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July, 2000

Bug enthusiasts spur Japan beetle boom

TOKYO, June 25 (Reuters) - Two giant black beetles lunge at each other on top of a log as dozens of Japanese children and adults watch eagerly. The long, curved mandibles of the fighting stag beetles make clacking sounds on contact, as the crowd builds for another round of Beetle wrestling -- an obscure but growing sport in a country where the beetle is scaling new heights of popularity. The crowd gasps as a beetle lifts up its 7 cm (3 in) opponent with its jaws and flings it off the log. "I trained him by deliberately letting him fight against smaller beetles and got him into the habit of winning," said Shin Yuasa, the proud owner of Sumatra Hirata, the stag beetle which became champion in a beetle wrestling tournament recently in Tokyo.

Beetle wrestling is just one of the delights of Japan's growing ranks of live beetle collectors, whose rising population has spawned numerous speciality shops in Tokyo that sell the insects in all shapes, sizes and colours. "I liked insects, even as a child," said Yuasa, gently stroking the broad back of his beetle. "The shape, the black colour, how it shines and the smart appearance of the beetle is what I like best," said the father of two children and owner of 30 beetles. Price tags for a beetle range from a few hundred yen (a few dollars) to around 300,000 yen ($2,800), or even higher in some cases, and Internet sales are allowing collections to prosper in even far-flung regions of Japan. Bigger is better in the world of beetles, and large-size foreign species command the top prices. A mere millimetre in size could change the price by more than a hundred dollars. Last year, a stag beetle was reported to have been sold for as much as 10 million yen ($94,210).

To the delight of beetle fans, Japan eased restrictions last November on imports of 44 more species in addition to the four which were already allowed. The insects, most of them stag beetles, were allowed as they feed on rotten wood and leaves and are therefore not seen as a threat to the ecology. The beetles found in the jungles of Indonesia, Cambodia and India are generally larger than their Japanese counterparts. There are no official figures available on beetle imports since the relaxation of rules. But foreign beetles, some of which come in colours ranging from golden brown to iridescent green, have become hot favourites among collectors. "At the moment, foreign beetles are 'in', but since everyone is going for them, it is getting harder to find domestic ones and that is giving them a sort of scarcity value," said Yukio Kawasaki, a beetle enthusiast. "Each bug is attractive for a different reason -- whether they are large-sized foreign ones with exotic mandibles or indigenous Japanese ones," he added.

Bug experts hope the inflow of exotic beetles from overseas will give new status to the insects, which, for many people are still a childhood pastime rather than a serious pet. "Over the last decade, it has gotten easier to raise and breed beetles so more people have access to them," said Hiroshi Fujita, editor of Gekkan Mushi, or Monthly Bug, an entomology magazine. "Now with the arrival of new breeds and the attention they are getting, beetles could even become as popular as tropical fish," he added.

Beetle wrestling is a relatively new way of enjoying stag beetles. But the Japanese fondness for insects is far from new. Classical Japanese literature is full of references to chirping crickets, glowing fireflies and mayflies which die a few hours after they hatch. In the days before video games, many Japanese children spent their summer holidays catching butterflies, cicadas and various types of beetles in nearby parks or forests. Mothers would tell their young sons that they should grow up to become strong like stag beetles or atlas beetles which have large, rhinoceros-like horns. Bug experts reckon the childhood memories of hunting for insects and admiration for the hardy black beetles is what is sustaining the costly insect hobby. Insect shops say men in their 30s and 40s are their best customers. "A lot of the people who buy beetles now have, in their childhood, experienced the joy of discovering a large beetle after a searching for days," said Takamasa Suzuki, manager of insect specialist shop, Konchu Taikoku Waku Waku Land. "Besides, beetles don't need much attention and rearing them is good for relieving stress," he added. "Some live as long as five years, which is longer than a life span of a hamster."

Helping Trigger: L.A. group protects movie animals

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Lara Deakin has had some strange assignments in her career, but few could compare to the time she was called upon to protect a cockroach. The creepy crawly was featured in a scene in the Susan Sarandon movie "Anywhere But Here." As a field officer for the Film and TV Unit of the American Humane Association, Deakin was on hand to enforce the AHA's strict code of conduct, which mandates that performing animals cannot ever be "killed, injured, overworked or caused discomfort." That goes for all creatures great and small, from horses to halibut. In the case of the cockroach, Deakin came up with a simple safeguard to protect the pest during an on-camera encounter with a can of Raid. She refilled the can with Evian. "We don't expect animal actors to be kept on silk pillows eating bonbons all day," Gini Barrett, director of the AHA western regional office, said. "We just don't believe any animal should be harmed for the sake of a film production."

