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The Odd Truth, Aug. 10, 2002

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Garbage Odyssey Ends In PA

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Sixteen years after its global wanderings began, a load of nearly 2,345 tons of burned garbage has returned home.

The ash originated in Philadelphia and was part of a 15,000-ton cargo that roamed the globe in search of a dump site. On Friday, the 128th and final shipment was deposited in the Mountain View Reclamation landfill and promptly topped off with six inches of dirt.

"It was routine for us," community-relations coordinator Lee Zimmerman said. "We're just kind of happy it's all done."

Most of the original cargo of ash was dumped in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans - a decision that cost two shipping company executives prison terms. The rest of the rejected ash spent a dozen years on a beach in Haiti, and the last two years on a rusty barge in Florida.

"They should've kept it in Philadelphia," said A.J. Carbaugh, 61, who lives 1½ miles from the Mountain View landfill in south-central Pennsylvania.

The ash was orphaned in 1985 because Philadelphia's landfill had no space left. The following year, a city subcontractor sent the burned garbage aboard the Khian Sea to the Bahamas, where the government refused to allow the ship to dock.

For a year, the ship sailed the Caribbean but was turned away by a series of countries - sometimes at gunpoint, according to crew members. Environmental groups had warned the ash might contain toxic materials, though U.S. and state regulators said the ash had minute amounts of toxic metals such as lead.

The New York City Trade Waste Commission eventually brokered a deal to bring the ash from Haiti to Florida; the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection finally agreed to dispose of it.

Traveling the last leg of its long journey by train and truck, the first load returned to Pennsylvania on June 27. (AP)

Letter Of The Law?

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Gov. Bob Holden signed two bills into law that he intended to veto, but was able to reject them anyway after he realized his mistake, officials said Friday.

Holden's staff accidentally included the bills in a stack of legislation the governor intended to sign.

The documents were received by Secretary of State Matt Blunt's office July 10 to be archived as state law. The next day, Holden informed them of the mistake.

The documents were returned to Holden, who vetoed the bills July 12, the last business day before the deadline to veto legislation.

"It was really no big deal. It was a fixable problem," Holden spokeswoman Chris Kelly said.

Under the Missouri Constitution, "If a bill be approved by the governor it shall become law." Holden's office contends that approval does not mean signature.

A secretary of state's spokesman said Holden's office argued that even though the bills had been signed and received by the secretary of state, the governor did not really approve of them.

"Secretary Blunt took the governor at his word and returned them before they were filed in the archives," spokesman Spence Jackson said. "We didn't see a need to be necessarily adversarial in this situation."

Ken Warren, a political scientist and constitutional expert at Saint Louis University, said he was shocked by what he called a clearly unconstitutional situation.

"It's highly questionable whether a governor can renege on a bill once he signs it into law," Warren said. "It sounds like they are granting him a courtesy, and maybe they can get away with it."

One of the bills relaxed standards for out-of-state physical therapists, which Holden said was unfair to those in Missouri. The other bill set an effective date on bills that become law after the Legislature overrides a governor's veto.

The lawmakers who sponsored the bills said Friday they had no plans to contest the governor's action. (AP)

Naked Gardener Makes A Point

PITTSBURGH — Chalk up another victory for the naked gardener.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has overturned the harassment conviction of Charlie Stitzer, who has a habit of tending his backyard garden in the nude.

Stitzer, 64, of Pleasant Gap, was convicted in December 2000 of indecent exposure after a neighbor, Pam Watkins, complained that she and her 15-year-old daughter had seen Stitzer gardening in nothing but shoes and a wristwatch. Stitzer was sentenced to two years probation.

The Superior Court threw out that conviction in March, saying Stitzer's backyard was private and that the neighbors were too far away — 65 yards — to have seen anything offensive.

The separate harassment charge stems from three letters Stitzer wrote to Watkins. The Superior Court, in its ruling Monday, said Stitzer used the letters "to establish a dialogue with his longtime neighbor in an attempt to mediate their ongoing conflict. ... He used these letters as a forum to make peace."

Stitzer said he first started gardening in the nude to persuade Watkins to dim the outdoor floodlights that shone toward his property, a few miles northeast of State College, Pa. (AP)

Dude Looks Like A Lady

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. — The denim dress and hair extensions were a nice touch, but they didn't fool police.

Officers in this southeast Missouri town captured escaped murder suspect Milton Roy Taylor on Tuesday, acting on an unusual tip.

"We received information that Taylor was there in the area and was seen wearing a blue denim dress and hair extensions, dressed as a female," said Lt. Paul Clark. Taylor was found in a house hiding in a bedroom closet, he said.

