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The world's most baffling new laws

Slide show: From Kentucky's restrictions on duels to Italy's noisy sandal rules, 10 recent legal oddities

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    Kentucky is finally cracking down on its dueling problem. Zealous lawyers must take an oath to refrain from sword or gunplay, in or out of the courtroom:

    “I do solemnly swear … I … have not fought a duel with deadly weapons … nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel, nor have I acted as a second … (Constitution of Kentucky,

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    Poop Patrol

    DNA data will connect poop to pooch in Petah Tikva, Israel.

    In 2008, the city embarked on a pilot sanitation program that matches dropping to dog by having owners bring them to a municipal vet, who swabs their cheek for DNA and enters the data into a central registry. Owners who then drop their packages into designated bins are given credits through DNA matching and become eligible for free dog food and treats. When registration in the program becomes mandatory, droppings found on the street will be traced back to their owner, with an accompanying fine.

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    Curvy Cucumbers

    In July 2009, European Union bureaucrats yielded to public pressure and repealed detailed statutes concerning the shape, size and color of asparagus (must be green for 80 percent of its length), Brussels sprouts, cabbage and 23 other fruits and vegetables.

    The laws exasperated both buyers and sellers; England’s Sainsbury’s supermarket chain withdrew a Halloween promotion featuring imperfect fruits and vegetables for fear produce managers would be arrested as criminals, and then fought back with a “Save Our Ugly Fruit and Vegetables” campaign.

    “This marks a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and the knobby carrot,” said the European commissioner of agriculture, speaking of the demise of laws like EC 730/1999 (forked carrots prohibited) and EC 85/2004 (no apples under 50 millimeters diameter).

    Typical of the standards was that for cucumbers, pursuant to Commission Regulation (EEC) 1677/88:

    Having regard to Council Regulations (EEC) No 1035/72 of 18 May 1972 … as last amended by Regulation (EEC) No 1117/88(2), and in particular Article 2(3) thereof … Whereas such changes entail alteration of the supplementary quality class as laid down by Council Regulation (EEC) No 1194/69(4) as last amended by Regulation (EEC) No 79/88(5) … in accordance with the opinion of the Management Committee for Fruits and Vegetables … Article 1 — the quality standards for cucumbers falling within subheading 0707 11 and 0707 00 19 of the combined nomenclature shall be set out in the Annex thereto. These standards shall apply … under the conditions laid down in Regulation (EEC) No 1035/72. Article 2 — Regulation No 183/64/EEC is hereby amended as follows: —the second indent of Article 1(2) is deleted, Annex 1/2 is deleted. Article 3 — Regulation (EEC) No 1194/69 is hereby amended … in Article 1, the words “and cucumbers” are deleted.

    Pursuant to the law Class 1 cucumbers had to be well shaped and straight (“maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of the length of the cucumber”). Gherkins were exempted.

    The repeal does not extend to bananas, which must still be free from abnormal curvature, though Class 1 bananas can have slight defects of shape. As an EU spokesperson grudgingly conceded, “a curve is a normal shape for a banana.”

    This wasn’t the first food fight in the EU’s contentious history. Greece quarreled with Denmark when the Danes tried to sell feta cheese, and the Danes successfully resisted an EU ban of their beloved Queen Bridgette apple, deemed too small for Eurocrat palates. Similar skirmishes have erupted over gouda and sherry.

    EU chocolate has been especially controversial. Traditionally made with cocoa butter, England successfully demanded that cheaper vegetable fat be allowed as a substitute, and a 2000 chocolate directive for the first time allowed England to export the cheaper chocolate to other EU members. Parisians were appalled as Mars Bars and Kit Kats flooded the city in place of their beloved crillo (delicate yet complex, rich secondary notes) and Gianduja (nutty, slightly gritty), and protested by picketing EU headquarters in Brussels.

    Godiva sniffed that only chocolate with cocoa butter should be considered real chocolate, while the more commercial Cadbury urged chocolate snobs to lighten up and “celebrate Europe’s diversity.”

  • Animals Amore

    Italy, long known for its people’s lax attitude toward the law in general, has improbably become an international leader in animal rights, with the recent enactment of a spate of animal and pet protection laws:

    National legislation in 2004 imposed yearlong jail sentences and fines up to €10,000 for persons who abuse or abandon their pets. That year, the city council of Reggio Emilia banned the boiling of live lobsters; mandated that “social” birds be kept in pairs; directed that all cages, coops and hutches have rough, non-slip surfaces; and required that each pet sharing a meal got an equal portion, with fines of up to €325.

