Pay docked for observance
Unions expressed outrage yesterday over an employer who docked workers’ pay after they observed two minutes’ silence in honor of 29 miners killed in a colliery explosion. The mark of respect for victims of last month’s Pike River mine disaster was held on Dec. 2, with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key leading the silent tribute at the beginning of a national memorial service. Businesses and schools around the country paused for the occasion, but Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said about 170 workers at a North Island meatworks later found their pay had been docked. “It’s extraordinary,” she said. “I’ve never heard of anything like it. The whole country stopped, our office stopped, it’s hard to imagine someone would dock pay over something like that.” Kelly described the actions of employers at the Silver Fern Farms plant in Te Aroha as “disrespectful, offensive and mean.” She said the amount of pay at stake was trifling, the workers reportedly lost less than NZ$1.60 (US$1.19) each, but the principle of being able to pay respects without being penalized was important.
Waistlines affect funerals
Expanding waistlines are creating a weighty problem for funeral directors, who cannot fit cadavers in their crematories and have resorted to selling double burial plots, reports said yesterday. Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand president Tony Garing said the size of the standard coffin had increased as obesity rates soared. “Caskets are getting wider to accommodate people, so it is the width that is the issue,” he told new agency NZPA, adding the standard coffin was now 58cm at the shoulder, up from 48cm. Noelene Mudgway, manager of Auckland’s Manukau Memorial Gardens, said cremation was not an option for some families saying their last farewell to a supersized loved one. Mudgway said the cemetery tried to accommodate large coffins by burying them in plots at the end of a row, where they would not encroach on other graves, but she said the solution sometimes involved selling families two adjoining plots, each 1.2m wide, at a cost of NZ$2,520 (US$1,865) each.
Government battles nature
China plans to step up a weather-manipulation program that has stirred debate about tinkering with Mother Nature, state media said yesterday. Zheng Guoguang (鄭國光), director of the China Meteorological Administration, said chronic water shortages in parts of the country will worsen in the decades ahead and “thus we need to control the weather,” Xinhua news agency reported. China last year began to set aside a special budget for weather-control activities and spending grew 19 percent in the first 10 months of this year to US$114 million, the report said. Such activities will be expanded to combat extreme weather such as droughts, “explore airborne water resources, improve the ecological environment” and secure stable water supplies for cities, industry and agriculture, Xinhua said, citing the administration’s plans.
Ship sinks; dozens missing
Rescuers pulled two Vietnamese fishermen to safety yesterday, one day after their vessel sank in the South China Sea, but 25 others were still missing, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported. Strong winds caused the Vietnam-flagged vessel, the Phu Tan, to capsize and sink on Thursday, about 185km west of the city of Sanya on China’s Hainan Island, the agency said earlier.
Bankers under fire again
Investment bankers have come in for more abuse — not over their bonuses this time, but for allegedly driving up the price of Christmas turkeys. Paul Kelly, the poultry industry’s “turkey man of the year,” blames them for driving up the cost of wheat-based animal feed from ￡95 (US$149) per tonne to ￡177. “My contacts in the City tell me the price of wheat is soaring because of financial speculation,” he said. “It’s not good for farmers or consumers. What is happening is fundamentally wrong and obscene.” The boss of Kelly Turkey Farms in Essex warns that consumers can expect to pay up to ￡3 extra for their birds. The increase in feed prices comes despite strong commodity supplies. Wildfires destroyed some Russian wheat during the summer, but the US and other regions have had good harvests. Since the financial crisis began, analysts have watched speculative money pouring into commodity derivative markets, including food. The World Development Movement (WDM), a UK-based anti-poverty group, said the government needed to curb the behavior of investment bankers and hedge funds. “As City traders enjoy their Christmas bonuses, their speculative activities are fueling food price inflation,” WDM’s Deborah Doane said. “This is bad news for the millions who live on the breadline in developing countries, as well as for hard-working families struggling to get by here in the UK.”
