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 Jan 1 - 7, 2004 
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Odds & Ends

Scott Rickson

Dateline: Finland—Hard economic times have reached as far as the North Pole, where even Santa has been forced to lay off his elves. SantaPark, a tourist attraction near the Arctic Circle 520 miles North of Helsinki, has accumulated $550,000 worth of debt in its five years of operation and has been forced to lay off many of the elves staffing its carousel, souvenir stands and restaurant. While business is booming in the surrounding wilderness known as Lapland—home of the nomadic, reindeer-herding Lapps—SantaPark has seen visits decline. Tourism officials in Finland expect a new December record of more than 100,000 foreign visitors. Such numbers have not helped SantaPark, however, which has been accused of overstaffing and mismanagement.

“We used to have 120 people on a monthly salary, which was ridiculous,” Wille Rajala, managing director of the seasonal tourist attraction told the Associated Press. The park now employs only 12 full-time staffers.

Scott Rickson

Dateline: Latvia—Cheers! Police say a drunk was recently picked up with around twice what is considered a lethal blood-alcohol level. The unidentified drinker was found unconscious but stable. Doctors recorded 7.22 parts per million of alcohol in a blood test, police spokeswoman Ieva Zvidre said. An average person would vomit around 1.2, lose consciousness at 3.0 and stop breathing at a blood-alcohol level of about 4.0 parts per million, Ms. Zvidre said, adding, “This is one for the Guinness Book of Records.” Emergency ward head Dr. Martin Sics told gateway2russia.com that there was no record of anyone surviving at 14 times over the legal limit. Unfortunately, the man's record-breaking drunk won't even land him a spot in the record books. A Guinness world records spokesman later told reporters, “We don't condone drinking large amounts of alcohol as it would encourage people to drink more and more. We do not keep records on how much a single person has drunk.” However, officials at the record book did say that Latvia is not one of the highest countries for total alcohol consumption per capita. Luxembourg is rated number one in the world for alcohol consumption, with each of its residents downing an average of 12.4 liters of pure alcohol per year.

Dateline: Mexico City—A 24-year-old man died in Mexico's Yucatan state after he reportedly allowed himself to be used as a human piñata. As a treat for his two younger siblings, Sebastian Cahum Pech allowed them to tie his hands and feet, balance him on a beam and swing at him with sticks, the Reforma newspaper reported. Cahum Pech, who was loosely tied to the beam by the neck, jumped to avoid the blows, which were delivered by his sister, 13, and brother, eight. As he twisted to avoid one blow, Cahum Pech fell from the beam, tightening the rope around his neck and causing him to die of asphyxiation. The accident occurred last Tuesday and was reported by state police Wednesday in the rural township Chemax, about 170 miles inland from the Caribbean resort of Cancun.

Dateline: Lithuania—Residents of the small resort town of Sventoji received an early Christmas present when an unexpected banana tide washed up on their shore along the Baltic coast. Some 50 tons of bananas were found spread along four miles of the frosty shoreline. “The current came from the southwest, where storm winds probably knocked a container of unripe bananas off a ship,” said Jonas Vigelis, head of the area's Shore Patrol and Rescue unit. Residents turned out in droves to harvest the tropical fruit. “This sort of thing happens now and then. One time we got oranges, another time some good lumber,” Vigelis said.

Dateline: Japan—The corpse of an elderly Japanese man sat rotting on a streetcorner in downtown Osaka for more than two months. The police in Japan's second largest city said last week that the body, thought to be that of a homeless man in his late 60s or early 70s, had begun to decompose by the time authorities were called in to take it away. The area, just outside a large department store, is one of Osaka's busiest. An estimated one million people pass through every day. Yet the corpse was ignored by shoppers and commuters until Dec. 4, when a taxi driver called the police. “I guess the place where the body was found is kind of a blind spot for passersby,” a spokesman for Hankyu department store told Kyodo news agency. “We didn't receive any inquiries or comments from our customers. There was no big stir among our employees either.”

Dateline: Holland—A publicity stunt by Holland's most famous jeweler has backfired after scores of customers threw out expensive diamonds. John de Boer from Apeldoorn sent out 3,800 jewels to his best 3,800 customers, reports Netherlands Dagblad. Of those, 200 were real diamonds worth more than $100. The rest were made out of zircon. De Boer invited the customers to come into his shop and find out if their diamonds were real. Unfortunately, only 30 customers turned up. The rest of the mailers were presumably thrown in the trash.

Compiled by Devin D. O'Leary. E-mail your weird news to devin@alibi.com.

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