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The winners and the losers

Loser: We're guessing just about anyone with a job can understand how joking and teasing at the office can at times relieve stress. But word this week that Lehi Justice Court Judge Garry R. Sampson pulled a gun on a bailiff as a joke probably did a lot to raise the state's collective stress levels. The incident came to light because the Utah Supreme Court officially reprimanded Sampson and posted the decision on the Judicial Conduct Commission Web site. Only the judge, the bailiff, a court clerk and a victim advocate were in the court at the time of the joking, but everyone other than the judge was a little worried the gun might accidentally go off (the judge pulled the stunt after the bailiff teased about throwing water on him). It's the kind of "joke" that, done by anyone else, might result in criminal charges. Given the circumstances, the resulting publicity, Sampson's remorse and his otherwise clean record, a reprimand will suffice. But it's a good reminder that, in courtrooms at least, only the law is supposed to do the talking.

Winner: National parks are doing a booming business. No one is quite sure why. In Utah, visits were up by 300,000 last year, to a total of more than 9 million. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar guesses this might have something to do with the economy. People are finding that national parks are great vacation bargains. That accounts for the Americans, but not for all the Germans and Japanese, who seem to be everywhere in Utah's parks.

Winner: Want to know which schools in the United States spin off the most new companies? Here's a hint: one is in what typically is known as the most Democratic state (although it just elected a Republican senator), and the other is in what typically is known as the most Republican. We're guessing we don't have to print the answers upside down at the end of this column. MIT is in Massachusetts and the University of Utah is ... well, you know that one. The remarkable thing about this is that people probably could have guessed MIT would develop technologies that spin off businesses. The U. has had to work hard to reach the point where 20 new companies were created during the 2008 fiscal year, virtually tying it with that other school. Of course, Utah got five times less research funding than MIT, which makes the record even more remarkable. Those spinoffs, by the way, come with new patents that generate income for the schools. They also enrich their local economies, which need the jobs and the business.

Winner: Once upon a time, U.S. 6 between Spanish Fork and Price was the site of more than half the fatal auto accidents in Utah. Now, thanks in large part to lobbying efforts from a woman whose mother died in one of those accidents, state lawmakers have funded improvements that make the road much safer. More work needs to be done, but at least things are moving in the right direction, and mostly in the correct lanes.

Loser: The same can't be said for I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. That is now the deadliest stretch in America, according to Scripps Howard News Service's "Killer Roads" survey released this week. We're guessing most people who have driven that stretch would agree, and it has less to do with the design of the highway than with the giddy, and perhaps well-lubricated, crowd of people anxious to do things they foolishly hope stay in Las Vegas.