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Early overtures 


July marked the start of a program, "Better Brains for Babies: Maximizing Georgia's Brain Power," to provide a classical-music CD to every baby born in Georgia. Gov. Zell Miller was persuaded by research showing that such music energizes parts of the brain that might otherwise fall stagnant. Sony supplied the CDs for free, but the cost-effectiveness is questionable, since Miller also said, "I've always thought the children of Georgia were the smartest anywhere."

Girth ritual

An October Los Angeles Times story described the coming-of-age ritual in the Efik community of Nigeria, in which young girls endure several weeks in "fattening rooms," where they are intensively overfed and underexercised so that they avoid the stigma of being thin. Potential suitors think skinniness indicates sickliness and infertility. "Beauty is in the weight," said a 50-year-old mother who was herself sent to a fattening room at age 7. A village chief said that "people might laugh at `parents who` didn't have money to allow `their` child to pass through `this` rite of passage."

Unbearable lightness

In October, the New York Times reported on the emerging mental-health condition of "uplift anxiety," which involves problems incurred by some Prozac users who become unsettled at their newfound happiness. Such people typically grieve for their former selves because, in the words of a writer who has overcome depression, "The most fundamental aspect of yourself `i.e., unhappiness` has been ripped away."

Charmful if swallowed

In Cambodia, in the town of Sihanoukville, villagers worship two charmed oxen by drinking their urine, and in two other towns people regularly bathe in and drink the water surrounding a healing-powered turtle and snake. Also in Cambodia, a girl born in a suburb of Phnom Penh in May with scaly lesions on her back has been dubbed the "Dragon Baby" who brings good luck to anyone who touches her. And an October Associated Press dispatch reported that about 1,000 people turned out on a Sunday night on a hillside near Alcla de la Selva, Spain, to caress a 17-by-17-foot rock formation that resembles a toad. The rubbing is said to bring success in love, the lottery and civil-service exams.

Commercial break

In July, eight inmates escaped from the jail in Rayong, Thailand, during the time that all guards were hunched over a TV set watching the World Cup match between Germany and Croatia. A nearby monitor showed the breakout in progress on the closed-circuit system, but apparently the game was too engrossing for the guards to notice. And a jailer in Clinton County, N.Y., was fired for rigging a closed-circuit monitor to carry the final episode of "Seinfeld" in May. (There were no inmate incidents.)

Zoo skies ahead

In October, according to medical tests, Khyl Hardy, 6, was bitten by a poisonous taipan snake, and he and his mother say it happened when he reached under his seat on an Ansett Airlines flight from Melbourne, Australia, to Perth to retrieve a lollipop he had dropped and felt a sting. (The snake was not found.) Also in October, passengers and crew on an Air Canada flight to England spent 20 minutes trying to catch a dive-bombing bat that had been brought aboard in a passenger's carry-on bag.

Living out loud

In May, the city of West Haven, Conn., installed a flashing "Noise Laws Strictly Enforced" sign in order to encourage tranquillity on the three-mile drive along the picturesque coastline. Several hours later, the mayor removed the sign because the generator that powered it was making too much noise.

First-class postage

A going-away party for retiring U.S. Postmaster General Marvin Runyon in May, estimated to cost $45,700 by the board of directors and budgeted at $82,500, according to a Freedom of Information Act request, came in at $120,000. Included were a video retrospective of Runyon's career and travel expenses for out-of-town guests. Runyon, asked about it by NBC News, called the cost "unfortunate," but said it was a "great party."


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