Monday, December 29, 2008

The Top 10 'Most Curious' stories of 2008

The Top 10 'Most Curious' stories of 2008

The Most Curious box gathers up the more offbeat and diverting news items of the day. We've taken a note of the offbeat stories that diverted you the most

Thomas Beatie (right), his wife Nancy and daughter Susan Juliette

(AP Photo)

Thomas Beatie (righth), his wife Nancy and daughter Susan Juliette

1: Look up tonight for a spectacular treat in the sky

Free entertainment on the biggest screen imaginable as the fullest full moon for years was enhanced by a display of shooting stars

2: Thomas Beatie a married man who used to be a woman is pregnant with a baby girl

The extraordinary story captivated many in March 2008, eclipsing even the report of his daughter’s birth,

3: Boy, 7 goes on killing spree in zoo feeding reptiles to crocodile

An as yet un-named boy broke into the Alice Springs Reptile Centre and fed several rare reptiles to a crocodile, miraculously escaping being eaten himself in the process.

4: Google search finds seafaring solution

An ocean-going server farm for the internet search giant piqued the curiosity if maritime computer enthusiasts everywhere

5: Officials fell trees inscribed by US soldiers who fought for France

Trees carved with messages from the troops who took part in the D-Day landings were felled and turned into paper by their owner, sparking outrage among many who thought that the forest should have been preserved as an historical site.

6: Nuclear powered passenger aircraft to transport millions says expert

A long-distance airliner that produces no carbon emissions might seem the stuff of dreams, but according to Ian Poll, Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Cranfield university, and head of technology for the mysterious sounding Omega project, it could be achieved within 30 years by the simple expedient of outfitting aircraft with nuclear power plants.

7: Schoolboy hacker Omar Khan who upped his grades faces 38 years in jail

Changing exam resukts by hacking into a computer might seem a droll Ferris Bueller prank but for Omar Khan the same trick led to a possible 38 years in jail

8: Science close to unveiling invisible man

Invisibility devices, long the realm of science fiction and fantasy, moved a little close to reality this summer after scientists engineered a material that can bend visible light around objects.

9: British journalist covering Barack Obama caught on camera in drunk plagiarism rant

Adam Smith, who sometimes styles himself Steve Zacharanda, became the funniest thing about Barack Obama’s electoral victory after he was filmed, copiously refreshed, in the streets of Miami making unwise statements about his employers and his journalistic workflow.

10: US hunters claim to have found Bigfoot

Plenty of hoaxers have faked film of the elusive ape-man of the woods but only Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton had the sheer effrontery to produce a ‘corpse’ of the phantom beast.

Burger King launches beef-scented body spray

Where's the beef? A new meat-scented body spray makes men the answer, courtesy of Burger King NEW YORK (AP) -- Looking to beef up your mojo this holiday season?

Burger King Corp. may have just the thing. The home of the Whopper has launched a new men's body spray called "Flame." The company describes the spray as "the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat."

The fragrance is on sale at New York City retailer Ricky's NYC in stores and online for a limited time for $3.99.

Burger King is marketing the product through a Web site featuring a photo of its King character reclining fireside and naked but for an animal fur strategically placed to not offend.

The marketing ploy is the latest in a string of viral ad campaigns by the company. Burger King is also in the midst of its Whopper Virgins campaign that features an taste test with fast-food "virgins" pitting the Whopper against McDonald's Corp.'s Big Mac.

Burger King Holdings Inc. shares rose 15 cents to close at $20.53.

Rescuers Suspect Shark Grabbed Missing Snorkeler

A full-scale search is on for a man in Australia believed to have been taken by a shark while out snorkelling with his son.

Aerial Footage Of Shark

Footage from Australia's Channel 7 of the shark thought responsible for the attack

Brian Guest, 51, was looking for crabs early on Saturday morning with his 24-year-old son off a beach in Port Kennedy, about 30 miles south of Perth, when he suddenly disappeared.

His 24-year-old son told police he saw a "commotion" in the water before his father vanished. He quickly swam to shore and sounded the alarm.

"It's believed he's been taken by a shark," Western Australia state police Sergeant Greg Lambert said.

Witnesses spoke of seeing flashes of fins in the area and the water was coloured by blood.

The beach was immediately closed, and police on jet skis, several marine rescue patrols and at least three helicopters began scouring the waters for the missing father of three.

Searchers have found a piece of a wet suit believed to be that of the missing swimmer in the water, not far from where he vanished, Sgt Lambert said.

Aerial footage of the shark believed to have taken the missing man was shown on Australian television.

The 6-mile beach is a popular swimming location and there were many people out because of the early morning warm weather conditions.

The son saw a shark in the area and lost sight of his father. It is presumed at this stage to be a shark attack. The information from witnesses suggests this is a confirmed shark attack.

Sergeant Peter Whitney, Western Australia Police

If Mr Guest has been taken by a shark, it would be the second such incident in Australia this year.

A shark in April killed a 16-year-old boy who was bodyboarding with a friend off Australia's eastern coast.

Separately on Saturday, a kayaker fell into the water off a Sydney beach as a great white shark swam just feet away.

Video footage of the incident showed nearby fishermen pulling the man into their boat and two other kayakers sidling up to the side of the vessel for safety as the shark circled for several minutes before swimming away

Man blows himself up after smoking while attached to ventilator

A CHRONIC smoker blew himself up when he lit a cigarette while using an oxygen ventilator to help him breathe.

The 75-year-old man was admitted to the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong on Sunday with severe facial burns after lighting up in his home while the ventilator's plastic tubes were still running to his nose.

The man relies suffers from lung disease, caused by his smoking, and relies on the oxygen tank to stay alive.

The South China Morning Post reported the man's doctor said the man knew he shouldn't smoke while the ventilator was going, but took the risk because his cigarette craving was so intense.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

GPS, hidden cameras watching over Baby Jesus

When Baby Jesus disappeared last year from a Nativity scene on the lawn of the Wellington, Fla., community center, village officials didn't follow a star to locate him.