Taylor, of Poplar Bluff, was jailed without bond on the escape charge.

Taylor escaped Saturday from the Dunklin County jail's exercise yard with the assist of two other inmates who helped pull back security wires, Sheriff Bob Holder said. Charges were expected against the inmates who helped Taylor escape, the sheriff said.

Taylor was recently arrested for drug trafficking. That arrest came while he was free on bond after being charged with killing a man.

Taylor is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 20 on the murder charge. (AP)

Biblical Plagues? Investment Bankers? Close Enough

LONDON - Investment bankers may have been called smug self-serving pests before now, but in the industry's worst slump in years, they are openly throwing insults at one another.

French bank BNP Paribas asked readers of Europe's top business papers, "What do you want, a banker or a locust?" in a full color advertisement showing a grinning locust in a suit in a field of ravaged maize plants.

The locust is leaning casually against a flashy American automobile.

Another ad, which shows a bespectacled caterpillar slouched across a desk, tells potential clients they need a bank with backbone.

Investment bank advertisements usually emphasize creativity and concern for clients. Ads often have references to integrity but rarely disparage competitors' lack of it.

BNP says the advertisements, which also depict a "here one day and gone the next" mayfly with a briefcase, are aimed at conveying the bank's focus on long-term relationships.

Global head of communications Antoine Sire said the aim was simply to use humor to make the ads more eye-catching.

"The first reaction of clients was good," Sire said.

The reaction from rival banks, most of whom have been slashing jobs and bonuses as fee income dried up, was less positive.

"It's not going to win them any friends in the investment banking community, and a lot of business is built on reciprocity," said a banker at a rival firm. (Reuters)

'Sex Is Good For Women Athletes,' Says Man

BERLIN - Women sprinters who have sex before competing generally perform better but men should avoid amorous exploits before taking to the track, the trainer of Germany's men's sprinting team said on Friday.

"With women, it's not true that sex before competitions has negative effects. On the contrary, we have scientific evidence that women who have sex shortly before competing run better. It boosts performance," Uwe Hakus told Germany's Fit for Fun magazine.

"With women the testosterone levels rise when they have sex. But, unfortunately, male testosterone levels fall after orgasm. And their muscles are less able to contract," Hakus said.

However, Hakus said sexual intercourse before running could hit any athlete's concentration.

"Everyone has to make their own decision on what their goals are. And this decision they make on their own," Hakus said. (Reuters)

Wild Animals Overtake Texas High School

DALLAS - Nature ran amok at a Dallas high school over summer vacation, bringing alligators, poisonous snakes and bobcats to campus grounds, school officials said Thursday.

Beavers apparently dammed up a stream flowing near A. Maceo Smith High School, creating a 15-acre swamp that became home to two alligators that moved in while classes were out for the summer.

Dallas animal control supervisor Tim Hawkins told reporters that he has seen two alligators, about four feet to six feet long, in the swamp.

Principal Dwain Govan asked animal control to remove the alligators from the school's back yard, so they stay off the school's football and softball fields. Heavy rains over the summer caused the swamp to encroach on the fields.

"We have asked the city to put up some fencing to make sure that the alligators do not come up on to our practice fields," he said.

The fences will be up before classes start at month's end. But those students who have returned early for extracurricular activities, such as band member Likiesha Edwards, found something more than the return of classes to worry about.

"I think it's very dangerous for football players and people like me in the band, to go out there and practice," she told reporters.

Hawkins said that besides the gators, the swamp is home to poisonous water snakes, bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, raccoons, beavers, possums and a rookery of egrets.

Animal control officials said they did not know where the alligators, rarely found in north Texas, came from. (Reuters)

Close Shave For Polish Leader

GDANSK, Poland — Legendary Polish pro-democracy leader Lech Walesa, who once turned down a million-dollar offer to shave his trademark moustache, has at last taken a razor to his upper lip.

But he's not happy with the results.

"I wanted to cause a bit of a fuss over the summer holidays, but my wife Danuta and I realized it wasn't a good idea," said the former shipyard electrician and leader of the Solidarity trade union which toppled communism.

Walesa's drooping walrus moustache became a symbol of defiance when he refused to shave during the Gdansk shipyard strikes of 1980 that marked the beginning of the end for Soviet-backed communist rule.

He later turned down a $1 million offer from a U.S. razor firm to shave the mustache for an ad campaign.

Walesa, 58, did crop his graying moustache during his five-year stint as Poland's president in the early 1990s but, until this week, never went all the way.

Wife Danuta said Walesa had shaved the moustache without telling her. But she said it was already growing again and "will already look natural" in time for a speaking tour to Venezuela starting this weekend. (Reuters)

Pooh Bear Comes Home

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — A dog missing for six years was reunited with her family, thanks to a microchip about the size of a grain of rice that was implanted in her skin when she was a pup.

