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Only in America
February 9, 2013

A Washington state motorist was required to explain the meaning of his vanity license plate, after a mistaken complaint claimed it was obscene. Tony Cava's plate, GOES211, is a reference to his favorite movie, Spinal Tap, but a complainant demanded the state's license-plate committee revoke it, saying the plate insinuates that "his penis grows to 11 inches in length." Cava won his case, a state official said, after proving "the complaint was, pardon my pun, a stretch." The Week Staff

Democracy in action
6:24 a.m. ET

On Tuesday morning, New Zealand unveiled four final designs for a new national flag that will go to a vote in November. Three of the designs feature a silver fern leaf while the fourth depicts a koru, or unfurling fern frond. The voters' choice will then be pitted against New Zealand's current flag in a second referendum next March.

A 12-person commission winnowed down 10,292 submissions to 40 semifinalists, then finally these four designs. "It is important that those designs are timeless, can work in a variety of contexts, are simple, uncluttered, balanced, and have good contrast," explained John Burrows, a professor and the chairman of the flag commission. In a recent poll, The New Zealand Herald reports, 53 percent of New Zealanders favored keeping the 1903 flag, which features Britain's Union Jack design and the Southern Cross constellation.

You can see high-resolution images of the four flags, along with the official description and the designer's description, at New Zealand's government website, or just get a glimpse of all four finalists waving in the video below. Peter Weber

2016 campaign
5:41 a.m. ET

On Monday, Donald Trump gave Jeb Bush "the Willie Horton treatement," releasing a nasty Instagram video of Bush calling illegal immigration an "act over love" juxtaposed with photos of three undocumented immigrants accused or convicted of murder:

This is no "act of love" as Jeb Bush said...

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

Later Monday, the Bush campaign hit back by suggesting that Trump is soft on crime, mostly because he supported legalizing some drugs and "has spent years supporting soft-on-crime liberals" like Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid. "Donald Trump even supported Nancy Pelosi — who supports sanctuary cities and backed a moratorium on the death penalty," Bush said.

This isn't the first time Bush has tried to swat back at Trump's barrage of personal insults and criticism with tough (for Bush) words. And this time probably won't be any more effective at knocking Trump down from his pole position in the polls.

"For huge sections of the electorate, the definition of who is a conservative is based on who's making the most incendiary comments," not their policy positions, GOP strategist Steve Schmidt tells Politico. "What Trump is conveying in every speech he makes is strength. If you respond to someone who is attacking your character by talking about issues, you're in the wrong type of fight." Peter Weber

explainers
4:31 a.m. ET

If you missed Sunday night's Video Music Awards, or only watched snippets of it, or even watched the whole thing and didn't understand why Nicki Minaj was calling host Miley Cyrus a "bitch," Jimmy Kimmel provided a small public service on Monday's Kimmel Live. And rather than just explain what happened, he illustrated the tiff with emojis, like any grown man might. You can watch and learn below. Peter Weber

Trump-Kanye 2016
3:44 a.m. ET

Kanye West raised some eyebrows when he announced his plans to run for president in 2020 on Sunday night — and he even inspired a Ready for Kanye PAC to coach along his nascent White House bid (as a Republican). If Kanye's ambitions and announcement speech sound familiar, Jimmy Kimmel had a theory why on Monday's Kimmel Live.

West "has a great deal in common with another famous person who wants to be president," Kimmel said. And he made his case with a mashup of Kanye's presidential announcement at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards with Donald Trump's campaign launch and subsequent comments. If it's not perfect, it's at least entertaining. And you can watch below. Peter Weber

Pot politics
3:01 a.m. ET

In 1994, Jeff Mizanskey was convicted of attempting to buy several pounds of marijuana. It was his third conviction, after arrests in 1984 and 1991 for possessing more than 35 grams of marijuana, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole as a "prior and persistent offender" under Missouri's three-strikes law. On Tuesday morning, after 21 years, Mizanskey will leave the Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man.

In 2014, the Missouri legislature repealed the three-strikes law, and Gov. Jay Nixon (D) commuted Mizanskey's sentence in May, making him eligible for parole. In early August, the parole board granted his release. Mizanskey's case was publicized by his family and a group called Show-Me Cannabis. In a Change.org petition that got 391,254 supporters, Jeff Mizanskey's son, Chris Mizanskey (pictured below, before his father's last conviction), said his father was "an easy fall guy" in the case.

"My dad was driving a friend to a deal that turned out to be a sting operation," he wrote. "All of the other convicted men involved were set free years ago, but my dad was given a virtual death sentence." Jeff Mittelhauser, a former prosecutor who helped convict Jeff Mizanskey, told KCTV5 he supports the clemency, but only "if he would stop misinterpreting his criminal history, and his involvement in the offense."

Either way, Mizanskey says he will probably never smoke pot again. "As long as it's illegal, either federally or state, I can't smoke it," Mizanskey told KCTV5. Before his mother died, he added to TV station KOMU, he promised that if he ever got out of prison "that I'd never do anything knowingly to break the law to get put back in." Peter Weber

their luck ran out
2:05 a.m. ET
Facebook.com/IllinoisLottery

Until the state of Illinois passes a budget, lottery winners with prizes above $25,000 will have to settle for an IOU.

"Due to the ongoing budget situation in Springfield, some lottery winner payments have been delayed," Illinois Lottery spokesman Stephen Rossi said. "All winners will be paid in full as soon as the lottery and the Illinois comptroller have the legislative authority to do so." Players who win $600 or less can turn their tickets in for cash at retailers, and bigger prizes between $601 to $25,000 can be redeemed at lottery claims centers, CNN Money reports. Since the fiscal year started July 1, the big jackpots of more than $25,000 have had to wait.

Susan Rick, whose boyfriend won $25,000 from a scratcher in July, was shocked to find out they would be getting an IOU for the prize. "You know what's funny?" she told the Chicago Tribune. "If we owed the state money, they'd come take it and they don't care whether we have a roof over our head." Rick planned on cutting back and not working seven days a week anymore, and to head to Minnesota to visit her daughter. Her plans quickly changed when the check never came, and she had to cancel her trip. "Who do you think buys lottery tickets most of the time?" Rick said. "Not millionaires. People who don't have a lot of money. You're messing with all those dreams." Catherine Garcia

Science!
1:04 a.m. ET
iStock

A new, very small study suggests that people can shrink the blind spot in their eye by doing certain training exercises.

In the human eye, the blind spot is where the visual field corresponds with an area in the retina that has no receptors for light. Researchers studied 10 people, and over the course of 20 days had them take part in a "direction-discrimination" task. An image of a ring was centered in the blind spot of one eye, and the participants had to say which way waves of dark and light bands were moving through the ring. After some manipulation of the image by researchers, the study subjects were able to better detect the images in their blind spot, shrinking it by 10 percent.

That's "quite an improvement, but people wouldn't notice, as we are typically unaware of our blind spots," study author Paul Miller of the University of Queensland told Live Science. "The real significance is that our data shows that regions of blindness can be shrunk by training, and this may benefit people who suffer from pathological blindness." The results seem to show that the training made receptors that overlap or are adjacent to the blind spot more sensitive, making the eye more sensitive to signals coming from the site of blindness. Catherine Garcia

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