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Free and open nuisance: Derek Leroy McSmith of Forest City, Ga., has filed 10,618 formal open-records requests to local governments in the last eight months, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report. Most were, he said, to satisfy his curiosity about how government works. But one day, he asked for 490 magazines and on another day, he checked out 100 books (and soon walked outside and dropped them into the return bin, according to the librarian). Each request must be logged in and processed, and a Forest City clerk spends almost full time on McSmith's "curiosity." Several officials said that after they locate his documents, he only glances at them (or, if there is a cost involved, declines the documents). A local First Amendment advocate said the situation was merely "one of the downsides of a free and open society."

News that sounds like a joke: In November, police in Brooklyn, N.Y., set a trap and arrested a 44-year-old man and his 22-year-old associate on charges of kidnapping a teenager and then seeking a $20,000 ransom from the teen's mother. The sting was set up after the men released their victim -- who went straight home -- but continued to demand the ransom.

According to a December Miami Herald story, the condition of museum-goers who grow faint or have anxiety attacks while viewing art (or viewing too much in a short time) has a name: Stendhal's syndrome. Although rare, the illness has been studied for almost 200 years.

Fetishes on parade: Steve Danos, 24, was arrested as the man who allegedly had been sneaking into young women's apartments to watch them sleep and snuggle with them (and, sometimes, to fold their laundry) (Baton Rouge, La., October). And Stephen P. Linnen, 33, an assistant to Republican legislators in the Ohio House, was indicted on 56 counts stemming from an 18-month spree in which a naked man jumps out from hiding and photographs startled women's reactions (Columbus, Ohio, November). And Japanese men's fetish for schoolgirls' used underwear is such a problem, concluded a civic panel, that shops catering to them are multiplying, thus enticing more girls to become suppliers (Tokyo, October).

Compelling explanations: In a deposition released in November that was part of his divorce proceedings, Neil Bush, the president's brother, admitted that he had had sex with several women while on business trips in Asia, but that he did not seek them out, insisting that they simply came to his door. His ex-wife's lawyer said, "Mr. Bush, you have to admit it's a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her." Responded Bush, "It was very unusual."

Rafiq Abdul Mortland, 38, was sentenced to eight to 10 years in prison as the man who habitually asked store clerks whom he robbed to also hand over some Rolaids. When asked by police why he did that, Mortland said it was to relieve the stress he got from committing robberies. (Hennepin County, Minn., October)

The parents of a teenage girl, who had inhaled nitrous oxide from "whippet" propulsion cartridges just before a car crash that left her with permanent brain damage, filed a lawsuit against the store that sold their daughter the canisters. However, a store manager said that even though his video store sells the whippets from an "adult" room, he believes his customers are not inhalant-abusers but just people who want to make their own whipped cream. (Boca Raton, Fla., December)

Undignified deaths: A 20-year-old woman died in a crash in Bridgewater, Mass., in November. According to police, she lost control of her car while talking on a cell phone and hit the Cingular Wireless store on Route 106. A 16-year-old student in Indianapolis was killed in November on his morning school bus ride when he stuck his head out of a window to see a dead raccoon in the road and was clipped by a tree.

2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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