A stranger found Pooh Bear, a 13-year-old black Pomeranian, roaming the streets in Cincinnati and used the chip to trace her back to north Florida. Implanted microchips can be scanned to identify a pet and its owner.

Pooh Bear's owner, Bambi Lesne, of Panama City, said she was heartbroken when the dog disappeared in 1996.

"She went everywhere with us, she was like one of my children," Lesne said.

After three years, she and her daughter, Codi, now 19, gave up hope of seeing their dog again.

Then a dirty and matted Pooh Bear was spotted July 5 walking near a marina in Cincinnati — 620 miles north of her home. A woman who found the dog took her to a veterinarian, who scanned the microchip.

"And I've been able to track dogs before, but not down to Florida," said the veterinarian, Dr. Cheryl Devine.

Lesne met the woman at Birmingham, Ala., to reclaim her pet July 17. The dog has a few more gray hairs on her muzzle and needed an operation for a hernia, but is otherwise healthy and happy to be home, Lesne said.

"When I got home that evening, she saw my daughter Codi and howled with joy," Lesne said. "It gave me chill bumps. I've never seen anything like it." (AP)

Stolen Diamonds Go Down Throat, Up For Auction

BOCA RATON, Fla. - A 16-inch diamond necklace apparently swallowed by a jewel thief has been put up for auction on the Internet by its owner, who hopes to cash in on the gems' unusual provenance.

Police said they recovered the necklace, studded with 83 diamonds, from a man who was charged with grand theft after X-rays showed the missing necklace and two loose diamonds in his digestive system last week.

The incident was widely reported by the news media and the necklace became the subject of jokes on the talk shows, prompting a flood of phone calls to Harold's Jewelers in Boca Raton.

"We have been getting so much attention over the matter, we decided to auction the item on eBay," store owner Lee Mendelson said on Tuesday.

He set the minimum bid at $75,000 for the necklace, which contains nearly 30 carats of diamonds. He said he expected it to sell for well over $100,000 in the 10-day auction.

"It's a valuable piece on its own regardless of its provenance," store employee Josh Stefanoff said.

The suspect, Mark Kennedy, 38, went to the store on July 31 and asked to see a ring, police said. While the store owner was distracted, Kennedy grabbed the jewels, stuffed them into his shorts and left in his car, according to the arrest report.

Police pulled Kennedy over on Interstate 95 but could not find the missing jewelry on his person or in his car. They did find the end of a marijuana cigarette and arrested him on a drug possession charge, the police report said. (Reuters)

Rest In Peace On Your Favorite Recliner

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Golf clubs are propped upright and a basketball hoop hangs nearby. A recliner sits in front of a television set showing sports highlights. Together, it makes a perfect setting — for a sports fan's casket.

Funeral directors say "sets" personalized for anglers, film buffs and sports fans have gained popularity as a way to give viewings a personal touch.

"We really bought into the idea that funerals should be a meaningful experience reflective of a person's life," Silvy Edmonds Cotton, president of Perpetua told The Press of Atlantic City.

Perpetua, a Tucson, Ariz., company that acquires funeral homes, showed examples of its sets at the annual convention of the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association.

Early versions of Perpetua's sets consisted of a living room furnished with personal items from the deceased. But they're becoming more elaborate.

One, titled "Big Momma's Kitchen," had cabinets and a stove, table and chairs positioned on a linoleum floor. Another offered a fishing scene with a pole cast into a pond stocked with goldfish and sign that said, "Gone Fishing."

"People didn't know they could do this, but now they've embraced it," said Deborah Kellom, Perpetua's director of operations. "It's changed our whole visitation mood. There's still grieving, but there's more laughter now." (AP)

Mineral Lobby: 'Celestite Is Outta Site'

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Thirty middle-school students from Northern York School District took time from their summer vacations to lobby the Pennsylvania General Assembly on behalf of their favorite mineral.

The students want to see celestite, commonly found in limestone formations in 12 Pennsylvania counties, become the official state mineral.

Seven of the students testified Tuesday before the House State Government Committee.

"It was a little scary at the beginning. I really didn't want to look up," said student Sarie Tocket. "The more I talked, the more comfortable I got."

In March, 57 students — then at Wellsville Elementary School — began the push by writing a letter to state Rep. Bruce Smith as part of a persuasive writing project for English class. They then took their case to Smith and the 25 members of the committee during a tour of the Capitol, giving each legislator a sample of the pale blue and white crystal gemstone.