AP Religion Writer

When Baby Jesus disappeared from the creche in front of the Wellington, Fla., community center_village officials did not follow a star to locate him. A GPS device had been mounted inside the ceramic figure.

Enlarge this photo

J PAT CARTER / AP

When Baby Jesus disappeared from the creche in front of the Wellington, Fla., community center_village officials did not follow a star to locate him. A GPS device had been mounted inside the ceramic figure.

When Baby Jesus disappeared last year from a Nativity scene on the lawn of the Wellington, Fla., community center, village officials didn't follow a star to locate him.

A GPS device mounted inside the life-size ceramic figurine led sheriff's deputies to a nearby apartment, where it was found face down on the carpet. An 18-year-old woman was arrested in the theft.

Giving up on old-fashioned padlocks and trust, a number of churches, synagogues, governments and ordinary citizens are turning to technology to protect holiday displays from pranks or prejudice.

About 70 churches and synagogues eager to avoid the December police blotter jumped at a security company's offer of free use of GPS systems and hidden cameras this month to guard their mangers and menorahs.

Others, like the Herrera family of North Richland Hills, Texas, took matters into their own hands. Upset after their teeter-totter was stolen, the family trained surveillance cameras on their yard and was surprised when footage showed a teenage girl stealing a baby Jesus worth almost $500. Police have obtained the tape.

"They took the family Jesus," said Gloria Herrera, 48, a Catholic. "How can anybody do that?"

For two consecutive years, thieves made off with the baby Jesus figurine in Wellington, a well-off village of 60,000 in Palm Beach County, Fla. The ceramic original, donated by a local merchant, was made in Italy and worth about $1,800, said John Bonde, Wellington's director of operations.

So last year, officials took a GPS unit normally used to track the application of mosquito spray and implanted it in the latest replacement figurine. After that one disappeared, sheriff's deputies quickly tracked it down.

Sensing opportunity in that kind of success story, New York-based BrickHouse Security is offering up to 200 nonprofit religious institutions a free month's use of security cameras and LightningGPS products it distributes.

Chief executive officer Todd Morris said the idea was born after a few churches asked about one-month rentals instead of longer contracts that are the norm. The first 20 or so applications came from synagogues, he said.

Rabbi Yochonon Goldman of Lubavitch of Center City, a Philadelphia-area branch of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, signed up even though his previous biggest scare involved the wind knocking down a menorah.

"People are very security conscious, and this is simply a precaution," said Goldman, who will put a GPS on one menorah and a camera on another. "It's sad ... but it's the reality we're faced with."

As members of a minority religion, Jews are probably hit harder when their religious symbols are vandalized, said Deborah Lauter, national civil rights director for the Anti-Defamation League.

"If Baby Jesus is removed, it tends to be seen as a prank," Lauter said. "Vandalism or theft of a menorah is just more sensitive. You feel like you're really being targeted for your religion."

The ADL identified 699 incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2007, consistent with recent years.

So far in 2008, Baby Jesus has appeared in several police reports. At First United Methodist Church in Kittanning, Pa., a baby Jesus was stolen and replaced with a pumpkin. In Eureka Springs, Ark., someone who absconded with a plastic baby Jesus from a public display last week also took the concrete block and chain that was supposed to act as a deterrent.

Previously, stolen Jesus figurines have also been defaced with profanity or Satanic symbols.

The incidents raise a question: Is stealing Baby Jesus harmless juvenile fun, or anti-Christian?

"I suspect most of it is childish pranks," said attorney Mike Johnson of the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal group. "Clearly, there are adults with an agenda to remove Christ from Christmas. But they tend to occupy themselves with the courts and courtroom of public opinion."

Stephen Nissenbaum, a retired history professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of "The Battle for Christmas," views the thefts as neither innocent vandalism nor religious hate crimes.

"What it means is that it's OK to go around violating even pretty important norms, as long as real human harm isn't being done," he said. "It's not exactly devaluing Christianity, but it is sort of a ritualized challenge to it. It could be Christian kids doing it - and on Jan. 2 they become good Christians again."

4-foot reptile sightings spike

FORT WALTON BEACH - In the dark, a shadowy figure looked ominous to some residents on Marshall Court.

It was an alligator, they told Fort Walton Beach police.

Police investigated the incident but found nothing startling in a fenced-in area around an apartment complex.

The "alligator" was actually a 4- to 5-foot-long broken tree limb.

The people who called police had spotted the limb from a second-floor window, and "could not see very well due to low light," an officer wrote in his report.

A 4-foot alligator was, however, lassoed in Destin last week. It was relocated to Blackwater Creek.

And in related wildlife news, a 4-foot boa constrictor was caught inside a garbage can at Wholesale Nation on Dec. 1. When no one from Panhandle Animal Welfare Services or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission could respond, police took it to the station for safe keeping.

Firefighters called to rescue plastic owl

RAYLEIGH, England, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- An animal protection officer and the fire brigade called out to rescue an owl in Rayleigh, England, only to learn the owl was a fake.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said an officer was sent to the scene after a mailman reported seeing an owl on a telephone pole that hadn't moved for days, the Daily Mail reported Wednesday.

The officer observed the owl for hours and eventually called the fire brigade to mount a rescue. It was not until firefighters were preparing to deploy aerial platforms that residents informed the rescuers that the owl was a plastic decoy put in place by a telecommunications firm to scare off smaller birds.

"It is not the first time we have been called to rescue an animal that isn't real but we'd rather be safe than sorry," society spokeswoman Klare Kennett said.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Whistleblowers sent to mental ward, Chinese paper says

BEIJING: Local officials in Shandong Province have apparently found a cost-effective way to deal with gadflies, whistleblowers and all manner of muckraking citizens who dare to challenge the authorities: dispatch them to the local psychiatric hospital.

