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Sticking it to gum chewers

Juan Manuel Diez Francos, a deputy with Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, has proposed a federal tax of 50 per cent on chewing gum, or chicle as it is known in the country, The Huffington Post reports. "He says the chewing gum tax would help pay for the cleaning of chewing gum that people spit out in public places like sidewalks, plazas and parks. As it stands now, he says, the government spends an average of 2 pesos and 50 cents on every piece of gum it unsticks from these public areas. The cheapest pack of chicle costs only 50 cents."

Guarding the Christmas goat

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"A Swedish city is employing private security to protect its traditional four-storey-tall straw goat from arsonists," United Press International reports. "Wellington Ikuobase, who was elected Gavle Resident of The Year and was in charge of christening this year's [13-metre-tall] goat, said someone tried to light it on fire Saturday prior to its official inauguration, The reported Monday. 'The front hoof smells of petrol,' organizer Eje Berglund said at the Sunday inauguration. The goat has been a popular target for vandals and arsonists in recent years. The city, which first adopted the Christmas goat tradition in 1966, has hired private security guards to protect the straw sculpture."

This year's big blows

"The 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season officially came to a close on Friday," says, "after four land-falling storms left coastal communities in tatters from Louisiana to New York. For the third straight season there were 19 named storms in the Atlantic, which is the third-highest level of storm activity observed since 1851. Ten of those storms went on to become hurricanes. … Since 1851, only two hurricane seasons – 2005 and 1933 – have been busier than 2010, 2011 and 2012."

The peril of journaling

"A new research study suggests that a common self-help practice for relationship recovery may do more harm than good," says Psych Central. "Journaling, the act of actually writing down your feelings, has long been a standard recommendation to help individuals move through the painful process of divorce or separation. The study found that for some, writing in-depth about those feelings immediately after a split may not be a good idea – a surprise to investigators. Psychological scientist David Sbarra, PhD, of the University of Arizona studied 90 recently divorced or separated individuals, and found that writing about one's feelings can actually leave some people feeling more emotionally distraught months down the line, particularly those who are prone to seeking a deeper meaning for their failed marriage."

Gingerbread mansions

"Out of the kitchen and into the hotel lobby: Gingerbread houses have gone from being a homemade project done with mom to professional exhibits designed by pastry chefs and sometimes even architects," says Associated Press. "And never mind the humble miniature: Some displays are life-size, while others depict entire villages. A few extravaganzas raise money for charity, while some include contests for home bakers. Many are part of larger Christmas celebrations at luxury hotels that also showcase decorated trees, Santa visits and holiday menus."

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Bigger sweet potatoes

"Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may have a silver lining: doubling the size of the sweet potato, the fifth most important food crop in the developing world," reports the New Scientist. "Most studies of the effects of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide on crops have shown rising yields of rice, wheat and soy. The hardy sweet potato is increasingly becoming a staple in Africa and Asia, producing 'more edible energy per hectare per day than wheat, rice or cassava,' according to research group the International Potato Center."

Thought du jour

"The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right."

Billings Learned Hand

U.S. judge (1872-1961)

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