Monday, March 31, 2008

Learn English or go to jail!

A judge in the US state of Pennsylvania has ordered three Spanish-speaking men to learn English or go to jail.

The trio, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery, were told they could remain on parole if they studied English and got full-time jobs.

Judge Peter Olszewski said the unusual sentence was supposed to help the men. They will serve their full jail terms if they fail an English test in a year.

Lawyers for the three said they had not yet decided whether they would appeal.

Luis Reyes, Ricardo Dominguez and Rafael Guzman-Mateo, ranging in age from 17 to 22, all needed translators when they pleaded guilty at the Luzerne County court.

Police said they were in a group which had accosted two men on a street in May last year. The two said they had been asked if they had marijuana, hit on the head and threatened with a gun.

The Luzerne County judge sentenced the three defendants to jail terms of between four and 24 months but said they could be released on immediate parole provided they met his conditions.

The men have been ordered to return with their parole officers in 12 months' time to be tested on their reading and writing skills.

"If they don't pass, they're going in for the 24 [months]," Judge Olszewski said.

Blind pilot breaks sound barrier

A Derbyshire adventurer has become the first blind man to break the sound barrier as the pilot of a supersonic fighter jet. Miles Hilton-Barber, from Duffield, flew with a sighted co-pilot reaching speeds of up to 1,100mph over Cape Town, South Africa on Sunday.

The jet climbed to 50,000ft (15,000m) in under two minutes.

The 59-year-old said it had made him "one of the happiest and most fulfilled blind men in the world". He said: "The rush was incredible. It was just wonderful.

"Of course, I couldn't see anything but my co-pilot told me that when we flying upside down at 50,000ft. You could see the curve of the earth. We were flying at around one-and-a-half times the speed of sound."

The sponsored record attempt in the English Electric Lightning aircraft was a bid to raise £50,000 for the charity Seeing is Believing, which helps blind children in developing countries.

"I will never see again but there are children in the world who could have their sight back for just £30. There are 37 million blind people in the world today, and 28 million could see again tomorrow if the money was available," Mr Hilton-Barber said.

The pilot also holds a record for flying a microlight from London to Sydney.

French kiss record attempt

A French group set up a 100-strong 'kissing chain' in New York's Union Square over the weekend, in an attempt to set a new world record.

Organised by the Institute Bonne Heure, the kissing chain - which saw each person in the line kiss each of their neighbours - was intended to "spread happiness and freedom", according to one participant.

The group's attempt has yet to be verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tintin art record

Captain Haddock would have choked on his whisky: original artwork for a Tintin comic book fetched a record €764,200 ($1.32 million) at a Paris auction today.

The 1932 oil painting, executed for the iconic cover of Tintin in America smashed the previous world record for an original comic book work.

That was set in March 2007 when a drawing by artist Enki Bilal called Bleu Sang (Blue Blood) fetched €177,000.

Judged a "museum piece" in Artcurial's auction catalogue, the painting by Tintin's Belgian creator Herge finally sold for €764,200, including expenses.

Total earnings for today's one-off sale of 650 comic originals - each of which had a starting price of €280,000 - came to roughly €3.4 million, the gallery and auction house said.

Fined from Oz

NO one likes getting a speeding ticket in the post. But when South Australian police sent one half way around the world to David Smart in northern England, the 65-year-old former surveyor was flabbergasted.

Mr Smart was fined $196 for driving 8km/hr over the speed limit in the Adelaide Hills, despite the fact he has never been to Australia. Adding to the mystery are claims by the police that the woman who owned the car allegedly involved signed a statutory declaration claiming Mr Smart had been behind the wheel.

"I've never been to Australia, which is a wonderful country I'm sure, and I would love to go there one day," Mr Smart said from his home in Scunthorpe. "And I've never had a ticket in my life, I'm pleased to say. The woman is obviously mistaken and where she got my name and address from I have no idea."

After consulting with local police in his home town of Scunthorpe, Mr Smart was advised not to pay the fine, which originally arrived in his letterbox last December.

However since then he has received a stern reminder from South Australian police, ordering him to pay up or risk being issued an even heftier fine. The fine states that the car was caught speeding at 68km/h in a 60km/h zone on Adelaide Rd, Littlehampton, at 9am on December 14, 2007.

"The owner of this vehicle, Fluin, Kathryn Julia, has affirmed in a statutory declaration that you were the driver of the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence," the fine said.

Mr Smart said he has never heard of the woman and has no intention of paying the fine.

"I went to my local police station and they advised me against payment because I haven't been there," he said. "I think if I get caught for speeding I'll have to give them Kathryn Fluin's name. "

Herbal Remedy Killer

Indonesian police say they are investigating the deaths of 21 people who drank a concoction labeled an herbal remedy.

Lt. Col. Yatim Suyatmo said Friday officers had yet to determine whether the brew was deliberately poisoned or inadvertently contaminated during production.

The victims in the town of Jambi on Sumatra island all died over the last two weeks, he said. He said the drink was made in a local factory.

Scores of companies in Indonesia produce pills and drinks labeled as herbal remedies or tonics. The government, which is seeking to regulate the sector, say many contain unspecified chemicals.

3M falls short

FRESNO, CALIF. - In a case that proves that size really does matter, 3M Co. has agreed to pay almost $700,000 to settle a Fresno County case that alleged the company sold undersize adhesive tapes.

Fresno County prosecutors made their case stick by showing that 3M's Scotch and Tartan brand adhesive and packaging tapes were 6 percent narrower than advertised.

"They knew what the width was, and they seemed to want to exaggerate it," said Alan Yengoyan, the Fresno County deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case.

Under the settlement announced Thursday, 3M agreed to change its labels. It also will pay Fresno County $600,000 in civil penalties and an additional $75,000 into a state trust fund to benefit county and state weights and measures offices. The company also will pay $18,000 to the state Department of Measurement and Standards, which investigated the case.

In settling the case, 3M did not admit liability or guilt. Company officials could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

The case involved violations of the state and federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, Yengoyan, said.

A tape that was labeled for "1-inch use" measured 0.94 of an inch. That 6 percent deficiency also showed up on the company's other tape products.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Oldest voice recording, 1860

US audio historians have discovered and played back a French inventor's historic 1860 recording of a folk song -- the oldest-known audio recording -- made 17 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.

"It's magic," audio historian David Giovannoni said on Thursday. "It's like a ghost singing to you."

Lasting 10 seconds, the recording is of a person singing "Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit" ("By the light of the moon, Pierrot replied") -- part of a French song, according to First Sounds, a group of audio historians, recording engineers, sound archivists and others dedicated to preserving humankind's earliest sound recordings.

It was made on April 9, 1860, by Parisian inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville on a device called the phonautograph that scratched sound waves onto a sheet of paper blackened by the smoke of an oil lamp, Giovannoni said.

Giovannoni said he learned on March 1 of its existence in an archive in Paris and travelled to the French capital a week later. Experts working with the First Sounds group then transformed the paper tracings into sound.

"It's important on so many levels," Giovannoni said in a telephone interview. "It doesn't take anything away from Thomas Edison, in my opinion. Thomas Edison is generally credited as the first person to have recorded sound."

"But actually the truth is he was the first person to have recorded (sound) and played it back. There were several people working along the lines of Scott, including Alexander Graham Bell, in experimenting -- trying to write the visual representation of sound before Edison invented the idea of playing it back," Giovannoni said.

Flybe scam

An environmental row has erupted after a budget airline advertised for budding actors to fill empty seats on superfluous flights in order to meet strict passenger quotas.
Flybe put on eight additional flights between Norwich and Dublin this weekend so that it did not miss out on a £280,000 rebate.

An advert on the website, a recruitment site for extras in films and television shows, offered £82 a day, stating:

"Extras aged 16+ needed for paid work flying to Dublin. You will be boarding an aircraft and flying to Dublin and then flying back into Norwich Airport."

Sources at Norwich Airport said that in a desperate bid to boost passenger numbers before the end of the financial year tomorrow, Flybe had laid on extra aircraft to make 11 flights from Norwich to Dublin this weekend instead of its usual three.

Flybe pays Norwich Airport a substantial sum to operate its services, but as part of the deal it qualifies for a rebate if it meets passenger quotas. But Flybe was 172 short of its 15,000 annual target on the Dublin route.

According to airport officials, many of Flybe's last-minute passengers will land at Dublin, leave the plane and enter the terminal, then wait for the next flight straight back to Norwich.

Snore Wars

A man launched a four-year campaign of vandalism against his neighbours in a row over snoring. David Chandler, 39, regularly kept Jacques Cilliers awake at night because his snoring could be heard through the wall dividing their houses.

And when Mr Cilliers and his family complained, Chandler took revenge by damaging their car late at night. He slashed the vehicle's tyres 15 times and was caught only after his victims installed CCTV.

