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How To Get Out of Jury Duty

The Easy Way: Be Famous
Hey, we didn't say anything about this being the easily accessible way. But, if you are blessed with the sort of fame that leads media types to follow your every move, then chances are, you won't ever get chosen for jury duty. Why? Frankly, your presence would be distracting in the courtroom. In 2003, for instance, Bill Clinton was called in as Prospective Juror No. 142 on a New York City murder trial, but was eliminated only a couple of days into the jury selection process. The judge on the trial felt that President Clinton (and the Secret Service agents who follow him at all times) would sensationalize the atmosphere in the courtroom.

The Illegal Way: Lie
Whether you say you're "prejudiced against all the races," as per Homer Simpson, or simply claim that your Grandma died, lying is a time-honored way to both get out of jury duty AND get thrown in jail for contempt of court. Just ask Benjamin Ratliffe, an anti-death penalty activist from Columbus, Ohio. In June 2006, Ratliffe was called in for jury selection on a capital murder trial. Unwilling to risk being on a jury that might want to hand down a death sentence, Ratliffe decided to take matters into his own hands. When he was given a form to fill out, he intentionally flubbed a couple key questions. At one point in the questionnaire, Ratliffe claimed he was "bad jonesin' for heroin." When asked if he'd ever fired a weapon, he responded, "Yes. I killed someone with it, of course." The result was a sort of be-careful-what-you-wish-for moral lesson. Ratliffe did get out of jury duty, but he also spent 24 hours in jail for obstruction of justice before he finally agreed to apologize to the judge.

The Smart Way: Know a Bit of Legal Trivia

Next time you're in the jury selection process and really want out, just inform the court that you know all about jury nullification"¦and you aren't afraid to use it. A little-known facet of common law dating back to Elizabethan England, jury nullification happens when a jury hands down a "not guilty" verdict—but not because they think the defendant is innocent. Instead, they're making a statement about the validity of the law itself. The first jury nullification happened in 1670, when William Penn (of Pennsylvania fame) and William Mead (of no fame) were charged with unlawful assembly—a crime basically created to prevent unsanctioned religious groups from getting together to worship. Clearly, both men were guilty, but the jury refused to convict them on the grounds that the law was unjust. The practice continued in America. Throughout the mid-1800s, northern juries would frequently nullify prosecutions against people who violated the Fugitive Slave Laws. And, during Prohibition, juries around the country nullified numerous alcohol control violations. Prior to the 20th century, nullification was accepted as common practice, but around the late 1800s, judges started taking a harsher view of it. In 1895, the Supreme Court even handed down a ruling saying that judges don't have to inform juries of their right to nullify. Today, most judges take advantage of this. Many will even tell you that you legally can't nullify a law. There's some debate over whether that's true or not. (At any rate, jurors can't be punished for the verdict they return and not-guilty defendants can't be retried—so we figure, what the heck.) Either way, most judges don't want to deal with a juror who might pull the nullification card, so if you bring it up, you'll likely be eliminated from the jury pool.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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iStock

Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Space
More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in own solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last week, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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