($18) for one kg of rat meat, the newspaper said.

But the restaurants denied their rats came from Hunan.

Local governments in Hunan have been grappling with the rats, which had already destroyed 1.6 million hectares (6,200 sq miles) of crops and could spread disease, according to media reports.

A lack of snakes, also a popular dish in the south, and owls, a traditional Chinese medicine, was held partly responsible.

Chinese media reported last week that some Internet users from Guangdong had offered rat recipes as a way to deal with the problem.

Scientists have also blamed China's massive Three Gorges Dam project and climate change for the Hunan rodents' flight to dry land.

Schoolgirl loses "virginity ring" battle

LONDON (Reuters) - A teen-ager whose teachers had stopped her wearing a "purity ring" at school to symbolize her commitment to virginity lost a High Court fight against the ban Monday.

Lydia Playfoot, 16, says her silver ring is an expression of her faith and had argued in court that it should be exempt from school regulations banning the wearing of jewelry.

"I am very disappointed by the decision this morning by the High Court not to allow me to wear my purity ring to school as an expression of my Christian faith not to have sex outside marriage," Playfoot said in a statement.

"I believe that the judge's decision will mean that slowly, over time, people such as school governors, employers, political organizations and others will be allowed to stop Christians from publicly expressing and practicing their faith."

Playfoot's legal challenge was the latest in a series of disputes in British schools in recent years over the right of pupils to wear religious symbols or clothing, such as crucifixes and veils.

Last year, the Law Lords rejected Shabina Begum's appeal for permission to wear a Muslim gown at her school in Luton. That case echoed a debate in France over the banning of Muslim headscarves in state schools.

Playfoot's parents are key members of the British arm of the American chastity campaign group the Silver Ring Thing, a religious group which urges abstinence among young people.

Those who sign up wear a ring on the third finger of the left hand. It is inscribed with "Thess. 4:3-4," a reference to a Biblical passage from Thessalonians which reads: "God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin."

During the case, Playfoot's lawyers argued that the ban by her school in Horsham, West Sussex, breached her human rights to "freedom of thought, conscience and religion" which are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lawyers for the school denied discrimination and said the purity ring breached its rules on wearing jewelry.

They said allowances were made for Muslim and Sikh pupils only for items integral to their religious beliefs and that, for the same reason, crucifixes were also allowed. But it argued that the purity ring was not an integral part of the Christian faith.

Playfoot said in her statement she would consult her legal team to consider whether to appeal.

Vandals attack man's Hummer, leave note

WASHINGTON - When Gareth Groves brought home his massive new Hummer, he knew his environmentally friendly neighbors disapproved. But he didn't expect what happened next. The sport utility vehicle was parked for five days on the street before two masked men smashed the windows, slashed the tires and scratched into the body: "FOR THE ENVIRON."

"The thought of somebody vandalizing it never crossed my mind," said Gareth Groves, who lives near American University in Northwest Washington. "I've kind of been in shock."

Police said they see small acts of vandalism in the area from time to time, but they have not seen anything so severe, or with such a clear political message, in recent years.

"This seems to be an isolated event," Cmdr. Andy Solberg said.

Investigators said they are searching for the vandals but don't have many leads. Witnesses said they saw two men smash up the seven-foot-tall SUV early Monday and then run off.

Now, as Groves contemplates what to do with the remains of his $38,000 Hummer, he has had to deal with a number of people who have driven by the crime scene and glared at him in smug satisfaction.

"I'd say one in five people who come by have that 'you-got-what-you-deserve' look," said his friend Andy Sexton.

Neighbor Lucille Liem, who owns a Prius hybrid, said that a common sentiment in the neighborhood is that large vehicles such as the Hummer are impractical and a strain on the Earth.

"The neighborhood in general is very concerned with the environment," said Liem, whose Prius gets about 48 miles a gallon compared with the Hummer's 14 miles a gallon. "It's more liberal leaning. It's ridiculous to be driving a Hummer."

Liem quickly added that she does not condone violence.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Red panda escapes from Zoo exhibit again

NORFOLK, Va. - Virginia Zoo officials on Monday began trimming the landscaping around a new red panda exhibit after the animal escaped for the second time in less than a month.