Claudius Taylor, prosecuting, told Reading magistrates that Chandler, who is unemployed, had a sleep disorder.

"This caused him to make breathing noises which went through the walls and disturbed his neighbours," he said. "This neighbour's family were abusive towards him and he could hear them talking about it. He then got into a blind rage and the only way to release his anger was to slash the tyres."

Representing himself, Chandler, from Reading, claimed he was mentally ill. "All I can say is that on most of these occasions I was provoked considerably," he said.

Chandler admitted four counts of criminal damage this year and asked for 11 similar charges dating back to 2004 to be taken into account.

The case was adjourned for pre-sentence reports.

Sand castle enforcement

South Carolina - Building in the sand is free, but beach lovers who leave their castles behind could soon pay the price. Under a new proposal, beachcombers could get a $128 to $500 ticket for not flattening sand castles and not filling in holes when they're through. City leaders intend to discuss the proposal more in the next month.

Todd Brower, a vacationer from North Carolina who sculpted a mound of sand with a spade on Friday, found the proposal ludicrous. "I'd laugh at them," Brower said. "I've never heard of such a thing. If I was fined for leaving a hole, I would never come back," he said. "I'd just go to Sullivan's Island."

Palan Lussier, a part-time resident of Ohio who read about the city's potential law, found it equally ridiculous. "You've got to be kidding me," she said as her children rolled in a hole nearby. "Someone has too much time on their hands," Lussier's husband Steve said. "Police have got better things to do than sand castle enforcement."

Police and Mayor Mike Sottile said enforcement would be nearly impossible. They would have to watch the creation from start to finish and then catch its sculptors as they walk away.

Isle of Palms City Councilman Ryan Buckhannon, who sits on the public safety committee that formulated the law's first draft, said the provision is part of a bigger proposal aimed at stopping droves of tourists from leaving items and large holes behind.

"It's a disposable world now," he said.

Tourists often abandon their tents, coolers and surfboards for others to enjoy. The proposed law would require people to pick up after themselves and knock over sand castles before leaving the area.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Sorry about the lack of posts, but I'm on holiday. I thought I'd be able to sneak a few posts in, but I've been having too much fun :)

Should be back to normal on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

35 Marathons in 22 days

A 48-year-old father-of-two plans to run the equivalent of 35 marathons in 22 days to raise money for charity.

Bernie Hollywood, from south Wirral, hopes to finish by taking part in the London Marathon on 13 April.

Mr Hollywood is starting his journey at John o'Groats before covering an average of 50 miles per day over a 900-mile cross-country course.

He will make the entire journey with a 15ft Barnardo's billboard, weighing almost two stone, strapped to his back.

Last year Mr Hollywood became the first person to run the Flora London Marathon course seven times in seven consecutive days.

He is also one of just 50 people in the world to have trekked unsupported to the geographic North Pole.

Over the past 20 years he has raised more than £750,000 for various charities.

The aim of his latest feat is to raise £100,000 for Barnardo's which will help the charity provide counselling and fostering.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Germans lose their marbles -

- Crown.

Competitors at the annual World Marble Championships celebrated long into the evening after a British team beat the Germans for the first time in years. The Yorkshire Meds took the silver trophy from reigning champions, 1st MC Erzgebirge II at the tournament in Tinsley Green, West Sussex.

German teams had won for several years, with a break of one year in 2005.

"It was very good to see the Germans beaten for once," said landlord of the Greyhound Inn, Dennis Baxindale.

The village, near Crawley, is reputed to be the scene of an epic marbles battle in Elizabethan times over the hand of a local maiden. The competition, which has been held at the pub since 1932, attracts competitors from as far afield as Australia and hundreds of spectators.

A total of 21 teams, ranging in age from 11 to 70 took part, including three from Germany. Teams, each made up of six people, take to the marble ring in a series of knock-out rounds.

Sam McCarthy-Fox, secretary of the British Marbles Board of Control, said many of the competitors took the game very seriously, with some teams practising several times a week.

He said contestants must abide by a strict set of rules, so must know their fudging from their cabbaging. Apart from that, "a strong thumb and a good hand-eye coordination are the most important skills to have", he said.

Len the moaner

Tampa International Airport has a serious problem. Complaints about noise from planes heading to the airport more than quadrupled last year, reaching a record 1,278 — an average of almost five per day. That's up from 256 complaints in 2006 and 179 in 2005. What happened? Has air traffic increased so drastically over the skies of Tampa Bay that it's disrupting homeowners like never before?

Or is it just Lenox Stevens? Stevens is a single guy with no kids, he cares for his ailing 80-year-old father in their modest ranch home south of Gandy Boulevard, not far from the bridge and Tampa Bay.

And for the past year and a half, Stevens said, they have feared for their safety, while listening to the constant roar of planes flying overhead. They shouldn't be here, he said. He is determined to document each and every one.

Feb. 7, 2007, was a typical day: Stevens woke up about 7 a.m. and logged his first, a small jet. Nineteen more made the list until he got tired around 10:10 p.m.

"You can see big gaps in there where I went to the store and stuff," Stevens said.

Of 1,278 noise complaints last year, 1,060 — 83 percent — came from Stevens.

Commercial planes should be rare where Stevens lives. Many come from the Northeast and are supposed to fly over water, south over Hillsborough Bay, curving west around MacDill Air Force Base and heading north over Tampa Bay to make their descent at the airport.

Instead, Stevens said, they take shortcuts across South Tampa, which they're only supposed to do in dangerous conditions. Others have noticed an increase in the planes, but Stevens is the only one doing anything about it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

UK's smallest office

What is possibly Cornwall's tiniest office, known as the Tardis House, is on sale for nearly £20,000. The 7ft by 6ft building, close to Truro's cathedral, has room for a table, chair, computer and very little else.

The building, originally built as a loo, is being offered for sale with a 125-year lease at £19,950. A business is currently being run from the site, which is built over the river on Wilkes Walk.

"It is the smallest office building we have ever sold," estate agent Neil Sargent from Stratton & Holborrow said. "I can stand in it with my arms outstretched and touch the walls. When there's two of you in there it gets pretty friendly."

Crucifixion warning

Health officials in the Philippines have issued a warning to people taking part in Easter crucifixion rituals. They have urged them to get tetanus vaccinations before they flagellate themselves and are nailed to crosses, and to practise good hygiene.

On Good Friday dozens of very devout Catholics in the Philippines re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

It is something that has become a huge tourist attraction, although the Church frowns on the practice. The health department has strongly advised penitents to check the condition of the whips they plan to use to lash their backs, the Manila Times newspaper reports.

They want people to have what they call "well-maintained" whips. In the hot and dusty atmosphere, officials warn, using unhygienic whips to make deep cuts in the body could lead to tetanus and other infections.

And they advise that the nails used to fix people to crosses must be properly disinfected first. Often people soak the nails in alcohol throughout the year. Every Good Friday, in towns across the Philippines, people atone for sins or give thanks for an answered prayer by re-enacting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Forgotten something?

A shoplifter looking to make a quick getaway from a Dutch supermarket after stealing a packet of meat left police a crucial piece of evidence – his 12-year-old son.

In his haste the 45-year-old thief made a solo dash to his car, batting away a supermarket worker who had flung himself on the vehicle's bonnet in a bid to stop the escape.

Police in the southern Dutch town of Kerkrade said they managed to contact the thief via the boy, but he had refused to return and collect his son. The man told officers to get hold of the youngster's mother instead.

The thief later turned himself in on Thursday, a police spokeswoman said.

Fisherman arrested

The winner of a prestigious Nigerian fishing festival has been stripped of his title and thrown in jail after rivals complained he cheated. The 66kg (132lb) fish that won the competition in Argungu, in northern Kebbi State, was already dead when it came out of the water, officials said.

Bello Yakub has been arrested and will appear before a magistrate next week. The monster fish netted him prizes worth $33,000, including a car and a ticket to go on the Hajj pilgrimage.

It is thought the fish may have been caught in the much larger Niger River and brought to Argungu, where fishing is banned except during the festival.

"Other fishermen claimed he was not really one of them," the Emir of Argungu, Samaila Mera, said. "We investigated and found that he couldn't have taken it from the river in Argungu because the gills showed the fish was long dead."

Mr Yakub had told reporters this was the first time he had won in more than 30 attempts.

"I just hope I can use the prize money for something good," he said.

The festival has been held regularly, along with an agricultural show and other cultural displays, since 1934.

Lollipops fight cavities

A UCLA scientist says he has developed an anti-germ lollipop that can help fight cavities. Americans spent an estimated $85 billion on oral health care last year. Still, 79 percent of children will have a cavity by age 17.

Dr. Wenyuan Shi, a medical microbiologist at UCLA, believes Americans are taking the wrong approach to fighting tooth decay. In response, he has combined ancient Eastern medicine and modern technology, and created a candy solution.

