Afghanistan: Designer stubble is one thing, but 10 days in the slammer is a high price to pay for fashion. As the Koran is interpreted in Afghanistan, men have to grow a beard - and not trim the hairy underbrush. Patrols in open Jeeps sporting the white flag of purity are dispatched by the General Department for the Preservation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and any pedestrian whose whiskers do not pass muster is hauled off for religious instruction at a prison, where they learn that the Prophet favoured this style of beard; moreover, although the instructors do not say as much, this could be of benefit in more intimate moments, for "the trimmed beard is hard to the touch; a proper beard is soft."
Brazil: David Azulay has caused outrage in Rio, home of the thong, by launching a line in swimming-trunks that pays tribute to the country's beach culture and its Catholicism: the buttocks are enlivened by an image of Christ.
New York: While several southern States have decreed that underwear must be worn in such a way that the elastic does not show above the top of trousers and jeans, the vogue for Bill and Monica Hallowe'en outfits continues apace; one firm now offers a deluxe version, with kneepads.
China: The Tiger Company of Peking has invented a new golf-club that displays the trajectory of an imaginary ball. Simply swing the club, and, by means of an electronic pendulum in the head, a chip calculates the speed and direction of the putative strike, and displays it on a small screen on part of the club.
Michigan: Five-year-old Keith Lang, who has been playing golf since the age of two, scored a hole-in-one at the Gracewill Pines Golf Course. "I hit the ball and it landed on the green and went and rolled over to the flag. My dad, he went to his knees and flipped over like a bird. I can hit the ball good."
Australia: Plans to put cyanide in the Werribee water-supply would meet with opposition, concedes Tony Crapper, manager of the Western Treatment Complex. In any case, he adds, "I know of a Canadian company that went broke trying to get gold from Toronto's sewage."
It can be done, but Melbourne has found that it takes $500,000 to recover 60kg of the stuff, with the added bonus of platinum and palladium. This is not simply a matter of hauling in stray rings and bracelets, but of reclaiming industrial effluent and traces of gold skimmed from rings by power showers and dishwashers. A rueful Dr Bernd Lottermour adds: "cyanide would have been quite safe - harmless, provided they put in the right agents."
New Zealand: the antipodean craving for gold is unceasing. Scientists say that chicory can do the job of cyanide. It is a "heavy accumulator", and could be sown on soil treated with ammonium thiocyanate, which makes gold soluble. Chicory would absorb it in a ratio of 20 parts per million. If Wall Street does its stuff, there could be a bonanza for all.
New York: The city breathes more easily with further news of Mohammed Rahman, the taxi-driver who on his first day collided with three pedestrians and cars in as many blocks. He has got his old job back, as sandwich-maker at a company run by Al Catale in the recently, gloriously renovated Grand Central Station. "He's a wonderful worker," says Mr Catale, "and we'll do our part to keep him off the streets."
Australia: We can imagine the grief of 16-year-old Anne Jankowicz's parents, when she was driving home along Taylors Road outside their home, hit a pole, and died - and their horror at being presented with a bill of $45,000, their share in the $3m required to repair a road so worn that an old stone horse-and-buggy track is now visible. "If they fix this road, it would be a memorial to my daughter," says Marcia Jankowicz, but the state commissioner is intransigent, conceding only that the speed limit be reduced from 100 km/hr to 80, and that they may be able to slap on a layer of bitumen at $9,000 a head.
Texas: Mexican folk wisdom has it that railway tracks are a refuge from snakes. With this in mind, six Mexicans who had illegally crossed the border decided to kip down for the night on a desolate stretch of track near Norias after days on the road with little water and food - and, impervious to the engine's roar, were killed by a freight train, whose driver noted that, in any case, he had in his time sliced through a fair number of snakes.
Los Angeles: After reports of some unfortunate incidents in years past, the city's animal rescue shelters have ruled that for no black cats can be adopted between now and Hallowe'en. Even if the cats' services are not required for an active part in the festivities, it is still a distressing time for them, warns Madeline Bernstein, of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: what with continual opening of front doors and the arrival of costumed strangers, "it's one of those holidays that's totally not pet-friendly."
New York: What's in a name? Quite a lot, if yours is Monica. One Monica Gardner, for example, reports that "we'd give our names at the deli and they'd call it out really loud. I just sort of mumble my name now." On other occasions, a deli owner may call out, "here's a Monica who's actually found a job in New York!" All of which suggests that the man in Milwaukee is not so far off the beam in recently creating an association for the psychological support of those cursed with the name.
The Holy Life
Italy: An association of reformed alcoholic priests in Frioul has won authority from the Vatican to celebrate the sacrifice of Christ's blood with grape juice.
New York: 73-year-old Eli Gottesman, chaplain to New York state penitentiaries, shows that it is never too late to make bad. He is accused of smuggling drugs to inmates. In particular, he is said, at Ray Brook medium-security prison, to have brought a new meaning to two-in-one formula by coming up with the dodge of using a large bottle of shampoo which contained balloons of cocaine and marijuana.
Better than Bailey
Russia: An outraged son has condemned the Slovak photographer who beguiled into posing naked for erotic photographs his 90-year-old mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.
Italy: At Messina, in Sicily, a man took a subtle revenge on his bride- to-be. When asked by the priest at their wedding ceremony whether he took her to be his lawful wedded wife, he replied, "I don't." After all, early that morning he had returned from his stag night and found her in the fevered embrace of the man who was now there, in church, as his best man. Still, the guests had not turned out for nothing: they still got to eat the wedding breakfast.
Sweden: A man in Kalmar was not content with a stockinged head when he tried to rob a bank. For protection he carried a baseball bat, but as a disguise he sported a yellow chicken suit. Despite this, he failed to make off with any money, but the cashier is currently undergoing psychological counselling for the trauma. Police have decided that Identikit posters would be a waste of resources.