It's apparently illegal in Wisconsin to fix your own septic tank. Melvin Vest had the audacity to rent a back hoe, clean a clogged pipe, put in new gravel, and fill the hole. Dane County officials are suing this notorious scofflaw for $32,000 plus $200 a day for each day he uses his bathroom until the septic system is repaired by a licensed plumber. Of course, Vest's house isn't even worth $32,000, and he expects the county to own it soon because he's not giving in. "Why should I pay a plumber to dig the thing up and do the same thing I did?" he asks. Tell it to the state's licensed plumbers, Mr. Vest.

This bulletin just in from Saint Bonaventure University in New York. Researchers found that when a man and a woman are seated next to each other on an airliner, the man is more likely to use the armrest, and that younger men are more likely than older ones to get angry when the arm of the woman gets there first. Gratefully, this was a private study. But it's obvious that the researchers have a bright future in government work.

In these days of ever-rising prices, at least the air is free, right? Not in Rhode Island. The state tax department says air is taxable at the six-percent rate applied to all other "tangible properties that can be measured, felt and weighed." The state told Henry and Judith Russo, the owners of a small company that fills air tanks for scuba divers and fire departments, that they owe $2,300 in back taxes for the "sale" of air. Of course, the Russos don't buy air at wholesale to sell at retail. The air is simply taken from the atmosphere and mechanically compressed into tanks. If the tax department ruling is upheld, what next? A tax on air-conditioned air? The nation's littlest state has some of the world's biggest airheads running the asylum.

Key West, Florida, officials fenced themselves in when they tried to ban nude sunbathing. A new ordinance bans sunbathing in the nude except on private property where warning signs and a six-foot-high fence will be required. The catch is that another zoning ordinance already on the books bans fences over four feet high. The naked truth is that establishing yet another victimless crime is harder than it used to be.

New Hampshire lawmakers had better be more careful about the way they phrase new laws. A judge there dismissed charges against a suspected child rapist because he turned himself in. The judge cited the law, which states that immunity is granted to persons who report child abuse. Since the defendant reported the crime in the first place, he's off the hook. But some folks in New Hampshire would like to abuse the judge for his lack of brain power in determining the obvious intent of the law.

Leave it to those innovative Bolsheviks to devise a foolproof method of identifying dissidents, parasites, and other ne'er-do-wells. Denunciation by mail is just what the commissar ordered to keep the proletariat in line. The Soviet Union now encourages citizens to inform on their neighbors by sending in anonymous postcards to the local police station. The preprinted cards have boxes for all of the usual offenses against state and humanity, such as alcoholism, malingering, and failure to pay alimony. But maybe there's hope for dissidents and other counterrevolutionaries: If the Soviet mails are run anything like the US Postal Service, all "criminals" will have plenty of time to emigrate before the poisoned-pen letter arrives.

You can sit down for your rights in Pennsylvania. A defendant who said, "I only stand up for what is right" and twice refused to rise when the judge entered the courtroom has been cleared of contempt charges. The state Supreme Court ruled 5 to 2 that the law requiring all persons to rise is deemed broken only when the failure to rise creates a disruption of the legal proceedings in progress. In this case, the court held that the only disruption was to the ego of the presiding judge.

Porter Leighton quit his $60,000-a-year job as the acting New England director of the General Services Administration, because he refused to approve the construction of a $70 million federal office building in Boston. There was simply no need for the building, and that bothered Leighton's conscience. Existing space in three other federal buildings in and around Boston was more than adequate for the number of federal workers there, and a new federal office building in nearby Fitchburg is only half full, he found. The building is going up anyhow, with or without Leighton. This edifice to governmental waste is to be named after House Speaker Tip O'Neill.