"This is really an anti-germ lollipop. … It can prevent and protect you from tooth decay," Shi said. "We really recognize the power of those Asian wisdoms."

Shi took 2,000 herbs, such as those available in a Chinese remedy store, and conducted more than 50,000 experiments, looking for a natural enemy to cavity-causing bacteria.

"To our great surprise, we're left with licorice," Shi said.

Licorice root actually does contain an anti-cavity compound. First, it must be soaked to draw out its potency. Then when the liquid evaporates, what's left is a cavity-blasting powder component, he said.

There's a video HERE

Dog hair memorials

A Newcastle couple have found a unique way of keeping their beloved dead pets close to their hearts - by having the dog hair made into woolly sweaters. Beth and Brian Willis lost their white Samoyed, called Kara, 12 years ago and Swedish Lapphund, Penny, in 2002.

After seeing a picture of Princess Diana wearing a dog fur stole at Crufts, they collected thousands of dog hairs from brushes and carpets.

Mr Willis, who worked for Pickfords Removals for 27 years, wears his doggy jumper into town every Saturday to do the weekly shop.

The 73-year-old said: "They are extremely warm and pretty much waterproof. I've always got a sweat on by the time I get from the bus to the shops."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


On a cold Saturday in New York City, the world’s largest train station came to a sudden halt. Over 200 Improv Everywhere Agents froze in place at the exact same second for five minutes in the Main Concourse of Grand Central Station. Over 500,000 people rush through Grand Central every day, but today, things slowed down just a bit as commuters and tourists alike stopped to notice what was happening around them.

Clearing out the law books

For anyone who doesn't appreciate the sound of a brass band in full cry, it will come as disappointing news. A little-known law backing irritated householders who try to shoo away a noisy ensemble is one of hundreds of pieces of legislation being scrapped by the Government.

The 1839 law, which allows for a 40-shilling fine on street musicians who decline a request to move on, was introduced to deal with a proliferation of Victorian brass bands and street organs.

Also featured in the "spring clean" of 328 outdated or obsolete laws is legislation banning servants from impersonating their master or mistress, as well as laws covering turnpikes, Dickensian workhouses and even a 1960s Channel Tunnel plan.

Also to go is an Act of 1819 prohibiting unauthorised assemblies for the purpose of weapons training, passed to prevent a repeat of the Peterloo Massacre, when 11 people were killed and hundreds wounded in Manchester after cavalry charged on a political meeting.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Jack Straw said: "Laws on turnpikes, workhouses, and the Peterloo Massacre are rightly of interest to historians, but there is no need to retain them on the statute book.

With 35,000 unrepealed Acts and with Parliament churning out 3,000 pages of new law a year, updating the statute book is a daunting task.

Labour peer Lord Bach said: "The removal of these redundant and sometimes absurd pieces of legislation from the statute book helps to simplify and modernise the law."

Canoe commute

Commuter Ricardo Assis Rosa beats traffic jams — by going to work in a canoe.

The trainee architect, 29, paddles two miles down-river to his office and chains the craft to railings outside.

The 35-minute journey from Bath to Batheaston, Somerset, takes slightly longer than when he used to cycle or go by bus.

But Portuguese Ricardo said: “It’s a lot more pleasant. The fumes and noise and traffic can put me in a bad mood all day, but after a gentle canoe into work I feel relaxed and full of energy".

Police ban celebrating

A football club has criticized police for banning them from drinking champagne to celebrate a title win. The bottles were produced at East Stirlingshire's Firs Park after East Fife moved to an unassailable 24-point lead in the Scottish Third Division.

Directors were warned that having alcohol in glass containers was illegal in football grounds and they were told by the police to remove them. East Fife director Dave Marshall told the BBC Scotland news website:

"We took champagne with us on the bus, but we didn't want to pre-empt the outcome, so we left it on the bus. Towards the end of the game, one of the guys took it off the bus and put it in the dressing-room. After the match, another of the guys brought the bottles out and began to celebrate Formula One style. One of the local bobbies took exception to it and said put it away or they would be arrested. They took it into the dressing-room."

According to directors, when players brought the bottles back out onto the stands, officers threatened to confiscate them - but the contents had all been consumed or sprayed, so they were binned.

Ch Insp Audrey McLeod, from Central Scotland Police, said East Fife were warned about the law when an officer spotted the bottles being taken off the bus. It states that glass containers are not permitted inside sporting grounds.

"During the subsequent celebrations the bottles were produced and champagne was sprayed over the fans who were gathered on the pitch," said Chief Insp McLeod.

RIP Sir Arthur C Clarke

British science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke has died in his adopted home of Sri Lanka at the age of 90. The Somerset-born author came to fame in 1968 when short story The Sentinel was made into the film 2001: A Space Odyssey by director Stanley Kubrick.

His visions of space travel and computing sparked the imagination of readers and scientists alike. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse paid tribute, hailing the writer as a "great visionary".

Since 1995, the author had been largely confined to a wheelchair by post-polio syndrome. He died at 0130 local time (2000 GMT) of respiratory complications and heart failure, according to his aide, Rohan De Silva.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Danny Boy record

FERNDALE, Michigan - A "Danny Boy" marathon at a coffee shop in Michigan is finally in the books after 50 hours and nearly 1,000 continuous performances.

AJ's Music Cafe in Ferndale hosted the effort to make it into the Guinness Book of World Record. The 50-hour marathon began at 3 p.m. Saturday and ran until 5 p.m. Monday.

There were classical, folk, blues, rap, spoken word and foreign language versions of "Danny Boy" played on instruments including the piano, trombone, violin and kazoo.

According to the cafe's website, owner AJ O'Neil planned to hold a mock funeral for the ballad at the marathon's conclusion.

Dog prescribed Viagra

A three-year-old border collie, named Talisker has been saved from certain death – by being prescribed Viagra. The dog developed a dangerously enlarged heart after a lung infection.

Talisker passed out when he got excited because his blood could not pump fast enough – and owner Lesley Strong, 58, was warned he would die.

So she was stunned when vet Nat Whitley said sex pill Viagra could help as it improves blood flow to the heart. Lesley now collects the prescription – labeled Talisker: Strong – from the chemist and puts it in his grub.

The former pub landlady, of Yardley Hastings, Northants, said: “I was shocked when the vet recommended Viagra and it raised a few eyebrows when I first collected the prescription – but it’s given Talisker a new lease of life.”

What shall we do with the drunken sailors?

BALTIMORE - Five crew members of a Maltese-flagged ship held in Maryland waters have been charged with improperly operating the ship because crew members were intoxicated and one pulled a knife on a Maryland pilot, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors announced the arrests Monday in an ongoing investigation by the Coast Guard and Maltese officials into what happened March 10 aboard the Ocean Victory.

Maryland Chesapeake Bay pilots sought Coast Guard assistance after learning several crew members were intoxicated while they were navigating out of the bay.

A bay pilot demanded Master Wojciech Kowalski, 63, find a sober sailor to man the wheelhouse, authorities said. But prosecutors said Volodym Voychenko, 45, smelled of alcohol and shoved the pilot before threatening the pilot with a large knife.

Those arrested Friday include Kowalski of Poland and Second Officer Yevgen Bystrov, 39, from Ukraine. Two seaman Sergey Prokofyev, 37, of Russia, Voychenko of Ukraine, and oiler Yuri Shelkunov, 29, of Ukraine were charged.

Prokofyev, Shelkunov, Bystrov and Voychenko were charged with operating the vessel while intoxicated. Kowalski was charged with making false statements, failing to make sure the boat was properly manned and failing to notify the Coast Guard it wasn't properly manned.

The 328-foot-vessel has been anchored at the mouth of the Patuxent River since a no-sail order March 10.

Civil suit?

TAMPA — In the early months of the Civil War, the city of Tampa needed ammunition and other supplies to defend against attack but apparently was short on cash. So it issued a promissory note for $299.58 to storekeeper Thomas Pugh Kennedy on June 21, 1861.

Kennedy's great-granddaughter says the city never made good on its loan. Now, Joan Kennedy Biddle and her family are suing to collect the payment plus 8 percent annual interest.

The total bill: $22.7-million.

"Obviously we came at a bad time because the city seems like they're trying to cut their budget," she said. "On the other hand, they're building the Riverwalk."

Attorney James Purdy filed the suit in the Hillsborough Circuit Court last week. He did not return calls for comment.

Biddle wouldn't give specifics on why she decided to sue now, using as evidence a piece of paper that has been handed down as an heirloom for generations.

"This thing has been in the family since the date on the note, and it has never been repaid," said Biddle, 77. "My daddy told me, and I certainly believe him."

Tampa City Attorney David Smith said he doesn't consider the claim valid.