Yin, a 1-year-old that resembles a raccoon with red, white and black fur, was discovered missing from her exhibit Saturday. On June 21, Yin made visitors wait two hours until she emerged from her habitat for her debut only to escape into a nearby tree.

"She's just testing every limit that might be in the exhibit," zoo director Greg Bockheim said.

After the zoo opened Saturday, zookeepers discovered Yin was missing. They located her near the bison exhibit, then she scampered to a tree near the back of the duck pond. Bockheim climbed about 30 feet up to retrieve her, but Yin scurried down to the zookeepers.

She also was found hiding in a tree near the duck pond after she escaped the first time.

"She's a character," said Alison Till, the zoo's director of development.

How and why she escaped from her habitat, which includes an air-conditioned bamboo hut and logs for climbing, is unclear.

Staff lowered the ground level around the exhibit's perimeter and put electrified wire around her habitat after the first escape. While the wires don't carry much current, the staff thought it would prevent a second escape.

"We don't know how she got out," Till said. "She's fooling the experts."

Bockheim believes Yin is using low tree branches that extend into her habitat to escape.

"There are routes we might not see but a panda does," he said.

Meanwhile, Yin remained in a holding area until zoo staff can figure out how she escaped and what they can do to fix the problem, Till said.

"We hope it will be the last time, but you never know," Till said. "She could fool us again."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mayor wants grandmas to help fight gangs

SALINAS, Calif. - Grandmas are being asked to help battle gangs. Mayor Dennis Donohue and Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia want to recruit "abuelitas," Spanish for grandmothers, to help steer youngsters away from gang life.

"My own grandmother, my mother's mother, Guadalupe, was a very influential person in my life," Garcia said. "Speaking to inmates in prison, I found that to be true in their own lives."

A meeting next week will give grandmothers a chance to discuss what prevention approaches have worked in their families.

Donohue and Garcia said grandmothers are pivotal figures in the lives of youngsters.

"I'd like to point out that a couple of moms won the Nobel (Peace) Prize in Northern Ireland, so the notion that moms can't help is not true," the mayor said.

The partnership is part of the gang prevention program Community Safety Alliance. The alliance plays an advisory role in how the city of Salinas spends $1 million for crime-prevention programs this year.

Plane returns after drunken brawl on board

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - A Russian plane flying from St Petersburg in Russia to Doloman in Turkey had to turn back midflight after a drunken brawl over a young woman spun out of control, police said in a statement Friday.

Three young Russians boarded the plane drunk Thursday and "continued their party on board."

"One of them took a fancy to a girl but she did not want to socialize with the new admirer," police said.

On rejection, the passenger slapped the woman on her face several times. Another passenger immediately rose to defend her.

"A fight began, the situation started to get out of hand and the crew made the only right decision -- to turn back."

The three drunk men were detained on landing at /a St Petersburg airport. They faced fines of "dozens of thousands of dollars," police said.

The woman received medical treatment at the airport and the plane resumed its flight to Turkey.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Remember your home phone number? Forget it!

LONDON (Reuters) - Can't remember life before mobiles? Chances are you'll also struggle to recall your home phone number and family birthdays.

According to a survey released Friday, the boom in mobiles and portable devices that store reams of personal information has created a generation incapable of memorizing simple things.

A quarter of those polled said they couldn't remember their landline number, while two-thirds couldn't recall the birthdays of more than three friends or family members.

The tech-savvy young fared worse than older people. The under-30s could remember fewer birthdays and numbers than the over-50s, according to the survey.

Two-thirds said they relied on their phone or electronic organizer to remember key dates.

"People have more to remember these days and they are relying on technology more for their memory," said Ian Robertson, professor of psychology at Trinity College, Dublin.

Researchers polled 3,000 people over the last two weeks in the survey for Puzzler Brain Trainer magazine.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cat survives 3 weeks crossing ocean

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - A cat that spent nearly three weeks crossing the Pacific inside a shipping container with no food or water appears to be just fine.

Pamela Escamilla lost sight of her 3-year-old calico, Spice, while packing a large container with household goods in Waikoloa Village, Hawaii. The container was shipped June 15 to Southern California.

