Stop! I can't take it anymore

Had enough Christmas-gift shopping - what with standing in endless lines at checkout counters and the carols playing incessantly over store sound systems? Then you have something in common with the union that represents retail clerks in the Czech Republic. As the buying window was closing, the labor bosses demanded that retailers either pull the plug on the carols or give their clerks two days off, plus 500 koruna (US$19) each in compensation for emotional stress. But a spokesman for one store chain demurred, saying, "We don't see the music as a problem."

But they taste a little salty

That four-mile line of people along Lithuania's coast last weekend was cleaning beaches - but not after an oil spill. Instead, the debris was an early Christmas gift - 50 tons of bananas that apparently fell off a cargo ship. "This happens now and then," a local official said. "One time we got oranges; another time some good lumber."

Saddam, SARS, smart: rating 2003's top news stories

The war in Iraq was the clear choice for the year's No. 1 news story, in an annual survey of American editors and news directors by the Associated Press. Second place went to the Feb. 1 breakup - on reentry - of the shuttle Columbia, which killed all seven astronauts on board. The top 10 news stories of 2003 as ranked by AP voters:

1. War in Iraq
2. Columbia shuttle disaster
3. Gubernatorial recall in California
4. International spread of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus
5. Massive Northeast electricity blackout
6. Signs of economic revival in US
7. Southern California wildfires
8. President Bush's $330 billion tax-cut package
9. Elizabeth Smart returns home safely from nine months of captivity
10. Race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination - Associated Press

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