According to an investigative report published Monday by a state-owned newspaper, public security officials in Xintai city have been institutionalizing residents who persist in their personal campaigns to expose corruption or to protest the unfair seizure of their property. Some people said they were committed up to two years, and several of those interviewed said they had been forced to consume psychiatric medication.

The article, in The Beijing News, said most inmates had been released after they agreed to give up their causes.

Sun Fawu, 57, a farmer seeking compensation for land spoiled by a coal mining operation, said he was seized by the local authorities on his way to petition the central government in Beijing and brought to the Xintai Mental Health Center in October.

During a 20-day stay, he said he was tied to a bed, forced to take pills and given injections that made him numb and woozy. When he told the doctor he was a petitioner, not mentally ill, the doctor reportedly said, "I don't care if you're sick or not. As long as you are sent by the township government, I'll treat you as a mental patient.

In an interview with the paper, the hospital's director, Wu Yuzhu, acknowledged that some of the 18 patients brought there by the police in recent years were not deranged, but he had no choice but to take them in. "The hospital also had its misgivings," he said.

Although China is not known for the kind of systematic abuse of psychiatry that occurred in the Soviet Union, human rights advocates say forced institutionalizations are not uncommon in smaller cities. Robin Munro, the research director of China Labour Bulletin, a rights organization in Hong Kong, said such "an kang" wards - Chinese for peace and health - are a convenient and effective means of dealing with pesky dissidents.

In recent years practitioners of Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement, have complained of coerced hospitalizations and one of China's best-known dissidents, Wang Wanxing, spent 13 years in a police-run psychiatric facility under conditions he later described as abusive.

In one recent, well-publicized case, Wang Jingmei , the mother of a man convicted of killing six policemen in Shanghai, was held incommunicado at a mental hospital for five months and only released last Sunday, the day before her son was executed.

The Beijing News story about the hospitalizations in Xintai was notable for the traction it gained in China's constrained state-run media. Such Communist Party stalwarts as People's Daily and the Xinhua news agency republished the story, and it was picked up by scores of Web sites. At the country's most popular portal, Sina.com, it ranked the fifth most-viewed news headline and readers posted more than 20,000 comments by evening. The indignation expressed was universal, with many clamoring for the dismissal of those involved. "They're no different than animals," read one post. "No, they're worse."

Reached by phone on Monday, a hospital employee said Wu, the hospital director who voiced his misgivings to The Beijing News, was unavailable. The employee, Hu Peng, said local government officials had taken him away for "a meeting" earlier in the day and had also looked through patient records.

Although Hu said the hospital was not authorized to diagnose patients, he nonetheless defended the hospitalizations, saying that all the patients delivered by the Public Security Bureau were certifiably ill. "We definitely would not accept those without mental problems," he said.

Bull storms mall, scares shoppers

DHAKA (Reuters) - A bull bought for the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival charged through a posh shopping mall in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka Monday, causing panic and damaging several shops.

No one was hurt in the incident which took place in the city's Gulshan diplomatic area.

Guards captured the bull in a net and handed it back to its owners, police and witnesses said.

Parts of the Bangladesh capital, a city of 11 million people, have turned into cattle markets ahead of Eid on Tuesday, when officials say up to 2.5 million bulls and goats would be slaughtered across the city.

Slaughtering animals and sharing meat with relatives and the poor are mandatory for every Muslim who can afford it.

Parking ticket fight stretching into 2009

NEW YORK, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- A New York man said he has been fighting the same parking ticket for more than two years, causing the fine to nearly double.

Simon Belsky, 61, said he was issued a $115 fine Nov. 3, 2006, for allegedly blocking a fire hydrant with his parked 1990 Chrysler van. But he claims the only hydrant in sight when he parked was a good distance down the block, the New York Post reported Monday.

The fine has since increased to $200 with penalties, but Belsky said he does not plan to give up the fight.

"I got nothing else to do. I'm retired," Belsky said.

He said he filed a petition in state Supreme Court in August suing the New York City Department of Finance. However, during his court appearance last week, the city's attorney was granted an adjournment -- the second in the case -- until Feb. 2.

Belsky said if his suit is successful, he plans to file a civil suit against the city to recoup his legal expenses and other fees incurred, which he estimates cost him about $7,500 thus far.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lebanon farmer grows super-sized spud

Lebanon farmer grows super-sized spud AFP – Lebanese farmer Khalil Semhat holds his giant potato in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre. The enormous …

TYRE, Lebanon (AFP) – A farmer from Lebanon couldn't believe his eyes when he discovered he had grown a prize-winning potato on his land, he told AFP on Saturday, saying he was hoping to enter the Guinness World Records.

"This giant weighs 11.3 kilos (24.9 pounds)," Khalil Semhat said at his farm in the Tyre area, 85 kilometres (50 miles) south of Beirut.

"I've been working the land since I was a boy, and it's the first time I've seen anything like it."

Semhat, 56, said he had not done anything special to cultivate such a super-sized spud. "I didn't use any chemicals at all," he insisted, adding that he had to ask a friend to help him haul the huge tuber out of the ground.

Now he hopes the find will get a mention in the famous Guinness Book of Records, and said he will send in the details for possible inclusion next year.

He said he was "very proud" to have grown the enormous specimen on his farm, which took a pounding in 2006 during the war between Israel and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

To repair Rhode Island roads, report calls for new tolls, taxes and higher fees

PROVIDENCE — Driving your car may take on a new and larger meaning — for your wallet.

Video

Sneak peek: The new way to get onto the Iway


To fix its crumbling roads and bridges and rescue the state’s financially challenged public transit system, a draft report made public yesterday says the state should consider charging tolls at the state line on every interstate highway and creating a new tax for each mile a vehicle is driven.