Mystery recreated

A piece of Britain's most famous warship is being used to help recreate an historic voyage.

Sailor and adventurer Pete Goss has bought a piece of Nelson's 18th Century flagship HMS Victory and turned it into a chart table for his new craft.

The 36ft (11m) Spirit of Mystery will also incorporate parts of the Cutty Sark and the SS Great Britain when it sets sail to Australia. Goss is recreating the journey of a Cornish lugger more than 150 years ago.

Seven Cornishmen made the journey to Melbourne in the wooden vessel Mystery to escape poverty and seek out a new life during the Australian gold rush. Leaving Newlyn in November 1854, the Mystery travelled about 11,800 nautical miles in 116 days before arriving in Melbourne in March 1855. The only break in the voyage was a week in Cape Town for repairs and replenishment.

Part of the rigging from Isambard Kingdom Brunel's SS Great Britain is also being used.

Goss became an MBE in 1997 for the dramatic rescue of a fellow competitor in a round-the-world race.

In December 2000 he made world headlines again when he and his crew were evacuated from the 120ft-long, £4m catamaran Team Philips in an Atlantic storm.

Pot luck

DENVER, Colorado – Monday began like any other for Nick Rowlingson, but the moment he stepped off an RTD bus, he knew this day would be different - it would be very lucky.

Usually, Rowlingson drives to work but with a lot of snow in the forecast he decided to take the bus. When he stepped off the bus, he noticed something on the ground next to a bench. It was still dark in the early morning, and he could barely make it out.

When he leaned down he saw it crystal clear: a pot of gold.

It was a plastic pot filled with $50 in gold-colored Sacagawea dollar coins, and an extra $3.17 (the date).

There was also a note:

"Happy St. Patrick's Day ... Because there is not enough magic in the world. Because I have many wonderful things in my life, and some of them feel like magic to me. Because I used to wish that would find a pot of gold. Because I would have been thrilled to find this. Have a great day."

"It was so cool the way I found them (the coins)," said Rowlingson. "I'm going to try and pay it forward somehow."

Rowlingson also said he would try and keep his luck going.

"I am going to go get one lottery ticket today," he said.

The mystery donor of the pot of gold has not come forward. Rowlingson is convinced it could have been a leprechaun.

Horseshoe millionaire

A 41-year-old Los Angeles man became California's newest millionaire by winning a horseshoe-pitching contest at the Santa Anita Park race track. John Placzankis celebrated his windfall by offering to buy drinks for every person in the crowd that witnessed the event on Saturday.

In a trackside interview immediately following his windfall, the punter told the crowd of 15,660 "the drinks are on me."

Placzankis, who said he hadn't tossed a horeshoe in 30 years, beat out four others for the one-million dollar prize by pitching a perfect ringer in his only try. Placzankis was one of five horse racing fans who had their names drawn as finalists.

He said he tried to loosen up ahead of time by knocking back two beers. "I had a couple of beers, but they didn't have any effect."

Placzankis, who went from warehouse manager to millionaire in just a matter of minutes, said he plans to help his family out with the money.

"I am going to take care of my mom back home," said the former New Yorker. "I will pay some bills and take care of my nieces and nephews."

Asked what he was thinking as he prepared to make his opportune shot, he said, "I was just trying to relax. I'm pretty calm. I was just trying to throw it like a softball. I didn't want to go over the line (foul)."

Life for sale on eBay

An Australian has decided to sell up on the internet auction site Ebay not just his belongings but his entire life. Ian Usher says he wants to auction off not just everything he owns but his job too, in one life package.

The 44-year-old says he wants to raise funds for a life-changing adventure after his marriage broke down. Mr Usher, who emigrated to western Australia from Britain six years ago, hopes that he will be able to raise more than $400,000 (£185,000).

He wants to leave Australia with just the money in one hand and his passport in the other, on the first plane out.

His employer, at a carpet store in Perth, has agreed to take on whoever wins the auction on a two-week trial - with a view to a permanent position. The winning bidder will also get an airy open-plan house, a car, a motorcycle, as well as accessories to enjoy his sun-drenched lifestyle, including a spa and several surf boards.

Mr Usher says he is not trying to sell a sob story, but the auction seemed like the least emotionally-charged way to get a clean break. Comments on the plan via Mr Usher's website are overwhelmingly positive but there is no suggestion of anyone being first in line when the bidding opens in June.

Monday, March 17, 2008

California Honey Bee Crash

SACRAMENTO, California - Millions of swarming honey bees are on the loose after a truck carrying crates of the insects flipped over on a California highway.

The California Highway Patrol says 8-to-12 million bees escaped Sunday from the crates in which they were stored and swarmed over an area of Highway 99 and stung officers, firefighters and tow truck drivers trying to clear the accident.

CHP Officer Michael Bradley says a tractor trailer flipped over while entering the highway on its way to Yakima, Wash. The flatbed was carrying bee crates each filled with up to 30,000 bees.

Bradley says several beekeepers driving by the accident stopped to assist in the bee wrangling. The bees had been used in the San Joaquin Valley to pollinate crops.

World's most expensive apartment

Britain's property market might be stuck in the doldrums, but plans are under way to build the world's most expensive flat in central London.

Developers have received planning permission to convert a seven-storey 1930s office block in exclusive St James' Square into six flats, with the best apartment set to fetch between £115 million ($225m) and £120 million ($235m).

A source close to the deal told the Sunday Times newspaper the identity of the buyer remained a mystery. "The price has been agreed," the source said. "It is between £115 million and £120 million."

Only basic details of the flat's design have been revealed so far, including plans for large solar panels on the roof, a car lift to take vehicles to the basement parking area and cycle racks.

Hedgehog police escort

NZ - Why did the hedgehog cross the road? Because police stopped traffic to prevent it from being squashed. Palmerston North police were faced with a prickly problem during a drink-drive blitz on Milson Line on Friday night when a hedgehog tried to cross their checkpoint.

Traffic was stopped and the animal was escorted across the road.

"His reason for crossing the road was not ascertained and he was not breath-tested," Senior Sergeant Brett Calkin said.

About 80 drivers were stopped and breath-tested at the checkpoint, with four found to be over the limit.

They included a 42-year-old woman who was almost three times the legal breath-alcohol limit, despite telling police she had had only two drinks.

Rare table saved from skip

A rare table thrown on a skip and saved when its owners had second thoughts has been valued at more than £30,000. The flap top 19th Century walnut table was discovered near Welshpool, Powys, by Jeremy Lamond of Halls auction house in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.

"I spotted the table and my heart skipped a beat," said Mr Lamond, who knows of only one other, which is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

The piece by designer Edward William Godwin will be auctioned on 21 May. Mr Lamond said he was expecting interest from museums, institutions and furniture dealers in the UK, US and Japan.

The owners of the table, who do not want to be named, had initially consigned the table to a skip where its leg was broken, but they later retrieved it.

The family was astonished when told of its value, said Mr Lamond, fine art director of Shrewsbury-based auction house Halls.

"It's virtually identical to the image on the front cover of the book The Secular Furniture of EW Godwin by Susan Soros, which I have in my office. To the untrained eye it could be passed off as an Edwardian occasional table worth around £30, but I recognised the brass fittings and immediately thought it was by Godwin."

Born in Bristol, Godwin was a progressive English architect-designer who began his career working in the Gothic style of mid-Victorian Britain.

China's youngest rock band

Four eight-year-old children have created China's youngest band and hope to play at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games.


A woman from Washington, D.C., is seeking $54 million from Best Buy because she claims in a lawsuit that the consumer electronics retailer lost her laptop while it was in for repairs and tried to cover up its disappearance.

"It's a ridiculous number," admitted Raelyn Campbell, 37, of the $54 million figure. "I had to come up with a number that was significant enough that might force them to pay attention to me."

In her lawsuit filed Nov. 16 in Washington Superior Court, Campbell also claims the Richfield-based company failed to immediately notify her of the possibility of identity theft. She is seeking punitive damages, plus the cost of her computer and expenses for identity theft protection.

A Best Buy spokeswoman said the company already gave Campbell $1,110.35 for the cost of the laptop and warranty, as well as a $500 gift card for her inconvenience.

Campbell said in her blog that the $1,110.35 was put on her credit card without her knowledge in October, and she kept it to cover expenses. She tried to return the $500 gift card to Best Buy, and when she got no response, she donated it, she said.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hooch with a bite

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents seized 411 bottles of illegal hooch Thursday at Bayou Bob's Brazos River Rattlesnake Ranch in Palo Pinto County.

But it wasn't your typical variety of moonshine: the bottles of vodka also contained 10-inch rattlesnakes.

"In my 20 years with the TABC, I've never seen anything like it," Sgt. Charlie Cloud said Friday.

