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Cultural diversity



Latest holy icons: Crocodiles, in a lake near Karachi, Pakistan, where thousands brought fresh-meat offerings in March to secure blessings for their babies; two frogs, joined in Hindu matrimony in Gauhati, India, in March to please rain gods and end a four-month drought; and six Franciscan priests, in remote Copacabana, Bolivia, who specialize in blessing motorists against drunk drivers, bad brakes and gasoline shortages, based on a mixture of Catholicism and Andean Indian beliefs.

Reaching a dead reckoning

Under a bill expected to become law next year, the government of the Netherlands recently proposed to loosen restrictions on euthanasia for pain-wracked, incurably ill people, even extending the right to children as young as age 12. In principle, those ages 12 to 15 would also need parental permission to choose death, but doctors could in some circumstances honor a child's wishes even without it. (Under the bill, euthanasia would still be illegal, but doctors adhering to the new guidelines would be immune from prosecution.)

Glowing report

Nuclear scientist Eric Voice, 73, told England's The Guardian in August that, as far as he knows, inhaling plutonium -- as one would in the aftermath of a nuclear war -- is not dangerous. He cited his own successful test of 18 months ago, in which he sniffed some plutonium in an attempt to allay the public's fears. Voice said that nothing bad has happened to him so far, and that plutonium has in fact never harmed anyone -- except in the case of those two bombs that were dropped on Japan.

Remote control

According to a June Boston Globe dispatch, the kingdom of Bhutan (nestled between India and Tibet) recently legalized television-watching for its 700,000 people, and began broadcasting news and other programs. Before that, the country's few TV sets were used only for the viewing of imported videos.

No ifs, ands or smut

In June, Panama City, Fla., elementary-school teacher Wanda Nelson was reprimanded for confiscating a National Geographic magazine from a fourth-grade boy because it was "pornography." (It contained a story on evolution contained drawings of naked humans.)

Photo finish

In Calgary, Alberta, in June, David Thomas Poole, 49, was sent to jail for one year for perjury committed while challenging a routine traffic ticket. Poole submitted a photograph of the intersection at which he was ticketed, a snapshot that showed there was no left-turn-only lane, as the ticket had stated there was. Actually, the left-turn lane had recently been reconfigured, and though Poole swore that he had taken the photo at the time of the incident in January, the judge was struck by a scene depicting green grass and trees in full flower.

He'll leave the Lighthouse for ya

Clifford Shattuck, 66, owner of the Lighthouse Motel in Lincolnville, Maine, was barred by court order in May from having any contact with his guests. One complaint too many had been heard of Shattuck harassing his customers, including tossing rocks at a potential guest's car.

Fetish, anyone?

Michael Robert Wyatt, now 38, made News of the Weird in 1990 when he pushed a woman to the ground in Little Rock, Ark., and began sucking her toes. After several such incidents, he was ordered into counseling and has since stayed out of the news, instead getting married and taking a job as a mechanic in West Plains, Mo. However, Wyatt was arrested in August in Fayetteville, Ark., for allegedly harassing several women by telling them that they would really look hot if they amputated some of their toes. Some women in West Plains reported similar incidents.

Making good on a premise

Deborah Lee Benagh, 44, filed a lawsuit in July in Denver against Six Flags Elitch Gardens amusement park for injuries incurred while riding a roller coaster. Because her shoulder harness did not hold her securely, she said, she repeatedly struck her head during the ride, later sufferring headaches, nausea and both short- and long-term memory loss. The name of the ride is "Mind Eraser."

He doth molest too much

John Paul Roby, 56, was convicted in Toronto in May of 35 counts of sex crimes against minors, but not before a long and torturous trial in which a mountain of evidence (including the testimony of 42 victim-witnesses) was produced against him. In most cases, Roby simply ignored the evidence while denying guilt. Highlights: a long colloquy in which he denied that a thoroughly authenticated photograph actually depicted him; the flat statement "I never masturbate, period" ; and repeated assertions that he could never have exposed himself in men's rooms (as witnesses claimed) because bladder control makes urination a rare event in his life.

Ladies last

Zimbabwe, which seemed on the verge of a breakthrough in women's rights just 15 years ago, was set back in April by a unanimous decision of its Supreme Court that adult females are inherently inferior to males and have a status akin to that of teen-agers. The court cited "the nature of African society" as its basis for its judgment.

Come one, come all

An April Chronicle of Higher Education report reviewed research showing that, in more than a dozen South American societies (plus others in New Guinea, Polynesia and India), all men who have sex with a pregnant woman are considered joint biological fathers. In this "partible paternity," the fetus is considered fertilized by repeated contributions of sperm. At least one society, the Canela of Brazil, believes that the baby will most resemble the man who contributes the most sperm at any time during the nine months.

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