* Since 1996, accused murderer Eric Brown has been rendered incompetent, by paranoid schizophrenia, to stand trial, but officials at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts said recently that he had made enough progress while on medication that a trial can be scheduled. However, in December, Brown demanded to be taken off medication so he can return to his prior psychotic state in order to demonstrate that he is insane and thus a better candidate to be found not guilty. His psychiatrist is opposed, citing medical ethics prohibiting him from making Brown's illness worse.
* A December Newhouse News Service dispatch reported on the new fascination with tattooing among some younger evangelical Christians, who decorate themselves contrary to the teachings of the book of Leviticus, which in the last millennium was cited as the basis of calling tattooing "a form of deviltry." (On the other hand, supporters point out, the books of Exodus and Revelation describe holy symbols on the bodies of believers.) A religious female graduate student in California, interviewed for the article, said that among her tattoos was an angel, on her butt.
* In 1997, four years after being convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl, inmate Graylon Bell won $200,000 from a jury against the Indiana Department of Correction for being raped by his cellmate at a Plainfield, Ind., youth facility. In December 1998, Bell and the girl's family reached a settlement in her lawsuit to get part of the money. (Only $31,500 remained, after lawyers' fees, of which she will receive $26,500.)
* Tampa, Fla., nursing-home resident John Yerger, 93, after realizing he had been duped into paying a $5,000 fee to collect his alleged $1 million winnings in a Canadian lottery and then cooperating with authorities in an attempt (unsuccessful) to sting the culprits: "It may have cost me $5,000, but this is the most excitement I've had in a long time."
* Greensboro, N.C., City Council member Keith Holliday, explaining in January why the city was forced to hire a public-relations firm to deal with its current water-shortage crisis: "I'll bet you I've been asked 100 times ... why we just didn't make our lakes bigger."
* An inadvertent glitch in the recent earthquake-proof construction at Barnstable (Mass.) High School: The building is so solidly soundproof that students could not hear ordinary fire alarms, and for the first month of this school year (until the problem was fixed), the school board was forced to hire firefighters on overtime to stand guard in the building to alert everyone in case of fire, at a total cost of about $1,000 a day.
* At a September meeting of the Republican Party in Lawrence, Kan., a conservative faction beat back a challenge from moderates and retained control of the party. At the start of the meeting, when attendees realized there was no U.S. flag to which they could offer the traditional pledge of allegiance, the chairman solved the dilemma by unfurling a roll of 32-cent flag stamps at the front of the room.
*A December Wall Street Journal report described the problems of auto manufacturers forced to crash-test their cars using mannequins not only of government-dictated sizes and weight but wearing clothing prescribed in minute detail by regulation. Included are requirements that the dummies wear shoes of a precise weight and a black-leather style, that "adults" wear matched sets of cotton shirts and form-fitting shorts, that a "child" must wear "thermal knit, waffle-weave polyester and cotton underwear or equivalent," with size 7M sneakers, with "rubber toe caps, uppers of Dacron and cotton or nylon and a total mass of .453 kg." Only recently did the government drop its requirement that all adult clothes be of the color "tea rose" and that all shoes be gray suede.
* Empowered by a November referendum in which 73 percent of the country voted against legalizing drugs, Swiss prosecutors announced they would file challenges to current law on marijuana, which bans its sale only as a "narcotic." Over the last three years, several hemp shops have opened, selling dried marijuana as an herbal room-freshener (with names like "Juicy Fruit" and "Lemon Skunk") and labeled "not for consumption."
* According to a December New York Times report, residents of the unincorporated community called Brooksville, Ala., are gathering signatures to petition the state to create an official town based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments, bringing together church and state, which are supposedly constitutionally separate. Sinners would be welcome but expected to observe public-behavior codes and might have to attend church services to have their votes counted because many of the town's decisions would be made there. At the other end of the spectrum, El Paso (Texas) County officials in November got a court order decertifying the town of Buford, calling it a sham set up solely to protect virtually its only "residents": a dozen adult bookstores and strip clubs that have, in the 36 years of Buford's existence, been exempt from county regulation.
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