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Tuesday September 30th 2014

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News of the Weird 4/3/14

by Chuck Shepherd

Job Security in the Paperwork Mine “The trucks full of paperwork come every day,” wrote The Washington Post in March, down a country road in Boyers, Pa., north of Pittsburgh, and descend “into the earth” to deliver federal retiree applications to the eight “supermarket”-sized caverns 230 feet below ground where Office of Personnel Management bureaucrats process them—manually—and store them in 28,000 metal filing cabinets. Applications thus take 61 days on average to process (compared to Texas’ automated system, which takes two). One step requires a record’s index to be digitized—but a later step requires that the digital portion be printed out for further manila-foldered file work. OPM blames contractors’ technology failures and bizarrely complicated retirement laws, but no relief is in sight except the hiring of more workers (and fortunately, cave-bound paper-shuffling is a well-regarded job around Boyers).

The Continuing Crisis In February, officials in Sudan seized at least 70 female sheep that had male sexual organs sewn on—the result of livestock smugglers trying to circumvent export restrictions. (Ewes are valued more highly, and their sale is limited.) Authorities had been treating the inspections as routine until they spotted one “ram” urinating from the female posture.

• Karma: Michael Schell, 24, and Jessica Briggs, 31, were arrested on several charges in Minot, N.D., in February when police were called to a convenience store because Schell and Briggs had commandeered a restroom and were having noisy sex. The store is part of the Iowa-based chain of 400 serving the Midwest that go by the name Kum & Go.

Democracy Blues U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews announced his retirement in February, after 23 years of representing his New Jersey district, and in “tribute,” The Washington Post suggested he might be the least successful lawmaker of the past two decades, in that he had sponsored a total of 646 pieces of legislation—more than any of his contemporaries—but that not a single one became law. In fact, Andrews has not accomplished even the easiest of all bill-sponsoring—to name a post office or a courthouse.

• November election returns for the city council of Flint, Mich., revealed that voters chose two convicted felons (Wantwaz Davis and Eric Mays) and two other candidates who had been through federal bankruptcy. Davis never publicized his 1991 second-degree murder plea, but said he talked about it while campaigning. (The Flint Journal acknowledged that it had poorly vetted Davis’ record.)

Inexplicable The Internal Revenue Service reportedly hit the estate of Michael Jackson recently with a federal income tax bill of $702 million because of undervaluing properties that it owned—including a valuation on the Jackson-owned catalog of Beatles songs at “zero.” The estate reckoned that Mr. Jackson was worth a total of $7 million upon his death in 2009, but
IRS placed the number at $1.125 billion. (In 2012 alone, according to Forbes magazine, Mr. Jackson earned more than any other celebrity, living or dead, at about $160 million.)

• The North Somerset office of Britain’s National Health Service issued a formal apology in January to Leanda Preston, 31, who had accused it of “racism” because of the pass phrase she received to access the system for an appointment to manage her fibromyalgia. Preston, who is black, had received the random, computer-generated pass phrase “charcoal shade,” which she complained was “offensive,” demonstrating that NHS therefore lacked “decency” and “common sense.”