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March 06, 2008

Secrets of the Rich

A British farmer built a large rural estate, which he then hid behind hay bales under a blue tarpaulin to keep anyone from noticing it. Robert Fidler hoped to take advantage of a provision allowing buildings built without permission to be declared legal if no one objects within four years. When the required time was up, Fidler filed according to the provision. The borough council in Surrey said hiding the house doesn't count and the mock Tudor home with two turrets at the back should be demolished, along with a nearby conservatory, marquee structure, wooden bridge, patio, decking, and a paved race course.

"No one knew it was there," a borough council official told the Daily Mail, which quoted Linda Fidler as saying their children grew up looking at straw out of their windows. She added that they kept their son away from preschool when his class was supposed to do paintings of their house because "we couldn't have him drawing a big blue haystack. People might ask questions."

Smoking-Class Heroes

The manager of a small German information-technology firm in Buesum fired three of the company's 10 workers because they requested a smoke-free environment. "I can't be bothered with trouble-makers," the manager, identified as Thomas J., told the Hamburger Morgenpost newspaper. "We're on the phone all the time, and it's just easier to work while smoking." He declared, "I'm only going to hire smokers from now on.

Seeking to accommodate workers who are forced to take quick cigarette breaks outdoors, often in inclement weather, Philip Morris said it is introducing a "snack-size" cigarette. Marlboro Intense will be shorter than existing brands, the company said, but deliver the same potency while taking less time to puff. Philip Morris will test the compact cigarette in Turkey but believes it has potential in the more than 50 countries that ban smoking in public places.

Who'll Stop the Rain?

Chinese officials have 30 aircraft, 4,000 rocket launchers, and 7,000 anti-aircraft guns standing by for the opening ceremony of August's Olympic Games—not to thwart terrorists but to prevent wet weather from spoiling the event. Zhang Qian, head of weather manipulation at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, told Reuters news agency that the weapons would be used to fire various chemicals into any threatening clouds, either to shrink raindrops or induce rain to fall before reaching the 91,000-seat, open-air Bird's Nest stadium. Chinese meteorologists are among the world leaders in weather modification, Reuters noted, although they usually create rain over dry regions, not stop it.

Web of Deception

Hoping to date younger women, factory worker Thomas Montgomery, 48, a married father of two in Clarence, New York, posed online as an 18-year-old marine just back from Iraq. A response from an 18-year-old girl began an online relationship, which Montgomery bragged about to his co-workers. One of them, Brian Barrett, 22, was drawn into corresponding with the woman. A rivalry developed "between the two over what they believed to be the same woman, for an extended period of time—months," said Dennis Rankin of the Erie County Sheriff's Department. At some point, the woman learned the truth about Montgomery, their online romance cooled, and she turned her attention to Barrett. Montgomery subsequently shot Barrett dead.

The object of the colleagues' affections, according to the Associated Press, turned out to be "a middle-aged West Virginia mother," who had adopted her daughter's identity, including the younger woman's e-mail address and web page, as her online persona. "The uniqueness of this case is that everybody appeared to be misleading everybody else, and the whole situation which resulted in a violent death was unnecessary," prosecutor John J. DeFranks said after Montgomery pleaded guilty to murder. "Ironically, the only person telling the truth here was the victim."

Dousing the Pants on Fire

The BBC is spending more than $1 million to teach its staff the importance of telling viewers the truth. Vin Ray, director of the BBC's college of journalism, said the cost of taking 17,000 workers off the job for the two-hour training seminar would add at least another $1 million to the cost. Mark Thompson, the BBC's director general, ordered the training after the broadcaster admitted a series of bogus broadcasts, including made-up winners for phone-in contests and a misleading promotional video for a documentary about Queen Elizabeth.

Compiled from the nation's press by Roland Sweet. Submit clippings, citing source and date, to Box 8130, Alexandria VA 22306 or RolandSweet(at symbol)readbw.com.
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