American Exceptionalism: Which is more characteristically American — that a Texas company could invent an ordinary rifle that mimics a machine gun or that the nation's incomparable legal minds could find a loophole in existing laws to permit it to be manufactured and sold? The Slide Fire company's weapon can spray bullets "like a fire hose" from a legal, semiautomatic gun by simple application of muscle, yet an official opinion of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives acknowledges that the agency is powerless to regulate it because of wording in 1934 and 1986 legislation that otherwise restricts private ownership of machine guns. One gun shop owner told London's Daily Mail in September that the Slide Fire rifle is "not as easy" to use as a machine gun, but is "fairly idiot-proof."

'Letter' of the law

In September, a federal jury in New York City upheld an employment agency worker's claim that she (an African-American) was racially harassed by her boss. The supervisor, Rob Carmona, had insisted that he could not be liable for race-based harassment because, he, too, is African-American and thus entitled to use the "n-word."

Busy being superheroes

In separate September incidents, people dressed as Batman and Captain America rescued a cat from a burning house in Milton, W.Va., and Superman came to the aid of Wonder Woman in Hollywood. The West Virginia pair were performing when they noticed nearby smoke; the Hollywood duo were posing for tourists' tips when a passerby got belligerent. Less elegantly, two Captain Americas and a Spider-Man brawled in May over access to lucrative Hollywood street corner.

Now free to doze off

The training technology company Mindflash recently revealed a feature for iPads that prevents student inattentiveness during an online course. Facial recognition software notices a user looking away (or, worse, falling asleep) and pauses the course at that point until the eager learner re-engages the screen. (Mindflash assured reporters that the program has more serious uses, such as treatment of autism and Alzheimer's disease.)

Turn it up to 11

For people who believe that "rave" parties' music is too faint, an August event at England's Liverpool International Music Festival offered a solution: The DaDaFest program featured an ear-crushing sound level staged for deaf people's dancing — since they can "hear" only by the vibrations saturating their bodies. Among the performers: deaf DJ Troi "Chinaman" Lee, who claims he easily feels distinctions in his mix of hip-hop, R&B, reggae, dance and electro swing.

Sly thinking

According to his road manager, 1970s musician Sly Stone has a lot of "real interesting ideas," including once trying to hire "ninja chicks and clowns" for his security entourage. Stone's latest brainstorm, reported London's the Guardian: a musical group of albinos, which Stone says "could neutralize all the racial problems" that plague society. "To me," he said, "albinos are the most legitimate minority group of all."

Motor memory

Near the end of the concluding race of the Rally de Misiones in Campo Viera, Argentina, driver Sebastian Llamosas experienced a throttle malfunction and began coasting, still about a half-mile from the finish line. However, in a move reminiscent of actor Slim Pickens jumping on the atomic bomb in "Dr. Strangelove," Llamosas' quick-thinking partner, Mauricio Sainz, jumped onto the open engine and accelerated the car by hand while Llamosas steered the final distance.

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