Bits & Pieces

Five thousand rabbits blocked a highway Monday, tying up traffic after the truck that was carrying them collided with another vehicle and overturned.

Rabbits rampage roadway

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Five thousand rabbits blocked a highway Monday, tying up traffic after the truck that was carrying them collided with another vehicle and overturned.

Neither driver was hurt, but some 500 rabbits were killed, authorities said.

The M1 highway–the main road between the capitals of Hungary and Austria–was closed for hours while authorities gathered up the animals, Highway Patrol Spokeswoman Viktoria Galik said.

By midday, 4,400 bunnies had been rounded up, but 100 were still roaming the fields surrounding the highway.

“Those 100 are free to go. We will not collect them,” Galik said.

The ending wasn’t so happy for the ones that were recaptured. They were expected to complete the trip to a slaughterhouse, authorities said.

The pope is still alive

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI marked his 80th birthday Monday by lunching with cardinals and listening to music by one of his favorite composers-Mozart–in a relatively low-key celebration in keeping with the quiet pace of what he has said would be a “short” papacy.

Benedict spent the morning meeting with well-wishers from his native Germany, including the governors of Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, and a representative of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

Gifts poured in, including 80 bottles of Bavarian beer from the archdiocese of Munich, a birthday cake from some seminarians in Rome, and a giant stuffed teddy bear, which the pontiff donated to a local children’s hospital.

Benedict, a trained pianist, attended a Mozart concert in his honor Monday evening in a Vatican auditorium.

“In looking back on my life, I thank God for having placed music next to me, almost like a traveling companion,” Benedict said at the end of the concert.

On Sunday, Benedict celebrated Mass on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican post office issued a special postcard and postmark.

The Vatican generally does not give out information about the pope’s health, citing his privacy. Except for an occasional cough, though, the pope appears healthy and robust and in two years has never skipped a planned event for health reasons.

Nevertheless, the passing of the milestone–he is now five years older than the normal mandatory retirement age for bishops–raised questions about the future of the papacy.

Some business people did stuff; students continue to owe shitloads of money

WASHINGTON — A group of investors announced plans Monday to buy Sallie Mae, taking the nation’s largest student lender private in a $25 billion deal that comes as some regulators call for tougher standards and lower federal subsidies for the $85 billion college loan industry.

Private-equity firm J.C. Flowers & Co. and three other investors will pay $60 per share for the Reston, Va.-based SLM Corp., commonly referred to as Sallie Mae. The sale price represents a nearly 50 percent premium for Sallie Mae’s previously sagging stock before takeover rumors emerged late last week.

SLM shares traded up more than 17 percent on the New York Stock Exchange after the buyout was announced Monday.

J.C. Flowers and private-equity firm Friedman Fleischer & Lowe will invest $4.4 billion and own 50.2 percent of the company. Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase each will invest $2.2 billion and each will own 24.9 percent. The buyers will also provide Sallie Mae with $200 billion in backup financing.

John Oros, a managing director at J.C. Flowers, said the firm was drawn by Sallie Mae’s stock price, which had fallen to around $40 per share before takeover talks began. The investors also weren’t deterred by the brewing troubles for lenders and the prospect of a clampdown on the industry by lawmakers.

“We think Sallie Mae is a great company and a great business, and appropriate regulation will sort itself out in a way that will make this an attractive transaction for us,” Oros said.