Bob Popplewell, the owner of Bayou Bob's, did not return messages left on his voicemail at his snake farm near Santo in Palo Pinto County.

TABC officials said they plan to file charges next week for the sale of alcohol without a permit and possession of alcohol with the intent to sell. Penalties for those charges include up to a year in the county jail and fines up to $1,000 upon conviction.

Popplewell received widespread attention last year when Texas wildlife officials decided to tighten regulations for the collection of turtles. He is believed to be largest buyer of turtles in the state.

He testified before Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners that he shipped 12,000 turtles out of state in 2006 and another 30,000 in 2005. Popplewell said that most of the turtles are shipped to Asia where they are considered a delicacy.

There was no evidence that Popplewell was shipping the snake-infused alcohol from his business but Cloud said the investigation is ongoing.

"I found it hard to believe he has 411 bottles going out of his store at any given time," Cloud said.

TABC officials said alcohol containing snakes or scorpions is popular in Asian cultures. An Internet search found operations selling Thai scorpion vodka, cobra whiskey, giant centipede whiskey, herbal gecko lizard wine and Mekong River eel wine.

"It's very bizarre," Cloud said. "We learned that these are believed to contain aphrodisiac properties. We heard that some people believe having a venomous animal creates hallucinations."

TABC agents received a tip several weeks ago and sent an undercover agent to the rattlesnake ranch to purchase the vodka. It wasn't on display.

"We had to go in and ask for it," Cloud said.

Fined for selling cans

Canada - Another Prince Edward Island retailer has been slapped with a fine for violating the province’s can ban. Tim MacKay, the owner of Kensington’s Sutton Kwik-Way, says he was handed a $220 ticket on March 4 for selling canned energy drinks.

Errol Waugh, another town businessman, had 9,780 cans seized from his store earlier this month and faces a fine of $1,020. Under provincial law it’s illegal to sell, offer for sale or display flavoured, carbonated beverages in non-refillable containers.
The provincial government hopes to have new regulations lifting the can ban in effect by May 1, although the bill has yet to be approved by the legislature.

The can ban was designed to protect Prince Edward Island from littering, keep it clean for tourists and protect local bottling jobs.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rat gnaws stash

An Ethiopian farmer who stashed his life savings of more than 12,000 dollars in a haystack has lost almost one-third of the deposit to rats who gnawed it away, state media said Thursday. The 52-year-old farmer from central Ethiopia, whose name was not given, preferred the straw pile for fear of losing his riches in case fire broke out in his house.

"Some 35,000 (3,804 dollars) of the 114,000 birr (12,391 dollars) which was hidden by a farmer in hay near his house ... was devoured by rats," the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) reported.

ENA said the man, who spurned repeated advice to use a bank instead, found out three weeks after he deposited the cash that he had lost part of it to the stealthy vermins.

"Though he was advised to deposit his money in a bank, he refused to do so for a long time," ENA added.

The agency did not say whether the farmer had changed "banks" after the rat raid.

PM forgets own laws

Lithuania's pipe-smoking prime minister said Thursday he would pay a euro290 (US$435) fine for violating a ban on lighting up in public establishments. Gediminas Kirkilas told national radio he had agreed to pay the fine that was levied on a bar in the Baltic Sea port town of Klaipeda.

"I'm to blame for this. I simply forgot that we can no longer smoke inside bars. I will cover this fine for the bar," Kirkilas said.

Lithuania's smoking ban, passed in 2006, punishes restaurants and bars for violations rather than the patrons who light up. The move sparked public outcry, but the ban was not reversed.

Kirkilas had been sitting with neighboring Latvia's Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis in the cafe last month when he decided to light up his pipe.

The Lithuanian leader has smoked a pipe for decades, and has refused to give up the habit despite criticism from the Health Ministry.

Smart glasses

Always losing your car keys? Help is at hand, after scientists invented a pair of glasses that will play back footage of the last time you saw them. Japanese academics unveiled the invention, codenamed Smart Goggle, which not only records what the wearer is seeing, but recognises it.

So, rather than searching for those elusive keys, you can tell the glasses what you are looking for and the technology will show you when, and where, you last saw it.

In the future, claims inventor Yasuo Kuniyoshi, the glasses will actually be more intelligent than the wearer, able to identify objects that their owner does not recognise.

In theory, the only question that the glasses will not be able to answer is "Where have I put my glasses?".

Blown away

It had seemed a romantic and highly original way to propose to the love of your life with a £6,000 diamond ring. Lefkos Hajji, 28, wanted to make his engagement one his girlfriend would never forget, only to have his dreams cruelly snatched from his grasp by a gust of wind.

Rather than simply dropping to one knee before Leanne, 26, he told a florist to put her engagement ring in a silver helium balloon. But no sooner had he left the shop when his plans backfired spectacularly and the balloons blew away - taking the ring with them.

Keeping his prize in sight, Mr Hajji, from Hackney, London, pursued the balloons for two hours in his car across London before giving them up as lost.

He told the Sun newspaper: "I couldn't believe it. I just watched as it went further and further into the air. I felt like such a plonker. It cost a fortune and I knew my girlfriend would kill me. I though I would give Leanne a pin so I could literally pop the question."

While Mr Hajji hopes the ring will still turn up, his girlfriend, as he suspected, was apparently less than impressed.

Bear convicted for theft of honey

The taste of honey was just too tempting for a bear in Macedonia, which repeatedly raided a beekeeper's hives. Now it has a criminal record after a court found it guilty of theft and criminal damage.

But there was an empty dock in the court in the city of Bitola and no handcuffed bear, which was convicted in its absence. The case was brought by the exasperated beekeeper after a year of trying vainly to protect his beehives.

For a while, he kept the animal away by buying a generator, lighting up the area, and playing thumping Serbian turbo-folk music. But when the generator ran out of power and the music fell silent, the bear was back and the honey was gone once more.

"It attacked the beehives again," said beekeeper Zoran Kiseloski.

Because the animal had no owner and belonged to a protected species, the court ordered the state to pay for the damage to the hives - around $3,500.

The bear, meanwhile, remains at large - somewhere in Macedonia.

Ethiopia checks it's gold

Ethiopia's national bank has been told to inspect all the gold in its vaults to determine its authenticity. It follows the discovery that some of the "gold" it had bought for millions of dollars was gold-plated steel.

The first hint that something was wrong reportedly came when the Ethiopian central bank exported a consignment of gold bars to South Africa. The South Africans sent them back, complaining that they had been sold gilded steel.

An investigation revealed that the bank had bought a consignment of fake gold from a supplier, who is now under arrest.

Other arrests followed, including business associates of the main accused; national bank officials; and chemists from the Geological Survey of Ethiopia, whose job it is to assay the bank's purchases of gold and certify that they are real.

But what has clearly now got the government even more worried is that another different batch of gold in the bank's vaults has also been found to be fake, and this time it was gold which had been there for several years, after being seized from smugglers trying to take it to Djibouti.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Man retires to cave

A man who spent 27 years working in the city of Adana, Turkey, said he could not imagine spending his retirement anywhere other than a cave where he was born.

Mehmet Tilki, 54, said the cave, located in the Hasankeyf region of Batman province, has all the modern furnishings he needs -- including electricity and satellite TV -- as well as the feeling of home, the Dogan News Agency reported Wednesday.

"Living in a cave is something else. My family visits me from time to time. I am very happy here," Tilki said.

Tilki said he passes the time by breeding partridges and freeing them into the wild.

"I freed four female partridges just the other day. I also have 10 domesticated partridges in my cave. They are like my children. Waking up to their sound is like a dream," he said.

The cave dweller said he also has two dogs that keep his unusual domicile secure.

"This cave, which my father left me, is my everything. Whenever I touch the walls I remember my childhood. Reports about this cave being submerged underwater after the dam is built make me unhappy," he said.

The Ilısu Dam, which is currently under construction, is expected to eventually submerge much of Hasankeyf.

800 Dogs Seized From Couple's Trailer

TUCSON, Ariz. -- About 800 small dogs, mostly Chihuahuas, were found in filthy conditions in an elderly Tucson couple's home in rural Avra Valley, Pima County sheriff's deputies said.

"This is the largest seizure that's happened in Pima County that I'm aware of," sheriff's Sgt. Terry Parish told the Tucson Citizen newspaper.

The situation came to light when a veterinarian called a woman who bought one of the dogs at the couple's residence to tell her the animal she brought in for an exam was ill and told her to notify authorities, deputies said.Dozens of dogs were removed from the triple-wide mobile home on Monday, according to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. Another 700 were rescued on Wednesday.

"That number of dogs in one home, it's beyond imagination," said Barbara Rebe, one of the pet rescuers.The Human Society said in some cases more than a dozen dogs were found stuffed into a single crate.