Escamilla, 39, and her husband could not find the cat before taking their flight and asked neighbors in Hawaii to call if Spice returned.

As it turns out, Spice spent 18 days in the pitch-black container without food or water before arriving at the San Bernardino home of Escamilla's parents on Tuesday.

"We really thought that cat was going to be dead," said Edward Gardner, Escamilla's father.

When Escamilla opened the container, she and family members noticed fluffs of cat hair on the floor. They started removing items, and Escamilla climbed into the container to search.

She said she saw Spice poke her head out from behind some bicycles.

"I started to scream," she said.

Escamilla gently picked up the cat and took her to a veterinarian who said the feline's prognosis was good. Spice's kidneys had shrunk and her bowels were backed up, but she managed to get some food and water down at the vet, Escamilla said.

Escamilla said the veterinarian told her that calicos have a strong survival instinct.

"It's always a good day when the cat's alive," said Escamilla. "We didn't know what we would find."

Monday, July 9, 2007

Look for life not as we know it, U.S. report urges

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Extraterrestrial life may well be so weird we would not immediately recognize it, and scientists looking for alien life should be seeking the unfamiliar as well as the familiar, experts advised on Friday.

They said NASA'S current approach to "follow the water" works well if the assumption is that life everywhere is just like life is on Earth -- based on water, carbon and DNA.

But the "life as we know it" approach could easily miss something exotic, the National Academy of Sciences panel advised.

"The purpose of this whole report was to be able to look for life on other planets and moons with an open mind ... and not maybe miss some other life form because we looking for some obvious life form," said John Baross, professor of oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle, who chaired the committee.

The U.S. space agency commissioned the report from the National Research Council, one of the independent National Academies set up to advise the federal government on scientific issues.

The panel of biochemists, planetary scientists, geneticists and other experts considered all the possible ways that life can arise and exist.

Recent discoveries of extremophiles -- organisms living in conditions of heat, cold and dark and using chemicals once thought incompatible with life -- have changed ideas of where life can survive.

As a biochemist, Baross said lab experiments also show water does not necessarily have to be the basis for life. It might be possible for a living organism to use methane, ethane, ammonia or even more bizarre chemicals, he said.


"We had some discussion about how weird to make this because there are so many concepts out here. There are so many theories about what life is and what could be a living system," Baross said in a telephone interview.

NASA and other groups are looking hard for extraterrestrial life. Telescopes search for spectral signatures from other planets that might suggest water is on the surface. Robots on Mars are seeking evidence of water, past or present.

"We wanted to actually think outside of that box a little bit and at least try to articulate some of the other possibilities besides water-carbon life," Baross said.

All life on Earth uses some form of DNA or RNA to encode the basic information for replicating and changing, but perhaps other life forms exist that use a different method to do this, the report suggests.

NASA might also think about returning to some of the more promising places in our own solar system to look for evidence of life, the committee said. They include Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus and even steamy Venus.

"If you are a biochemist, Titan is of enormous interest, because it's a carbon moon. It does have clearly some liquid methane or liquid ethane lakes or pools. There could be chemical reactions going on that could be favorable for producing complex biochemicals," Baross said.

"The exploration that could lead to a novel life form ... would be the most profound discovery ever made," Baross said.

Stumbling past it or worse, destroying it because it did not look like life, would be an equally profound tragedy, he said.

Ozzy Osbourne to help Taiwan in U.N. membership quest

TAIPEI (Reuters) - After 14 failed attempts at joining the United Nations using media campaigns and presidential appeals, Taiwan is turning to a local goth-style rock band backed by Ozzy Osbourne in its quest for membership to the world body.

The band, named ChthoniC, will travel to at least 80 cities in four countries by the end of the year, supported in part by the Taiwan government, which is providing pro-U.N. literature and a slogan-painted truck.

The band will visit Canada, Germany, Britain and the United States.

ChthoniC has also recorded a song urging the United Nations to let Taiwan join, even though its bid for membership keeps getting knocked down because of objections from Beijing.

"I'm not for any political party, but I'm for my poor country's joining the United Nations," band lyricist Freddy Lim told reporters on Wednesday at the tour's launch.

