A stroll through Reuters gives me pause. How can I make these true tales strange enough for fiction?
ALMATY- Burglars in Kazakhstan locked a funeral parlor employee in a coffin and kept him there unconscious while rummaging for cash in the shop.
Serik Sarsenbayev said he was on his own late at night when two masked burglars burst into the parlor and beat him until he fainted.
The thieves then nailed him into a wooden coffin and carried on their search for a money safe, he told Reuters by telephone from the steppe town of Temirtau.
He was later freed by the driver of the parlor's hearse.
The thieves made away with the equivalent of $23,000 and remain at large, the daily Express K reported.
Does this change "the WWE wrestlers are the new gladiators" spiel?
LONDON - Gladiators may have fought and died to entertain others in the brutality of the Roman arena but they appear to have abided by a strict code of conduct which avoided savage violence, forensic scientists say.
Tests on the remains of 67 gladiators found in tombs at Ephesus in Turkey, center of power for ancient Rome's eastern empire, show they stuck to well defined rules of combat and avoided gory free-for-alls.
Injuries to the front of each skull suggested that each opponent used just one type of weapon per bout of face-to-face contact, two Austrian researchers report in a paper to be published in Forensic Science International.
Savage violence and mutilation, typical of battlefields 2,000 years ago, were out of order.
And the losers appear to have died quickly.
Despite the fact that most gladiators wore helmets, 10 of the remains showed the fighters had died of squarish hammer-like blows to the side of the head, possibly the work of a backstage executioner who finished off wounded losers after the fight.
The report confirms the picture given of battles in the arena by Roman artwork, which suggests gladiators were well matched and followed rules enforced by two referees.
Kathleen Coleman of Harvard University, who was historical consultant for Ridley Scott's film "Gladiator," agreed with the findings of the report.
"The fact that none of the gladiators' skulls was subjected to a repeated battering does seem to confirm that discipline was exercised in gladiatorial combat and its aftermath," she was quoted by New Scientist magazine as saying.
The scientists, Karl Grosschmidt of the Medical University of Vienna and Fabian Kanz of the Austrian Archaeological Institute, used special X-ray scans and microscopic analysis to investigate the gladiators' deaths.
The bones were uncovered in 1993 and are thought to date from the second century AD.
Bodies at unrest
NEW YORK- New York authorities on Thursday charged four men with illegally harvesting and selling tissue from 1,077 dead people in the past four years, possibly including the remains of British broadcaster Alistair Cooke.
The men, including the chief executive of a company that sold human tissue for medical implants, were indicted on charges including conspiracy, unlawful dissection and forgery.
Prosecutors said the men, working with a Brooklyn funeral home, got bones and organs from the bodies of people who were not organ donors. The tissue was then sold via legitimate medical channels for use in procedures like hip replacements.
Many of the deceased would have been ineligible as donors due to illness or age, including Cooke, a longtime host of the U.S. TV program "Masterpiece Theater" and known for his Letter from America BBC broadcasts, who died in 2004.
During a 15-month investigation which included the exhumation of six bodies, authorities discovered that after removing bones, the men had replaced them with plastic pipes to maintain an intact appearance. In some cases, they also left gloves, aprons and other things in the bodies.
"Bones and tissues were removed from the bodies and replaced by pipes," Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes told a news conference the removed parts were sold throughout the country for use in medical procedures.
What was particularly disturbing was that "no medical precautions were taken to ensure that these tissue transplants were free from disease or defect," he said.
Hynes said it was unclear if any of the tissue had actually been implanted in patients.
The indictment named former dentist Michael Mastromarino, funeral home operator Joseph Nicelli, as well as Lee Crucetta and Christopher Aldorasi as participating in the scheme. The most serious charge on the 122-count indictment, of enterprise corruption, carried a possible 25-year sentence.
Attorneys for the four men could not be reached for comment.
Hynes said the group obtained bodies through a Brooklyn funeral home, Daniel George & Sons. Death certificates and consent forms were forged to make it appear the deceased wanted to donate their bodies and that they were eligible to do so.
"Invariably, the detectives (investigating the case) found the deceased were made younger and healthier on paper," said Ray Kelly, New York's police commissioner.
For Cooke, who died at 95 from cancer, the men altered documents to show he died at 85 of a heart attack, Hynes said.
The tissues were sold by Mastromarino's Fort Lee, New Jersey-based company, Biomedical Tissue Services Ltd., which was ordered to cease operations last month by the Food and Drug Administration. At least three companies that bought materials from Biomedical Tissue Services have issued recall notices of some of their products in recent months.
Hynes said the four men made at least $2 million through the scheme.
Transplanting of tissues such as muscle, skin and bone is common in the United States and the trade in implantable body parts is legal, providing that certain conditions are met.
Hot and cold running beer...
OSLO- A woman thought she was in heaven when beer instead of water flowed from the taps in her apartment in west Norway.
"I turned on the tap to clean some knives and forks and beer came out," Haldis Gundersen told Reuters from her home in Kristiansund, west Norway. "We thought we were in heaven."
Beer in Norway is among the most expensive in the world with a 0.4 liter (0.7 pint) costing about 50 crowns ($7.48) in a bar.
Gundersen said she tried the beer but that it tasted a bit odd and was not fizzy.
It turned out that a worker in a bar two floors below had mixed up the pipes on Saturday evening, wrongly connecting a new barrel to a water pipe leading to Gundersen's flat. The bar got water in its beer taps.
"If it happens again I'm going to order Baileys (coffee liqueur)," she said.