Now marking its 60th year, the association monitors all but a few major studio productions and issues the now-obligatory and often-spoofed seal of approval: "No animals were harmed in the making of this film." ("Men in Black" ended with the tag: "No animals or aliens were harmed in the making of this film.") A team of nine staffers and a network of volunteers enforces the AHA guidelines, reviewing hundreds of scripts and monitoring more than 800 productions a year. Inspectors check parties on sets featuring lobsters to ensure that the "animal actors" do not double as hors d'oeuvres and stand by with stopwatches when actors hold fish out of water -- 30 seconds is the maximum allowed. They spend six months or longer on productions that make heavy use of horses or dogs.

On most sets, the group's involvement is casual to the point of invisibility. "They're totally innocuous," said veteran unit production manager Paul Deason ("Jurassic Park," "Small Soldiers"). "Most of the time they take a look at what we're doing, eat their lunch and go home." But the AHA can be a major irritant on behalf of animals. On the New Jersey set of "The Sopranos," producers were asked to drain a swimming pool of chlorinated water for the sake of a flock of ducks. During production of "Batman Returns," the AHA mandated the installation of 400 air conditioners to keep a group of penguins properly chilled. And on the sets of dozens of Western movies and TV shows, inspectors have banned the branding of cattle and outfitted cowboy boots with spurs made of rubber.

While some producers and wranglers grumble about the institutional coddling of wildlife, most industry analysts praise the AHA for keeping a close eye on an industry with a nasty track record in its treatment of animals. Horses in classic Westerns were routinely tripped up, starved or worse. In 1939 movie "Jesse James," a blindfolded horse was forced off the side of a cliff. Forty years later, the death of three horses on the set of "Heaven's Gate" was blamed on tripwires and misfired explosives. The association cracked down on such abuses, instituting guidelines that cover everything from the proper transportation of livestock to the release of waterfowl. "Most animals in film and television are given tremendous treatment now, thanks mainly to the AHA," said Gretchen Wyler, founder of animal protection advocacy group the Ark Trust.

But the association is a frequent target of more hard-core animal rights groups, who accuse it of overlooking abuse for the sake of smooth relationships with studios. "The AHA is nothing more than a public relations firm for using animals in entertainment," said Pat Derby, a former exotic animal trainer who quit the business to start the Performing Animal Welfare Society. "The AHA only comes to the set when it's all fun and everything is perfect." Barrett says she takes criticism from producers and animal rights activists as a sign that the association is striking the right balance. "When the extremes are unhappy, I fell like we're doing our job correctly," she said. While their primary mission is to protect animals, the AHA is often called upon to defend producers and trainers, especially when audiences are shocked by critters in apparent distress. Remember the drop-kicked terrier in "There's Something About Mary"? There's plenty more where that came from. In "Me, Myself and Irene," the Farrelly Brothers comedy that opened last month, the character played by Jim Carrey punches, kicks, shoots and otherwise lays into a hapless head of cattle. In both cases, AHA investigators were on hand to ensure that the animals were unscathed.

"We don't tell filmmakers what they can and can't make," Barrett said. "We don't regulate content at all. But I'm less concerned about something like 'Me, Myself and Irene' than something in which the violence is realistic. It's so broad and silly, I don't know how anyone can take it seriously." That does not stop concerned animal lovers from flooding the association with calls and e-mails when such scenes appear. Last year it was inundated with inquiries after a dot-com TV spot pictured gerbils being hurled against a wall. "Answering the gerbil calls became my life's work, basically," said Karen Rosa, the association's coordinator of communications. "I let everyone know that the gerbils were props. It was in very bad taste, but it wasn't abuse." Should an AHA officer witness animal cruelty, he or she can write a citation or even make an arrest, at least in California, where monitors are licensed as law enforcement officers.

Not that the group plays cop. Since monitors were granted law enforcement power in 1997, the AHA has never made an arrest or written a ticket. "We've threatened to, and that's the end of the discussion right there," Rosa said. "Filmmakers are not criminals. It's just a matter of having the expertise and clout to keep them in bounds." Just as persuasive as its legal power, she says, is the association's public influence. It screens all movies featuring animals before release, then publishes its ratings in the association's magazine. Two or three movies typically get slapped with the lowest rating of "Unacceptable," meaning "animal cruelty occurred during production." The most recent offender was a release from China called "An Assassin's Romance" that featured a near replay of the infamous "Jesse James" stunt: A horse is pictured falling off a cliff and into a rock-filled gully.

Violence, not sex, turns French minister off film

PARIS, July 16 (Reuters) - The French may have lost all inhibitions about sex on the silver screen, but an orgy of raw violence in films has got the country's culture minister deeply worried. France's artists and chic left wing have been howling "censorship!" after "Screw me" -- 76 low-budget minutes of hardcore sex and murder -- was effectively banned this month and removed from cinemas around the country. Its scenes of two angry young women driving around France killing men after pick-up sex or suffering violent rapes were a statement about society's violence against women, they argued. The fact the film was branded pornographic after complaints by a far-right group and a Catholic family association added fuel to the fire, prompting its defenders to issue dire warnings about a (highly improbable) return to puritanism in France.