The report calls for tolls on a new Sakonnet River Bridge, increasing the state gas tax and a long list of other things related to using the roads. One proposed tax would apply to anything made from petroleum, from paint to detergent to plastics

The proposals would mean a drastic shift in the way the state finances transportation — away from borrowing and near-complete reliance on federal money — toward spending more by using money raised through taxes and fees.

It could also mean a large policy shift on public transportation. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is in such financial trouble that officials have been planning major service cutbacks and calculating just when it would run out of money during the next several months. The draft report includes plans to save the bus system from immediate dismemberment by covering its $8-million budget deficit and to maintain existing service for at least 10 years.

The panel, Governor Carcieri’s Blue Ribbon Panel for Transportation Funding, was formed because the lack of maintenance over the years has caught up with the system. More than half of the state’s roads are in fair, poor or “failed” condition, according to the Department of Transportation, and 164 bridges of 772 are classified as structurally deficient.

Two of the state’s most important bridges, the Pawtucket River Bridge, carrying Route 95, and the Sakonnet River Bridge, carrying Route 24 to Aquidneck Island, have 18-ton weight limits, are off-limits to large trucks and need to be replaced before they get worse.

The panel is supposed to produce a final report shortly. The members took no votes yesterday but seemed in agreement on most of the major elements of the plan. An exception that will apparently be removed involved diverting some state sales tax money that is used to support the existing state budget. The recommendations will go to the governor, and most would also need approval by the General Assembly.

Carcieri has not endorsed any of the recommendations.

“We’re not ready to decide what we’re going to choose,” spokeswoman Amy Kempe said. However, the panel is co-chaired by the governor’s top present and past transportation appointees, DOT Director Michael P. Lewis and Jerome F. Williams, the previous DOT director who is now state director of administration.

The draft report, prepared by the DOT, includes two “scenarios,” one producing an estimated $150 million per year and the other $300 million per year, the amount the DOT says it really needs to make necessary repairs within 10 years.

The major elements include:

•Both new and higher fuel taxes. The proposals include increasing the gasoline tax, now 30 cents, by up to 15 cents per gallon by 2016, which would raise an estimated $64 million per year. They also include a new “petroleum products gross earning tax,” beginning with the equivalent of 10 cents per gallon of gasoline in 2010 and adding another 5 cents in 2014. That would affect all petroleum products, from gasoline and aviation fuel to those made from petroleum derivatives, such as plastics, paint and fertilizer. It would eventually raise about $66 million per year, the draft report says.

•Car registration fees, now $60 for two years, would rise $40 per year immediately and could more than double, to $140, by 2013, depending on which version was used, raising up to $46 million per year.

•A new mileage fee. The $150-million plan would not include it, but the $300-million plan would impose a half-cent-per-mile fee, raising an estimated $50 million per year. But officials said yesterday that they expect to eliminate the transfer of some sales tax revenue to the transportation system, proposed elsewhere in the report. Raising the mileage fee to 1 cent per mile would make up the difference.

At a half-cent per mile, driving 10,000 miles per year would cost $50 per vehicle. One cent would cost $100.

Also referred to as a VMT fee (for vehicle miles traveled), the mileage fee would be based on odometer readings reported by vehicle owners when they renew their registrations. The mileage could be verified during mandatory auto inspections, the study says. Robert A. Shawver, the DOT’s assistant director, said that although one state, Oregon, is pilot-testing a similar fee, Rhode Island’s would be the first of its kind in the country.

•Tolls. The $150-million plan could include tolls, $3 per car and $6 per truck, only at the Connecticut border, yielding an estimated $39 million per year. The $300-million plan would include similar tolls where all of the state’s interstate highways (Routes 95, 295 and 195) cross the state line, and would raise $60 million per year.

While most of the other fees and taxes would affect primarily Rhode Islanders, the tolls would be aimed at out-of-state vehicles which, if they pass through the state without stopping for fuel, now use the roads for free.

•Tolls on a new Sakonnet River Bridge. The plan relies heavily on shifting the estimated $210-million cost of a new Sakonnet River Bridge, now the DOT’s responsibility, to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. It also assumes that the authority would borrow the money to pay for the bridge and charge tolls to pay the cost. Shawver said it isn’t clear how much the tolls would be, but guessed they would be in the $3-per-car range. That would take the cost of the new bridge off the DOT’s hands, while giving the authority the prickly job of imposing the tolls.

Some recommendations, such as a higher gas tax, could be put into effect quickly. Others, such as tolls, would take years to put into effect. Lewis said the state would try to implement the tolls jointly with Massachusetts and Connecticut, building one set of tollbooths and splitting the money.

The DOT has had a series of expensive embarrassments involving its construction projects over the years. One question yesterday concerned the agency’s ability to efficiently spend roughly twice as much money per year as the $354 million it spends now.

Suzanne Greschner, policy director at the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council and a panel member, said she looked through the draft report and found nothing about making sure that the DOT can handle the money effectively. Taxpayers, she said, need to know that the money would be spent effectively.

Several of the proposals are certain to be controversial. In addition to imposing new taxes and sharply higher fees that would affect most citizens, one is already starting to heat up an old regional dispute.

Putting tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge attracted loud opposition in the past from legislators whose constituents now use the existing deteriorating bridge for free.

Yesterday, Keith W. Stokes, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, denounced the toll proposal and said he wanted to know why tolls on the heavily traveled Washington Bridge, on Route 195 in Providence, isn’t one of the proposals.

One major difference between the two plans involves borrowing. The $150-million plan would rely on $450 million in borrowing, something that has already gotten the DOT into a financial hole. The $300-million plan would would eliminate the borrowing and rely instead on higher registration fees and the proposed tax on mileage.

New England border protection chief charged with hiring illegal immigrants

kreiter__henderson2_met.jpg
(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)

Henderson leaving the courthouse with her lawyer, Oscar Cruz.

