*Since 1996 accused murderer and paranoid schizophrenic Eric Brown has been rendered incompetent to stand trial, but officials at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts said recently that he had made enough progress while on medication that a trial can be scheduled. In December, however, Brown demanded to be taken off medication so he can return to his psychotic state to demonstrate that he is insane (and thus, not guilty by reason of insanity). His psychiatrist is opposed, citing medical ethics prohibiting his taking Brown off medication.
*A December Newhouse News Service dispatch reported on the new fascination with tattooing among some younger evangelical Christians, who decorate themselves contrary to the teachings of the book of Leviticus, which in the last millennium was cited as the basis of calling tattooing "a form of deviltry." (On the other hand, supporters point out, the books of Exodus and Revelation describe holy symbols on the bodies of believers.) A religious female graduate student in California, interviewed for the article, said that among her tattoos was an angel, on her butt.
Government in Action
*A glitch in the recent earthquake-proof construction of Barnstable (Massachusetts) High School: The building is so solidly soundproof that students could not hear fire alarms, and for the first month of this school year (until the problem was fixed), the school board was forced to hire firefighters on overtime to stand guard in the building to alert everyone in case of fire, at a total cost of about $1,000 per day.
*A December Wall Street Journal report described the problems of auto manufacturers forced to crash-test their cars using mannequins not only of government-dictated sizes and weight, but wearing clothing prescribed in minute detail by regulation. Included are requirements that the dummies wear black-leather shoes of a precise weight and style; that "adults" wear matched sets of cotton shirts and form-fitting shorts; that a "child" must wear "thermal knit, waffle-weave polyester and cotton underwear or the equivalent," with size 7M sneakers with "rubber toe caps, uppers of Dacron and cotton or nylon and a total mass of .453 kg." Only recently did the government drop its requirement that all adult clothes be "tea rose" color and that all shoes be gray suede.
*According to a December New York Times report, residents of unincorporated Brooksville, Alabama, are gathering signatures to petition the state to create an official town based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments, in an attempt to unite church and state, which are constitutionally separate. Sinners would be welcome but expected to observe public behavior codes and might have to attend church services to have their votes counted because many of the town's decisions would be made there. At the other end of the spectrum, in November, El Paso (Texas) County officials got a court order decertifying the town of Buford, calling it a sham set up solely to protect its only "residents": a dozen adult bookstores and strip clubs that have, in the 36 years of the town's existence, been exempt from county regulation.
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-- By Chuck Shepherd