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Baums away



Police in Pittsburgh said that a 31-year-old man who was too lazy to lug his Christmas tree down to the street instead tossed it out his sixth-floor window on Christmas Day. The tree hit a power line on the way down, knocking out electricity for about 400 customers and briefly deadening the community's 911 line until a backup generator kicked on.

Relying on popsicle psychology

Munich, Germany, physiotherapist Franziska Weber told reporters in December that her therapeutic walk-in freezer, which was originally designed to relieve chronic pain, is now used more frequently by clients who merely want to ameliorate stress. The freezer operates at a temperature of minus 230 degrees Fahrenheit; spending one to three minutes inside (at a cost of about $11) gives patients a huge energy burst, Weber reports, and is especially popular among business executives who wish to condition themselves for important meetings.

Riddle of the sphincter

Psychologist N.G. Berrill's November report to a New York City court quoted former police officer Justin Volpe on his brutalization of Abner Louima's rectum with a plunger in a notorious 1997 assault. Claiming incredulity that Louima wouldn't apologize for cussing him out, Volpe added, "The next thing I know, the stick was in `Louima's rectum`." Volpe testified: "I was terrified. When the stick seemed to pop in, I said to myself, ‘I cannot believe this.'"

Up from the ashes

The president of Oklahoma City's Fraternal Order of Police told reporters in November that six recent incidents of on-duty sexual misbehavior by officers were attributable to the "stress" that resulted from the anguish they suffered while working in the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building.

Hard drives

Hard drives

Born-again Christian David Strein, 44, announced in November that he would appeal his 1998 dismissal from a New Mexico state government job for misusing his computer, arguing that he was actually powerless to stay away from Internet pornography. Strein contended that after he first discovered online porn, "Satan told me to check it out some more." Also, Strein said, a visit to a porn site left him trapped in a virtually endless loop of sexually themed URLs that had taken over his computer. An administrative law judge ruled that Strein had visited too many sites and given out his credit-card number too many times to have been blameless.

Raising a stink

In August, an industrial tribunal in England upheld the firing of reporter Ian White, 36, who had been warned several times over the years about his bad hygiene, which he blamed on depression related to his marriage. It was Britain's first such official decision after a spate of rulings that seemed to suggest workmates had to tolerate diverse body odors.

Taking leave of his senses

An arbitration panel ruled in July that Toronto Transit Commission janitor Winston Ruhle had been improperly terminated and deserved about $115,000 (U.S.) in damages; Ruhle was fired in 1995 for padding his recuperation time after surgery, improperly missing 203 days during a 244-day period. And an employment tribunal stated in September that it was unfair of his employer to have fired English chauffeur John Forbes, 55, simply because he had twice dressed in women's clothing while on the job and flashed his underwear to passing motorists.

A game of limbo

A September article in The Wall Street Journal said that disfavored employee Toshiyuki Sakai had been sent to a purgatory-like room within Tokyo's Sega Enterprises building for the four months between his first negative evaluation and his ultimate firing. Sakai was assigned to an otherwise empty chamber that was equipped with a desk, a chair and a telephone that only took incoming calls. He was expected to remain there every day, with no assignments to complete but no personal diversions. Observers cited by the Journal called Sega's room a compromise between the U.S. preference for ruthless termination and the Japanese commitment to sticking with workers longer.

She put the finger on her boss

The lawyer for a former Fort Lauderdale, Fla., phone-sex worker told reporters in November that he had won a workers' compensation settlement for his client, who claimed she had contracted carpal tunnel syndrome by masturbating on the job as often as seven times a day. Steven Slootsky said his client accepted the settlement to avoid the embarrassment of testifying, even though the money is not enough to reimburse her for the surgery she required on both hands.

Three heists and you're out

In December, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered the deportation of Maria Wigent -- who has lived in New York City for 32 of her 37 years -- after a third shoplifting conviction involving about $25 worth of items. The order breaks up the home Wigent shares with her husband and two teen-age sons. And a December New York Times story recounted the plight of a Guatemalan-American woman who is this month facing deportation from Virginia for the single act of biting her husband ("domestic violence") during a fight.

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