By Jonathan Saltzman and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff

The regional director of Homeland Security, Customs, and Border Protection was charged today with repeatedly hiring illegal immigrants to clean her Salem home after one cleaner wore a wire during an undercover investigation.

Lorraine Henderson is the director of the Port of Boston, overseeing 190 armed federal officers who patrol major airports and shipping terminals in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

"She’s supposed to be deporting aliens, not hiring them," said Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly, chief of the public corruption unit.

Agents arrested Henderson at her Salem home at 8 a.m. Standing this afternoon in US District Court in Boston, she wore jeans and a gray sweatshirt and did not enter a plea to a charge of encouraging an illegal immigrant to remain in the country. If convicted, she faces as much as 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The initial appearance lasted 15 minutes and Henderson said little, responding to questions from Magistrate Judge Robert B. Collings about whether she understood her legal rights with one-word answers. Collings released her on a $25,000 unsecured bond and ordered her to surrender her passport. Henderson has been placed on paid administrative leave, a US Attorney's spokeswoman said.

According to an eight-page affidavit unsealed today, Henderson had employed a Brazilian woman to clean her home for $75 to $80 every few weeks for several years. Henderson's fellow officers at US Customs and Border Protection told her in 2005 and 2006 that it was against the law to hire illegal immigrants and urged her to find another housekeeper. Not only did she ignore the advice, according to the affidavit, but when the housekeeper took time off to have a baby, Henderson also allegedly hired two of the housekeeper's Brazilian friends who were also in the country illegally.

After having a baby, the original housekeeper allegedly came back to work for Henderson, who counseled her to avoid detection by law enforcement. The housekeeper told her, according to the affidavit, that she had been living in the United States illegally for seven years after paying a man to smuggle her across the Mexican border.

"You have to be careful 'cause they will deport you. Be careful," Henderson told the housekeeper in a conversation Sept. 9, 2008, that was recorded on the wire. "Wow, wow, if you leave they won't let you back … you can't leave, don't leave … 'cause once you leave you will never be back."

After the conversation that day in her Salem home, Henderson increased the woman's pay from $75 to $80, according to the affidavit. The housekeeper, whose name was not included in the affidavit, agreed to wear a wire after being approached by a special agent with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Car dealer offers second car for free

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Buy one, get one free: it's a familiar sales pitch for happy-hour cocktails or last season's fashions, but now a Belgian car dealer is luring customers with just that line.

Antwerp-based Cardoen, which sells about 10,000 new and nearly new cars per year, started the promotion at the end of November and said it would run until December 15.

During that period, customers can choose from a range of new, full-price cars -- the cheapest being a 22,800 euro ($28,930) Hyundai van -- and then pick a second free vehicle from a selection that goes up to 14,000 euros.

"People have been coming in from all over Belgium and abroad," Cardoen's Commercial Director Ivo Willems said, adding that Cardoen's eight showrooms had seen more than 10 times their usual number of visitors since the promotion began.

"People will still buy cars, you just have to give them as much advantage as possible, to sell in an innovative way."

Willems said Cardoen was able to run the promotion without losing money because distributors in southern Europe had been so desperate to get cars off their lots that they were selling them to Cardoen at large discounts.

The move underscores how difficult the situation has become for an auto industry buckling under a global economic downturn.

Belgian new car registrations fell 16.4 percent year-on-year in November, according to data released Monday. In Spain, sales nearly halved.

Willems said Cardoen had yet to see an impact on its sales from the downturn.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Camels found wandering in Mexican border city


(AP) Police officers restrain two stray camels in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008. The...
Full Image

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) - It may have seemed like a mirage: Two camels nibbling on a pine tree along a street in this desert metropolis on the Texas border. Police tried lassoing the animals, which lunged at the officers with snapping teeth as onlookers chuckled.

But in the end, officials say all it took was some juicy green leaves on a branch held by the caretaker to lure the camels back into captivity.

Police spokesman Jaime Torres says the camels named Yull and Tobi escaped early Wednesday from the warehouse of a businessman, who had bought the animals for a planned amusement park.

Mexico has seen a rash of escaped animals lately, including four tigers, a 500-pound lion and a five-ton elephant.

NJ woman sues Pa. sports bar for toilet seat break

A woman is suing a Pennsylvania sports bar and restaurant, saying she got stuck inside a toilet bowl for 20 minutes after the seat broke

Kathleen Hewko of Delran Township, N.J., says she was in the bathroom at Starters Pub near Allentown when the handicapped toilet seat she was sitting on cracked and dumped her into the bowl.

Hewko says in her lawsuit filed in federal court in November that she had hip surgery prior to the Nov. 19, 2006, incident and was re-injured when the seat broke.

The lawsuit names Starters and Kohler Co., the company that made the toilet seat.

Representatives from both companies said they couldn't comment.

Convict's Mother Goes Undercover for Months, Gets Dirt on Juror

NEW YORK — Doreen Giuliano was obsessed with saving her son from a life behind bars after he was convicted of murder.

She gave herself an extreme makeover — blonde dye job, fake tan, sexy wardrobe, phony name — and began spying on jurors. She befriended one juror to root out any possible misdeeds at the trial, and for nearly eight months, they drank at bars, smoked marijuana and shared meals in her tiny Brooklyn hideaway.

The juror eventually opened up to her about his time as a juror, completely unaware that this seductive older woman was the same dutiful mother who sat through the entire trial just a few feet (meters) away from him.

The bizarre saga has become the basis for a defense motion filed this week demanding that the verdict be set aside, while exposing the desperate attempt that Giuliano made to win her son's freedom.

"What she did was extraordinarily commendable," said one of Giuliano's lawyers, Ezra Glaser. "It shows the love of a mother and the great lengths she'll go to to help her child."

The juror, naturally, doesn't quite see it that way. Jason Allo faces the possibility of being hauled into court to explain conversations recorded by a seductive undercover mother wearing a wire.

