For the first week in a great many weeks, Americans breathed easy, slept tight and walked the streets unafraid. No, it wasn't the crime bill; Congress had gone home. The power of language was demonstrated in Odenton, Md., when robbery suspect Phillip Christopher Hines charged at police yelling "Bang! Bang!" The cops shot him. Speaking of surprises, a white Ohio judge got in hot water for trying to reassign a black defendant's traffic case to a black judge, who remonstrated, "He's implying that only a black judge can be fair to a black defendant. I'm very much insulted." Michael Jackson turned 36; his face turned 3, 4, and 7. A new study finds more Californians dying from smoking than from murder, accidents and suicide combined. The National Corvette Museum opens this weekend in Bowling Green, Ky. And you think you've got yard problems: Scientists are studying a grass in the Amazon basin that grows 40 feet high and produces 40 tons of dried clippings per acre annually. The rat follies roared on: Roland Williams was ordered from his house in Peru, Vt., while authorities toted out loads of dog food and cola that Roland dispensed to the hundreds of rats sharing his lodgings; in the Big Apple, a woman who fed cereal to her rats and regaled them with singing eventually turned her bed over to them and began sleeping in a chair. In the coming invasion of Haiti, the United States will be joined by elite warriors from Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, Belize and a few other Caribbean superpowers. Paul Ehrlich, guru to the fringe-dwellers of environmentalism, finally captured all the world's problems in one bottle: "There are," he concluded as moonbeams shot out of his ears, "too many rich people." Meant to deter Cubans from rafting to America, the Slickster's policy of sending them to Guantanamo has resoundingly backfired: Cubans are walking through Castro's minefields outside the base fences trying to get into the place. McDonald's got socked with $2.7 million in punitive damages after Stella Liebeck spilled hot coffee on herself; ordinary folk are so riled about the judgment, the term "hung jury" may acquire new meaning. Hang on, and have a nice holiday weekend.