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Working wonders with wood 

Artists wielded chainsaws in March in Sam-chok, South Korea, for the traditional anglers' Male Root Carving Competition. Celebratory penises up to 9 feet long are fashioned from pine logs along a waterfront in order to commemorate the time, 400 years ago, when a sailor died on a fishing trip and left behind a forlorn virgin on the shore. The phalluses are an attempt to appease her restless spirit, and they are dumped in the water after the event. The official proclamation was led this year by the current mayor of Sam-chok, whose actual name is Kim Il Dong.

Forces of neuter

In April, the Unique Recoveries collection agency in Bombay, India, hired six eunuchs to go to the homes or offices of obstinate debtors to embarrass them into paying up, by dancing around and threatening to lift their saris to expose their "genitallessness." Unique's director said he expects his business to expand and that he will hire 100 more eunuchs. Many Bombay eunuchs earn money by crashing weddings and hanging around until they are paid to leave.

Muscling in

The devastation of Kosovo this year by Serbian forces also disrupted another part of some Kosovars' lives: their extensive international crime network, which, according to a May report by the San Francisco Chronicle, "dominated" the narcotics business in Europe. The Kosovar network has now been supplanted by more vicious Albanian crime organizations, sometimes in conjunction with Sicilian Mafia families just across the Adriatic Sea, supported by a corrupt Albanian parliament. In March, the Albanian crime "boss of bosses" was arrested in Milan, Italy, en route as an Albanian diplomat to an International Crime Tribunal meeting in France.

The usual suspects

More than 2,300 people were reported kidnapped in Colombia in 1998 in what are called "fishing expeditions," in which almost random groups of people are abducted until the captors sort out who is valuable and who isn't, according to a June Chicago Tribune story. Kidnapping is such a fact of life in Colombia that the format of one Bogota radio station is almost exclusively messages for kidnap victims from their relatives.

Shell game

Among the more controversial of the recent decrees of the Afghanistan fundamentalist Taliban government was to term a traditional Gurbuz tribe pastime as un-Islamic "gambling." In the game, two men tap eggs together, and the one whose egg breaks is the loser. In January, when Taliban soldiers tried to break up a game in the city of Khost, the tribesmen resisted, and in a standoff, five soldiers and seven tribesmen were killed.

Abnormal drive

In April, William Whitfield, 34, won about $185,000 (U.S.) from a Calgary, Alberta, judge for injuries he suffered when motorist David Calhoun smashed into his brand-new truck in 1990. Among the crash's consequences, according to medical testimony, was Whitfield's acquired desire, still unsubsided to this day despite electroshock therapy, to kill Calhoun in retaliation. According to the judge, Calhoun failed to testify at the trial out of fear of Whitfield, who has told his lawyer that he intends to kill Calhoun and then himself.

Coming to terms

Ten U.S. representatives this decade gave absolute pledges not to serve more than eight years in office, and six are keeping their promises. Of the other four (including Republicans Scott McInnis of Colorado and George Nethercutt of Washington and Democrat Marty Meehan of Massachusetts), the best promise-voiding explanation was by Republican Tillie Fowler, elected from Jacksonville, Fla., in 1992 under the slogan "Eight [years] Is Enough." Fowler said in December 1998 that she might run in the year 2000 anyway, because "my problem was, I was too honest [when I made the pledge]."

Guilt complex

Roy Hopkins, 32, speaking to a Toronto Star reporter in March about having recently stepped forward to admit to a 1995 murder for which another man had wrongly been serving a life sentence: "I may be a criminal, and I may be a thief, and I may be a robber, but I ain't a low-life."

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