Hanky panky during war is now legal

For single and discreet U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, sex in the combat zone is now legal, though distinctly discouraged.

The brass recently eased a general ban on sexual relations for unmarried American troops and any single U.S. civilians working for them in Afghanistan. But commanders are quick to add that doesn’t mean flagrant hanky-panky is in order.

In fact, according to the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which uncovered the change, sex between the singles is still “highly discouraged.” Essentially, the removal of the specific prohibition on sex between men and women not married to each other gives officers the leeway to look the other way.

The order now allows single men and women to visit each other’s living quarters, so long as everyone who lives there has no objection. The opposite-sex visitors must remain in plain sight, “and not behind closed doors, partitions or other isolated or segregated areas,” the order specifies.

U.S. troops in Iraq already operate under this arrangement.

Though they get little credit for it, federal employees on average are more diligent when it comes to paying their taxes than the rest of us.

That said, 3.7 percent of those who work for Uncle Sam owed a collective $1.23 billion as of last October, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service.

Deadbeats can be found in the White House (2.2 percent of the employees of the Executive Office of the President are tax scofflaws), the House (4 percent of the staff), the Senate (3.16 percent) and even at the IRS (.9 percent).

Then there’s the Government Printing Office (7.2 percent), Federal Labor Relations Authority (6.7 percent) and the Smithsonian Institution (5.46 percent).

It’s a dirty universe out there, but also one that’s about twice as luminous as astronomers had thought. Researchers from several nations report the shining result in a new paper due out this month, which will be based on observations of 10,000 galaxies and computer models that filtered out dust clouds to reveal the true brightness of the cosmos.

The earthquake in China caused days of distress at the National Zoo, which has a close relationship with the panda-breeding center at the Wolong National Nature Reserve, located near the epicenter of the quake. Zoo staff finally learned by satellite phone that the 86 pandas at the Wolong reserve — where the Washington zoo’s current panda pair were born — were safe and sound. So, too, were 60 at another research base. Roads were heavily damaged and observation decks collapsed.

The Obesity Action Coalition says it will co-host the first obesity-themed march in Washington. The “Walk from Obesity” on June 17 will feature a half-mile trek from the National Mall to the U.S. Capitol. The group, along with the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Foundation, is inviting “every individual impacted by obesity” to march to call attention to the need for more prevention and treatment programs.

Given the saunalike weather of a typical mid-June day in Washington — and the uphill incline of the route — participants will likely lose a couple of pounds of water weight for their efforts.

(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)shns.com. Scripps Howard News Service correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.)

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