Do Ask, Must Tell (and Show): The Turkish military's legendary homophobia (rare among NATO countries) comprises both zero-tolerance for homosexuality by service personnel and the requirement of rigorous proof by anyone applying for exemption from service by claiming to be gay. (Homosexuality is the only disqualifier from compulsory service for able-bodied men.) In personal experiences recounted for Foreign Policy magazine in December, some gay men seeking exemptions were ordered to verify their claims by producing witnesses to their homosexual acts, or by photographing themselves fully engaged -- and to be persuasive to authorities, the conscript had to be depicted in the "receiving" position in sexual intercourse.
-- Daring New Products: (1) Introduced at a New York food fair in January (and planned for U.S. distribution later this year): Great Scot International's potato-like chips in the "flavor" of Scotland's "national delicacy" (yes -- haggis chips!). (2) Burger King U.K.'s Christmas-season special this year (available briefly in December): a regular Whopper, garnished with a generous helping of brussels sprouts.
-- The notoriously isolated North Korean economy only permits new products to be sold as needs arise, and in December (according to a report by Agence France-Presse), the ministries began allowing Western-style "skinny jeans" (having relaxed the rule requiring female workers to wear skirts). Also recently for sale: human fertilizer (owing to the attrition of the animals that previously produced manure for family gardens).
-- The SEGA video company's Japan division began test-marketing its new Toylets game in January, designed for men's urinals. With sensors in the basin and a video screen at eye level, men score points based on the strength and accuracy of their streams. Among the suite of games: sumo wrestling (squirt the opponent out of the circle), graffiti-erasure (strong streams wipe out more graffiti), and skirt-raising (the stronger the stream, the higher a woman's skirt is "blown" upward).
(1) In a December incident near Orlando, a former Ku Klux Klan "Cyclops," George Hixon, 73, and his son, Troy, 45, and Troy's girlfriend fought, resulting in Troy's allegedly firing gunshots toward the woman's feet and the subsequent arrests of the two men. According to Osceola County deputies, the altercation was precipitated by the girlfriend's unhappiness that she got the "cheap beer" while the men kept the "good beer" (Budweiser) for themselves. (2) The County Commission in Jackson, Ga., delayed a vote in December on new cell-phone towers at the request of one official with questions about the county's contract -- Commissioner Gator Hodges.
-- Good to Know: Perhaps too many late nights at Japan's National Institute for Materials Science led to the recent quixotic "testing" of superconductor metals by submersion in alcoholic beverages. Yoshihiko Takano and his colleagues developed experiments to soak the metals to see if resistance to electricity is decreased (and, thus, conductivity increased). They found success with whiskey, sake, beer and the vodka-like shochu, but red wine worked best, improving conductivity by 62 percent.
-- Flip a Coin: Among human procreation technologies soft-pedaled to tamp down controversy is surgeons' ability to selectively abort some, but not all, fetuses in a womb in cases where in vitro fertilization (IVF) has overproduced (usually involving mothers expecting triplets or greater, which pose serious health risks). More controversially, according to a December National Post report, a Toronto-area couple told their physician that IVF-created "twins" would be too much for them to care for and that the doctor should terminate one fetus (randomly chosen?) and leave the other.
British researchers, writing in the journal Evolution in November, described a species of birds in Africa's Kalahari Desert that appear to acquire food by running a "protection racket" for other birds. The biologists hypothesize that because drongo birds hang out at certain nests and squawk loudly when predators approach, the nest's residents grow more confident about security and thus can roam farther away when they search for food -- but with the hunters gone, the drongos scoop up any food left behind. (The researchers also found that drongos are not above staging false alarms to trick birds into leaving their food unguarded.)
Extreme: (1) The North Dakota Supreme Court ruled in September that the overdraft fee charged by Quality Bank of Fingal, N.D., to customer Lynette Cavett, of nearly $12,000, was nonetheless legal. The court found that the fee, which reached $100 a day, was disclosed to Cavett in advance. (2) Automaker BMW of Germany announced testing in December of a new technology ("flash projection") in which an ultra-bright light sears the company logo into a viewer's vision, where it lingers even if the viewer subsequently closes his eyelids tightly.
(1) A Roman Catholic church tribunal in Modena, Italy, ruled in November that a marriage should be annulled on the grounds of the wife's adultery even though she apparently only "thought about" having an affair. Her now-ex-husband believes she never actually followed through on her desires for an "open marriage." (2) Because two different laws operate, New York state prisoners, when they win lawsuits against guards who have injured them, keep the entire amount of the award, but when New York state mental patients win similar lawsuits, the hospitals can claim a large portion of the money back, as repayment for the daily cost of providing "care." The New York Times reported in December that the dual system is unique to the state.
Questionable Judgments: (1) A 26-year-old man was arrested in San Pablo, Calif., in December and accused of stealing a taxi after tricking the driver into momentarily exiting the cab. The man then drove to a Department of Motor Vehicles office, where he attempted to register ownership of the car. (2) Kyndric Wilson, 19, was being booked into jail in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., in December on a misdemeanor charge when a routine search revealed a bag of cocaine. As deputies then began processing the more serious drug-possession charge, Wilson was heard saying, "(Expletive), I knew I shouldn't (have) brought that in ... (expletive)."
"Sovereign" citizens (militia types) continue to insist that their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution is superior to that of virtually every American historian, judge, legislator, governor and law professor who ever studied it. For example, Schaeffer Cox (head of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia), in District Court in Fairbanks, Alaska, in December on a misdemeanor gun charge, commenced a series of "constitutional" claims. Asserting that he is "chairman of the joint chiefs of staff" of the "de jure republic" of America, as empowered by the real Constitution (and not the one in popular use, which is a bogus document that Abraham Lincoln secretly sneaked in), Cox claimed that all Americans are kings and queens and that no one is required to obey laws unless necessary to avoid harming other "sovereigns" (citizens). Cox attempted to serve papers on the district court judge, but was rebuffed by state troopers.
Bennie Casson filed a $100,000 lawsuit in Belleville, Ill., in July (1997) against PT's Show Club in nearby Sauget for its negligence in allowing a stripper to "slam" her breasts into his "neck and head region" without consent as he watched her perform. Dancer Susan Sykes (aka "Busty Heart") claims show business's biggest chest (88 inches), which Mr. Casson said was responsible for his "bruised, contused, lacerated" neck. (Mr. Casson's case ended even more tragically two years later when, still in pain and in despair over failing to obtain legal representation for the lawsuit, he took his own life.)