Fugitive Alligator Grabs

The Limelight in Los Angeles

Sharks may cruise its shorelines, mountain lions may stalk its hillsides, and paparazzi may jam its streets. But Los Angeles has always been free of at least one of nature's major nightmares: alligators. You've gotta go to Florida for those.

Which explains why this jaded metropolis has been riveted by the saga of a fugitive gator that surfaced in the lake overlooking a freeway on the city's south end. First glimpsed Aug. 12, the estimated seven-foot-long carnivore attracted crowds of people -- children, TV crews, a group from a senior home -- who thrilled just to see its beady eyes peek above the water.

How did it get there? Experts guess it was dumped after outgrowing a basement aquarium.

But how to get it out? That's been the problem. Alligator rustlers are also hard to find in California. For those, apparently, you have to go to Colorado.

After city officials failed to lure it out with bait, they flew in a pair of Mountain State gator wranglers. Jay Young certainly looked the part -- cowboy hat, tooth necklace, scarred limbs. But in three days of trawling the 53-acre lake, he and his partner came up empty-handed. They returned home Thursday to tend to prior commitments and fetch some bigger nets.

The alligator got a reprieve as officials halted the search for the weekend. "Now he's over in those weeds laughing at all of us," Young told the Los Angeles Times.

-- Amy Argetsinger

Georgia Museum Commemorates

War of 1812's Last, Last Battle

Before the Internet, heck before the telephone, news traveled slow. Real slow.

Even word about the end of a war took awhile. Hence the bloody follies at the end of the War of 1812. Any self-respecting history buff knows about the chaotic silliness of the Battle of New Orleans, the face-off between U.S. and British troops two weeks after the signing of a peace treaty.

But some rooting around in the rich soil of south Georgia is bringing attention to a bit of War of 1812 hostilities that took place even later. It all started with plans to build houses out on Point Peter, a pretty piece of land just about as far south as you can go in Georgia.

Construction crews working with the Land Resource Companies turned up what looked like old military artifacts, and archaeologists confirmed it: They had dug up remnants of an event some researchers have dubbed "the Forgotten Invasion."

Two days after the Battle of New Orleans, 1,500 British troops landed at St. Marys, overwhelming little Fort Peter, then helping themselves to booty from nearby plantations. A museum, which will house 67,000 artifacts found at the site, will be dedicated Monday. Some of the items are kind of roughed up. Archaeologist Scott Butler said the British "smashed what they couldn't take with them."

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia

Pistol Pete Hangs Up His Holster

As N.M. State Revamps Mascot

Pistol Pete, New Mexico State University's athletics department mascot and logo for 40 years, has been disarmed and given a makeover.

The mean-lookin', mustachioed, cowboy-hat-wearing, pistol-packin' hombre has been transformed into a tough-looking, mustachioed, cowboy-hat-wearing, lasso-swinging mascot who will be called Pete. Just plain ol' Pete.

The NMSU Aggies will introduce their new mascot this week.

Early word that Pistol Pete was being disarmed rang an alarm at the National Rifle Association, which used its radio show last week to query Sean Johnson, NMSU associate athletics director, about whether the change was an attack on the Second Amendment. "That was never our intent," Johnson said. The reason behind the makeover, he said, is that Pistol Pete looked almost exactly like the Oklahoma State University Cowboys mascot and logo.

The new Pete was designed by NMSU alumnus Richard Evarts, who based him on 19th-century New Mexico legends Sheriff Pat Garrett, who killed Billy the Kid in 1881, and cattle-trail blazer John Chisum.

"What we really wanted was our own identity," Johnson said. "Las Cruces and southern New Mexico have a great ranching reputation . . . with a lot of great culture and history. We tried to update Pete but still stick to his roots."

-- Sylvia Moreno

Bloomberg Should Put His Mouth

Where His Money Is, Critic Says

Just call him Mayor Warbucks -- and his favorite orphan happens to be the city he governs. New York's billionaire mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, donated $140 million of his private wealth to 843 groups last year, according to financial records released last week.

Most of the donations went to groups, from social service to arts, that are struggling to survive. The organizations serve a cross section of the citizenry, and many have praised the generosity, which could serve Bloomberg well in the upcoming mayoral race.

But Bloomberg's political capital has primarily gone to enrich a more favored class, particularly developers, said Harvey Robins, a top adviser to two former mayors.

Robins noted Bloomberg did not "cash in his chips" to forestall increases in subway and bus fares, and expand eligibility for the food stamp program -- which costs the city nothing. Instead, he fought for an unpopular stadium plan in Manhattan.

"He abdicated his chips where he needed it the most," Robins said. "He cashed in at the wrong bank."

-- Michelle Garcia