Despite budget cutbacks and fewer agents, the IRS can't afford to let people think they're getting soft. So agents held nearly 20 children as hostages at an Allen Park, Michigan, day-care center until their parents signed a form pledging to pay the government what they owed the private center. The center had fallen more than $14,000 behind in taxes. The IRS decided the only remaining levy source would be the parents' debt to the center. Frightened for the safety of their children—several of whom were visibly disturbed and crying—all of the parents signed the IRS "notice of levy." IRS spokesman Walter Dunnigan says no one was held hostage and it was just a "routine seizure." The parents disagreed. "It was like something out of a police state," said Sue Stoia, the mother of a seven-year-old detainee. "They indicated you could not take your child out of the building until you signed their form. They were using the children as collateral."

The new elevated railroad in Miami cost only one billion dollars. Ridership is only 10,000 a day. It would have been cheaper to give each passenger $100,000. Meanwhile, back at the US Department of Transportation, the printing presses are rolling so that posters commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration can be displayed throughout the country. This comes at a time when UMTA's budget has been slashed to eliminate most transit grants. The ever-frugal New York City subway system has ordered 13,000 of the posters. Perhaps graffiti artists were running out of clean surfaces.

From the Why There's a Trillion-Dollar National Debt Department: The government buys more than half the honey produced in the United States, at a cost of $90 million. In 1984, wool producers got cash subsidies of $117 million. The wool they produced was worth $62 million. The Appalachian Regional Commission costs $420 million a year. Among the projects it funds are ski resorts, ice rinks, swimming pools, and wave machines for the pools.

Salad forks on the left—or else! It may soon be illegal to kill a servant in Mississippi. State legislators voted 114 to 0 to strike down a law that excuses the killing of another human being "when committed by accident or misfortune in lawfully correcting a servant" or a child. Don't applaud yet. It took the legislature two years to get the bill out of committee.

Madison Avenue, perhaps feeling guilty about peddling so many convenience products, is worried that not enough eligible Americans are applying for food stamps. So New York ad man Harvey Kipnis has prepared a series of public service ads to "reposition" food stamps in the marketplace. "Food stamps have a stigma because they have been positioned as welfare in the consumer's mind," he says. "We have to change the image by positioning them like Social Security, as something people are entitled to receive without feeling like criminals."

Be kind to rattlesnakes. That's the motto of the Pennsylvania fish commission, which banned the 200-year-old pastime of "snake-sacking." The sport features teams of contestants chasing rattlers around a small enclosure, scooping them up bare-handed, and stuffing them into a gunny sack. The events are generally staged to raise funds for volunteer fire and ambulance squads. But Clark Shiffer, the fish commission's endangered-species coordinator, says roughhousing could dislocate the vipers' vertebrae or tear their muscles. And he hints that the state might be overrun with rodents if rattlesnakes become scarce. Donald Clemmer, a volunteer fireman and champion snake-sacker, says of the fish commission: "These same people don't want you to fish because it hurts the fish's mouth."

Who says that government punishes initiative? A New York State regulation that imposes a $50 fine for motorists who don't wear seat belts has opened up a new market. A Woodmere, New York, company is manufacturing a "Pseudo Shoulder Strap," a 40-inch nylon seat belt with a "quickie" Velcro attachment. The "strictly for show—not for safety" device is guaranteed to fool cops and toll collectors into thinking you're really buckled in.