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Kung Fu Masters, bad sex in literature and more 

LEAD STORY: Big-time traffickers who smuggle illegal immigrants into the U.S. from Mexico rely on GPS devices to evade Border Patrol, but starting in June, border-jumpers who travel on their own can have protection, too. Three University of California at San Diego faculty members have designed inexpensive cell phones with special software to locate water, churches and medical facilities in the treacherous Southwest desert (while avoiding law enforcement) and will give the devices to Mexican charities. The phones, which will also feature "welcome to the U.S." poetry, are expected to save the lives of many of the hundreds who die each year on their dangerous journeys, but illegal-immigration protesters are demanding that the academics be arrested for assisting in crimes.

The Continuing Crisis: A man identified in China's Chongqing Evening News in November as Mr. Zhang, 32, admitted he is competitive with his wife and "never wants to lose an argument," but inevitably his contentiousness leaves him with "bruises and scars all over" because Mrs. Zhang is a kung fu master. After negotiations led by Mrs. Zhang's parents, she agreed by contract to limit any beatings to no more than once a week, with a parent-administered penalty for exceeding that.

American Jonathan Littell was awarded the 2009 Bad Sex in Fiction Award by Britain's prestigious Literary Review, having written passages like these in his novel

The Kindly Ones: "I [climaxed] suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg." Later: A woman's genitalia resembles "a Gorgon's head ... a motionless Cyclops whose single eye never blinks. If only I could still get hard, I thought, I could use my [organ] like a stake hardened in the fire, and blind this Polyphemus who made me Nobody. But my [organ] remained inert, I seemed turned to stone."

The Kirklees (West Yorkshire, England) Environmental Services Department cited farmer Ronald Norcliffe, 65, in 2008 for inadequate lighting in his barn, which inspectors said failed to meet the "psychological needs" of his one cow and her calf. In his formal appeal, heard in October 2009, Norcliffe noted (unsuccessfully) that he has had a clean record as a farmer for 30 years and that in fact, he still lives fine without electricity in his own house. After his defeat, Norcliffe's lawyer sighed. "I still have no idea how much lighting is appropriate for a cow."

In December, a court in Istanbul, Turkey, found 39 people guilty of trying to overthrow the government after a trial that lasted, on and off, for 28 years. More than 1,000 defendants had been rounded up after challenging a 1980 military coup. The original trial lasted 10 years, but the case languished in an appeals court for 13 years while judges awaited 100 folders of evidence that had somehow gone missing. The 39 people were given life sentences, but were immediately released based on time already served. The European Union has urged that Turkey upgrade its judicial system as a pre-condition for membership.

Intelligent Design: As with all copulating species, female Muscovy ducks battle male Muscovy ducks over which controls fertilization. Patricia Brennan of Yale, writing in a recent Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences journal, found that the female Muscovy avoids forced sex by having evolved a clockwise-spiraled corkscrew vagina that foils male intruders (but relaxing it for preferred mates, so that they don't get stuck in vaginal "cul-de-sacs"). Brennan's team worked with high-speed video and mock-up glass tubing of the respective organs.

News That Sounds Like a Joke: Plastic surgeon Mark Weinberger, who skipped town in Merrillville, Ind., in 2004 to avoid mounting malpractice lawsuits and Medicare fraud charges, was finally cornered living in a tent on the southern slopes of Italy's Mont Blanc in December. As authorities approached to arrest him, Weinberger grabbed a knife and plunged it into his neck, but perhaps owing to his rusty skills (or incompetence, if the malpractice claims are accurate), missed the major artery and was captured.

The Great Yarmouth Sea Life Centre in Norfolk, England, lowered the water level in its giant aquarium for Christmas because the big turtles (which are herbivores) were scheduled to receive their annual holiday treat of Brussels sprouts. Officials know from experience that if they fail to lower the water level, the gas bubbles from the powerful turtle emissions will lift the water high enough to trigger the emergency tank-flooding buzzers.

Just Can't Stop Myself!: In November, Oprah Winfrey's mother, Vernita Lee, and the luxury fashion store Valentina announced a settlement of the latter's lawsuit over Lee's $155,547 outstanding tab. On a previous tab of $174,285 in 2002, Lee had agreed to make periodic repayments, but the store apparently allowed her to open another account, and as the new balance swelled, Lee sued, claiming the store should not have re-extended credit to her.

In December, pedophile Theodore Sypnier (the first-ever New Yorker to turn 100 years old while behind bars) was released from prison even though he continues to deny that he has done anything wrong. He was sent once again to a halfway house near Walden, N.Y., run by the Rev. Terry King, who took Sypnier in twice before and warns that Sypnier is still highly dangerous. "As a father," said King, "I would not want my child anywhere near him." Noting that Sypnier continues to reject counseling, King said, "He's been adamant that, 'I'm 100, and I'm not gonna change.'"

Least Competent Criminals: Failed to Keep a Low Profile: 1) A news summary of traffic stops on Christmas Eve in Alice Springs, Australia, noted that 11 people were charged with DUI, including one man who was spotted driving despite his car's hood being broken in the "up" position and having smashed through his windshield. The driver maneuvered down the street by craning his neck out the side window. 2) Two weeks earlier, in Trumbull, Conn., police arrested Christopher Frazao, 27, after watching him drive despite a windshield full of snow (except for a small opening he could peer though). A search of the car revealed marijuana and other drugs, as well as items believed to have been stolen in recent burglaries.

Having Fun Now!: On the heels of the "Balloon Boy" fiasco in which a super-ambitious father exploited his child to win a reality TV job, Jim Dunn of North Vancouver, British Columbia, submitted a demo reel to reality-show producers featuring him and his entire family turned into gasoline-soaked fireballs. Dunn, one of Canada's leading film stunt men, his wife, and three kids, ages 15, 12 and 9, have all performed as stunt doubles (though it was the first fire for the youngest, who was 7 when the video was shot), and abundant safety precautions were taken (with no resulting complications). In his career, Dunn has suffered six leg fractures and a cracked skull, and needed two bowel resections.

A News of the Weird Classic (April 1993): Psychology professor Russell Carney of Southwest Missouri State University told the Associated Press in August 1992 that he had developed a technique for improving memory and told the reporter how he could facilitate the recall, say, that a particular painting was done by Degas in 1865. First, think of an object that sounds like "Degas" (day-GAH), for example, "dagger," and then memorize the last two digits of the year by learning the sentence "Twin new moons rose low, just clearing four pine saplings," in which the first word begins with a T and stands for "1," the second, N, stands for "2," and so on. Thus, 1865 becomes "65," which becomes "just" "low," which could translate to J-L, which could be "jelly," which would produce a "jelly dagger," to which the subject tries to find a resemblance, somewhere, in the Degas painting. Simple as that!

© 2010 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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