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Newsquirks | Shortcut to Trouble 

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Curses, Foiled Again
Convicted tax evaders Ed and Elaine Brown bolted from their federal trial in Concord. N.H., and holed up in their fortress-like home for nearly 10 months, threatening a violent end to any attempt to remove them. “We either walk out of here free or we die,” vowed Ed Brown, 65. Despite this hard-line stance, the couple welcomed a steady stream of supporters, mostly militiamen and members of other anti-government groups, who flocked to the 100-acre property to bring supplies to prolong the standoff. It ended peacefully in October when U.S. marshals pretended to be supporters, walked through the gate and arrested the couple. “They invited us in, and we escorted them out,” U.S. Marshall Stephen Monier said. “This open-door policy they seemed to have proved to be their undoing.”

Shortcut to Trouble
As many as 10 impatient rush-hour drivers ignored barriers and drove onto freshly poured concrete on a busy street during rush hour in Mequon, Wis. “Once someone goes around the barricade and busts through the tape, others follow,” Sgt. Tony Restivo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Most drivers realized their mistake and managed to steer back onto the pavement, but a 2004 Lexus and a 2004 Mercury Marquis plowed forward until they got stuck and had to be towed.

Seat of Government
Washington, D.C., fire inspectors “recorded significant deficiencies” in 31 of 33 fire stations, including a number of defective and inoperable smoke detectors in workspaces and living quarters. Many areas of several stations didn’t even have detectors. The only two stations where deficiencies weren’t noted were closed for renovations. The Washington Post reported that the discoveries particularly surprised the inspectors since the fire department sponsors a program to distribute detectors to the public.

Heckuva Job
Hoping to replace fish it lost to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’s Audubon Aquarium was directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy the fish from commercial vendors. The cost: $616,849. Instead, the aquarium staff went fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. They caught 1,681 fish the aquarium needed and asked FEMA to reimburse its expenses: $99,766. FEMA denied the request, ruling that catching so many new fish improved the aquarium’s collection, thereby violating federal law that limits federal money to restoring condition to their pre-disaster status. It took the aquarium 17 months to convince FEMA to change its mind and pick up the tab.

• FEMA admitted staging a news conference to publicize its response to California’s wildfires earlier this fall by having FEMA employees pose as reporters while real reporters listened in on a telephone conference line but were barred from asking questions. The Washington Post reported that during the briefing, parts of which were televised live by cable news channels, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr., the agency’s deputy administrator, stood behind a lectern, called on questioners who did not disclose that they worked for FEMA and gave replies emphasizing that his agency’s response to the October fires was far better than its response to Hurricane Katrina. After the sham briefing was exposed, its organizer, then-director of external affairs John “Pat” Philbin, insisted FEMA was “working very hard to establish credibility and integrity, and I would hope this does not undermine it.”

Double Trouble
Two men in Michigan’s Oakland County lost control of their cars at the same time and drove into the same business. Police said the drivers, both going in the same direction, ran from their cars after they crashed into the Carpet Classic Floor Studio, but deputies tracked them down at their nearby homes.

Room Service
Travelodge, which runs more than 300 business hotels in Britain, began training its staff to handle a surge in nude sleepwalking among guests. Noting sleepwalking rose sevenfold in the past year and that 95 percent of the somnambulists are scantily dressed men, Leigh McCarron, the budget chain’s sleep director, stressed, “It is important that our staff know how to help sleepwalking when it arises.” Among the suggestions in the company’s newly released sleepwalkers guide is to keep towels handy at the front desk to preserve the dignity of any naked guest who wanders by.

Backpack Follies
Authorities evacuated an elementary school in Bullhead City, Ariz., after a grenade was discovered in the backpack of a 9-year-old pupil. “It was a real grenade, but it wasn’t dangerous because it had been de-activated,” Public Information Officer Emily Montague said, noting all the explosive material had been emptied out of the grenade, which the boy’s parents had bought at a garage sale. “He just brought it to show his friends.

Annexation Policy
A campaign by the departments of State and Homeland Security to promote U.S. tourism and welcome foreign visitors to America features a Disney-produced promotional video showing Niagara Falls. The falls shown are Horseshoe Falls, the only one of Niagara’s three waterfalls that is almost totally in Canada. “This is 100 percent Canada, shot from the Canadian side,” historian and author Paul Gromosiak said after reviewing the video for the Associated Press. “This is an insult.” State Department official Sean McCormack stressed Niagara Falls “is a shared natural wonder, a gateway for both our countries, and anyone looking at the video will understand how proud American is to share it with Canada.”

Compiled from the nation’s press by Roland Sweet. Submit items, citing date and source, to P.O. Box 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.
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