Ozzy Osbourne, a satanic-theme rocker known for biting heads off bats on stage, is helping set up 20 of the U.S. gigs, paying some transport costs and letting the Taiwan band promote U.N. membership as it wishes, Lim said. He said the band hooked up with Osbourne through personal connections.

Taiwan's leadership came up with the idea as it prepares to reapply for U.N. membership later this year, the cabinet's news office said on Tuesday.

China blocks self-ruled Taiwan's applications every year because it sees the island as part of its territory and not a separate country. The two sides split after civil war in 1949, and Taiwan left the United Nations in 1971 under Chinese pressure.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Winner of buried Belvedere died in 1979

TULSA, Okla. - The winner of a rusted 1957 Plymouth Belvedere that was unearthed last week from a leaky vault in Tulsa died in 1979, and the ownership of the car will pass to his closest living relatives.

When the car was buried in 1957, more than 800 people submitted guesses on what Tulsa's population — which was around 250,000 in 1957 — would be in 2007. Guesses ranged from zero to 2 billion, but Raymond E. Humbertson's guess of 384,743 was only slightly off the official U.S. Census count of 382,457.

Tulsa officials announced Friday that Humbertson had won the two-door hardtop Belvedere that drew international attention when it was pulled from the vault on June 15.

His nephew, Donald Humbertson of Woodbridge, Va., said that Raymond Humbertson died of cancer at age 57 and his wife, Margaret Humbertson, died in 1988. Raymond and Margaret Humbertson had no children, their nephew said.

Raymond Humbertson's closest living relatives are two elderly sisters in Maryland, Donald Humbertson said.

The Oklahoma Centennial Commission will have a trust company speak with the Humbertson family about the family's wishes for the car, centennial events co-chairwoman Sharon King Davis said Saturday.

Donald Humbertson said that his uncle was a career Marine and a Korean War veteran who spent his final years as an administrator at a community college in northern Virginia.

"He was just sort of a happy-go-lucky guy," Donald Humbertson said.

The family coincidentally had a reunion planned for Saturday to unveil a monument in a cemetery in Cumberland, W.Va.

"This will probably give us something to talk about," said Dina Lawyer, Raymond Humbertson's grandniece.

Had it been in good condition when it was lifted from its vault under the lawn of the Tulsa County Courthouse, the gold-and-white Belvedere could have been worth as much as $50,000, but because of massive water damage, its value now mostly is historical.

The winner of the car also will receive a $100 savings bond buried with it.

On the Web:

Firefighter in bikini accepts plea deal

MASON, Ohio - A man who was arrested in a park wearing a woman's wig and a bikini accepted a plea deal Thursday that dropped a charge of public indecency.


Steven S. Cole, a former volunteer firefighter, pleaded guilty to a charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and disorderly conduct.

Municipal Court Judge George Parker sentenced Cole to attend a mandatory driver intervention program and placed him on two years' probation. Cole was ordered to stay out of the city's public parks during that time and pay a $250 fine.

Parker also suspended Cole's driving privileges for six months, except for work, counseling sessions, family appointments and visits with his probation officer.

Police arrested Cole on April 4 in his truck as he was leaving Heritage Oak Park in this Cincinnati suburb after parents complained about a man dressed in women's clothing.

Police said they found an open, half-empty bottle of beer in the truck, along with a gym bag containing wigs, bikinis, silver go-go boots and other women's garments.

Cole's blood-alcohol test registered 0.17, more than twice Ohio's legal driving limit of 0.08, police said.

The arrest report said Cole told an officer he was on his way to a bar in Dayton to perform as a woman in a contest offering a $10,000 prize.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Peru Celebrates Tasty Guinea Pigs

CHURIN, Peru (AP) - Peru's celebration of the guinea pig included contests for the biggest, the best-dressed - and the tastiest. The second annual festival of the cuy, as guinea pigs are known in the Andes, brought brass bands into the streets of highland Churin on Sunday to celebrate all things related to the furry rodents.

"Zero cholesterol! Protein for anemia!" Teresa Figeroa shouted from under her woven, flower-lined hat.

For 20 soles ($7), she sold plates of guinea pig fried, grilled, baked - even cuy au vin - with generous helpings of Andean potatoes and large Peruvian corn called choclo.