Authorities described the home as being in horrible condition, with urine and feces covering the premises.The couple who owns the trailer where the animals were discovered has not yet been identified.Workers said the elderly owners likely started as breeders with good intentions but got in over their heads and began hoarding.

Deputies also found some 80 parrots caged inside the trailer on the city's northwest side.

Mafia man too fat for prison

A court in Sicily has ruled that an accused Mafioso can be put under house arrest because he is too fat for any Italian jail. Salvatore Ferranti, who weighs 462lbs (33 stone), was allowed to go home after spending six months in four Italian prisons, his lawyer said.

Guards at the first two prisons said they constantly needed to help Ferranti, 36, get dressed and undressed, move about and go to the bathroom.

Guards at other prisons said there was no bed big enough for him, that he could not get through the bathroom door, and that they would be at a loss if he had to be taken to a hospital in an emergency.

Ferranti was accused of being a member of the Mafia clan once headed by Salvatore Lo Piccolo, the "boss of bosses" arrested last November.

Man paints car police style

LAS VEGAS, N.M. - Jessie Vigil's black-and-white car sports a red-and-blue emergency bar across the top and the word "police" painted on the doors. Vigil, however, isn't a cop. Law enforcement agencies say what he's done with his car isn't illegal as long as he doesn't act like a police officer.

He started decorating his 2007 Ford Mustang last summer to look like the police cruiser in the "Transformers" movie because his 7-year-old son, Thomas, was fond of the film.

"My intent was to re-create the movie car," said Vigil, a 35-year-old disabled veteran from the war in Iraq. "When I came back from Iraq, I tried to spoil him. I wasn't the best dad before."

He said he called the district attorney's office beforehand and spoke to Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Ulibarri, who tried to discourage his decorating scheme but couldn't find anything in the law that would stop Vigil as long as he didn't impersonate an officer.

Ulibarri said a state law prevents people from mimicking state police cars, which are painted black and white. But he also said the state police sell their old cars to private citizens without changing the colors.

"Are we violating our own law by not repainting them?" he asked.

He called the state law vague, and noted that normal state police cars aren't Mustangs.

Burning love

A Chinese bride burnt her new husband to death after he got into bed after a drunken argument without washing his feet, state media reported.

"Wang and his wife, Luo, were married on February 2. The couple, however, frequently fought over trivial things while still on their honeymoon," the official Xinhua news agency quoted a local newspaper as saying.

The couple, from the central province of Hubei, had another fight on the night of March 4, "and in frustration they together drank a bottle of liquor to ease their anger".

"At about 10 pm, Luo watched her husband get into bed without cleaning or washing his feet. In a fit of anger and intoxication, she set fire to the sheet he was sleeping in," the report said.

"When he awoke, the two began fighting before a very drunk Wang collapsed. As fire engulfed the bedroom. Luo escaped to the living room, leaving her other half to burn," it added.

The woman has been arrested, Xinhua said.

Sue-r grapes (update)

An accountant who tried to sue Marks & Spencer after he slipped on a grape and injured himself lost his case on Wednesday and was ordered to pay legal costs.

Alexander Martin-Sklan, 55, sued for more than £300,000 over the 2004 incident in which he said a squashed grape from the store got lodged under the sole of his right sandal, causing him to slip and fall.

He said he suffered a ruptured quadricep, adverse psychological effects and depression following the incident, which meant that his business suffered and he could no longer ski or play tennis.

But the judge ruled against him, determining that while there may have been a grape or some "crushed fruit or similar" on the sole of Martin-Sklan's sandal, he was not persuaded that it "caused the claimant to slip".

"In my judgment it was one of those accidents that could happen to anyone," the judge said.

Martin-Sklan, who represented himself in the case, was ordered to pay the retailer's legal fees of nearly £20,000. He refused to comment after the judgment.

Blind marathoner's bid scuppered by Argys

A blind man hoping to complete seven marathons in seven days has had to alter his route just weeks before his first challenge. Dave Heeley, 50, will run his first marathon in the Falklands Islands but is not allowed to use Argentinian air space to reach Chile for his second.

Organisers said the second challenge would now take place in Brazil.

Mr Heeley, from West Bromwich in the Black Country, has a guide and aims to finish at the London Marathon.

"When planning a global event like this there are always going to be logistical problems to iron out - whether that be in physical training or in the planning of the route and flights around the globe," he said.

"Dave's inspirational Seven Magnificent Marathons global challenge for Guide Dogs is made all the more extraordinary by the fact that he's blind" said Sir Ranulph Fiennes

"We have been unfortunate enough at this relatively late stage to be forced to change our route slightly due to the refusal to enter Argentinian air space."

Woman sits on boyfriend's toilet for 2 years

NESS CITY, Kan. - Deputies said a woman in western Kansas sat on her boyfriend's toilet for two years, and they're investigating whether she was mistreated.

Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple said a man called his office last month to report that something was wrong with his girlfriend.

Whipple said it appeared the 35-year-old Ness City woman’s skin had grown around the seat. She initially refused emergency medical services but was finally convinced by responders and her boyfriend that she needed to be checked out at a hospital.

“We pried the toilet seat off with a pry bar and the seat went with her to the hospital,” Whipple said. “The hospital removed it.”

Whipple said investigators planned to present their report Wednesday to the county attorney, who will determine whether any charges should be filed against the woman's 36-year-old boyfriend.

“She was not glued. She was not tied. She was just physically stuck by her body,” Whipple said. “It is hard to imagine. ... I still have a hard time imagining it myself.”

He told investigators he brought his girlfriend food and water, and asked her every day to come out of the bathroom.

“And her reply would be, ‘Maybe tomorrow,”’ Whipple said. “According to him, she did not want to leave the bathroom.”

The boyfriend called police on Feb. 27 to report that “there was something wrong with his girlfriend,” Whipple said, adding that he never explained why it took him two years to call.

Police found the clothed woman sitting on the toilet, her sweat pants down to her mid-thigh. She was “somewhat disoriented,” and her legs looked like they had atrophied, Whipple said.

“She said that she didn’t need any help, that she was OK and did not want to leave,” he said.

She was taken to a hospital in Wichita, about 150 miles southeast of Ness City. Whipple said she has refused to cooperate with medical providers or law enforcement investigators.

Authorities said they did not know if she was mentally or physically disabled.

Dolphin rescues whales

A dolphin has come to the rescue of two whales which had become stranded on a beach in New Zealand. Conservation officer Malcolm Smith told the BBC that he and a group of other people had tried in vain for an hour and a half to get the whales to sea.

The pygmy sperm whales had repeatedly beached, and both they and the humans were tired and set to give up, he said. But then the dolphin appeared, communicated with the whales, and led them to safety.

The bottlenose dolphin, called Moko by local residents, is well known for playing with swimmers off Mahia beach on the east coast of the North Island. Mr Smith said that just when his team was flagging, the dolphin showed up and made straight for them.

"I don't speak whale and I don't speak dolphin," Mr Smith told the BBC, "but there was obviously something that went on because the two whales changed their attitude from being quite distressed to following the dolphin quite willingly and directly along the beach and straight out to sea."

He added: "The dolphin did what we had failed to do. It was all over in a matter of minutes."

Mr Smith said he felt fortunate to have witnessed the extraordinary event, and was delighted for the whales, as in the past he has had to put down animals which have become beached. He said that the whales have not been seen since, but that the dolphin had returned to its usual practice of playing with swimmers in the bay.

"I shouldn't do this I know, we are meant to remain scientific," Mr Smith said, "but I actually went into the water with the dolphin and gave it a pat afterwards because she really did save the day."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ash littering stubbed out

A Magistrate has accused a council of "overzealous officialdom" after it prosecuted a man for dropping cigarette ash.

Daniel Slaney was given a £40 fine for littering when an eagle-eyed Erewash Borough Council warden allegedly spotted him throwing away a cigarette butt.

However, magistrates extinguished the charge after Mr Slaney said he had only dropped the last burning embers of tobacco on to the floor, putting the butt in an empty packet.

Presiding magistrate Geoffrey Dennis said: "What we are dealing with here is the possibility of a piece of ash. We do not think that would constitute litter. This case would rather seem to be an example of overzealous officialdom."

Mr Slaney, who denied a charge of depositing litter, told the court that he disliked seeing cigarette ends in the street and always carried an empty packet to put his butts in. He said: "What I do when I have finished a cigarette is to take the filter and twist off the last bit of burning tobacco. If that constitutes litter, I admit it."

A spokesman for the council said it was disappointing that the actions of the council for bringing the prosecution for littering were described as overzealous.

Sisters hid millions from Taxman

Two Japanese sisters have been arrested for allegedly trying to evade paying a fortune in inheritance tax. Tax officials say the sisters hid almost 6bn yen (£29m, $58m) in cardboard boxes and paper bags at their home in the city of Osaka.

