Dateline: China--The price of hamsters has tripled in China since the start of 2008--designated by Chinese astrology as the Year of the Rat. The tiny rodents are considered lucky in the wake of Chinese New Year. The Chinese word for rat, laoshu, covers a variety of animals that can include kangaroo rats, hamsters and moles. Pet shops have been selling out of the animals, even at comparatively high prices of 30 yuan (nearly $5) per hamster. The Xinhua news agency identified hamsters as having a better image than rats or mice, and being more companionable as pets.
Dateline: Saudi Arabia--Religious police in Saudi Arabia are banning the sale of Valentine’s Day gifts, including red roses. The Saudi Gazette quoted shop workers as saying officials had warned them to remove all red items including flowers and wrapping paper. Black market prices for roses were already rising, the paper said. “Sometimes we deliver the bouquets in the middle of the night or early morning, to avoid suspicion,” one florist was quoted as saying. Saudi authorities consider Valentine’s Day, along with a host of other annual celebrations, un-Islamic. In addition to the prohibition on celebrating non-Islamic festivals, the authorities consider Valentine’s Day as encouraging relations between men and women outside wedlock.
Dateline: England--Programmers at the BBC are apologizing to any listeners who might have been offended by some randy innuendo on a recent gardening show. The BBC issued the apology after a debate about a particular plant known as “black man’s willy” was broadcast on “Gardener’s Question Time.” A caller to the Radio 4 show asked for advice on the Rhodochiton volubilis, which he said was “commonly known as the BMW, the black man’s willy.” Panelists were heard giggling their way through a discussion about the plant. At one point, horticulturist Anne Swithinbank quipped, “They don’t really like the cold, as you can imagine. They shrivel up and look unhappy.” Some listeners failed to see the humor and complained of racist stereotyping and vulgarity by the broadcaster. The BBC did apologize for offending racial sensitivities but downplayed the idea that the comments might be unsuitable for children, noting that only a “very small portion” of the audience for the backyard gardening show is composed of underage children.
Dateline: Florida--Four Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies have been suspended after purposely dumping a quadriplegic man out of his wheelchair at the Orient Road Jail, authorities admitted last Tuesday. Surveillance footage from Jan. 29 shows veteran deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones, 44, tipping Brian Sterner out of his wheelchair and searching him on the floor after he was brought in on a warrant for an earlier traffic violation. Sterner, 32, said he was taken into the booking room and told to stand up, but Deputy Marshall-Jones didn’t believe him when he told her he was paralyzed from the breastbone down. “She was irked that I wasn’t complying to what she was telling me to do,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “It didn’t register with her that she was asking me to do something I can’t.” Sterner has been in a wheelchair for 14 years after breaking his neck in a teenage wrestling match, reported CBS News’ “The Early Show.” Jones has been suspended without pay, and Sgt. Gary Honson, 51, Cpl. Steven Dickey, 45, and Cpl. Decondra Williams, 36, have also been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. A warrant for Sterner’s arrest was issued after an Oct. 25 incident in which Tampa police stopped him in Ybor City. He was stopped while driving a Mini Cooper that had been fitted with hand pedals and was cited for blocking an intersection. Sterner’s lawyer is disputing those charges.
Dateline: Florida--Investigators in West Florida believe two men got the wrong address when they firebombed a home in the town of Palmetto. Deputies said the unidentified men threw two Molotov cocktails into Nanise Raymond’s house early last Saturday morning. When she tried to put out the fire, the men shot her several times. The fire destroyed her home and she remains in stable condition. Investigators believe the attackers were trying to retaliate against one of Raymond’s neighbors. “When the boys, when they were running off, you could hear them. They were like, ‘Oh snap, we got the wrong house,’ ” said Mischa Raymond, the victim’s sister.
Dateline: Washington--An 18-year-old Bremerton woman admitted to police last week she may have accidentally deposited a bag of methamphetamine along with her paycheck at an area ATM. According to documents filed in Kitsap County Superior Court, an employee at Kitsap Credit Union told police a bag of suspected meth showed up in a bank envelope deposited in a woman’s account at an ATM at the 100 block of Washington Avenue. The Kitsap Sun reports police contacted the woman whose name was on the deposit slip. She reportedly admitted to being a meth user and believed she may have accidentally placed the bag in the deposit envelope when she reached into her pants pocket to get the money. The bag tested positive for meth. The woman was arrested on Thursday and charged Friday with one count of possession of meth by prosecutors.