    In Rome, a 2004 law bans spherical fishbowls. Karin Robertson of the Fish Empathy Project lauded the city for recognizing that “fish are interesting individuals who deserve our respect.” The Roman statute also bans the docking of pet’s tails and provides legal protection for those who feed stray cats.

    The City of Turin now has a law fining pet owners up to €500 if they don’t walk their dogs at least three times a day. A 20-page rulebook also prohibits dying a pet’s fur and bans fairgrounds from giving away goldfish in plastic bags, but allows walking a dog while riding a bicycle as long as the pace is slow enough not to tire the dog.

  • Keep Off the Grass

    Article 120 of the Swiss Federal Constitution, adopted by popular vote in 1999, requires Wurde der Kratur, “account to be taken of the dignity of living beings.” When the Swiss couldn’t figure out what relevance that phrase had to plants, if any, they turned to the Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH), a Parliament-appointed panel of philosophers, lawyers, scientists and theologians. They published “The Dignity of Living Beings With Regard to Plants,” subtitled “Moral Consideration of Plants for Their Own Sake.”

    All panel members agreed that plants should not be harmed for no reason, and most found that plants have an inherent worth by themselves, while a few claimed that plants “strive after something” and were not to be interfered with.

    The absence of a central nervous system was found not to rule out the possibility that plants have feelings, since plants have a hormonal system, react to stimuli and can choose between various ways of “behaving.” A majority could not rule out the possibility of plant “awareness,” while a minority found it likely. The panel did conclude that human beings should be allowed to use plants for their own reasonable purposes, at least for now.

    Ecuador is thinking bigger. In 2008, its voters approved a new constitution that made it the first country in the world to grant legal rights to an object, Nature itself, which was decreed to have the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate (Title II, Fundamental Rights, Chapter 1, Rights for Nature, Article 1).

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    Weasel World

    Mustela putorius furo, the common ferret, is welcomed in some jurisdictions, barred in others and barely tolerated in many.

    The wily weasel is banned in California pursuant to

  • Big Ticket Item

    In egalitarian Finland, the amount you pay on a speeding ticket is determined by how fast you’re going and how much you make.

    In 2002, Anjssi Vanjoki, director of Finnish telecommunication giant Nokia, was caught driving 47 mph (75km) in a 31 mph (50km) zone. Based on an estimated yearly income of roughly €12 million ($14 million), he was ordered to pay a fine of €116,000 ($103,600), believed to be the largest speeding ticket ever.

    After a recalculation of his income based on Nokia’s plunging share price, Vanjoki’s fine was ultimately slashed to roughly $5,000.

  • Spot On

    Spotters spend their spare time ogling buses, trains and planes. Mostly a British pastime, a leading bus-spotting website endeavors to explain the hobby’s mysterious attraction — aside from just memorizing bus schedules, spotting also involves collecting bus memorabilia, collating routes and obtaining relevant bus literature. Highly recommended is Buses On Screen, a website celebrating breakout roles for busses in film, with Sandra Bullock’s “Speed” considered a cinematic high-water mark.

    For years spotting was considered an eccentric but harmless pastime, no more threatening than stamp collecting. But recently the British government has declared spotters to be nuisances, criminals or worse, and the hobbyists now find themselves the objects being watched, photographed and identified.

    Rob McCaffrey of Gloucestershire, married and respectably employed, compiled a collection of 30,000 bus and tram photographs. In 2008, he was pinched by Pontypridd police pursuant to England’s Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2000 (

  • Basta, Basta

    During Italy’s 2008 “security emergency,” mayors were given unprecedented law and order powers.

    In the resort town of Eraclea, Mayor Teso has banned the building of sand castles on the beach. Using a lawnmower on the weekends is illegal in luxe Forte dei Marmi on the Tuscan coast, since it may disturb someone taking a nap, and in Alto Ridge and Gran Paradiso a person hunting mushrooms or picking berries will be fined €113. Mobs of three or more are prohibited at night in the parks of Novara.

    In Vicenza, Rodrigo Piccoli was fined €50 for lying in the park and reading a book, while in Viareggio a person will be nabbed for putting his or her feet up on a bench.

    Noisy wooden sandals are now forbidden in Capri, as is wandering off beach grounds in a bikini.

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    A 2007 Wisconsin case about “mayhem” reads like a slasher movie but illustrates how difficult laws are interpreted.

    Shannon Quintana was hit on the forehead with a hammer by ex-husband Leonard, who was charged with mayhem. The issue was whether Shannon’s forehead qualified as an “other bodily member.”

    Under Wis. Stat.