Foreigners may cringe at seeing the critters served for lunch, looking much like they did in life, face down on a bed of greens. But people came from across Peru to savor the meat and to compete in a cuy cookoff.

There was also a competition for the biggest guinea pig; the winner weighed in at almost 8 pounds of flesh, fat and fur. And some competed in a fashion show of traditional Andean dress, with guinea pigs decked out in fedoras and frilly skirts looking like Disney cartoons come to life.

But the food was the main event.

"This isn't common," said Nicolas Campos Sanchez, his lips shiny with grease as he ate a mouthful of barbecued guinea pig. "We're very proud of it."

Friday, July 6, 2007

China public restroom has 1,000 stalls

BEIJING - They're flush with pride in a southwestern Chinese city where a recently-opened porcelain palace features an Egyptian facade, soothing music and more than 1,000 toilets spread out over 32,290 square feet.

Officials in Chongqing are preparing to submit an application to Guinness World Records to have the free four-story public bathroom listed as the world's largest, the state-run China Central Television reported Friday.

"We are spreading toilet culture. People can listen to gentle music and watch TV," said Lu Xiaoqing, an official with the Yangrenjie, or "Foreigners Street," tourist area where the bathroom is located. "After they use the bathroom they will be very, very happy."

Footage aired on CCTV showed people milling about the sprawling facility and washing their hands at trough sinks. For open-aired relief, there is a cluster of stalls without a roof.

Some urinals are uniquely shaped, including ones inside open crocodile mouths and several that are topped by the bust of a woman resembling the Virgin Mary.

"Other bathrooms are all the same. This one is very special, I've never seen anything like it," one visitor to the tourist area told CCTV.

There are also plans to build a supermarket nearby, which will sell toilet-related items, CCTV reported.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Dinner guest finds host's wife, son in freezer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian man appeared in court on Friday after a woman at his dinner party found the bodies of his wife and stepson in the freezer as she put away the leftovers, prosecutors said.

The woman went to the police after discovering the 46-year-old woman and her 11-year-old son and officers arrested the man in the town of Verviers, near Liege in east Belgium, on Wednesday.

"She went to the freezer and that is what she saw. She then alerted the police," said Georges Lahaye of the local public prosecutors' office. Prosecutors want the suspect, aged 43, to be remanded in custody to allow more time for an investigation into the deaths.

Lahaye said the suspect had not made a confession. He added that the couple argued a lot.

Girl, 4, called 911 nearly 300 times

CARPENTERSVILLE, Ill. - Authorities tracked down a 4-year-old girl who called 911 nearly 300 times last month by offering to deliver McDonald's to her suburban Chicago apartment.

Unbeknownst to her mother, the girl used a deactivated cell phone to call dispatchers 287 times in June — sometimes as often as 20 times a shift.

Dispatchers heard the child's voice but could only track the phone's signal to the apartment complex.

So authorities used a ruse to pinpoint her.

"We asked (the caller) what she wanted. She said she wanted McDonald's," said Steve Cordes, executive director of QuadCom's emergency center, which covers Carpentersville.

"We talked with her and we convinced her if she told us where she lives, we would bring her McDonald's," he said. "She finally gave us her address. So we sent the police over — with no McDonald's."

After police arrived, the girl's mother took away the phone, Cordes said.

Under federal law, deactivated cell phones still must be able to access 911. Many deactivated phones will contact an emergency call center if the user holds down the nine key.

Scientists solve puzzle of Chile's missing lake

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Scientists said that a lake in southern Chile that mysteriously disappeared last month developed a crack which allowed the water to drain away.

A buildup of water opened a crack in an ice wall along one side of the lake. Water flowed through the crack into a nearby fjord and from there into the sea, leaving behind a dry lake-bed littered with icebergs, scientists told Chilean state television on Tuesday.

"It looks like it's slowly filling up with water again," said Andres Rivera, a glacier expert who headed a team which recently flew over the lake in a bid to solve the mystery.

The lake is situated in the Magallanes region in Patagonia and is fed by melt-water from glaciers. Earlier this year it had a surface area of 4 to 5 hectares (10-12 acres) -- about the size of 10 soccer fields.