But much of the heat generated by the movie, which is entitled "Baise-moi" in French and is sometimes called "Rape Me" in English, misses the worrying trend that its in-your-face scenes highlight, according to Culture Minister Catherine Tasca. "There are sex scenes that are totally crude, but that doesn't shock many people these days," she told journalists last week. "But almost every sex act ends with the partner getting murdered. That's no way to live!" Some reviewers thought it was no way to make interesting movies, either. The U.S. entertainment daily Variety dismissed "Screw Me" as "a half-baked, punk-inflected porn odyssey masquerading as a movie worth seeing and talking about." Acting on complaints from the two "pro-family" groups, France's highest administrative court viewed the film and reversed the Culture Ministry's original decision to release the film last month for viewers who are 16 and over. By re-rating it as an X film, the State Council effectively banned "Screw Me" from public showing in France after only a few days and consigned it, in Tasca's words, to "economic burial". Under French law, X-rated films can only be shown in "adult cinemas." But this once-thriving business has disappeared in past decade now that home videos and the Internet give French viewers all the hard-core pornography they want.

Torn between her opposition to censorship and the state's duty to protect minors, Tasca -- a 58-year-old Socialist long active in cultural politics -- has decided to add a new category to the system of "visas" all films need to be shown in France. The Culture Ministry's "visa" system currently classifies films for 13 and above, 16 and above or X, leaving no option of banning a film for all minors. Tasca plans to add a new category for viewers who are 18 and over, meaning the film could be back in the cinemas in a few months. "I have real reservations about these violent images," she explained, noting that she sometimes heard the argument that reality was actually worse than the violence seen on the screen. "It's one thing to see mass graves in Kosovo on the evening news. It's terrible, but that's the reality of our planet. It's another thing to see it in fiction with heroes that some people look up to," said Tasca, who has seen the film and speaks about it with a calm but profound distaste.

The film's co-director Virginie Despentes, who wrote the book the movie is based on, rejected the idea of any limits. "We're allowed to be radical or outraged when we make films, it's a question of freedom of expression," she told the daily Le Monde. "As an author, I can't accept any censorship except that which I impose myself." If the insatiably curious in France can't wait for "Screw Me" to reappear, they can drive across the border to Belgium, where it opens on Wednesday (July 19). Belgium has only two film categories -- "children admitted" and "children not admitted" -- with 16 being the pivotal age. Britain and about a dozen other countries are reportedly also interested in distribution rights for the film.

Protecting money with a shield of secrecy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As with most people, asking Bruce Townsend a question will elicit an answer, but there the similarity ends. Townsend's answers are polite and sometimes animated but low on details -- excruciatingly low on details. Wearing a dark blue suit and white shirt with a conservative Brooks Brothers-type tie, Townsend gives the impression that he does not like to make a splash with his clothes or say anything that could be perceived as unusual or charismatic. He manages a staff but would rather not get specific about numbers. He has had a career packed with interest but would like to steer away from anecdotes. And he would rather not discuss ongoing work, pick out legends from the past, speculate on the future or even draw conclusions from his own statements. Townsend works for the United States Secret Service in a nondescript downtown building with no name over the entrance, but his employers' moniker is emblazoned in the lobby behind a security booth that doubles as a shield from curious passersby.

As special agent in charge of the Counterfeit Division, he is responsible for safeguarding the most counterfeited currency on Earth, often forged by organized crime mobs, street gangs and drug barons. And therein lies his need for secrecy: Many of his agents work undercover, sometimes risking life and limb to infiltrate dangerous groups in their efforts to get to the heart of a counterfeit ring. The Secret Service's anti-counterfeit efforts have become more challenging in recent years as new technology has made counterfeiting currency a possibility for millions of people around the world. "Globalization of counterfeiting is the biggest problem we face today," Townsend said, adding that Colombia, where drugs are a major problem, is the biggest source of U.S. counterfeit, surpassing even the amount printed by U.S. forgers. His organization has also boosted its presence in Russia, a country known for its growing organized crime problem, and in Lagos, Nigeria.

Once, counterfeiters needed a solid knowledge of offset printing or other traditional methods employed to forge notes that looked good enough to be passed off as real to an unsuspecting public. But these days things are much simpler. With the advent of the cheap personal computers, a reasonable forged note can be made using a color scanner, software available on most computers and a high-quality printer, which these days can cost less than $500. "Clearly technology has affected the world of criminality and counterfeiting is no exception," Townsend said. "With the proliferation of inkjet printers and home computers, we have seen a real shift recently, domestically, from these traditional printing operations to digital imaging being utilized for counterfeiting money." Last year about 46 percent of counterfeit notes passed and seized in the United States were digitally made on inkjet printers, up from just one half of one percent in 1995. But samples Townsend displayed show that traditional forgeries, which can partially mimic watermarks and other security features, still surpass notes made using new digital methods.