"He didn't do anything wrong," said his attorney, Salvatore Strazzullo. "We're going to defend Mr. Allo's actions to the full extent of the law."

Among other things, the motion accuses the 33-year-old Allo of concealing that he had personal knowledge that Giuliano's son, John Giuca, ran with a rough crowd, and of defying orders to avoid news coverage once the highly publicized proceedings started. It argues that Allo "admitted the outside information he obtained about the case prejudiced him against Mr. Giuca."

A spokesman for the Brooklyn District attorney's office said only that the motion was being reviewed. But the defense is a longshot: Courts rarely overturn guilty jury verdicts.

Guica was convicted of the 2003 murder of Mark Fisher, a 19-year-old college student from Andover, New Jersey, who had gone to an after-hours party Guica hosted in Brooklyn while his parents were out of town.

Prosecutors say Giuca, then a skinny 20-year-old, was a leader of a self-styled gang called the Ghetto Mafia. At trial, prosecutors said Fisher was targeted for showing "disrespect" by sitting on a table in Giuca's house.

Giuca ordered another gang member "to go show that guy what's up," then gave the shooter a .22-caliber handgun, prosecutors said. At dawn, police responding to a report of gunshots found Fisher's body shot five times and dumped on a sidewalk.

It took more than a year for police to arrest the shooter. Giuca was taken into custody one month later after authorities secured witnesses who linked him to the crime.

A jury deliberated only two hours before convicting Giuca of second-degree murder in 2005. He and the gunman were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison by a judge who told them that because the killing was callous, "my sentence will be callous."

Lawyers for Giuliano and Allo refused requests to speak to their clients. But court papers — along with a piece in Vanity Fair magazine and an article in The New York Times based on interviews with Giuliano and Allo — detail a story of despair and deception.

Giuliano, 47, says she was driven by the belief her son was set up by authorities and vilified in the press.

"My main concern was that John got a fair trial," she said.

Said Allo: "I understand her motivation, but that's not right."

Allo's lawyer declined to discuss Giuliano's tactics. But her lawyer said under state law, she "had a right to record those conversations."

"Ultimately, the only person who acted inappropriately was Mr. Allo," Glaser said.

By Giuliano's own account, her son's conviction nearly gave her a nervous breakdown. In 2006, she hatched a plan to begin spying on jurors to see if she could uncover any misconduct.

She eventually zeroed in on Allo, a construction worker with a shaved head living in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. She tailed him for months, once even wearing a head scarf as a disguise.

While casing his apartment, "His cat sat in the window," she said. "So I knew I'd say I was a cat-lover when I met him."

In the fall of 2007, Giuliano reinvented herself. She slimmed down at the gym, rented an apartment in Allo's neighborhood and printed business cards with her assumed name: Dee Quinn, a a recent West Coast transplant.

Her husband initially told her she was crazy, but backed down. Soon she orchestrated a chance meeting with Allo on the street, pretending to be a lonely single woman from California and giving him her phone number.

Giuliano began inviting Allo over to her place and to soften him up. He never recognized her from her days sitting through the trial.

"She was offering me wine, offering to smoke weed," he said.

There also was flirting. But both said it never went any further. Mainly, they talked. And her digital tape recorder rolled.

She says she struck gold in late 2007, while grilling her new friend about his jury duty.

"I'll tell you this but I would never tell anybody else," he said, according to transcripts prepared by the defense. "I actually had some type of information."

Allo went on to explain that he didn't know Giuca directly, but used to hang out in his clique and heard rumors about the Fisher slaying — something he failed to mention when questioned under oath during jury selection. Asked if he had been curious about newspaper accounts of the trial, he responded that he'd read them. He also bragged that he had been the first one during deliberations to vote for a conviction.

"I shouldn't have been in that jury," he said.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

School cancels Christmas nativity in favour of Muslim Eid celebrations

junior school has cancelled its Christmas performances because they got in the way of the Muslim children celebrating Eid.

Greenwood Junior School sent out a letter to parents saying the three day festival of Eid al-Adha, which takes

place between 8-11 December, meant that Muslim children would be off school.

That meant planning for a traditional pantomime were shelved because the school felt it would be too difficult

to run both celebrations side by side.

The move has left parents furious.

Janette Lynch, whose seven-year-old son Keanu attends the school, in Sneinton, Nottingham, said: "The head has

a whole year to plan for Eid and so she should be able to plan for both religious festivals.

"I have never heard of this at a school. It is the first year my son has been there and a lot of the mums like

me were really looking forward to seeing the children on stage.”

She said a letter, sent from “The staff at Greenwood Junior School', said: "It is with much regret that we

have had to cancel this year's Christmas performances. This is due to the Eid celebrations that take place

next week and its effect on our performers.”

Following outrage from parents, the school was forced to send out a second letter saying that the Christmas

play would be done in January.

Sent by the head teacher, Amber Latif, and Yvonne Wright, chair of governors, it apologised for “any

misunderstanding” but said it had to respect “the cultures and religions of all the children”.

It added: "The Christmas performance has not been cancelled outright but has been postponed until the New

Year.”

Parents said they were originally told the performance was cancelled because children wanted to celebrate Eid

with their families at home, and planning of the school year made it difficult to move performance dates to

another week.

Sajad Hussain, 35, of who has two children at Greenwood Junior, said: "My children will be off for the two

days next week to see their family.

"It's not that complicated; they could have one event on one day and another on another day, they should have

both celebrations at the school.

"If you do not have both it becomes a racist thing and that's why you have to be careful If an issue is made

out of it, it could become nasty."

Yesterday, a statement issued by Greenwood Junior, said: "We would like to apologise for any confusion caused

as a result of [the original] letter we sent out and would like to reassure parents and the community that

Christmas has not been cancelled at Greenwood Junior School.

