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How Much Does a Missing Comma Cost? For One Dairy in Maine, $5 Million

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Copy editors aren’t the only ones who should respect the value of the Oxford comma. Since 2014, a dairy company in Portland, Maine has been embroiled in a lawsuit whose success or failure hinged on the lack of an Oxford comma in state law. The suit is finally over, as The New York Times reports, and die-hard Oxford comma-lovers won (as did the delivery drivers who brought the suit).

The drivers’ class action lawsuit claimed that Oakhurst Dairy owed them years in back pay for overtime that the company argues they did not qualify for under state law. The law reads that employees in the following fields do not qualify for the time-and-a-half overtime pay that other workers are eligible for if they work more than 40 hours a week:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish product; and

(3) Perishable foods

Notice that it says the “packing for shipment or distribution” and not “packing for shipment, or distribution of.” This raised a legal question: Should dairy distributors get overtime if they didn’t pack and distribute the product?

The case eventually made its way to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which ruled that the lack of comma made the law ambiguous enough to qualify the drivers for their overtime pay, overturning the lower court’s verdict that the state legislature clearly intended for distribution to be part of the exemption list on its own.

In early February, the company agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers, ending the lawsuit—and, sadly, preventing us from ever hearing the Supreme Court’s opinions on the Oxford comma.

Future delivery drivers for the dairy won’t be so lucky. Since the comma kerfuffle began, the Maine legislature has rewritten the statute. Instead of embracing the Oxford comma, though—as we at Mental Floss would recommend—lawmakers decided to double down on their semicolons. It now reads:

The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

Come on, guys. What do you have against the serial comma?

[h/t The New York Times]

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This Just In
Australian University Evacuated After Rotten Durian Smell Mistaken for Gas Leak
Mohd Rasfan, AFP/Getty Images
Mohd Rasfan, AFP/Getty Images

If you’ve ever been within sniffing distance of a durian, you would know it: The odor of the Southeast Asian fruit has been compared to decaying flesh, old garbage, and rotten eggs. The scent is so pungent that it prompted the recent evacuation of a university library in Melbourne, Australia, the Australian Associated Press reports.

Firefighters were called to investigate the scene on Saturday, April 28 after a strong smell was reported in the university library of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Police initially suspected it was a gas leak coming from the potentially harmful chemicals stored at the site. It was only after about 600 students and faculty members were evacuated that firefighters wearing gas masks discovered the true source of the stench: a durian that had been left to rot in a cupboard.

Putrid gases from the fruit had made their way into the air conditioning system, where they circulated thoughout the building and got the attention of the inhabitants. Though durian isn’t toxic, the fruit’s rancid remains are being dealt with by the Environment Protection Authority of Victoria.

Evacuating an entire building over some old produce may seem like an overreaction, but the room-clearing power of durian is taken seriously in other parts of the world. The fruit is banned in some hotels in Southeast Asia, and the Singapore subway famously posts signs warning passengers not to carry it onto trains.

[h/t Australian Associated Press]

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There's an Easy Way to Rid Your Mailbox of Catalogs and Other Junk
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You've signed up for paperless billing. You've opted in on e-statements for your credit cards. But your mailbox is still filled to the brim with envelopes full of useless credit card offers, catalogs, coupons, and charity solicitations. Thankfully, there is a way to take back your mailbox from unwanted junk mail—if you know where to go. According to The New York Times, there is a relatively painless way to reduce the amount of unwanted paper piling up in your mailbox.

DMAChoice.org is a website run by the DMA, or the Data & Marketing Association, a New York-based lobbying organization for data-based marketing and advertising that represents around 3600 companies that send direct mail to consumers, i.e., the sources of your junk mail. In order to try to keep consumers happy (and thus, more amenable to marketing), the website lets consumers opt out of certain categories of unsolicited mailings.

For a $2 registration fee, you can remove your name from mailing lists for catalogs, magazine offers, and other direct mail advertising. Your can opt out of offers from specific companies, like say, the magazine Birds and Blooms or the AARP, or you can opt out of all companies in a category. If you don't want to get any mail from DMA-affiliated businesses, you have to separately opt out of all three categories: magazine offers, all catalogs, and all "other" mail offers.

Compared to ripping up AARP offers every single day, the effort is worth it. For less than the price of a few stamps and a few minutes of your time, you can vastly cut down on your junk mail. While the opt-out only applies for companies that find their direct-mail potential customers through DMA lists, you'll still be eliminating a huge swath of your unwanted mail.

As for those annoying "prequalified" credit card offers, you'll have to go to a different website, but this one, at least, is free. OptOutPrescreen.com, run by the four major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Innovis, Experian, and TransUnion—lets you opt out of all of credit card offers originating from the customer lists provided by those four reporting agencies. You can either file a request to opt out on the website to free yourself of credit card mailings for five years, or mail in an opt-out form to stop receiving them permanently. The site does ask you for your Social Security number, but it's legit, we promise. It has the FTC's stamp of approval.

[h/t The New York Times]

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