Security features on new notes in circulation as part of a major redesign of the currency in 1996 have made the forger's job more difficult. And with printing technology improving with each passing year, Townsend said the Secret Service is working with printer manufacturers on ways to thwart forgers. "We are talking to many players in the digital imaging industry in an effort to stay abreast of technology," he said. Among the options the Secret Service is eyeing seriously is having printers embed an invisible code on counterfeit notes, which could lead agents to the person who made them. Another possibility to program printers to recognize fake currency and insert flaws. As with many other specific questions, Townsend declined to get into details on this issue.

The Secret Service is best known today for protecting presidents, but the agency, part of the U.S. Treasury Department, was originally set up in 1865 with the sole purpose of combating counterfeiting of U.S. currency. The problem was so chronic back then that one-third of all currency in circulation was counterfeit. These days only three one-hundredths of one percent of the $560 billion in circulation is counterfeit -- a number so small that most Americans will never handle a counterfeit note. "The U.S. dollar is the de facto world currency. People around the world want that currency and that makes it a ripe target for ... counterfeit activity," Townsend said, adding: "The U.S. currency is still a very safe currency." No matter now good a counterfeiter is, his biggest obstacle still is probably attempting to replicate the paper used to make U.S. money, made by Crane & Co. of Dalton, Massachusetts. Most paper is made from wood pulp, but since 1879 the family-run business has used small scraps left over from the manufacture of cotton garments such as jeans and T-shirts to make the distinctive U.S. currency paper. And that is something no amount of computers and inkjet printers can help you with.

Madrid prostitutes cleared to dress down for work

MADRID, June 23 (Reuters) - Scantily dressed prostitutes in a popular Madrid park should not be ordered to cover up because they are simply wearing the uniform of their profession, according to the capital's chief public prosecutor. Mariano Fernando Bermejo rejected a proposal to charge prostitutes with the offence of indecent exposure, newspaper El Pais said on Friday. The idea was put forward by a police chief outraged at the women's state of undress day and night in the the Casa de Campo. The park is a well-known centre of prostitution but is also home to an amusement park, a zoo, soccer pitches and restaurants. Strolling families can sometimes come face to face with near naked men or women. "One thing is indecent exposure, another is the wearing of a uniform -- or in this case almost the lack of one -- related to one's job," the prosecutor was quoted as saying in El Pais.

Canada radio allowed to insult Chinese restaurants

OTTAWA, June 23 (Reuters) - A Canadian radio host was within his rights to suggest Chinese restaurants sometimes served dog and cat to customers who had ordered chicken, fish or pork, Canada's official broadcast watchdog said on Friday. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council rejected a complaint about a Winnipeg radio station announcer who began an item by reminding listeners of what he said had been China's 1983 decision to order the destruction of all family pets. "It upset a lot of people living there, the government taking food right out of their mouths, you know what I'm saying," the announcer said. He then played a spoof song about a Chinese restaurant which contained the following lines:

"Seems to me I ordered sweet and sour pork
But Garfield's on my fork
He's purring here on my fork."

This was too much for one listener who complained that the broadcast in November of last year was offensive, culturally insensitive, and designed to dehumanize the Chinese people. But the council rejected the claim, saying it was clear the radio announcer had been commenting on Chinese restaurants rather than the Chinese people. "Fundamentally, the combination plays on the idea that, when you order a dish in a Chinese restaurant, you may get cat rather than chicken, beef, fish or pork," it said. The council said that any listeners offended by such items should simply turn off their radios and noted the Winnipeg station had promised not to play the song again. Last year the council hit the headlines by ruling that cartoon Bugs Bunny was neither a sexist or misogynist.

Sharon Stone laughs off lurid Hollywood tales

LOS ANGELES, June 28 (Reuters) - He portrays her as one of Hollywood's most manipulative, dope-smoking, sex sirens -- a woman so hated by the crew on one film that they urinated in her bath. She responds, not with a lawsuit, but by praising him as a comedy writer and says his descriptions are "hilarious." Sharon Stone used wit -- rather than a deadly weapon -- to defuse a celebrity feud on Wednesday with the screenwriter whose 1992 steamy sex thriller "Basic Instinct" made her a star. Joe Eszterhas, whose "Flashdance," "Jagged Edge" and "Sliver" credits made him one of Hollywood's major players, relates a series of sexual anecdotes about Stone in a new book that would make most actresses blush. Excerpts of the book "American Rhapsody" were published in Talk magazine on Wednesday.