"For very practical reasons we have taken the difficult decision to re-arrange some significant events on the

school calendar to ensure maximum pupil and staff attendance.

Fisherman Finds Long-Lost Class Ring in 8-Pound Bass

BUNA, Texas — A class ring lost for decades in an East Texas lake is back with its owner after turning up in a fish caught the day after Thanksgiving.

Joe Richardson of Buna told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he wishes he knew "how many fish it's been in."

Richardson was fishing at Lake Sam Rayburn about two weeks after his 1987 graduation from Universal Technical Institute in Houston when he lost the ring.

The 41-year-old mechanic says on Nov. 28 he received a call from a fisherman who had reeled in a more than 8-pound bass. The ring that had been in the fish had "Joe Richardson" etched in the band.

Richardson says the fisherman did an Internet search and made several calls before reaching him and returning the ring.

Buna is about 110 miles northeast of Houston.

Woman arrested for Xmas decoration thefts

WESTMINSTER, Md., Dec. 3 (UPI) -- A woman in Manchester, Md., has been arrested for allegedly stealing christmas decorations from her neighbors' lawns, police say.

Police allege Gabriele Margo Markert, 51, stole $360 worth of holiday lawn decorations from her fellow town residents, including a 4-foot-tall Santa Claus, The Carroll County (Md.) Times said Tuesday.

Also included among the stolen Christmas items were a snowman lawn decoration, a lighting stand and several holiday ornaments.

Police said the missing decorations were allegedly found in Markert's home following Monday morning's thefts.

While an investigation into the thefts is still under way, police have charged Markert with three misdemeanor theft charges.

The Times said Markert is being held at Carroll County Detention Center until her upcoming bail review hearing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Port St. Lucie woman says ex-boyfriend snatched wig, rode away on bike

— A 20-year-old woman told police the wig she was wearing got snatched by an ex-boyfriend, who pedaled away on a bicycle, according to a report released Monday.

The victim said she left a party and was walking east on Southeast Voltair Terrace about 3 a.m. Friday when her ex-boyfriend came up on a bicycle.

She said he started arguing and yanked off a black wig that was sewn to her natural blond hair. The ex-boyfriend reportedly slapped her after she began chasing him.

Investigators found the victim's hair in "disorder." She said she and the alleged wig-snatcher lived together for eight months. She knew his first name, but apparently recalled only the first letter of his last name.

The ex-boyfriend called the victim's cell phone while an officer was there. Speaking to an officer via the cell phone, he admitted pulling the wig off and leaving when the victim started crying and said she was calling authorities.

The ex-boyfriend hung up after police asked for his last name. Investigators continue to try to identify the alleged wig-puller.

Deer gets revenge after hunter shoots him


SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) - A hunter bagged a big buck on the second day of firearms season, but the kill caused him a lot of pain. Randy Goodman, 49, said he thought two well-placed shots with his .270-caliber rifle had killed the buck on Nov. 19. Goodman said the deer looked dead to him, but seconds later the nine-point, 240-pound animal came to life.

The buck rose up, knocked Goodman down and attacked him with his antlers in what the veteran hunter called "15 seconds of hell." The deer ran a short distance and went down, and died after Goodman fired two more shots.

Soon Goodman started feeling dizzy and noticed his vest was soaked in blood.

So he reached his truck and drove to a hospital, where he received seven staples in his scalp and was treated for a slight concussion and bruises.

Message in a Beer Bottle Found 39 Years Later - 400 Miles Away

NORTH HALEDON, N.J. — A message in a bottle tossed into the ocean off Barnegat Bay has turned up in North Carolina — 39 years later.

The note was sealed in a Schaefer beer bottle. It was dated Aug. 17, 1969 and read: "If found notify the North Haledon Fire Co. .2."

Mark Ciarmello and his 3-year-old daughter found the bottle along a beach in Corolla, N.C., in October. That's about 400 miles from where it was released.

The Downingtown, Pa., resident says he got on his cell phone, called North Haledon and e-mailed photos of the bottle to the firefighters.

No one is sure who tossed the bottle. But firefighters suspect it was during one of the many fishing trips that they used to take years ago.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede

Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede

Updated Friday, November 28th 2008, 12:31 PM

Farriella for News

Police tape surrounds a Wal-Mart that was the scene of a deadly stampede.

A Wal-Mart worker died after being trampled when hundreds of shoppers smashed through the doors of a Long Island store Friday morning, police and witnesses said.

The 34-year-old worker, employed as an overnight stock clerk, tried to hold back the unruly crowds just after the Valley Stream store opened at 5 a.m.

Witnesses said the surging throngs of shoppers knocked the man down. He fell and was stepped on. As he gasped for air, shoppers ran over and around him.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA: WAL-MART CROWD MOMENTS BEFORE DEADLY STAMPEDE

"He was bum-rushed by 200 people," said Jimmy Overby, 43, a co-worker. "They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too...I literally had to fight people off my back."

The unidentified victim was rushed to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:03 a.m., police said.

The cause of death wasn't immediately available pending results of an autopsy.

A 28-year-old pregnant woman was knocked to the floor during the mad rush. She was hospitalized for observation, police said. Early witness accounts that the woman suffered a miscarriage were unfounded, police said.

Three other shoppers suffered minor injuries, cops said.

Before police shut down the store, eager shoppers streamed past emergency crews as they worked furiously to save the store clerk's life.

"They were working on him, but you could see he was dead, said Halcyon Alexander, 29. "People were still coming through."

Only a few stopped.

"They're savages," said shopper Kimberly Cribbs, 27. "It's sad. It's terrible."

Missing man, 75, and his mother, 100, are found OK near Litchfield

Missing man, 75, and his mother, 100, are found OK near Litchfield
ST. LOUIS
Missing man, 75, and his mother, 100, are found OK near Litchfield
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

Police announced that they have found a 75-year-old man and his mother who left their home in O'Fallon, Ill., in the afternoon and failed to arrive at a family Thanksgiving dinner at another residence in the same city.

