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At the height of the war in Iraq, 32-year-old army chaplain Josh Llano, a Southern Baptist, requisitioned 500 gallons of water to fill his baptismal pool at Camp Bushmaster (near Najaf) and offered exhausted, grimy soldiers, some of whom had not been able to shower for ten days, a chance for a refreshing dip--that is, once they sat through a 90-minute sermon, they could be baptized in the pool. Llano's explanation, according to an embedded Miami Herald reporter: "It's simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized." (The army's chief of chaplains cleared Llano of any wrongdoing last week.)

This week the city council of Palo Alto, California, will vote on a code of conduct for its meetings that forbids even nonverbal expressions of "disagreement or disgust" (rolling one's eyes, smirking, shaking one's head). According to the San Jose Mercury News, one councilman skeptical of the code has been adopted as a poster boy by its opponents, apparently because his large mustache makes it hard to tell whether he's frowning or not.

Recent Alarming Headlines

Indian Testicle Attack "Is Murder"--from a January BBC News report on a decision by India's highest court that a fatal knee to the groin can be regarded as more than mere "culpable homicide." Mayor Denies Claims She Masturbated Businessmen--from a February story in the Courier-Mail of Brisbane, Australia, detailing a dispute between the mayor of Maroochy, Queensland, and a former lover: she's suing him for stalking, and in turn his lawyer has suggested she "serviced" some of the town's influential businessmen while working as a masseuse before her election.

The Litigious Society

In August in University Heights, Ohio, widow Maggie Smith and her two adult children won $3.5 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit against Dr. Franklin Price, having convinced a jury that Price didn't do enough to help Lawrence Smith, Maggie's late husband, avoid his fatal heart attack. Lawrence, who died at 54, had been an overweight long-term smoker with diabetes and high cholesterol who got little exercise and admitted to being stressed at work; during the trial Price insisted he'd given his patient repeated admonitions about his bad habits, but apparently he should've given a few more.

Courtroom Antics

In March in Gilroy, California, a jury failed to convict family physician Raul Ixtlahuac, 41, of sexually assaulting several female patients (acquittal on one count, a hung jury on the other five). According to Ixtlahuac's lawyer, a key piece of testimony came from an expert who'd measured the doctor's height, the length of his erect penis, and the height of his examining table, then concluded that he would not have been able to penetrate his alleged victims as they'd described--unless he was an "acrobat." (Ixtlahuac will be retried in June.)

People Different From Us

In January in Lufkin, Texas, 19-year-old Cody Carver was sentenced to eight years in prison for having sex with (and impregnating) a 13-year-old girl, but continued to write to her, insisting that they could both raise their child "if the world would only back off." The girl's mother had known the two were sleeping together, but according to a social worker at the trial, her attitude had been blase: "I had a baby at age 14, my mother had a baby at 14, and her mother had a baby at 14." During a polygraph test, Carver admitted that his sexual partners have included two other underage girls (when he himself was 17) and a dog.

Our Civilization in Decline

In February the New York Times reported on the increasing number of challenges to death-row convictions by excerpting a recent argument before a Missouri Supreme Court judge. The prosecutor, an assistant state attorney general, was trying to get new evidence declared inadmissible (and thus prevent the reopening of the case). "Are you suggesting," asked the judge, "that even if we find [the inmate] is actually innocent, he should be executed?" The prosecutor replied, "That's correct, your honor."

Readers' Choice

In March in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, a 42-year-old man attempted to tighten the screws on his granddaughter's new crib using a butcher knife, despite his wife's suggestion that he use an Allen wrench instead; minutes later, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he was running to her, bleeding from the throat and screaming, "Call the paramedics! I fell on the knife!" The man died of his wound at a hospital shortly afterward. The wife (who'd assembled the crib herself) has since said she "can't even imagine" what happened.

In the Last Month

Hong Kong tourist board ads promising that the city would "take your breath away" appeared in several British magazines just as the SARS epidemic broke. In a decision by the Utah Supreme Court, an atheist from Murray won the right to give the customary opening prayer at a city council meeting (prayer of choice: to be delivered from "weak and stupid politicians"). And in Mount Sterling, Iowa (population 40), the mayor pro tempore proposed an ordinance to forbid the townspeople from telling lies.

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

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