"Sharon's knowledge of power was elemental, primal, learned in modeling sessions (at 19) and casting couches and in the back rooms of shadowy, back-lighted discos in Milan and Buenos Aires," wrote Eszterhas. Stone, who has just adopted a baby boy, said in a brief statement on Wednesday; "I think it's hilarious. I knew he was funny but I didn't know he could write comedy." Eszterhas's book, to be published in July, follows a personal crisis three years ago and the fallout from his mega-flop of 1995, the universally panned "Showgirls." An unusual mixture of personal musings, firsthand Hollywood tales and the Clinton sex scandal, the book is said also to include scandalous revelations about actors Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone and Richard Gere. Eszterhas recalls one former agent of Stone's telling him; "We used to have a saying among us at the agency. 'Put Sharon Stone in the room alone with the director and she'll close the deal.'" He claimed Stone, now 42, once straddled him while not wearing underwear and gave him a sensual back massage in front of astonished "Sliver" director Phillip Noyce in order to get a sex scene rewritten the way she wanted it. It worked. The scene was rewritten.

Eszterhas said Stone's dislike for her "Sliver" co-star William Baldwin was so intense that she bit his tongue during a screen kiss and would use mouthwash after kissing him. Eszterhas also said that Stone was so disliked on movie sets that the crew on one of her early films urinated in a bathtub she was supposed to use in a scene. Eszterhas's intention, however, seems not to malign Stone but to celebrate her. He calls her "the greatest American sex symbol since Marilyn Monroe" and the "ripest of ripe peaches, the apotheosis of the curvy, beauty pageant blond." He relates an incident shortly after the release of "Basic Instinct" in which he went to Stone's home, "smoked some of her Thai," drank champagne and "wound up on the rug crawling around her dollhouse." Later they went to eat at a chic Hollywood restaurant "stoned out of our minds" before returning to her home for more dope, more champagne and more sex. "Then I went back to my hotel, happy that I'd created her," he said.

Bare-breasted mermaid lures in Norway fjord

OSLO, June 27 (Reuters) - A bare-breasted blonde mermaid perched atop a rock is making tourists gape in disbelief along a Norwegian fjord. "One man once jumped off a boat and swam over to me," Line Oexnevad, 37 and mother of two children, told Reuters on Tuesday of her unorthodox job as a professional siren. "Most people just look and cheer." Oexnevad, naked except for a long blonde wig and a costume fish-tail, said she has sat five times on a rock along the Lyse fjord in West Norway in the past three summers, hired as a surprise attraction for tourist boat trips and parties. "The last time it was a bit cold," she said. "The mermaid in Copenhagen and me are the only mermaids I know of," she said. The "Little Mermaid" in Copenhagen is a statue inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Oexnevad, who also works at a hospital in nearby Stavanger, said she was no good at singing -- in legend, sirens sang to lure sailors. "Maybe next time I'll take along a cassette player," she said.

Fashion craze deprives Norway planes of seatbelts

OSLO, June 29 (Reuters) - A new fashion craze is threatening air safety in Norway -- teenagers are stealing seatbelts to keep up their baggy trousers. "We're taking this very seriously," said Braathens spokesman Oerjan Heradstveit, saying an average of five belts a day were disappearing from the company's planes. "Passengers cannot fly unless we have belts on the seats," he said. Thieves were able to uncouple the two-part belts from the seats without tools, join the two parts together at the back and then use them as trouser belts. Braathens said it was trying to find ways to fix the belts more securely. Heradstveit said he was unaware that other airlines had similar problems. Braathens, which operates mainly on domestic routes and has about 400 flights daily, cannot easily trace belt thieves since it does not allocate seats on domestic flights.

Barbie gets rival in presidential doll race

LOS ANGELES, June 29 (Reuters) - Barbie, the tippy-toed blonde, has a rival in her playful bid to be the first doll in the White House -- and this one can stand on her own two feet. Vanessa, an African-American doll whose makers say she has more on her mind than fun and fashion, entered the 2000 presidential doll race on Thursday armed with flat feet, a manifesto, a college degree and a cabinet made up of Asian, Latina and all-American beauties. "Vanessa is more than just pretty in pink. She's smart. She's independent. She's the only candidate in this campaign who can stand on her own two feet, and I mean that literally," said Jennifer Baker, founder of fledgling Get Set Club Inc, the makers of Vanessa dolls. "What kind of presidential campaign is Barbie going to have -- more shoes in the White House? Our focus is more on learning and adventure than fashion," Baker said. Launched in May, the Barbie for President doll is backed by the nonprofit White House Project that promotes women political candidates. She comes with an ice blue suit, a slinky red evening gown and an agenda urging girls to pursue leadership roles in schools and communities. Vanessa, a community activist, banker and scientist has a manifesto denouncing "pink...prescriptions for play." Barbie, who at 41 is no babydoll, hardly batted an eyelid at the challenge, believing that experience will triumph over youth. "Her depth of experience in 75 careers ranging from sports to space makes Barbie uniquely qualified to represent all girls," said Barbie's campaign manager Julia Jensen.