They were found in Litchfield.

They were were Eugene Titterington and his mother, Alice Philipp, 100, who left home in the 100 block of White Pine Avenue in south O'Fallon about 3:30 p.m. They were seen driving away in their white 1989 Buick Electra, with Illinois Korean War veteran license plate 4787KW. Police said they were headed to a home a mile away on the north side of town.


Illinois State Police in Litchfield said Trooper Adam Belcher spotted the car Eugene J. Titterington was driving shortly after midnight Friday near an exit ramp off Interstate 55.


Troopers said Titterington and his mother, Alice O. Philipp, were unharmed and were turned over to family members who drove from O'Fallon.POST-DISPATCH

Police announced that they have found a 75-year-old man and his mother who left their home in O'Fallon, Ill., in the afternoon and failed to arrive at a family Thanksgiving dinner at another residence in the same city.

They were found in Litchfield.

They were were Eugene Titterington and his mother, Alice Philipp, 100, who left home in the 100 block of White Pine Avenue in south O'Fallon about 3:30 p.m. They were seen driving away in their white 1989 Buick Electra, with Illinois Korean War veteran license plate 4787KW. Police said they were headed to a home a mile away on the north side of town.


Illinois State Police in Litchfield said Trooper Adam Belcher spotted the car Eugene J. Titterington was driving shortly after midnight Friday near an exit ramp off Interstate 55.


Troopers said Titterington and his mother, Alice O. Philipp, were unharmed and were turned over to family members who drove from O'Fallon.

Va. School Board Sued Over Boy's In-Class Haircut

Va. School Board Sued Over Boy's In-Class Haircut


ROANOKE, Va. -- The family of an 11-year-old middle school student is suing the Roanoke County School Board, claiming the boy was given an unwanted haircut by his teacher in class.

Harvey Lutins, the lawyer representing Alexander Allen Brown, says the teacher had complained earlier about the student's prominent bangs.

Lutins says the teacher, who isn't named in the complaint, later "butchered" Brown's hair in front of his class at Hidden Valley Middle School.

Lutins calls the haircut an invasion of privacy and an affront to the student's rights.

The lawsuit seeks $1,000 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages.

Roanoke County Schools Superintendent Lorraine Lange declined to comment on the complaint, saying it's a personnel matter.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

China executes man for ant-breeding scheme

(11-27) 05:53 PST BEIJING, China (AP) --

China has executed a businessman convicted of bilking thousands of investors out of $416 million in a bogus ant-breeding scheme, state media reported Thursday.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Wang Zhendong, who was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to death in February last year, was executed in north China's Liaoning province on Wednesday.

The death penalty is used broadly in China. Though usually reserved for violent crimes, it is also applied for nonviolent offenses that involve large sums of money or if they are seen to threaten social order.

Wang, chairman of Yingkou Donghua Trading Group Co., had promised returns of up to 60 percent for investors who purchased ant-breeding kits from two companies he ran. Ants are used in some traditional Chinese medicinal remedies, which can fetch a high price. Wang sold the kits, which cost $25, for $1,300, local media reported earlier.

Wang attracted more than 10,000 investors between 2002 and June 2005, when investigators shut down his companies. The closure of his business set off a panic among small-time players who saw their life savings disappear overnight.

Xinhua reported earlier that one investor committed suicide after realizing he had been duped. Investigators put the size of the fraud at $416 million. Only $1.28 million was recovered.

Fake investments and pyramid investment schemes have become common during China's transition from a planned economy to a free market. Chinese leaders have tried to eradicate the scams, fearing widespread losses could add to already percolating social unrest.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Japanese man releases hundreds of worms in train

Tue Nov 25, 10:01 am ET
Japanese man releases hundreds of worms in train AFP/File – Commuters board a bullet train in Japan. A Japanese man was arrested for releasing hundreds of beetle …

TOKYO (AFP) – A Japanese man was arrested for releasing hundreds of beetle larvae inside a moving express train to try to scare female passengers, police said Tuesday.

"I wanted to see women get scared and shake their legs," police quoted 35-year-old Manabu Mizuta as saying.

He was arrested on the spot by a patrolling police officer after releasing the creatures on the Keihan line in Osaka prefecture.

"He would go close to women on the train, any woman, and pour out the worms from containers," said a police spokesman.

Local police had been on alert after 18 similar cases of released worms had been reported this month by the same train operator.

"When the arrest was made, the man had nearly emptied a container, which is believed to have held 200 worms," he said. "You cannot count them because there are so many."

Mizuta had 10 containers in his backpack estimated to contain a total of 3,600 worms, police said.

"We have the worms sitting inside the police station right now," the spokesman said. "You see them wriggling inside their clear cases. It's really disgusting."

Cops: Drunk Driver Ends Police Chase by Running Over Himself

SANTA FE, N.M. — A man is in a northern New Mexico jail, accused of driving drunk and leading police on a chase that finally ended with him running over himself.

Roy Travis Aguilar, 21, was treated for minor injuries at a Santa Fe hospital and booked into the Sandoval County detention center on charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated, fleeing a police officer, careless driving and two other outstanding traffic warrants.

A tip on a police hot line Sunday afternoon reported a possible drunken driver on a highway.

State Police Officer Grace Romero spotted Aguilar's pickup truck swerving across both lanes of the highway, driving slowly and then fast. He refused to stop.

After narrowly missing other vehicles, police said Aguilar drove through a ditch and a barbed-wire fence before stopping. He tried to put the truck into park, but it ended up in reverse.

Police said Aguilar fell from his open door and both of his legs were run over by the front driver's side tire.

Claremont parents clash over kindergarten Thanksgiving costumes

Claremont parents clash over kindergarten Thanksgiving costumes