Scientists noticed it had disappeared during a routine patrol of the area in May.

Rivera said the incident was evidence of the effects of global warming.

EU consumer chief wants "fire-safe" cigarettes

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's consumer chief aims to prevent thousands of fire-related deaths and injuries each year by making all cigarettes sold in EU countries self-extinguishing, European Commission officials said.

The "fire-safe" cigarettes stop burning automatically after a few seconds if not puffed, due to small gaps in the cigarette paper which cuts the circulation of oxygen.

Officials at the EU executive said EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva would bring forward proposals later this year to make the self-extinguishing cigarettes mandatory throughout the 27-nation bloc.

"Data from just 14 member states show that over 2,000 deaths a year are caused by cigarette-related fires, with thousands more people injured and tens of millions of euros worth of damage caused," a Commission official told Reuters.

"There have already been discussions with the various stakeholders such as the fire-safety authorities, the tobacco industry and consumer groups. There is general support across the board."

Commission officials are developing an EU-wide standard for the cigarettes, similar to one in the United States and Canada.

"Canada introduced legislation in 2005 and a number of U.S. states have followed suit including New York, New Jersey and California, while Australia intends to also bring in laws for fire-safe cigarettes," another Commission official said.

"So, it would be more sensible and easier for industry if we draw up a common standard to be used across the globe."

The officials said research showed the cost of the new regulations in North America did not affect the overall cost of cigarettes.

"The cost is around 0.01 to 0.02 euro cent per packet," a Commission official said.

The Commission officials said the tobacco industry told them it would back the plan, if it was given time to adapt to the new legislation.

Previously tobacco firms said chemical additives required for fire-safe cigarettes would cause more damage to smokers and complained that smokers would not like the new taste.

"We support the push, but it must be in line with the standard adopted in New York," said Richard James, spokesman for Philip Morris -- maker of top-selling Marlboro and other brands.

"Also it must be made clear that this measure alone with not totally prevent fires from burning cigarettes, smokers must also be more responsible when smoking."

ANEC, an EU-wide consumers' lobby group for standardisation, backed the move.

"From a safety point of view and saving people, we welcome this news, but on the other hand we do not want to encourage smoking and we are also cautious regarding the final contents of these cigarettes which will be agreed as some could be highly inflammable," an ANEC spokeswoman said.

Australia condom maker seeks "sexecutive" testers

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Condom makers say it's the world's best job, a "sexecutive position". An Australian company is seeking real life testers for its condom products.

"Got what it takes to be an official condom tester?" asks an advertisement launched by Durex Australia next to a photo of a busty young woman in a revealing nurse's outfit.

"With this job on your CV, it really will be a chance to brag to your mates about the special skills you possess, not to mention that your new role will work wonders with the opposite sex," Durex Marketing Manager Sam White told local media.

The "bed-testing" position is unpaid, but 200 selected testers would be up for free pack of Durex products, plus a bonus prize of A$1,000 (425 pounds) for one lucky winner, White said.

In return, testers would have to report back on the feel and performance of the company's products.

Only Australians need apply, and would-be testers will be asked to explain why they should be considered. Humour would help in the application, Durex said.

"To apply, simply explain why you think you're right for the position (missionary is acceptable) and you could be eligible for the employee bonus of $1,000," said the ad on Web site

Money falls from sky

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German motorist surprised by euro notes swirling in the air around her car hit the brakes and collected a "substantial amount of money" before turning it over to police, authorities in Worms said on Thursday.

A police spokesman in the small western town said the 24-year-old woman saw the money flying through the air in her rear view mirror late on Wednesday. She pulled over and tried to collect all the notes, unsuccessfully.
When police went with her to the scene they could not find any more cash.
A spokesman at Worms city hall said police were withholding details on the exact sum and location of the find in the hope of learning more about the money's orig

Money falls from sky

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German motorist surprised by euro notes swirling in the air around her car hit the brakes and collected a "substantial amount of money" before turning it over to police, authorities in Worms said on Thursday.

