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Today we have some urgent breaking news, defined as "news that happened at some point in the past year and we just now found out because we're way behind in our mail."

Our first breaking item, brought to our attention by alert reader Don Bovaird, is an alarming report in the May 28 Erie (Pa.) Times-News, which devoted most of its front page, and an entire inside page, to this story. What happened, in brief, was that an 18-year-old male got sick and defecated in . . . well, in his briefs. He then changed at a friend's house, put his soiled clothes in a black garbage bag, and threw the bag away.

Now in normal times, this would not be front-page news, even in Erie. But of course we do not live in normal times: We live in the Age of Stark Buttpuckering Terror. In fact, the day before the young man soiled his undies in Erie, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft had issued one of those vague yet at the same time unhelpful federal terrorism warnings that boil down to: "Be afraid! Be very afraid!"

So the nation was on High Random Fear Alert when the young man disposed of his poopy pants. Unfortunately, he elected to toss the garbage bag next to a municipal reservoir, where he was spotted by an Erie Water Works employee, who found the bag and reported it to the police, who closed all the streets in the area and called out the Bomb Squad and the Hazardous Materials Response Team. The Water Works department shut down the reservoir and warned the public to conserve water, a move that caused concerned residents to deluge the police with phone calls.

After several tense hours, police apprehended the young man, who told them what was in the garbage bag. This was confirmed by the Bomb Squad, and I think we can all agree that no matter how much those officers get paid, it is not enough. So life in Erie returned to normal for everybody except the young man, who is currently in a Guantanamo Bay cell surrounded by irate military dogs.

No, seriously, he faced minor charges, and we're sure he's doing just as well as you'd be doing if you were the subject of a front-page newspaper story informing the world that you managed to paralyze your city after doodifying your drawers. But let this story serve as a reminder to all of us: If we ever have a similar accident, we should NOT dispose of our underwear in a careless manner. Instead, we should -- to quote U.S. Department of Homeland Security director Tom Ridge -- "mail it to whoever is responsible for the TV show 'Wife Swap.' "

Our next piece of breaking news is a short newspaper item sent in July by alert reader Doe Clark. The article, headlined "Officials Crack Down on 'Bathtub' Cheese," begins as follows: "San Diego County health officials warned against buying or eating cheeses made in bathtubs that were being sold door to door."

It is not totally clear, from this wording, whether it is the cheese that is being sold door to door, or the bathtubs. To be on the safe side, we urge residents of San Diego County to avoid both bathing AND eating suspicious cheese, lest you wind up becoming ill and producing what gastroenterologists refer to as an "Erie Special."

In international news, we have a truly disturbing item from the June 21 edition of the Daily Yomiuri, an English-language Japanese newspaper, sent in by alert Tokyo reader Howard Weitzman. This item begins: "An 83-year-old professor emeritus has been arrested on suspicion of attacking and injuring a salesman with a sword after the man offered to 'fix his sewage pipes.' "

The article states that the professor, Tatsuo Chubachi, was at home when the salesman came by and offered to fix his pipes, at which point Chubachi "produced the sword and slashed the salesperson on the buttocks." The professor was arrested on suspicion of, among other things, violating the "Firearms and Swords Control Law."

This story should remind all Americans how lucky we are to live in a nation (America) where we have a constitutional right to keep and bear swords to protect ourselves from those who would repair our sewage pipes. We also have the right to vote for our leaders, which leads us to our final breaking news item: Apparently there's going to be some kind of presidential election this year. Somebody should look into this. Not us: We have to use the bathroom.

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