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In a December article in the Guardian about Chinese scientists' recent success in breeding pandas, Zhang Hemin of the Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province explained how they've expanded the gene pool to include even the least attractive females: they prep the breeding pen by letting a more popular female panda excrete in it; the less popular female, who has meanwhile been scented with a more attractive panda's urine, is then brought in rear-end first, so the male doesn't see her face until they're done mating. When the males realize they've been tricked, Zhang said, "they get very angry and start fighting the female. We have had to use firecrackers and a water hose to separate them." (Another sordid detail: to collect semen for artificial fertilization, lab workers insert an electric probe into the anus of a sedated male panda and turn up the power until he ejaculates.)

Government in Action

After seizing power in Fiji in a December coup, Commodore Frank Bainimarama removed a number of cabinet officials in a stated attempt to root out corruption, then took out want ads in local newspapers to find their replacements. Minimum requirements for applicants: ten years' working experience or extensive education, no criminal record, no history of bankruptcy. Also in December the People's Democratic Party, currently in power in Nigeria, announced it would begin screening 29 candidates to run in upcoming presidential primaries. According to a spokesperson, contenders would be evaluated on a numerical basis in the categories of patriotism (accounting for 10 percent of the final score), integrity (15 percent), ethnic neutrality (10 percent), knowledge of law (10 percent), tolerance (5 percent), transparency (10 percent), knowledge of development in Nigeria (10 percent), and leadership qualities (15 percent). (Yes, that's only 85 percent total.)

To the outrage of watchdog groups, in November the Texas Ethics Commission reaffirmed that under its reading of disclosure laws, officials may report the receipt of a cash gift simply as "currency" without naming the amount; thus businessman and state employee retirement board member Bill Cerverha had complied with regulations when he disclosed that a Republican donor had made him a personal gift of two checks in 2005 but didn't mention they were for $50,000 each.

In December, following an incident in which an 18-year-old German fan of the online shooter game Counter-Strike opened fire in his former high school, politicians in the states of Bavaria and Lower Saxony proposed legislation to criminalize violent acts in video games if directed against "humans or human-looking characters."

CNN reported in December that of the 383 pieces of legislation passed by the outgoing 109th U.S. Congress--cited by many for its lack of productivity--more than 25 percent simply named or renamed various federal structures after notable Americans, including post offices to be named for Ava Gardner and Karl Malden.

Oops!

One Saturday morning in October hundreds of Chicago police officers in riot gear assembled near Washington Square Park in anticipation of a scheduled rally organized by the Illinois Anti-War Coalition, and CTA officials prepared to reroute buses to avoid what they believed might be huge crowds. But no protesters showed up: according to the coalition's John Beacham, the group never got word that their demonstration permit had been approved and decided well in advance to spend the day handing out antiwar flyers instead.

Cliches Come to Life

In November, following four days of treatment for chest problems at Tameside General Hospital in Ashton, England, 70-year-old Derek Ogley was waiting to be picked up when he was struck with severe stomach pain. Upon their arrival, family members were told that under National Health Service rules Ogley couldn't see a doctor because he'd already been discharged; they'd have to call for an ambulance to drive him around to the hospital's emergency room and have him readmitted there. (His daughter drove him herself; he was diagnosed with pancreatitis.)

Unclear on the Concept of Damage Control

In November Aaron Kennard was voted out of office after 16 years as sheriff of Salt Lake County, Utah. According to the Deseret Morning News, he had a 30-point lead in the polls until his habit of playing golf during working hours (notably during a major antiwar protest in August) came to light. Questioned about his priorities, a defiant Kennard said, "My response is, 'I'm not golfing enough,'" pointed out that he'd been playing weekday rounds since taking office, and assured his constituents that he always kept his cell phone with him in case he was needed.

The Latest From Where the Sun Don't Shine

In November, responding to reports of a naked man masturbating while lying on a tree stump near a rapid-transit station, police in El Cerrito, California, arrested 33-year-old John Sheehan, who then informed them that he had a screwdriver in his anal cavity. While officers kept their guns trained on him, Sheehan removed the six-inch implement, which had been wrapped in electrical tape; he was charged with indecent exposure and possession of a concealed weapon. Three days later, according to authorities in Sunderland, England, a 22-year-old man was hospitalized with a scorched colon after he celebrated Guy Fawkes Night by setting off a firework "in his bottom."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Shawn Belshwender.

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