A police spokesman in the small western town said the 24-year-old woman saw the money flying through the air in her rear view mirror late on Wednesday. She pulled over and tried to collect all the notes, unsuccessfully.
When police went with her to the scene they could not find any more cash.
A spokesman at Worms city hall said police were withholding details on the exact sum and location of the find in the hope of learning more about the money's orig

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Which is the chatty sex? Turns out both are

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Men talk every bit as much as women do, U.S. researchers said after painstakingly counting every word that 400 volunteers spoke.

Their study, published on Thursday in the journal Science, challenges the common wisdom that women are somehow biologically programmed to talk more -- but the researchers said people do often fulfil gender roles when it comes to subject matter.

"Women and men both use on average about 16,000 words per day, with very large individual differences around this mean," the researchers, led by psychologist Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona, wrote.

Mehl and colleagues had been struck by widespread assertions that women talk more each day than men, and have a bigger vocabulary. "The 20,000-versus-7,000 word estimates appear to have achieved the status of a cultural myth," they wrote.

"So we generalize and say that women just talk all the time," Mehl added in a telephone interview.

Mehl's team tested this belief by recruiting 396 U.S. and Mexican college students who wore a personal digital assistant with a recorder for anywhere between two and 10 days.

The devices recorded for 30-second periods every 12 or so minutes, giving representative samples of how much each person talked.


Teams of transcribers took down every word and then extrapolated each person's daily verbiage.

"The data suggest that women spoke on average 16,215 words and men 15,669 words over an assumed period of, on average, 17 waking hours," the researchers wrote.

The variation among the different men in the sample and among the women was far greater than the differences between the sexes as a group, Mehl said.

"Just to illustrate the magnitude of difference, among the three most talkative males in the study, one used 47,000 words. The least talkative male spoke just a little more than 500," he said.

Mehl noted that because all the volunteers were college students, there could be social or cultural factors at work. But the study suggests that there is no underlying biological difference that accounts for talkativeness.

"I think the next step is to look into older community samples, maybe older adults in different parts of the world and see whether different cultural norms play a role," Mehl said.

There were stereotypical difference in subject matter.

"Men talk more about technology, work, money. They also use more numbers," he said.

"Women talk more about fashion and about relationships."

But again, Mehl said, the differences between two men or between two women were far greater than overall sex differences.

And both sexes can babble on senselessly. "Sometimes you find a stream of words but people don't say very much," he said. "You just talk and talk and talk."

Blinded by love, man stabbed in eye by girlfriend

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong woman who blinded her boyfriend in one eye in a fight six years ago has been jailed for jabbing a chopstick into his other eye, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Last November, Po Shiu-fong, 58, accused long-time boyfriend Kwok Wai-ming, 49, of having an affair, the South China Morning Post reported.

During the row, Po stabbed a plastic chopstick into his left eye, which she had already blinded six years ago when she poked it with her finger.

"Po became hysterical when she saw the wound and mopped it with a towel. The pair then went to bed," the paper said.

"The next morning they had another argument in which she grabbed a chopstick and stabbed Kwok's right eye," it said.

Two days later, he sought medical treatment and filed a police report against Po, whom he had dated since 1993.

The paper said he didn't report the attack six years ago, telling the court his silence was "a love sacrifice."

Kwok lost 10 to 20 percent vision in his right eye, the paper said.

Po was jailed for six months on Tuesday.

"If I forgive her, God would not forgive me," the paper quoted Kwok as saying. "No matter what, nothing could compensate for the loss of my eye."

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Ice cream vendor accused of selling pot

BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Southwestern Michigan authorities say they arrested an ice cream truck operator who was selling marijuana along with his frozen desserts.

After authorities got tips about the alleged pot-peddler, a deputy "heard jingling bells" about 2 p.m. Thursday and saw the ice cream truck entering a mobile home park, Berrien County sheriff's Lt. Keith Hafer said in a written statement.

Deputy John Hopkins stopped the truck, spoke with the driver and "detected the odor of marijuana coming from the truck (along with tutti-frutti and a couple other flavors)," Hafer wrote.

Authorities searched the van and found several packages of marijuana under the dashboard, the statement said.

The 36-year-old suspect was jailed while awaiting arraignment on charges of marijuana possession with intent to deliver and maintaining a drug vehicle. He also faces an outstanding warrant for skipping child support, Hafer said.

