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Norwegian prisons
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It's clear, based on a May Time magazine dispatch, that Norway's felons and miscreants are of a superior class than America's. When Norway's brand-new Halden prison opened in April, the country's King Harald V headlined a glitzy gala that celebrated what has been called the world's "most humane" lockup. Among the facilities: a sound studio, jogging trails, a guest house for inmates' visitors, and a scrumptious-smelling "kitchen laboratory" where murderers and bandits can learn to cook. Guards are unarmed (half are women) and intermingle with the rapists, drug dealers and others, dining with them and joining them in intramural sports. The recidivist rate for Norwegian prisoners in general is only 20 percent (versus 50 percent to 60 percent in the United States), but it is still early to tell whether Halden's prisoners will find life behind bars so pleasant that they don't mind risking another stretch there by returning to crime.

Leading Economic Indicators

• Cutting-Edge Products: (1) A Portland, Ore., inventor recently began offering a colorful patch designed to cover the area just below a dog's tail. The "Rear Gear" is featured on the handmade-crafts' site, (2) Tyrone Henry and Fermin Esson, of Opa Locka, Fla., near Miami, told reporters they were recently granted a patent for "saggy pants" that they say will satisfy young men's street-fashion sense yet not run afoul of municipal laws around the country banning exposed underwear.

• Federal Reserve, Securities and Exchange Commission, On Edge: Last November, the government of North Korea made an ultimately disastrous decision to radically devalue its currency, overnight making 100 North Korean won worth 1 North Korean won, and the country's citizens (as well as, reportedly, the Dear Leader himself) were not pleased. Three months later, without much fanfare, came the official announcement that the government's (i.e., the Workers' Party's) chief finance minister, Pak Nam-gi, had been executed by firing squad.

• In May, the German manufacturer Ex Oriente Lux AG set up its "Gold To Go" vending machine in the lobby of Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace Hotel, offering gold coins and one-, five- and 10-gram bars of gold, based on the current world price at the time of the transaction.

Transcendent Science

• Intelligent Design: Among the new species first reported this year are a "nose" leech, a "Dracula" fish, a "psychedelic" frogfish and a "bombardier" worm, according to scientists at the University of Arizona and medical school researchers in Lima, Peru. The Peru-based leech, which is fanged and probably has been around since the time of dinosaurs, prefers nasal mucus as a habitat. The "Dracula" fish of Myanmar, with "canine-like fangs," has an extraordinarily flexible mouth. The multicolored frogfish has apparently adapted to live among the colorful, venomous coral off Bali, Indonesia. The "bombardier" worm, found in California's Monterey Bay, releases glow-in-the-dark projectiles when threatened.

• Until recently, researchers were certain that at least one ability separated humans from higher-functioning apes: the creation and use of tools for sex. However, primatologists writing in a recent issue of Science described a male chimpanzee's repetitive use of a dried leaf in the same way that a male human of a certain class might employ a fast car. In the presence of a female chimp, the male carefully crinkles the leaf until she, seemingly accustomed to such leaf-crinkling, notices the male, along with his generous erection, and may then choose to join him.

• Too Much Information: British and Australian researchers, writing in a journal article in March, concluded that the world's strongest insect (relative to body weight) is the male dung beetle, which can lift more than 1,100 times its weight (equivalent for an average male human: 80 tons). Since the beetles mate inside dung patties, their every move is a struggle against the resistance posed by the feces. (On the other hand, the researchers also found weaker dung beetles that mated just fine helped not by their strength but by unusually large testicles.)

• Sounds Like a Joke: University of Michigan computer engineer Wei Lu revealed in April that he and colleagues were working on a new supercomputer design that is a radical departure from current computer architecture. Wei Lu's design breakthrough (which has piqued the interest of the Pentagon's DARPA think-tankers) is to model the operating system like the brain of a cat, he said, even though his supercomputer could never actually outperform the cat's brain.

The Aristocrats!

• Last September, James Jones, 33, and a friend were issued disorderly conduct citations by police after witnesses reported that the pair, inebriated, had placed their genitals on a vegetables' weighing scale in a supermarket in Edinburgh, Scotland. (They were acquitted in April 2010 when the only witness admitted that she only saw the men zipping up after claiming to have weighed themselves.)

• Fluids Festivals: (1) A 44-year-old man was charged with battery in Crestview, Fla., in April as a result of a fight with his girlfriend, during which he pinched off one of his nostrils and blew mucus and blood out of the other (with contents landing on her "face, chest, arms and pants"). (2) Madison, Wis., neighbors Nina Bell, 56, and Arnessa Battles, 38, were cited for disorderly conduct in March in a dispute over Battles' dog's winter-long output of droppings that had just been revealed by melting snow. According to the police report, by the time an officer arrived on the scene, both of the women had smeared each other's cars with large quantities of dog poop.

People Different From Us

World-class sword-swallower Chayne Hultgren, 32, is a veteran of such exhibitions as Scotland's Kamikaze Freakshow, as well as this year's Psycho Sideshow in Australia, and he holds the Guinness Book record by downing 18 swords simultaneously. Part of his skill, he told Sydney's Daily Telegraph in April, is learning to relax his body, but he also credited his 5-inch-longer-than-normal stomach and his decision to implant a row of magnets along his breastbone that he says ever-so-slightly diverts the metal swords away from vital organs. Reminiscing, Hultgren noted that once, during a show's run in Belgium, an average of seven spectators a night were fainting (known in the trade as "falling ovations"). What does Hultgren ‘s future hold? "I've never had another job."