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, Engand) Environmental Health 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 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, 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.

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