Authorities released the vehicle to the vending company "in spite of an effort by Narcotics Officers to devise a way to forfeit the vehicle and its icy cold treats," Hafer said. He said police would seek revocation of the company's license to operate in Benton Township.

Gender minister bodyguard accused of groping

TOKYO (Reuters) - A policeman assigned as a bodyguard for Japan's gender equality minister has been arrested on suspicion of molesting a female college student on a train, a police spokesman said on Thursday.

The 39-year-old bodyguard is suspected of touching the young woman's bottom on a train in Tokyo on Monday night, the spokesman said. He was turned over to police by fellow passengers.

The bodyguard was quoted by Kyodo news agency as saying he was drunk and did not remember what happened.

"I am surprised and worried," Sanae Takaichi, the cabinet minister for gender equality, was quoted by her office as saying, adding that she did know details of the allegation.

Takaichi, one of three women in the cabinet, was known before taking up her post last September as an opponent of legislation to allow women to keep their family name after marriage.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Brazilian pair record longest final set

LONDON (Reuters) - Brazil's Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa entered the Wimbledon record books on Wednesday when they won the longest final set in championship history.

The Brazilian pair upset sixth seeds Paul Hanley of Australia and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe, winning 5-7 7-6 4-6 7-6 28-26 in a rain-interrupted encounter that spanned an unprecedented four days of play.

Although an opening doubles set in the 1968 championships took 62 games to complete, the 54 played on Court 16 is the most for a deciding set.

The total of 102 games played was also the most in a single match since tiebreaks were introduced in 1973.

The match began on Saturday. It ended after five hours and 58 minutes play and was 11 minutes shy of the longest match in Wimbledon history when Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor beat Simon Aspelin and Todd Perry in the last year's doubles quarter-final.

Risque EU defends Internet orgasm clip

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Talk of monetary union and wine quotas gave way to controversy over orgasms and innuendo at the European Commission on Wednesday as it defended a risque Internet video clip highlighting its backing for European cinema.

The EU executive's usually dry daily news briefing sprung to life with questions over whether a 44-second clip of 18 couples achieving ecstasy in a variety of positions and venues was the best way to show how Brussels uses taxpayers' money.

The raunchy clip is made up of snippets from various general release films that have been funded by the EU, including "Amelie" and "Good Bye Lenin!."

Some reporters also took a swipe at the title of the sequence, asking whether "Let's Come Together" was acceptable innuendo -- and if it was, whether the pun worked in the 27-member Union's other official languages.

A Commission spokesman insisted it had not received a single complaint in the 14 weeks since the clip first appeared on Internet site YouTube (, suggesting the Brussels press corps should relax and get with the times.

"Let us for once also have a good sense of humor and let us not start the old wars of the fifties about what is sex, what is pornography and what is simply normal to watch on television," spokesman Martin Selmayr appealed.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Woman wins settlement in breast-feeding case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Watch-maker and clothier Fossil Inc. agreed to pay $3,600 to a woman who was barred from breast-feeding her infant while visiting a company showroom, the New York Civil Liberties Union said on Tuesday.

Lass King, 37, a buyer for a Maine clothing store and a mother of two, said she received a letter of apology and the payment from Fossil after threatening the company with a lawsuit.

In its letter to King, Fossil also said it had issued a policy affirming that breast-feeding was permitted in all Fossil stores and showrooms, said Galen Sherwin, director of the NYCLU's Reproductive Rights Project.

Representatives of Fossil could not immediately confirm details of the settlement.

New York law states that women are permitted to breast-feed "in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be."

King called her experience humiliating.

In August 2006, while meeting with a salesperson in a Manhattan showroom, King was told she was making others feel uncomfortable by breast-feeding her 8-month-old son, Cody.

King was taken to another floor to finish feeding Cody but was then not allowed back into the showroom. In January, as she made plans to again visit a Fossil showroom, she was told by a Fossil representative that breast-feeding was forbidden.

"I wanted to be apologized to. I wanted not to be humiliated or for anybody else to be humiliated either," she told Reuters of her decision to contact the civil liberties organization.