"This was an overreaction, and we apologize," said a spokes-man for the city council in Newcastle, England. But he insisted on anonymity before agreeing to meet with journalists. Goodness, what was that all about? Answer: rabbits. It seems the council decided its ban on animals in circuses staged on city property applied to magic shows as well. So it wrote to magicians informing them: no more pulling bunnies out of hats in their performances. Said a clearly still-irritated Martin Duffy, who was obliged to disappoint his audiences at local libraries: "I had to rewrite my act. So I told [them] there was an old witch who looked down from her castle. She saw that the children were enjoying themselves, and so she got the rabbit banned."

Nations that rate an 'F' for their handling of corruption

Accounting scandals at WorldCom and Enron drew attention to corporate abuses of power in the US, while graft and misrule threaten to undermine democracy in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America, Transparency International noted in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. The Berlin-based watchdog group rates Finland the least corrupt out of 102 countries in a survey of bribery, kickbacks, money-laundering, and other unethical behavior. The US came in 16th. The 10 nations at the bottom of the Transparency International list and their scores (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest possible):

1. Bangladesh 1.2
2. Nigeria 1.6
3. Angola 1.7 (tie) Madagascar (tie) Paraguay
4. Indonesia 1.9 (tie) Kenya
5. Azerbaijan 2.0
6. Moldova 2.1 (tie) Uganda
– Associated Press

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