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Sign of the times



Officials at Nevada's Yucca Mountain repository for high-level nuclear waste are struggling with a Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirement that the site post signs warning intruders of its dangers, lasting as far into the future as the year 12,000 A.D., even though no one knows whether any language now spoken on Earth will be spoken then. (The oldest known writing, Sanskrit, is about 7,000 years old.) According to a February Wall Street Journal report, among the suggestions to discourage trespassers were: drawings of someone vomiting while drilling at the site; and simply making Yucca Mountain also a global feces dump.

Attractive discount

The attorney general of the Australian state of Victoria told reporters in February that the government would soon propose legislation to abolish the common-law practice of varying the death benefits for widows according to how pretty they are. Technically, the doctrine allows a discount on a widow's compensation if she has strong prospects of remarrying, and judges thus unavoidably take note of her attributes in deciding how much money she needs. (The widow most recently judged a looker lost about $62,000 until an appeals court intervened.)

Don't say cheese

James C. Schaefer recently self-published an autobiography chronicling what he believes was his textbook case of "Wisconsinaphobia:" heightened anxiety attacks and debilitating back pains at any mention of the state or anything associated with it.

After relocating from Milwaukee to California, he has become unnerved by people speaking with Wisconsin's nasal accents, mentions of Wisconsin companies (Harley-Davidson) and Wisconsin-made products, Green Bay Packers' scores, and even public utilities (since he had been a systems analyst for the largest utility in Wisconsin). Schaefer, 64, said he is now "90 percent" cured, after intensive therapy.

Jaw breaker

Gary Lee McMurray, 30, was arrested in February for grand larceny in Jonesville, Tenn. Police said McMurray telephoned Debra Letourneau of Long Hollow while she was at the home of another man, told her he had her upper plate of false teeth, and told her that if she did not pay him a ransom (amount not reported), he would stomp on them.

Don't quit your day job

Aaron Bell, 19, was convicted in December of robbing a Kentucky Fried Chicken store in Philadelphia 12 months earlier. It was the same KFC where Bell had worked for the previous two years; he wore no mask or disguise, and all the employees recognized him. He might have learned in those two years that the store's safe is time-locked at 9 p.m., but he started the robbery at 9:15 and thus got no money. Nonetheless, Bell successfully hid from police for three days. On the third day, he decided to report for work at the KFC, acting as if nothing had happened. The manager called police.

Snowman's no man

Police called on a woman in Kent, Ohio, in February, asking her to make adjustments to a female snowman in her yard whose breasts had been made, according to a complainant, "inappropriate`ly`" large. The woman, Crystal Lynn, at first acceded to the officer's request and draped the snowman in a tablecloth, but after giving more thought about the mentality of a person who would, in the year 2003, call the police about protrusions of ice, she removed the tablecloth, and the officer dropped the matter.

What's in a name?

The assistant pastor of St. Paul's University Catholic Center in Madison, Wis., who was placed on administrative leave in January after being accused of sexual improprieties is coincidentally named Father Bob DeCock.

Following the letter of the law

A February report by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation concluded that Enron Corp.'s tax-avoidance schemes in the 1990s (including 692 partnerships in the Cayman Islands) were, according to a New York Times reporter, "financial maneuvers so complex that the Internal Revenue Service has been unable to understand them."

Even so, the IRS staff consistently failed to challenge Enron's maneuvers, passively accepting sophisticated opinion letters from Enron's law firms approving the arrangements (letters purchased by Enron at a typical price of $1 million each).

Physical graffiti

Ms. Selimy Mensah, 39, was hospitalized in Leonia, N.J., in February with second- and third-degree burns. According to police, Mensah started a fire in her second-floor apartment when she, for some reason, tried to open a canister of spray paint with an electric can opener.

Right to no

In November, the Pentagon rejected a Freedom of Information Act request by a reporter to see an internal training video, claiming that the law allowed it to be withheld. The video is the 22-minute "Freedom of Information Act / The People's Right to Know," which is utilized to teach Pentagon employees how to carry out the maximum-disclosure purpose of the act.

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