Originally created 08/07/03

Odds and Ends



DES MOINES, Iowa -- Police confiscated a 16-foot king cobra at the Des Moines International Airport, but the snake was bailed out in time to appear at the Iowa State Fair.

"Notorious" is scheduled to highlight the "Snakes Alive" exhibit at the fair, which kicks off Thursday. But on Monday night, his handlers could not come up with the proper paperwork when the reptile arrived at the airport.

No permit, no snake.

"It's kind of like having a driver's license. You just have to have one," police Sgt. Max Halverson said. "They didn't let us know it was coming."

So the snake stayed in its crate until morning.

"No, we were not going to take it out," Halverson added.

Notorious will join about and 30 or so other exhibits - turtles, lizards and a rattlesnake, all legal - at "Snakes Alive."

"It's sort of an educational exhibit, but we don't advertise it that way because we want people to come and see us," said Tom Weidner, a Des Moines herpetologist.

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Next time you order popcorn at the movies or throw a bag into the microwave, show a little respect.

That's not just a snack - it's the "official state snackfood" of Illinois, thanks to legislation signed Monday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Popcorn now joins the cardinal as the state bird, square dance as the official dance and drummer silty clay loam as the state soil.

Lawmakers who backed popcorn for the honor turned their backs on Beer Nuts, Lemonhead candy and other goodies produced in Illinois.

Illinois is one of the top popcorn-growing states in the nation. In 2001, it ranked fourth in acres of popcorn harvested, with 23,376. The leader, Nebraska, had 81,147, according to the Popcorn Board, an industry marketing group.

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HOOPER, Colo. -- Judy Messoline got tired of waking up with strangers, if not aliens, in her yard.

So four years ago she asked the Saguache County commissioners to allow her to build a UFO watchtower and campground so she cash in on people who were already using her land to camp as they tried to spot aliens.

The San Luis Valley has long been considered a fertile ground for such searches, especially after claims of alien abductions, UFO landings and a wave of cattle mutilations.

Since opening the UFO Watchtower in May 2000, Messoline has become a local celebrity. Last year she decided to hold a UFO conference and this year she has added a rock garden celebrating three vortexes that several psychics say are in her front yard.

The conference is going to be held Saturday and Aug. 10.

Speakers will include a woman who claims she was taken aboard a UFO, and a video of what is described as UFO will be shown.

The conference also includes the "Watch" for the unexplained, Messoline said.

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Ottawa County officials are raising a stink as they try to educate would-be residents of some of the realities of rural living.

The Ottawa County Planning Commission has created a new brochure designed to reduce nuisance complaints that new homeowners sometimes make against farmers. The pamphlet includes a scratch-and-sniff section that emits a genuine odor of manure.

"It's an attention grabber," said Mark Knudsen, director of the county's planning and grants department. "The whole purpose is that people should not move into a rural area unless they're willing to accept and embrace the practices that happen on a farming operation."

Ottawa remains a major farm county, with dairy cows, beef cattle, chickens, turkeys and hogs. Too many buyers with a taste for country life are moving in and complaining about noise, dust and odors, farmers and county official say.

"We've got people near us calling the police and saying they don't want to hear the tractors," said Ann Pyle, whose family has a dairy herd.

The pamphlet explains that state law generally protects farmers from complaints about their operations, especially when spraying pesticides, spreading manure, transporting products and driving slow machines on two-lane roads.