PETA asks judge to free anti-meat cow

NEW YORK, June 29 (Reuters) - An animal rights group asked a federal judge on Thursday for free rein in a beef with New York City over the group's plan to brand its fiberglass entry in the Big Apple's cow parade with anti-meat statements. At stake is whether People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), known for its dramatic and controversial protests, can exhibit a cow bearing phrases detailing the cruelty of butchery and the effects of eating meat, including impotence. The cow controversy stems from a decision by a committee of city representatives and parade organizers to ban three phrases PETA wanted to display. They are: "'Eating meat causes impotence because it blocks the arteries to all vital organs, including the penis' -- Dr. Dean Ornish, Medical Advisor to President Clinton," "Cattle are castrated and dehorned without anesthesia" and "'A lot of times the man skinning the cow finds out an animal is still conscious' -- USDA Inspector Timothy Walker."

PETA sued New York City, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the organizers of the CowParade New York 2000 alleging the decision violated the group's free speech rights. The animal rights group paid $15,000 to mount two cows, one of which is already on display. CowParade is an art exhibit that began June 15 and ends September 3 in which about 500 life-sized fiberglass cows have been decorated and placed in various public areas throughout the city. PETA asked Judge Victor Marrero on Thursday to order the defendants to give them a cow, as they had allegedly agreed to do. The judge took the matter under advisement. The cows, which are sponsored by a variety of groups, can be found everywhere from the front of the federal courthouse where an upright cow wielding a gavel presides in judicial robes to a tony cow posing at the doors of Bloomingdale's flagship store. The PETA cow was among four designs that were rejected; another was a Monica Lewinsky heifer. However the committee did allow PETA to mount a second cow in Manhattan's Greenwich Village that is dressed in faux leather boots, jacket and pants.

Notorious London rubberwear designer Pigalle, whose fashions are sold at fetish shops, unveiled the entry at a news conference earlier Thursday surrounded by signs reading "Fake for the Animals' Sake and "Pleather Yourself." Gordon Einhorn, a Harrisburg, Pa. lawyer representing PETA, argued that the committee's guidelines only prohibited works that were sexual, political or religious in nature and that the phrases on the banned cow did not fall into any of these areas. Einhorn said that in contrast, the committee did allow an artist to display a cow that was labeled in meat cuts such as steaks, chops and short ribs. The cow was a tribute to the artist's father, a butcher. "On one side they sanctioned this piece of art. ... PETA should be able to make the opposite side of this debate," Einhorn said. Louise Moed, a city lawyer, said the PETA design was meant to shock and "clearly was not within the spirit of whimsy."

Spice Girls of the steppes enliven Mongolia poll

ULAN BATOR, July 2 (Reuters) - Forget Mao suits, goose-steps and the Internationale. Mongolia's former Communist rulers have spiced up their image with peroxide hair, platform heels and a touch of Girl Power. The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) added a touch of gloss to its campaign for Sunday's parliamentary election by enlisting the help of the Spice Girls of the steppes. Lipstick, Mongolia's only all-girl pop group, signed an exclusive contract to play at MPRP rallies, where they sang and danced with charismatic party leader Nambariin Enkhbayar, who models himself on British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But Ganaa, Gerlee, Degi and Ichko said they would not vote for the new-look Communist party that ruled Mongolia for 75 years until it was swept from power by a young democratic coalition in a 1996 election. "Democracy has given us a lot," said ginger-haired Gerlee, 21, sitting in front of a statue of Lenin in the centre of Ulan Bator. "It has given us the chance to sing and dance the way we want to." "We can do anything we want," she said.

Many Mongolians complain that capitalist-style economic reforms since the nation's first democratic election in 1990 have brought precious little material gain, with a third of the population of 2.4 million living on less than $10 a month. But for Gerlee, a graduate from Ulan Bator's College of Music and Foreign Services University, the reform era has opened up a world of mobile phones, Internet cafes, discos and record contracts that were unheard of 10 years ago. It also gave her the freedom to give up a poorly paid job in government service and forge a career in the music industry with her friends. "We have many boy bands here in Mongolia but there aren't any girl groups, so we thought: 'Why couldn't we have one?'" said 20-year-old Ichko. The band's popularity also reflects changing attitudes towards women in Mongolia's traditionally conservative, male-dominated society. Peroxide blonde Degi, 21, says her parents found it hard to accept her career choice at first. "Because they grew up in the socialist era, when I dyed my hair they hated it," she said. "They have a totally different mentality." But the girls, who are all trained in classical and traditional Mongolian music, have finally won acceptance among young and old, and a lucrative deal with a local electronics firm to record their first album. "In the past, during the socialist era, there weren't any bands like them," said Battulga, 45, staring adoringly at the girls as they performed at an MPRP rally last week. "This is what is happening in Mongolia these days as a result of democracy."

