Chinese Education Values: To get to their school, 80 children (aged 6 to 17) in the mountaintop village of Pili, China, near the borders with Tajikistan and Afghanistan, make a 120-mile journey that includes 50 miles on foot or by camel. The most dangerous parts of the route are an inches-wide path cut into a cliff (over a 1,000-foot drop), a 600-foot-long zip-line drop and crossings of four freezing rivers (easier in winter when they are frozen solid). The kids must make the chaperoned treks four times a year -- coming and going for each of two long sessions. According to one teacher, Ms. Su, the kids generally enjoy the adventure. The government is building a road to the village, but it will not be finished until 2013.
-- Globally (except in Japan), family-run businesses underperform those run by professional managers. Japanese corporations often seem to have a talented son to take over for his father. The main reason for that, according to an August Freakonomics radio report, is that the family scions usually first recruit an ideal "son" and then adopt him, often also encouraging their daughters to marry the men. (Japanese adage: "You can't choose your sons, but you can choose your sons-in-law.") If the man is already married, sometimes he and his wife will both get adopted. In fact, while 98 percent of U.S. adoptions are of children, 98 percent of Japan's are of adults.
-- At an October ceremony in the Satara district in India's Maharashtra state, 285 girls were allowed to change their names, as each of them had originally been named the Hindi word "Nakusa," which translates to "unwanted" (expressing their parents' disappointment at not having had a son). In Satara, only 881 girls are born for every 1,000 boys, reportedly the result of abortion, given the expense of raising a girl (whose family is expected to pay for any wedding and give a dowry to the groom's family).
-- Swedish Judges Get Tough: (1) A court dismissed charges against two 20-year-old men in October, accused of having bared a passed-out, 18-year-old woman's breasts at a party and taken photographs. Since the woman was not "aware" that she was being molested, the act was not a crime, ruled the Stockholm District Court. (2) Also in October, the Falun District Court in central Sweden convicted 23 women of possession of "large quantities" of child pornography, but gave them suspended sentences, merely fining them in amounts as low as the equivalent of $375. Their male "ringleader" was sentenced to one year in prison.
-- Dubai is a city of towering, architecturally brilliant skyscrapers, but since all were built only in the last several decades, the city's central sewer system has not been able to keep up. Consequently, reported NPR's "Fresh Air" in November, only a few are hooked up to the municipal system, and the remainder must hire fleets of tanker trucks to carry away the waste water. The trucks then must queue up, sometimes for 24 hours at a time, to dispose of it at treatment plants.
-- Factory worker Billy Hyatt, who was fired in 2009 by north Georgia plastics company Pliant Corp., filed a lawsuit in August alleging illegal religious discrimination. Pliant (now called Berry Plastics) required its employees to wear stickers indicating the number of consecutive accident-free days, and March 12, 2009, was the 666th day. When Hyatt refused to wear "the mark of the beast" (embracing that number, he thought, would condemn him to hell), he was suspended and then fired.
-- The International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Mo., recently celebrated 12 consecutive years of around-the-clock musical praying, which Pastor Mike Bickle and his evangelical congregation believe is necessary to fight the devil's continuous infiltration of the realms of power in society (business, media, government, etc.). "To keep the music going," according to an October Los Angeles Times dispatch, "the church has 25 bands playing throughout the week in two-hour sets," divided between "devotional" music and "intercessions," in which God is petitioned to help some cause or place. Bickle claims that there are "thousands" of 24/7 prayer groups in the world.
-- Israelis lately experience attacks not just from the outside but from its own ultra-Orthodox communities (about 10 percent of the country, and growing), whose activists have jeered and stoned "immodestly" dressed women and girls (as young as 6) on the street, defaced women's images on billboards, forced illegal gender segregation in public facilities (including buses and sidewalks), and vandalized businesses that treat women as equals (such as one ice cream shop -- since female customers lick the cones in public). An especially violent minority, the Sikrikim, employ some tactics reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan in America.
Each August in Urakawa, Japan, a "hallucination and delusion competition" takes place among visiting alcoholics and sufferers of mental disorders, who in principle are helped by bonding with fellow patients and revealing their failures and successes. The Bethel Festival, named for its sponsor, brings about 600 people together for on-stage presentations (sometimes in the form of song or dance) and awards a grand prize to a standout visitor (one year, to a woman who lived for four days in a public restroom after a voice in her head told her to, and in another year, to a man who had overcome a 35-year stretch of never straying more than two yards from his mother). (Some mental-disorder professionals believe the festival is too-easily mockable by insensitive outsiders.)
How does an extortionist (or kidnapper) safely collect the money that has been dropped off for him? In July, police staking out a vacant field in Colerain Township, Ohio, after leaving the $22,000 ordered by alleged extortionist Frank Pence, waited for about an hour, but Pence failed to show. Then, one officer noticed the money slowly moving across the field and finally caught up to Pence, who was pulling a very, very long, partially concealed rope from a location a distance from the drop site.
Authorities in Washington County, Ore., said in October that they would not file charges against a very weird 21-year-old woman who had felt compelled, as a tribute to her horse that had just died of old age, to get naked and climb inside the horse's carcass, to "feel one" with it. Her boyfriend recorded the extremely bloody adventure with numerous photographs (many showing her smiling joyously), which made their way onto the Internet and available to any viewers with strong stomachs. Said Deputy Sgt. Dave Thompson: "At some point in your career, you say, yeah, I've seen a lot of bad stuff (and) you see this kind of picture and you realize maybe you haven't seen everything."
A lawyer's first rule of cross-examination is to never ask a question you don't already know the answer to, but criminal defendants who act as their own lawyers typically do not get that memo. Philome Cesar, charged with about 25 robberies in the Allentown, Pa., area, began questioning his alleged victims at his trial in November. Please describe, he asked the first, what the robber sounded like. Answered victim Daryl Evans, "He sounded like you." After Cesar asked a second victim the same question and received the same answer, he decided to stop cross-examining the victims. (He was convicted of 19 counts.)
In New Braunfels, Texas, in November (2005), Robert Villarreal, 34, was sentenced to 50 years in prison after he sold drugs to the same undercover officer for the third time in a 14-year period. He had actually argued "entrapment," claiming that for the first sale, in 1988, he was so young (age 18) that he shouldn't be expected to remember later what the officer looked like.