The thesaurus has been getting a workout in Oregon. The Oregon Adult and Family Services Division is looking for another word for "pregnant," one that a reader at the eighth-grade level could understand. The search is just one result of a new law requiring the division's brochures and forms to be written in plain English. Underground Grammarian Richard Mitchell wonders, "If you did unearth an eighth-grader who didn't know the meaning of 'pregnant,' which would you deem the better; coming up with an 'easier' word, or explaining the meaning of the one he doesn't understand?" Plain English strikes again.
Taxpayers who call the Internal Revenue Service's toll-free telephone lines with tax law questions get inaccurate or incomplete answers more than one-third of the time, according to a General Accounting Office survey. As usual, you get what you pay for. However, taxpayers are responsible for filing a correct return even if the IRS gives them incorrect answers. The GAO says the other two-thirds of answers provided by the IRS were accurate. Just evil.
Hoopla abounds in Fairfax County, Virginia, about a zoning regulation banning freestanding basketball hoops. Section 10-105 of the County Zoning Ordinance restricts "accessory structures" in front yards, so zoning officials ordered the Warner family to remove their hoop. Pink flamingos and birdbaths, which are considered statues, are permitted, however. The backboards are allowed only if they're attached to the garage or carport, making them part of the house. But that kind of backboard is less popular because a player going in for a lay-up might run into the garage. A small price to pay for maintaining neighborhood aesthetics.
Third World woes. Hundreds of students at a Bangladesh school attacked teachers and burned a school building while demanding the right to cheat during tests, reports the Reuters news service. Officials say the protests began when students walked out of an exam hall shouting, "We seek the right to copy!" and "Allow friends to help us!" Startled authorities asked the police to halt the demonstration, but the police refused, afraid of sparking protests in other test centers.
An ordinance in Palm Beach, Florida, requiring men to wear shirts while jogging has been found unconstitutional. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals described the law, passed in the name of maintaining property values in the ritzy resort, as "a mere circumlocution for enforcing the town fathers' view of the proper fashion for personal dress." The court said even the "most creative imagination" couldn't accept the argument that the law was necessary "to protect Palm Beach real estate values by preserving the city's traditions of propriety and quality of life."
You have to give James Smithy credit for trying. The former paramedic fooled prosecutors into dropping check forgery charges by faking his own death certificate. The slip of paper stated that the Chicago resident died of a drug and alcohol overdose. Smithy would have been home free except for the U.S. Census Bureau. The snoopers' computers selected his case at random for a study on deaths related to drugs and alcohol. Smithy got tripped up because officials discovered that while his death certificate was filed in July, he'd renewed his driver's license in October. Nice try anyway.
Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson was enraged when he heard a song written as part of a state-sponsored campaign to combat the spread of AIDS. The rap song "The Condom Rag," performed under the auspices of the Illinois Public Health Department, includes these lyrics: "Step one in being safe not stupid, is avoid contact of bodily fluids. Pardon the pun, it's in the bag. All you gotta do is the condom rag. And remember boys, don't be no dunce, only use that condom once. See it's easy and fun and it ain't a drag, groovin' and doin' the condom rag." Says Gov. Thompson: "Is that the kind of song you want to listen to with your child? People will think we have taken leave of our senses."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Brickbats".