Toilet water to be recycled
South Africans will drink recycled toilet water for the first time later this month when a reclamation plant in the drought-stricken town of Beaufort West starts operating. The facility, built by Water and Wastewater Engineering, a Stellenbosch-based company, will treat effluent from the town’s sewerage treatment works and pump purified water directly into its reservoir, chief executive Pierre Marais said. A water shortage forced Beaufort West to cut supplies for 36 hours at a stretch this month, Louw Smit, director of engineering services for the municipality, said in a statement on the City of Cape Town’s Web site on Tuesday. “This is the first time this type of technology has been used in South Africa,” Marais said in an interview on Wednesday.
Putin in love with puppy
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says he loves Buffy, his new puppy, even though the Bulgarian shepherd leaves puddles and piles around the house. Buffy, a cute caramel-and-white-patched dog, was given to Putin by his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov in Sofia last month. Last week, a young Russian boy won a national competition to name the male dog. Asked on Thursday during a live call-in show as to how Buffy’s doing, Putin replied: “Excellently. He draws me huge puddles around the entire house and leaves piles, but he’s a very pretty boy, of course, and I love him,” Putin said.
Hotel boasts US$11m tree
When they deck the halls in opulent Abu Dhabi, it comes with gold ornaments and gem-studded bows on a towering Christmas tree. The US$11 million symbol of the season has become the latest extravagance at the Emirates Palace Hotel, which boasts its own marina, heliport and a vending machine that pops out small gold bars. The hotel’s general manager, Hans Olbertz, was quoted in local newspapers on Thursday as saying the 13m faux fir has 131 ornaments that include gold and precious stones, such as diamonds and sapphires.
Outlaw may be pardoned
Billy the Kid, the Wild West outlaw who is reputed to have killed 21 men and whose exploits have been widely chronicled in US popular culture, is under consideration for a pardon. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said on Thursday he was reviewing a pardon petition based on the widespread belief that then-New Mexico territorial governor Lew Wallace promised the 19th-century gunman a pardon in exchange for his testimony in a murder trial. “As someone who is fascinated with New Mexico’s rich history, I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Billy the Kid and, in particular, the alleged promise of a pardon he was given,” Richardson said in a statement. Richardson is to make a decision by the end of the year. The two-term Democratic governor, who leaves office at the end of the month, asked historians and others to weigh in with their opinions on a Web site dedicated to the issue, www.governor.state.nm.us/btk.php.
Used coffin auctioned off
The simple wooden coffin that was supposed to be John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s final resting place will soon have a new resting place of its own after a mystery bidder bought it at auction for more than US$87,000. The coffin was put on the auction block late last month by a Texas funeral home owner who swapped it with Oswald’s family for a new one when the body was briefly exhumed in 1981. It sold on Thursday evening for US$87,469, which includes a 20 percent buyers’ fee. “Anything connected to the JFK assassination sells for really high,” said Nate D. Sanders of Nate D. Sanders Auctions in Santa Monica. Oswald was arrested for former US president Kennedy’s 1963 death, but was slain two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Funeral home owner Allen Baumgardner had held onto the coffin since Oswald’s body was dug up in 1981 in an effort to put to rest conspiracy theories that he really wasn’t buried in his grave. After the body was identified through dental records, it was returned to Rose Hill Memorial Burial Park in Fort Worth, Texas.
Elderly robber co-opts driver
A 26-year-old Minnesota man thought he was doing a good deed when he gave a 70-year-old woman a ride to a bank, but police say the woman robbed the bank and the man was her unsuspecting getaway driver. The man told the Free Press of Mankato that he thought the woman, who rents an apartment from his mother, was going to the bank to withdraw cash to pay her rent. Instead, employees of the Elysian State Bank reported on Wednesday that an “elderly woman” told the teller she had a gun, demanded money and left with an undisclosed amount. Police stopped the car and took both into custody before determining the woman acted alone. She is in jail, pending charges.
Police nab top funk rappers
Five leading funk rappers have been arrested in Rio de Janeiro as part of a police crackdown on music they say pays tribute to drug gangs and encourages violence. On Tuesday night, MC Galo, a veteran Rio funk MC, was arrested at a police roadblock as he left the Cruzada Sao Sebastiao, a rundown housing estate in the beachside neighborhood of Leblon. On Thursday, four more rappers were arrested after a year-long investigation into alleged ties to traffickers from the Red Command drug faction in the Complexo do Alemao shantytown.