Brazil president said safe from eggs at 180 feet

BRASILIA, July 5 (Reuters) - Security guards watching over Brazil's president have concluded the leader of Latin America's largest nation will never have egg on his face -- but only if he stands 180 feet (60 metres) away from angry demonstrators. The guards spent weeks studying exactly how far away an egg-thrower would have to be in order to miss hitting President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the daily Folha de Sao Paulo said. Their study concluded that the safe location for the president was at a distance of 150 to 180 feet (50 to 60 metres), even if targeted by a champion egg-thrower. At that distance, Folha said, a person's head would appear as large as a fly 12 feet (four metres) away. The tests were carried out after several top politicians were hit by eggs in recent months by demonstrators angry at government austerity measures.

London schoolchildren prefer sex cards to Pokemon

LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) - London schoolchildren, tired of trading Pokemon cards or collecting pictures of football stars, have alarmed city authorities by swapping prostitutes' pornographic calling cards instead. The sexy illustrated cards that offer services like Swedish "massages" or a night with a buxom transvestite, are illegally plastered in public phoneboxes across the capital and are becoming hot commodities on the city's school playgrounds. "It's an incredibly disturbing development," Westminster city councillor Kit Malthouse told Reuters. "We've been campaigning to get the cards stamped out for years and are putting pressure on the Home Office (Interior Ministry) to bring in swift legislation against them," he said. In British law it is not illegal to be a prostitute but it is illegal to solicit for customers in a public place. Phone boxes are popular with "carders" because they are relatively private, protected from the elements and allow customers to call quickly. Westminster Council said teachers had come forward with concerns that students, some as young as six or seven, are eagerly collecting the cards that picture scantily clad women and offer a phone number to purchase their services.

But the problem is also a headache for British Telecom, which estimates the annual cost of removing taped and glued sex cards from phone boxes at 250,000 pounds ($380,000). BT said it removed an average 13 million cards from phone boxes every year. In May, the Home Office published a consultation paper, "New Measures to Control Prostitutes' Cards in Phone Boxes" as the latest salvo in the long-running battle against the cards. "There's a public decency issue here," said Malthouse. "You can't let your children out without them being bombarded by a wall of pornography. Tourists from all over the world visit London, but is this the image we want them to see?" The fine for posting the cards is currently a modest 200 pounds, but Westminster wants that raised five-fold. It is fighting for Oftel, the British telecoms regulator, to make it legal to bar calls to the numbers displayed on the cards. Malthouse said the problem has been around for more than a decade and he accused the government of dragging its heels on bringing in tougher legislation. A Home Office spokeswoman said consultations were "ongoing". "We are still meeting with local authorities and with Oftel to see how best to deal with the problem," she said. "But we are definitely committed to tackling this problem".

Toronto big on girth and record of Blue Jays pitcher

TORONTO, July 7 (Reuters) - Sports Illustrated splashed David Wells across its cover and declared him fat, but Canadians rallied to their portly pitcher on Friday, including writer W.P. Kinsella, who says many a fit under-achiever would do well to adopt Wells' chips and beer diet. In its July 10 cover story, the bible of North American professional sports devoted several pages to the largeness of the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, who just happens to lead baseball's major leagues with the most wins this season. "Wells is a fat guy who is content being fat, and if he is in search of anything, it is a beer," wrote Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman. Wells is officially -- and some would say charitably -- listed as weighing 225 pounds in a six-foot, four-inch frame. Pearlman noted how everything about Wells is fat, even "the three likenesses of family members tattooed on his upper body."

Pearlman also penned the article that quoted Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker saying unkind things about New Yorkers who ride subways. While that article caused a stir in the United States, his latest piece is also arousing passions north of the border. "David Wells lives large and Toronto loves him because of it," wrote Toronto Star sports columnist Richard Griffin in Friday's editions. In a Star poll, 88 percent of some 6,181 respondents declared that "size doesn't matter" for the left-handed hurler, known affectionately around Toronto and in the leagues as "Boomer." The Sports Illustrated article complimented Wells on his success on the mound but maintained he lived on a chips and beer diet while shunning all training. It said his penchant for showing up overweight at training camp each year led to clashes with upper management at his past home with the New York Yankees and in a previous stint as a Blue Jay. "Wells, who routinely reports to (training) camp disguised as a weather balloon, views it as vital wiener-roasting time," Pearlman wrote. But at the midpoint in the baseball season, Wells has notched 14 wins and only two losses. He is given the lion's share of credit for getting his Blue Jays atop the American League East, just ahead of last year's champion Yankees.

