People's love for their pets reached a new high in December when a British man paid a veterinarian the equivalent of $500 to perform delicate surgery on a sick office goldfish (typical pet store "replacement" price: $1 to $5). Vet Faye Bethell of North Walsham, England, told the Eastern Daily Press in December that there was "nothing special" about the fish, but that the customer "just liked it a lot." The goldfish likely did not even have a pet name, as Bethell in an interview spoke intimately of another patient by name (Cadbury, the skunk). Bethell's procedure involved removing the patient from the bowl, flooding its gills with anesthetic-fortified water, and using a tiny scalpel to remove lumps that were causing it constipation, with the surgery guided by a miniature heart-rate monitor.

Iraqi TV goes 'Jerry Springer'

Iraq's government-run channel, Iraqiyya TV, has a reality show reminiscent of American confrontational programs, but is designed to force captured fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant to acknowledge the pain they have created. One episode of "In the Grip of the Law" (described in a December Associated Press dispatch) showed family members of car-bombing victims on a street corner in Baghdad haranguing one of the men convicted of the crime. A young man in a wheelchair, having lost his father in the attack, faced off against the convict, screaming until the jihadist "began weeping, as the cameras rolled."

Wait, what?

At first, it seemed another textbook case of a wrongly convicted murderer being released after a long prison stint (15 years), based on a re-examination of evidence. Illinois officials freed Alstory Simon, who had "confessed" in 1999 to killing two teenagers (before a defendants' advocacy organization convinced a judge that the confession had been coerced). That 1999 confession had allowed the man previously convicted, Anthony Porter, to go free, but prosecutors in October 2014 had second — or third — thoughts. They once again believe that Porter was the killer — even though a different defendants' advocacy organization had originally worked to free him. (In any event, "double jeopardy" prevents Porter's retrial.)

Government in action

In a November ruling, France's ministers of housing and ecology jointly announced further streamlining of law books, removing bulky, out-of-date regulations. Among the rescissions, beginning Dec. 1, is the ban on installing toilets in kitchens.

Best recent foreign news

British makeup artist Jordan James Parke, 23, told London's the Sun in December how he had fallen in love with the look of U.S. celebrity Kim Kardashian and thus had forced himself to spend the equivalent of about $150,000 on "more than 50" cosmetic procedures to adopt her "pouty" look, including lip and cheek fillers, eyebrow tattoos and laser hair removal. "I love everything about Kim … the most gorgeous woman ever," he said. "Her skin is perfect, her hair, everything about her."

Recurring themes

Police in Phoenix estimate celebratory gunfire into the air on New Year's Eve was down 22 percent from last year, since the department received reports on only 206 bullets discharged without concern for where they would land.

A court in Buenos Aires, Argentina, granted a "habeas corpus" petition in December ordering the freedom of a Sumatran orangutan from Buenos Aires Zoo. Sandra, age 29, is a "non-human person" and thus sufficiently advanced in "cognitive function" to be not merely an object that humans can own without obligation. A Reuters report found no similar judgment on record, but rather, contrary recent rulings in New York (regarding Tommy the chimpanzee) and San Diego (on behalf of orca whales).

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