Watercooler Stories

By United Press International  |  Jan. 3, 2005 at 6:30 AM
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Brit used towels to save family from wave

LONDON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- A British tourist says he saved his wife and children from the Asian tsunami by tying them to the top of a palm tree with towels.

Stephen Boulton detailed his desperate ploy as the first dedicated emergency flight from the disaster zone arrived at London's Heathrow Airport.

Boulton was celebrating his 34th birthday with his wife and three children in the Maldives when the tidal wave struck, driving him to lead his family through strong currents and up the tree.

"I strapped them to the branches with the four towels," Boulton told the Times of London. "Suddenly it was like someone had pulled a plug and the tide just swept out back into the ocean carrying everything, people, sun beds, bungalows. It was awful."

Boulton was among 94 people aboard the British Airways Boeing 747, chartered by the Foreign Office.

Another passenger on the flight was Charlie Anderson of London, who was snorkeling with his girlfriend off the Thai coast when the first of three waves struck and sucked him into turbulent water.

"The next thing I knew I was washed up on a beach, said Anderson, 28. "Bodies were floating in the water and it was five or six hours before I saw my girlfriend again."

Audit: Kansas profs' English bad

WICHITA, Kan., Jan. 3 (UPI) -- At Kansas universities, it's not only the academic material that's hard to understand, it's the way the professors speak English.

A state audit of 59 new professors and graduate teaching assistants found some of them speak in a way that many students cannot understand, the Wichita Eagle reported Sunday.

New foreign teaching assistants and professors are supposed to be evaluated by a standardized test and interviewed by a panel of two professors and one student.

"It is clear that some people who have gone through the existing screening process still may have some speaking issues that can hamper the learning experience of students at the state's universities," said an audit issued in last month.

Some students were very clear in their evaluations, with one advising, "Learn to speak English" and another saying that a hard-to-understand professor simply spoke louder when students complained.

Many academics, especially in math, science or engineering -- including 25 percent of the graduate teaching assistants at Wichita State University -- are born outside the United States.

Mag extols virtues of drunkeness

DENVER, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- A Denver-based magazine is nearing its ninth year of paying homage to getting drunk.

"Modern Drunkard," which started publication in 1996 for $500, has grown to a 50,000-circulation bimonthly, complete with pinup girls and manly men flanked by articles about drinking to get drunk and overcoming hangovers. It sells for $4.50 in bookstores in the United States and Europe.

Editor Frank Rich, 41, says drunks are an "oppressed minority," believes drinking contributes to a happy family life and insists it's good for you.

He knocks back a mid-afternoon gin and tonic and switches to whiskey in an office decorated with posters of Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason and other famous tipplers.

"The most accomplished people have been drinkers," Rich told the Los Angeles Times. "Hemingway was a great literary drunk, and I think a lot of teetotalers would trade their lives for his in a second. Alcohol is the great socializer."

A recent issue featured "You know you're a drunkard when -- you fall down a well and send Lassie to the liquor store" -- and a story titled "Booze Is My Copilot" on how drinking cured one man's fear of flying.

"Drinking at the level they promote and saying it's good for you is baloney," said Sam Zakhari of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Md.

And Wendy Hamilton, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calls Modern Drunkard "just plain stupid."

Venice to crack down on drunk gondoliers

VENICE, Italy, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Gondoliers are subject to spot breathalyzer checks as part of a crackdown on Venice's increasingly unruly and crowded canals.

Italy's navigation code does not cover the entire Venetian lagoon, so boatmen are able to escape police checks on the use of alcohol or drugs, the London Telegraph reported Sunday.

The city is closing the legal loophole and imposing other regulations to ease congestion in Venice's canals.

"In the lagoon right now only part of the navigation code can be applied," said Annibale Tagliapietra, an aide to Venice Mayor Paolo Costa. "Police are unable to check a person's mental state and hence his ability to skipper a boat, or subsequently to impound the boat or suspend his license."

Speed traps were introduced six years ago, but a series of accidents and increased congestion in canals have drawn attention to safety. A woman drowned last July when a boat whose skipper was believed to have been drinking hit a water bus.

The Association of Gondoliers says it's unaware of any alcohol-related accidents involving gondolas but admitted it was "fair to assume that a certain percentage of gondoliers piloted their boats under the excessive influence of alcohol."

But a veteran gondolier said that there was "nothing wrong" with piloting a gondola after downing as many as three glasses of wine.

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