Baby, You're Much Too Fast
Anyone who has watched a James Dean movie or listened to a Prince song knows that young love and automobiles go together like rubber on road. But a report to Saudi Arabia's legislative assembly in 2011 took things a bit far by arguing that allowing women to drive would constitute the "end of virginity."
The "scientific" report by scholar Kamal Subhi made the case that allowing female drivers would immediately "provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, and divorce." Eventually, he warned, there would be a serious shortage of virgins in the kingdom. Subhi claimed that other Islamic countries where women have been allowed to drive have witnessed a major surge in immorality. (In other words, every other Islamic country.)
The report doesn't make a lot of sense, but unlike some other anti-driving arguments offered up in Saudi Arabia -- such as "driving is a hassle" for women who would prefer to hire chauffeurs anyway -- it at least reveals what the country's religious authorities truly fear.
Can Russia Build a Baby Boom?
In President Vladimir Putin's view, the greatest threat facing Russia today isn't nuclear confrontation, NATO encroachment, or a potential energy bubble. Russia's most urgent problem, he said in a 2006 state-of-the-nation address, is a demographic crisis. Put simply, Russia is running out of Russians.
Due to low birth rates, high rates of abortion, and short male life spans, Russia's population has fallen from around 149 million just after the Soviet Union's breakup to 138 million today. The U.N. Population Division projects that by 2025, it could be as low as 127 million.
In an effort to reverse this decline, the Russian government has put forth a number of schemes, including offering cash rewards of more than $9,000 to women who have a second child. Putin pledged during his recent campaign to spend $53 billion on efforts to boost fertility.
In that spirit, the province of Ulyanovsk even launched an annual "Give Birth to a Patriot on Russia Day" contest, offering prizes such as refrigerators, TVs, washing machines, and cars to women who give birth on Russia's national holiday. The governor set aside Sept. 12 -- nine months earlier -- as a special "family communication" holiday and encouraged businesses to give employees the day off. On Russia Day in 2008, maternity wards were overwhelmed with mothers laboring for the prizes.
Rise of the 'Herbivores'
In recent years, both the Japanese and foreign media have been in a tizzy over Japan's "herbivores" -- young men less interested in sex, career status, and material wealth than their predecessors. Pop-culture columnist Maki Fukasawa coined the term in 2006 to describe a trend of young men dressing like Western metrosexuals and eschewing traditional masculine pursuits in favor of quaint hobbies -- a cause of some fascination in the land where the hard-drinking salary man is a well-established cultural archetype. According to a 2009 poll, almost half of Japanese men between ages 20 and 34 identified as herbivores.
Fukasawa thinks the rise of herbivores will benefit Japanese society, and, indeed, the herbivore lifestyle seems to have largely emerged out of positive developments: the entry of more women into the workforce, changing gender attitudes, and less tolerance for alcoholism.
The problem is, a generation of young men who aren't interested in acquiring material possessions or pursuing sexual relationships isn't exactly a welcome development for a country with a slumping economy and one of the world's lowest birth rates. Japan's population is projected to fall from 127 million to 95 million by 2050. With one of the world's highest elderly populations, that's a demographic time bomb -- hence all the panicked headlines about sensitive young men in skinny jeans.