Luxury hounds

According to an August report in The Washington Post, the Birch K9 Health & Fitness Centre opened earlier this year in Heywood, England, to provide hydrotherapy, whirlpool baths, treadmills and magnetherapy to dogs (all under the direction of trainer Dave Burdon). The club boasts success in rehabilitating the natural muscles that have weakened due to the indolence of the dogs' owners. Still, one British newspaper quipped, Birch K9 seems the sort of thing that can only happen in America.

A case over mind over murder


A court in Council Bluffs, Iowa, will rule in early December on whether to admit "brain fingerprinting" evidence that might free Terry Harrington, who has been in prison for 22 years for a murder he says he did not commit. Iowa psychiatrist Lawrence Farwell developed the technique, which he says measures a subject's brain activity (or inactivity) following attempts to trigger his or her memories; tests performed on Harrington showed him with no memory of the murder or the crime scene, but with recollections of attending a rock concert with his friends the same night.

This kid can spell


In October, high school student Brandi Blackbear filed a federal lawsuit against the school district in Broken Arrow, Okla., for suspending her twice during the previous school year: once for the Stephen King-like content of her written journals and once after the assistant principal implied that Blackbear's Wiccan "curse" actually caused a teacher to become ill. Said the Oklahoma director of the American Civil Liberties Union, "I, for one, would like to see the [evidence] that a 15-year-old girl made a grown man sick by casting a magic spell."

Too corpse to call


An Atlanta Journal-Constitution database match proved that 5,412 dead Georgians had voted since 1980, with a potential 15,000 more to follow suit this year. Tom Wesson, an Anglo running for constable in Dallas, Texas, lost the election despite trying to give himself an edge by renaming himself "Tomas Eduardo Wesson." Albuquerque, N.M., district attorney Kari Brandenburg easily won re-election over a man who had sent her a syrupy, flirtatious e-mail message in October, but later claimed it had been meant for his wife. To comply with residency requirements, a school-board candidate in Miami, Fla., tried to allege that he lived in a 9-by-11-foot storage shed on his father's property, but a judge dropped him from the ballot anyway. And "psychic" Jacqueline Stallone, interviewed before Election Day, said her dogs had told her telepathically that George W. Bush would win the presidency by 200 votes.

Folding tenets


Once a strong opponent of capitalism and religion, but lately in severe organizational decline, France's communist party collaborated with the Prada fashion house to host a glamorous fund-raising party in Paris in October, complete with supermodels and other trendy guests. A week later, the party staged an art show that featured 30 works portraying a heroic Jesus Christ.

Patriotic spirits


So important is the vodka industry to the Russian economy that in August, Moscow police forcibly entered the Krystall (Stolichnaya Vodka) factory, ostensibly to seek tax documents but actually to install an insurgent board of directors to commandeer tax revenues and profits. And Mexico's economy is so dependent on the tequila industry that earlier this year, federal police moved into the western states that grow agave (the cactus-like plant that is the main ingredient in tequila) in order to guard the crops. Recent agave thefts have sent the price of tequila from about $11 per bottle to about $33 -- beyond the reach of many Mexicans.

Cheap and domestic

According to a June Reuters dispatch from Bucharest, the dismal Romanian economy has forced prostitutes to spruce up their services by agreeing to cook and clean up after making house calls. And an exclusive Tokyo club has gone even further: For about $1,000, the customer can visit a brothel decorated to represent a traditional Japanese man's fantasy home. There, a beautiful young "wife" waits on him hand and foot, watches the TV shows he wants to watch, listens to him brag about his day, refrains from mentioning her own problems, cooks him a meal and has sex with him.


Bother figure


In an October Dallas Morning News story, retiree Neal Terry, 78, discussed his "hobby": "I've dedicated my life to irritating people," Terry said. "It's a special gift that I have. I tell my grandsons, ‘You're not going to like everybody you run across, so go ahead and irritate them.'" Terry insisted that none of his victims has ever become genuinely angry with him, not even when he sang the Partridge Family song "I Think I Love You" over and over at work.

Any port in a storm

Troy Carlisle, 28, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in October after being convicted in Brandon, Miss., of forcibly taking the life jacket of a 7-year-old girl and leaving her to drown in Arkabutla Lake. Carlisle told police, "I was thinking I was gonna die or she was gonna die." And in July, Alvin Latham was charged with second-degree murder after he survived the sinking of a shrimp boat in a storm off the Louisiana coast; police said Latham stabbed the captain to obtain the ship's only life vest.