Beats Chinese Checkers
BEIJING- Doing good deeds, volunteering on building sites and obtaining Chairman Mao's autograph are some of the objectives of "Learn from Lei Feng," a new online game starring the Chinese Communist Party's legendary hero.
The plot revolves around Lei Feng, a humble selfless People's Liberation Army soldier who, the myth goes, spent all his spare time and money helping the needy and serving the Party until tragically dying in an accident in 1962.
"For beginners, sewing and mending socks is the only way to increase experience and upgrade," said Jiao Jian, a young pupil and online game fan from the southern city of Guangzhou.
Party propagandists went into overdrive in 1963 after Mao called on the nation to "Learn from Comrade Lei Feng." As an unconditional Mao loyalist, Lei's name would be endlessly invoked during the chaotic Cultural Revolution which erupted in 1966 and only ended with the chairman's death 10 years later.
While the new online game includes a treasure hunt, the prize is not a special weapon or pile of gold but a copy of Mao's collected works.
Enemies in the game are "secret agents," Xinhua said. Players can replenish their strength after battling such evil forces by talking with the Party secretary, en route to a final meeting with Mao himself.
Online gaming has exploded in China in recent years, with an estimated 14.3 million people playing regularly and spending some $240 million on their hobby last year. Annual revenues are expected to hit $1.5 billion by 2008 for a habit that domestic media warn is taking a toll on children's studies.
But the developer of "Learn from Lei Feng" said the game was aimed at providing students with the tools to learn the pleasures of helping others, Xinhua said.
"As long as my experience, reputation, skill and loyalty satisfy the game's criteria, I will win and meet Chairman Mao," Jiao said.
Psychics to try contacting Lennon in TV seance
LOS ANGELES- Imagine John Lennon spinning in his grave.
The ex-Beatle, who was murdered over 25 years ago, is the latest subject of a pay-per-view seance arranged by the producers of a 2003 attempt to contact the dead Princess Diana. That show made money but was slammed by critics as hitting a new low in television tastelessness.
"People say this is disgusting and I accept that criticism, but we're making a serious attempt to do something that many, many millions of people around the world think is possible," said Paul Sharratt, who heads Starcast Productions, which made "The Spirit of Diana." That show drew over half a million U.S. viewers willing to pay $14.95 to watch it.
The Lennon show will air on April 24 on a pay-per-view channel and cost $9.95.
Sharratt himself is a "non-believer," and admits to not being totally convinced otherwise after psychics attempted to contact the dead princess in the 2003 program. Nevertheless, it made for some great television, he said.
"I have to say that I'm a skeptic. I went into it very skeptically and I didn't come out a total believer, but it was good for a lot of people as a tribute to Diana," he said.
Sharratt said he chose Lennon because the former Beatle, like Diana, is an icon and was also a deeply spiritual person. "Lennon was very interested in the spiritual world. It's a natural follow-up to the Diana seance," he said.
"The Spirit of John Lennon" is being done without the knowledge or consent of John Lennon's estate. A spokesman for Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, had no immediate comment.
Sharratt said, "We are writing to Yoko and contacting friends this week to see if any people associated with Lennon would take part."
The program will show psychics traveling to sites of significance to the former Beatle, including New York's Dakota apartment house, where he lived and was fatally shot by a deranged fan, Mark David Chapman, just over 25 years ago.
Psychics will also visit the Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles where the Beatles recorded, and a town in India where Lennon pursued a spiritual retreat.
Sharratt said the Indian sequence will feature a spirit reader at an ashram who believes he can contact Lennon to receive musical notes and lyrics from the other side.
Any notations will be flown to Los Angeles, where a composer will arrange the notes, add vocals and backgrounds to produce a new song.
The special will culminate as psychics, colleagues and confidantes sit at a seance table for 30 minutes surrounded by infra-red cameras that can capture any "presence" or spirit that enters the room.
[I like the show that Biography Channel airs called "Dead Famous" which has a British sensitive and a skeptic go to places that a famous person 'haunted' in life to see if they hang around after death. They get permission and have fun along with the strange occurances. These people above are kinda cruel given what happened in 2003.]
Viagra for stallion who wouldn't horse around...
BERLIN- A German court ordered viagra to be given to a stallion after his new owner claimed he was impotent and refused to pay the full asking price.
The buyer of the horse called Vedor paid just a tenth of the price of over 4,000 euros ($4,900), claiming it had only one testicle and failed to get frisky with a female pony.
A vet found the testicle after an examination, said Egbert Simons, a spokesman for the court in the eastern town of Neuruppin.
And when the stallion was given the potency drug, it emerged he was fully functional, he added.
The court ordered the buyer to pay the full price.
Hotel charges guests by the pound
BERLIN - A hotel in northern Germany has started charging its guests by the kilo for an overnight stay.
In the town of Norden, close to the Dutch border, guests now have to step onto the scales before moving into their rooms and fork out half a euro ($0.61) per kilogram (2.2 lbs).
"I had many guests who were really huge and I told them to slim down," said Juergen Heckrodt, owner of the three-star establishment. "When they came back the year after and had lost a lot of weight they asked me what are you gonna do for me now?"
Heckrodt said he hoped his initiative would inspire Germans to become leaner and healthier.
"Healthy guests live longer and can come back more often."
Larger customers may be reassured that the hotel turns no one away who refuses to step on the scales and charges no guest more than 39 euros, the normal single room price.
[There would be riots if someone tried this in the USA. Given that they set a maximum without penalty, its not a bad idea...though not a nice one either.]
I hope if someone reads this and turns one of these into a best-seller, that I'll get a mention in the acknowledgments. Don't make me James Frey you! ;)