They are accused of failing to declare most of the money they inherited from their wealthy father, who died almost four years ago.

The National Tax Agency say it is the biggest ever case of its kind in Japan.

Prosecutors say Hatsue Shimizu and Yoshiko Ishii inherited about 7.5bn yen when their father, who owned a property and finance company, died in 2004. However they declared a fraction of that amount to the authorities, allegedly stashing the rest away, and thereby avoiding 2.86bn yen in inheritance tax.

Prosecutors and officials from the Osaka taxation bureau raided 10 locations in connection with the case, including Hatsue Shimizu's home.

A tax official said they had concealed most of the money in cash in a shed attached to the house. "We have confiscated 50 cardboard boxes," he said.

Hatsue Shimizu has denied the cash was part of her inheritance, saying she had earned it herself.

Uʍop-ǝpısdn ʇǝʞɔıʇ ƃuıʞɹɐd ƃuıʎɐldsıp ɹoɟ pǝuıɟ ʇsıɹoʇoɯ

A motorist has been fined £35 for displaying her parking ticket upside down. Stirling Council said that although the £3.50 ticket was displayed, wardens could not read it.

They claim Marie McGrath was fined because she broke the car park conditions.

Ms McGrath, of Tullibody near Stirling, was fined in January after parking at the temporary railway station car park at Forthside.

She said: "I found the fine on my windscreen and noticed the ticket was upside down. I thought it was clear I had made an attempt to display a ticket but when I contacted the council with evidence about it they ignored it and then ended my appeal process. I think the council could show a bit of common sense. I've got the ticket to prove I had bought one. It's not like I was intending to defraud them or looking to deliberately park illegally."

A Stirling Council spokeswoman said: "The conditions of use of our car parks, clearly displayed at each car park entrance, indicate that a valid ticket must be displayed within the vehicle. In this case a ticket was displayed but it was not possible for the car park attendants to determine whether or not it was valid so an excess charge notice was correctly served. It is the responsibility of the vehicle owner to comply with the conditions of use."

Blind visions

Reports in India of a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary in the sky have led about 50 people to blind themselves by staring at the sun.

The visions are said to appear over the former home of a hotel owner in the Kottayam area in southeast India, The Daily Telegraph reported. One hospital in the district reported 48 patients had been admitted with burned retinas since last week, the British newspaper reported.

Churches have warned their congregations that looking at the sun will cause permanent blindness and have told them the supposed miracle is not one.

Before moving out, the hotel owner reportedly had also claimed to have statues of the Virgin Mary that cried honey and bled oils and perfumes.

Pee Prank

CHURCH HILL, Tenn. - Investigators are searching for whoever poured deer urine into an air conditioning unit at a school in eastern Tennessee. About a dozen students became ill after the prank at Volunteer High School in Church Hill.

Firefighters were sent to the school Monday after the odor became overpowering in one classroom, and paramedics treated students who complained of headache and nausea.

Church Hill Police Chief Mark Johnson said the stunt could result in a vandalism charge.

Deer urine is sold by the bottle to be used to attract the animals for hunting and mask the hunter's scent.

Starfish tragedy

For five miles they stretched along the beaches, a gruesome line of dead starfish. Fishermen and bird-watchers at Pegwell Bay near Sandwich, Kent, discovered a "carpet" of thousands of the creatures lying on the sand just above the water line.

Environment Agency officials are investigating what could have killed the starfish, which had been feeding on mussel beds. They do not believe the deaths were linked to the recent storms because they were first reported to them last week.

They have also ruled out pollution or anything to do with climate change as the cause. The agency said officials would investigate if the starfish were discarded by fishermen after the mussel beds were dredged.

A spokesman said: "Starfish congregate in vast numbers in some areas and feed on shellfish, so if the seabed was dredged then the starfish would inevitably have been caught in huge numbers."

Another theory is that the starfish had run out of mussels to eat and had moved into shallow water in the search for food. The starfish bodies are not harmful and will probably be eaten by seagulls, the agency said.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Suer Grapes

An accountant is suing Marks & Spencer for more than £300,000 after claiming he injured himself during a shopping trip by slipping on a grape.

Alexander Martin-Sklan, 55, from Golders Green, north London, tore the tendon in his right leg in the car park of his local branch in June 2004.

He said a piece of fruit found on his shoe after the fall could have been picked up inside the store or car park.

The retail giant is contesting the High Court claim.

Mr Martin-Sklan, who is representing himself, is claiming for lost earnings on top of his general damages, because "loss of confidence" and depression following his injury led to him being unable to recruit new clients and contacts for his business.

He also said the physical effects stopped him from skiing and playing football or tennis.

The hearing is set to last two days.

Extinguishers a "Fire risk"

Fire extinguishers may be removed from blocks of flats across Britain after they were deemed dangerous by buildings risk assessors at two blocks on the South Coast.

Many residents regard the distinctive red extinguishers as the first response to fire, giving vital time until professional firefighters arrive.

But a review of two residential blocks in Bournemouth has raised concerns that householders could delay their escape to tackle a blaze. There is also concern that the use of extinguishers by untrained people could add to the danger.

The report has the backing of Dorset Fire and Rescue Service and extinguishers have already been removed from the two blocks – Admirals Walk and the 10-storey Avon House.

Under the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 the managing agents of every private block of flats must hire professional assessors to carry out a risk assessment .

Residents of Admirals Walk were informed in a letter from their managing agents that “unless all residents are trained to operate the fire extinguishers, there is no legal requirement to maintain these in communal areas of residential blocks”.

Hamilton Townsend, managing agents for Avon House, confirmed that the recommendation was to remove extinguishers.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Men in tights record

More than a thousand people helped to smash the official world record for the number of people dressed as Robin Hood in one place at one time. Record breakers clad in tights and tunics gathered at Nottingham Castle to pay tribute to the city's most famous outlaw.

A total of 1116 people took part, almost double the previous world record of 606.

Nottingham Castle manager Dave Green said: "There is a fantastic atmosphere today. We are delighted. We had no idea how the attempt would go, but to get more than a thousand people involved is brilliant. It is a real achievement. It was all about bringing people together and we have certainly done that. Nottingham is obviously very proud of Robin Hood and we wanted to show how proud. There were people from further afield here too. One man came over from Holland specifically for this event, and we had visitors from Australia and Canada."

Nottingham Castle must now submit evidence of the event to Guinness World Records, before it is officially declared the record holder.

All participants wore a hat with a feather, a green or brown tunic and green or brown trousers or tights.

The event was organised to coincide with the Robin Hood Up Close exhibition at the castle until April 20.

World's fattest man's picnic upset

When you weigh 800 pounds, you need a forklift and a tow truck to go for a Sunday picnic. Unfortunately for Monterrey's famous large man, Manuel Uribe, 42, his first such jaunt in five years was canceled by doctors after a freak accident en route to La Boca dam, a popular weekend destination near this northern Mexican city.

The sunshade on his specially reinforced bed, which was propped on a flatbed tow truck big enough for a bus, was knocked off by a low underpass, a steel beam narrowly missing Uribe's body.

Doctors checked his pulse, which was racing, and said his blood pressure fell. "He can't recover that easily from a scare like that," said Silvia Orozco, one of his doctors.

It was hard to tell who was the most disappointed. Uribe was celebrating two years on a special diet, which is said to have shaved off some 400 pounds. His girlfriend, Claudia Solís, was celebrating her 38th birthday.

The township of Santiago, where the dam is located, had a feast planned, in part to impress the half-dozen foreign TV crews that have been following Uribe's story since he first appeared on Mexican television some two years ago.

Uribe weighed 660 pounds about five years ago, said Gustavo Orozco, another of his doctors. An operation to remove about 150 pounds left him bedridden, and he eventually reached 1,230 pounds, Orozco said.

X-ray camera

A camera that can see through people's clothing at distances of up to 80 feet has been developed to help detect weapons, drugs and explosives. The camera could be deployed in railway stations, shopping centers and other public spaces.

Although it can see objects under clothes, its designers say the images do not show anatomical details. However, it is likely to increase fears that Britain has become a surveillance society.

The new technology, known as the T5000 system, has attracted interest from police forces, train companies and airport operators as well as government agencies.

It has been developed by ThruVision, an Oxfordshire-based company spun out from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, one of the British government's leading physics research centers.

It was designed for use in spacecraft and astronomy but researchers soon realized that cameras capable of seeing through clouds of cosmic dust could also see through clothing.

Cop car stolen

It's easy enough to leave the keys in your car - but the consequences can be a good deal more embarrassing if you're a police officer ... especially if the suspect you're after finds them before you.

That's what happened in Sydney last night when two officers saw a stolen silver Toyota driving erratically on Parramatta Road in Strathfield. The car was also suspected of being used in a nearby armed robbery about an hour before.

