Production on "The Sopranos" was shut down as James Gandolfini and HBO duked it out in court. The plus-size actor wants more than his current $400,000 per episode --reports are that he wants as much as a million -- despite HBO having him under contract. With 300 people who work on the series temporarily out of work, we're left to ponder the concept of how to spend $400,000 per week. While fully realizing that the economy is struggling and that $400,000 is not what it used to be, and fully realizing that Gandolfini lives in one of the highest-rent cities in the world, we still find a few bucks left over for ordering Domino's from time to time without affecting the 401-K.
A Justice Department whistle-blower leaked a draft copy of John Ashcroft's proposed "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003," which would, among other things, give the government authority to revoke someone's American citizenship even if they don't renounce it, allow for the sampling and cataloguing of genetic DNA without consent and without court order, restrict access to information about factories that use dangerous chemicals, give immunity to businesses who phone in fake terrorism tips (so that they'll be encouraged to phone in more often), and protect all federal agents from prosecution for anything they're doing while following orders. All this comes after months of denying that the Justice Department was planning to amend the Patriot Act, and it pretty much announces to the world that Ashcroft believes 9/11 happened because there were too damn many (excuse us, he would never say damn) too darn many civil liberties out there. What the whistle-blower didn't find was Patriot Act III, scheduled for 2004, in which Ashcroft proposes bringing back many of the practices of Ivan the Terrible, including the execution of the entire family and all the household servants of anyone accused of treason.
Five of the middle-aged chimpanzees at the Berlin Zoo have become sluggish and no longer do any entertaining antics, so zoo officials are deporting them to a zoo in China. The Chinese have WAYS of making chimps caper.
Under pressure from PETA, Kentucky Fried Chicken issued a statement supporting "the well being and humane treatment of chickens." A bankruptcy filing is expected any day now.
Mountain biking may cause scrotum damage, cysts, calcifications, varicose veins, reduced sperm count and impotence, according to a study released by Dr. Ferdinand Frauscher of Austria. Not to mention wedgies.
The German town of Triberg -- immortalized in the Ernest Hemingway story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" -- cancelled its annual Hemingway Week after an activist accused the American author of killing Germans during World War II. Hemingway was a reporter during the war, but did carry a gun, and if he were to have killed someone, it probably wouldn't have been a Brit, a Frenchman or an American.
Roy Dominguez, newly elected sheriff of Lake County, Indiana, wants to destroy a Tommy gun stolen by John Dillinger during a 1934 jailbreak, because he says the continued existence of it glorifies a cop-killer. Dominquez has suggested melting it down in one of the county's steel mills. If so it could end up as part of a structural steel beam in a brand new bank. Now THAT would amuse Dillinger.
Over the past 50 years Playboy centerfolds have gradually lost bust size and hip size, even though their weight has stayed around the same, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. The British doctors, most of whom have been exposed to hundreds of hours of "The Benny Hill Show," decried the trend and recommended more kippers and oatmeal for breakfast.
Citizens for Community Values, a group of moralists in Cincinnati, are trying to eliminate pay-for-view porno movies from hotel rooms and to that end are listing "clean hotels" on their Web site. "For years, our friends have been asking for an easy way to find hotels and motels where their families can stay without fear of exposure to graphic, addictive pornographic movies," said Phil Burress, president of the organization. Now just how did they know they were addictive?
At the capital murder trial of Lawrence Jacobs Jr., in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, one prosecutor wore a tie with a dangling noose on it and his fellow prosecutor wore a tie adorned with the Grim Reaper. When the defendant's father protested, they said the ties were on sale at Target.
Tourism at the Statue of Liberty dropped by 50 percent in 2002, from 5 million to 2.5 million visitors, causing the elderly green goddess to experiment with anti-depressants.
The town of Bridgeville, Calif., population 20, was auctioned on eBay and sold for $1.8 million. That includes the toaster oven.
Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is cracking down on lavish royal weddings -- average cost $5 million -- by building a banquet hall near the king's palace in northwest Riyadh. From now on all princes and princesses will be required to say their vows in the official banquet hall, so that the poor and unemployed aren't offended by royal excess. The only thing rich relatives are allowed to add to the ceremony is one Elvis impersonator and two discreet gypsies.
A report by the National Environmental Trust says that Vermont, the least polluting American state, emits more greenhouse gases than 33 Third World countries combined. Fortunately they weren't countries anybody in Vermont had ever heard of.
(Joe Bob Briggs writes several columns for UPI. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Web site, joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)