Smith introduced a bill in May to grant official status to the mineral. (AP)

Totem Pole Vendetta

LIVERMORE, Calif. — A man who put a curse on the city's sewer system said he will remove it if the city apologizes.

Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall claims to have put a curse on the city back in the early 1970s, after he said officials mistreated a totem pole he gave Livermore as a gift.

The 20-foot totem pole depicts Robert Livermore, the town's founder, sitting under an eagle, which is supposed to protect the city.

When officials went to install the pole, they cut several feet off the bottom and set it in concrete.

Nordwall said the act desecrated his work of art, and demanded it be restored. When city officials refused, Nordwall said he put a curse on the sewer system.

A week later, sewers in the city backed up.

Workers restored the pole, and in 1995 upgraded it with new paint.

But Nordwall said he will only lift the curse if the city apologizes during an official ceremony.

Mayor Marshall Kamena supports the idea.

"I'd rather not mess with something I don't understand," he said.

Tortoise And The Pair

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — A domesticated tortoise that lost the use of its hind feet after being hit by a stray bullet during a shootout in Rio has won a pair of wheels to move around again.

Doctors at a veterinary clinic in Rio's beachside Copacabana district said the 20-year-old animal was learning to walk, or roll, using its front feet and a pair of wheels from a television rack, attached to the bottom side of its shell with adhesive bandage.

The owner of the animal, who lives in the shantytown where the shooting occurred, cannot afford to pay for the treatment, but one of the doctors is taking care of the reptile, whose thick bony shell failed to protect it from the bullet, for free. (Reuters)

The Koala That Laid The Golden Log

SYDNEY, Australia — A fairy tale goose may have laid a golden egg, but the tiny Australian town of Gunnedah hopes to make money from koala dung.

Gunnedah, the self-styled "Koala Capital of the World," is packaging its bountiful koala droppings and selling them to tourists for one Australian dollar, or around 53 U.S. cents a bag.

Tourism official Chris Frend said his little town in New South Wales state had begun packaging marsupial feces as "Koala Kitsch" six months ago.

"It's early days as far as marketing them is concerned and who knows, we might end up with gold ones, or something like that, as earrings or pendants," Frend told Reuters.

"The mind boggles as far as where we can go with it all."

The aim is to promote Gunnedah, about 300 miles north of Sydney with a population of 13,000, as a tourist destination because of its large, healthy koala population.

Hygiene is not a problem, Frend insisted.

"They're in a plastic bag, a la natural," he said. "Obviously you don't encourage people to take them out of the bag or anything like that but they don't smell, they're just naturally dried." (Reuters)

Depressed Elephant Loses 2,000 Pounds

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Irene was depressed. She ignored her paints and brushes; she stopped balancing tires on her head for fun; she was nauseated and ate dirt, and the only food that interested her was small cottonwood branches to control her upset stomach.

She lost 2,000 pounds.

But these days the five-ton Asian elephant at the Rio Grande Zoo is feeling much better, after recovering from the side effects of medications for tuberculosis.

"It's been a very gratifying, satisfactory effort to see an enormous, incredible animal like this, whose life was really threatened by this infection, do so well," said Dr. Gary Simpson, medical director of the state Infectious Diseases Bureau.

Tuberculosis was discovered in Irene in October 2000, and she was given massive doses of medications for over a year. The treatment ended in January and now she's acting like herself again.

The 38-year-old elephant never showed symptoms of the disease, but suffered from side effects of the drugs — the same ones human TB patients take.

Zoo veterinarian Michael Richard said Irene spat out a dose of a bitter-tasting TB drug called rifampin and then refused — for an entire year — to open up on command.

She also apparently didn't like having her blood taken from her leg. "She tried to sit on me," Richard said.

Now, a year and a half after treatment began, Irene's opening her mouth again on command. But, animal handler Rhonda Saiers said, now Irene always checks to see what you're giving her. (AP)

Don't Try This At Home

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Jim Guyer let go of the railing on the Perrine Bridge, gave a hearty push with his legs and fell into history.

Guyer, 74, became the oldest person to parachute from a span with his jump from the bridge 486 feet over the Snake River.

"It was terrific, I got to do a 360-degree turn after the chute opened and everything," Guyer said while relaxing after his jump.

The jump could qualify him for a spot in the Guinness Book of Records.

"I used to think, 'Man, when I'm 50, I'll be too old for this crazy stuff,'" said Tony Herring, 42, a friend who accompanied Guyer. "I can't think that with him around."

Guyer's jump drew a small crowd of spectators to both sides of the bridge. Several motorists passing by honked their horns and cheered as Guyer and his party prepared to go over.

"I really hope what I did inspired some 75-year-old guys to come out here," he said. "That's the fun of it. Life is a game. Records are made to be broken." (AP)

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