W.P. Kinsella, the writer who inspired the Hollywood hit "Field of Dreams," believes that it is only performance on the diamond that should matter when discussing Wells. "You don't get to be 14-2 in professional baseball -- especially in a year when pitchers are being hit in unprecedented fashion -- without being fit," he wrote in Friday's Globe and Mail newspaper. Kinsella said critics should be reminded of how Abraham Lincoln responded to criticism that General Ulysses S. Grant was a drunk: "Find out what he drinks and send a case to each of my other generals." The Canadian author of "Shoeless Joe" and the "Thrill of the Grass" advised Jays manager Jim Fregosi to fill the lockers with the Boomer's favorite foods to inspire well-conditioned underachievers on the Blue Jays Kinsella said a number of great athletes have come in extra large sizes -- such as baseball immortal Babe Ruth and just about every sumo wrestler. And he noted other players have coped with a range of disabilities, including pitcher Jim Abbott who had only one arm. He sniffed that fitness had become such a mania that even professional billiards has been infected. "Not one of these guys with all their training regimens could carry the cue stick of Minnesota Fats."

AIDS-hit Swaziland to ban mini skirts at schools

MBABANE, July 18 (Reuters) - Swaziland will ban mini-skirts in schools to try to halt the spread of AIDS, a government official said on Tuesday. The aim is to put a stop to sexual relationships between teachers and their female pupils in a country where at least one quarter of the population is infected with HIV. Schoolgirls are widely blamed for enticing teachers with their short skirts. "The ban will go into effect next year and schoolgirls 10 years and older will be required to wear knee-length skirts," a source at the ministry of education told Reuters. "We are living in tough times because of HIV/AIDS and...we need to address the problem of dress code among students because it all starts from there," the source added. Girls face expulsion if they breach the ban.

In 1969, Swaziland banned all mini-skirts for morality reasons but the order lapsed because it was difficult to police dress codes in public. A ban in schools would be easier to enforce, the ministry official said. Like much of Africa, where the majority of the world's 34.5 million people infected with HIV live, Swaziland is struggling with an AIDS crisis. At least 250,000 of the population of one million is infected with HIV, and life expectancy is predicted to drop to 30 years from the present 38. But Swaziland's efforts to curb the disease have been questioned by health experts. The country's parliament this week begins debating legislation for the mandatory sterilisation of people infected with HIV/AIDS.

Getting there faster: light's speed accelerated

WASHINGTON, July 20 (Reuters) - Scientists using lasers and specially prepared atoms have managed to make a pulse of light exceed its own top speed of 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, appearing to leave a laboratory tube before it had fully entered. This feat might seem more like wizardry than physics to some scientists, who have long assumed that nothing in the universe could go faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. But researchers at the NEC Research Institute found they could make pulses of light zoom through a tube at a much faster speed, with the peak of the pulse emerging from the tube 62 billionths of a second before the peak had entered. "It looks as if you've done something magical ... but you can explain this based on physics. This is not a time machine," James Chadi, vice president of the institute's science division, said on Thursday in a telephone interview from Princeton, New Jersey.

The NEC team's findings, published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, do not contradict Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, in which the great 20th century physicist set the speed of light in a vacuum as the absolute maximum speed for the universe. According to Einstein's theory of relativity, nothing with mass -- like people or things -- can ever go faster than light, the researchers noted. But something with no mass, like a packet of light waves known as a pulse, can. "Our experiment is perfectly consistent with Einstein's theory of special relativity," said lead researcher Lijun Wang in a telephone interview. "Precisely speaking, it is the speed of information transfer that is limited by the speed of light in a vacuum."

All the necessary information about the pulse is contained in its tiny leading edge. As soon as this sliver of the pulse enters the chamber, the specially prepared atoms can begin making another, identical pulse at the chamber's far side. This finding might have implications for telecommunications, Chadi said. A telecommunications application may exist even though information cannot move any faster than the speed of light, and it usually moves much more slowly, according to Arthur Dogariu, one of the authors of the Nature paper. "Information is basically pulses," Dogariu said by telephone. "When you talk about the Internet and fiber optic communications, it's limited by how the pulses can move through the wires, by how many of them there are, how thick the wires are. "If you can create the medium in which pulses propagate, it would allow them to go through faster as a packet of waves," he said. Any such application will not occur soon, and Dogariu said the environment he and his colleagues created in their laboratory could be re-created in other labs but not in nature.

Researchers at the NEC lab created this medium by using lasers to specially prepare atoms of cesium gas inside a cylindrical chamber about 2.5 inches (6 cm) long, and then shooting pulses of light through it. Wang said the laser pulse should be thought of as a group of undulating waves of light, with peaks and valleys. Normally light would pass through a vacuum chamber of that length in 0.2 nanoseconds, or .2 billionths of a second. But the cesium atoms in the chamber shift the light pulse, making it zip through the chamber and exit 62 nanoseconds sooner, or more than 300 times earlier. As soon as the leading edge of the pulse enters the chamber, the atoms start to reconstruct the pulse at the chamber's far side. This reconstructed pulse can then emerge from the far end of the chamber sooner than it would go through a vacuum.


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