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State of anxiety:

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.

Ugly incentives:

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 remarriage, 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 U.S. $62,000 until an appeals court intervened.)

Bosom buddy:

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.

Rain of terror:

Mikhail Kalashnikov, 83, inventor of terrorists' favorite assault rifle, expressed remorse for his invention recently, said he wanted to rehabilitate his name, and signed on with a German company to manufacture Kalashnikov umbrellas.

Patients' virtue is costly:

The Tacoma News Tribune reported in January that Washington state's halfway house for former sex offenders who are kept on for treatment after their prison terms expire is costing taypayers about $340,000 per "patient" per year (vs. about $25,000 per year to house a prison inmate). So fearful is the state that the three men now housed there will harm the 11 schoolchildren in a nearby elementary school that it has assigned three counselors, a director and a state trooper to watch the men around the clock. Gov. Gary Locke has targeted the program for a cutback, but legislators resist because of their fear of the three men.

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.) Among the suggestions (according to a February Wall Street Journal report): drawings of someone vomiting while drilling at the site; and simply making Yucca Mountain also a global feces dump, to discourage trespassers.

Tax tips:

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).

People different from us:

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.

Also, in the last month ... :

A 48-year-old man was one of the big losers in the U.S. Supreme Court's recent approval of three-strikes laws and now faces life in prison for an office break-in; his previous convictions (many, many more than the required two) were for robbing women at gunpoint of the panties they were wearing (Orange County, Calif.). China's Yunnan province rolled out a fleet of 18 "mobile execution vehicles" to travel the countryside so that capital punishment (lethal drugs) could be imposed immediately upon a guilty verdict.


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