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Lead Story

In June the most sophisticated air-defense radar mechanism ever deployed, the $1.4 billion OTH-B, located in Maine, switched from 24-hour operation to a 40-hour workweek because of budget cuts. Its 29 computers account for all known objects in the sky, and when an unaccounted-for blip appears they alert military bases.

Government in Action

The Canadian government revealed in January that it was abandoning plans to make bicycle helmet manufacturers meet safety standards. A consumer official said standards are no longer a priority because so few cyclists bother to wear helmets.

The city of Portland, Oregon, announced in February that the highest-paid municipal worker last year was a 911 operator who made $64,869 in overtime on top of a $30,000 salary. The mayor makes $72,592.

Arizona state representative Bobby Raymond, videotaped in a sting operation, pleaded guilty to five felony counts in February. Among his words on the tape: “My favorite line is ‘What’s in it for me?'” “I feel better now [after having just been handed $1,000]. We’ve all committed felonies,” and “I’ll do anything for [the briber] short of sticking ice picks up people’s noses or things like that.”

The Village Voice reported in February that a New York City tax abatement on a Times Square project would last 100 years and cost the city more than $4 billion. (Typical city tax breaks run for ten years and cost no more than $10 million.)

The 1990 U.S. Census recorded 771 people living on the Onondaga Indian reservation south of Syracuse, New York, 759 of them white, two Native American, and ten of other racial backgrounds. The chief of the Iroquois confederacy on the reservation said no whites live there. A census official said, “There appears to be some inconsistency here.”

A 14-year-old schoolgirl was hit by a car in December in Stoughton, Massachusetts, and suffered a broken ankle. Crossing guard Joanne Petrucci was on duty but didn’t help the girl cross the street because, she said, the girl was a seventh-grader and Petrucci’s job description calls for her to watch over only elementary school students.

The Louisiana legislature recently rewrote its antinarcotics law but somehow failed to include a criminal penalty for portions of it, including the part governing the possession of cocaine. Hundreds of potential convictions were in jeopardy.

In October the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service revised a regulation to allow the importing of honeybee semen from New Zealand for any reason, not just for research.

An Ottawa child welfare organization mailed instruction kits (funded by a $100 million federal grant and including elaborately worded glossy pamphlets) to about 7,000 day-care workers in March, telling them how to teach kids to wash their hands. Each kit cost the government about $30.

Things You Thought Didn’t Happen

In October Salt Lake City police spotted a 28-year-old man loitering and asked him for identification. The man absentmindedly offered as ID a demand note that had been used in two recent robberies, whereupon he was arrested.

In February Darrel Teel, a homeless man in Orlando, Florida, found $29,200 in several envelopes and, he said later, began having thoughts of buying a new suit and other things. Then he decided it would be wrong to keep the money. He turned it in to the local sheriff, who returned it to the elderly woman who had lost it. It was her life’s savings.

A Farmington, Minnesota, convenience-store clerk was robbed at sword point in March. The police chief said the robber walked into the store, pointed his sword at the clerk’s chest, and demanded money. The clerk said, “You gotta be kidding.” The robber said, “No.”

Matthew P. Dukes, 26, sentenced to 30 days in jail in 1989 following his sixth drunk-driving conviction, tried several times during the subsequent 15 months (through December 1990) to get into the jail in Ravenna, Ohio, to serve his sentence, but each time he was turned away because the jail was full. In December Dukes filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming his constitutional rights were being violated by the jail’s refusal to admit him.

Army sergeant Perry Mitchell was given a bad-conduct discharge and sent to jail in April after he refused orders to go to the Persian Gulf with his unit in Germany because the military was unwilling to use nuclear weapons. He said he had a “conscientious objection” to serving in a ground war in the nuclear age. “One nuclear blast would send Saddam the message that he obviously hasn’t gotten,” said Mitchell, who volunteered to launch the first one.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.