The chase began and the car, driven by a 23-year-old woman with the man in the passenger seat, had two collisions before smashing into a sign at a Five Dock petrol station.

The driver ran from the petrol station but was caught by a female officer. But the male passenger got away, then doubled back to the petrol station to steal the empty police truck.

Burwood police commander Arthur Katsogiannis said a "debrief" had been held with the officers involved. He denied the force had been left red-faced by the theft.

"It's not embarrassing at all, in fact we need to put things in context and say what a good job the police officers did,'' Supt Katsogiannis told reporters. "They did what was instinctive at the time which was to chase and arrest the female driver.''

Supt Katsogiannis conceded police training stipulated the removal of keys from the ignition of police vehicles in such situations. But he said in this case it "wasn't practical in the circumstances''.

The officers had been under the impression that either one or both of their quarry was armed with a knife, he said. "It's more important to save a member of the public than a police car,'' Supt Katsogiannis said.

The police truck was found abandoned in Arthur Street, Croydon, a few minutes later.

Officers and a police helicopter searched for the man through the night but could not find him. The woman was charged with robbery, reckless driving and car theft. She is due to appear before Burwood local court.

Police have described the man as being of Pacific Islander appearance in his mid 20s, 5ft 8 tall, with a medium build and wearing a short-sleeved navy polo shirt and dark dark coloured shorts.

Mass for dogs

MASAYA, Nicaragua- Hundreds of dogs, many dressed as babies or clowns, were taken to celebrate mass in this Nicaraguan town on Sunday, an annual ritual where the owners pray for their pets to be cured or avoid falling ill.

A long queue of Catholics, carrying their pets or leading them on leashes, waited their turn to pass by an image of a saint in a tiny church in this town 20 miles to the south of the Nicaragua capital, Managua.

The faithful thank the saint for curing their pets or ask for the dogs to be protected from illness. The town's priest always conducts a special canine mass.

"We brought him so he does not get sick," said local resident Nora Espinosa, talking about her six-month-old Basset Hound, dressed in a soccer outfit.

Locals say the tradition goes back to the colonial period after the

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Jack Ruby's gun auction

The .38-caliber Colt Cobra revolver Jack Ruby used to kill accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald is going up for auction this month in Las Vegas.

Anthony Pugliese paid about $200,000 for the gun at an auction in 1991. He won't divulge his minimum price but said it is more than $1 million.

The item is part of the Pugliese Pop Culture Collection, which will go on the auction block March 15 and 16. About 150 of the items are associated with President John F. Kennedy or his assassination in Dallas in 1963.

Ruby purchased the gun in 1960 for $62.50. He used it three years later to kill Oswald.

Among the other collectibles Pugliese has assembled are the hat worn by the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 MGM film "The Wizard of Oz" and the white jacket worn by John Lennon on the cover of The Beatles' album "Abbey Road."

French Mayor bans dying

The mayor of a village in southwest France has threatened residents with severe punishment if they die, because there is no room left in the overcrowded cemetery to bury them.

In an ordinance posted in the council offices, Mayor Gerard Lalanne told the 260 residents of the village of Sarpourenx that 'all persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sarpourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish.'

It added: 'Offenders will be severely punished.'

The mayor said he was forced to take drastic action after an administrative court in the nearby town of Pau ruled in January that the acquisition of adjoining private land to extend the cemetery would not be justified.

Lalanne, who celebrated his 70th birthday on Wednesday and is standing for election to a seventh term in this month's local elections, said he was sorry that there had not been a positive outcome to the dilemma.

Man Arrested For The 452nd Time

SALT LAKE CITY - A transient was arrested for the 452nd time this week after allegedly trying to steal a bottle of mouthwash from a drug store.

Wilson Yazzie Benally has a long history with Salt Lake City Police and remains one of the department's most-arrested individuals. His run-ins with the law date back to 1995, officials said.

Benally and another transient were arrested after being confronted by a security officer at a drug store, located near 500 East and 400 South on Wednesday. Officials say they tried to steal a bottle of mouthwash.

Benally then reportedly identified himself as a police officer when confronted. Legitimate Salt Lake Police officers arrived to the drug store, where Benally produced two business cards from officers he had previously encountered -- offering them as proof that he was a cop.

However, when the officers asked which department Benally worked for, the transient reportedly said he was an employee of the Salt Lake Police Department -- the same as the arresting officers.

Benally was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on suspicion of shoplifting and impersonating a police officer.

Officials noted that Wednesday's arrest was no. 452 for Benally, who is considered one of the citys most frequent arrestees. Perhaps surprisingly, though, there is a man with an even larger arrest record.

Salt Lake authorities say their top offender is a man who they have dealt with more than 1,000 times between 2002 and 2006. In more than 600 of those run-ins, the unidentified man was arrested.

Spotted Dick in jeopardy

Traditional British dishes such as toad in the hole and spotted dick could disappear from dining tables by 2021 as households increasingly turn to foreign cuisine, it has been claimed.

New research shows that Britons rarely make dishes such as steak and kidney pie or jam roly-poly from scratch any more, and are far more likely to cook curries and pasta meals from recipes.

The survey by Tesco found that only five per cent of 18-40-year-olds had cooked a spotted dick, compared to 14 per cent of 41-55-year-olds.Simlarly, six per cent of the younger group had made a Beef Wellington compared to 15 per cent of the over-40s.

Tesco claims that the five above dishes - as well as coronation chicken, sherry trifle and Lancashire hot pot - are prepared so infrequently that they could disappear completely by 2021.

Foreign dishes, however, are thriving. For instance, 71 per cent and 62 per cent of under-40s had made spaghetti bolognese or curry, respectively.

The research has prompted Tesco to publish a list of "endangered" recipes on its website. Mandy Minichiello, of, said: "It would be a tragedy if these treasures of our culinary heritage are lost forever."

Drunk driver falls into well

It was bad enough when the Lebanon County woman crashed her sport-utility vehicle early Thursday morning in Clay Township. But making matters worse, police said, when Melissa M. Herr, 37, of Kleinfeltersville, got out of her vehicle to look at the damage, she tumbled down a well.

Herr was eventually rescued and taken to Lancaster General Hospital, state police said. She was not seriously injured, troopers said, but sustained bruises to her back and arms.

She also faces drunken driving charges, Trooper Paul E. Hardnock said.

According to state police, Herr was traveling north on North Clay Road, past Hopeland Road, around 12:30 a.m. when she struck a fence and the concrete pad over a well.

Neighbors heard the crash and went to investigate, officials said, and saw Herr get out of the vehicle and start to walk around. As someone called 911 for help, witnesses told officials they saw her fall into the 30-foot well.

The cold water was up to her chest, officials said, and Herr was down in the well for about 30 minutes until she could be rescued by volunteers from Brickerville and Durlach fire departments.

Herr was flown to the hospital for treatment of her injuries, and her vehicle was towed from the scene, state police said. The roads around the accident scene were closed for a period of time until the woman could be rescued from the well.

Vodka Ice Rescue

Russian helicopters rescued 775 fishermen stranded on ice sheets drifting into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday.

The men had walked a few miles across the ice pack surrounding the remote island of Sakhalin in Russia's far-east to fish over the ocean, news agencies quoting local emergency services reported.

Ice fishing is a popular hobby in Russia. Groups of men head out over frozen lakes, rivers and seas during the long winters carrying their fishing lines, a drill to bore through the ice and a stool.

Vodka is often taken to ward off the cold and to toast success.

The ice fishermen drill a hole in the ice, dangle their fishing line through it and then sit and wait.

During the spring thaw fishermen are often trapped on chunks of ice floating out to sea or fall into rivers through the thinning ice.

Postbox Collector

Isle of Wight electrician Arthur Reeder is proud owner of 190 letter boxes. In fact, he's probably the world's foremost authority on postboxes - British ones at any rate.

He happily refers to himself as a strange man' and is delighted to have received an award for being one of Britain's great eccentrics. And luckily for him, while his wife Kim doesn't share his enthusiasm she does indulge it, finding it rather charming.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Arthur is quite happy for the vast majority of people to think he, or his love of letter boxes anyway, is rather strange is because there is a small but dedicated band of people worldwide who share his enthusiasm.

Many of them, like Arthur, are members of the Letter Box Study Group, an international organisation which celebrates, investigates and supplies information on these pieces of street furniture which go unnoticed by many.

And a number of them also travel hundreds of miles to visit him and his collection - addresses in his visitors' book include ones in Ireland and Switzerland.

Arthur calls his 190-strong collection the Isle of Wight Postal Museum' but while he welcomes visitors, it isn't a public collection.

"I haven't acquired these things for show," he says. "I've acquired them for myself. I wouldn't mind if no one ever came to see them."

But that said, he does love showing people round and although he is self-employed will happily miss out an afternoon or even a day's pay to show his collection to visitors.