Brickbats

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• A patient at a New Jersey hospital wound up paying an arm and a leg to have his fractured finger fixed, all because state health officials decided they know what's best for the patient. New rules state that hospitals will be paid a flat rate per diagnosis instead of the usual per diem charges. A few hundred assorted diseases have been categorized according to DRGs (diagnostic related groups). So this poor fellow with the wounded pinky had a pin inserted into his ailing digit. His injury came under DRG 348â€""fractures with major surgery"â€"a category that also includes total hip replacement and amputation. Although he was in the hospital for less than two days and his actual hospital charges came to $804, the hospital was required by state law to charge him $4,931.20. As the saying goes, give 'em a finger and they'll take the whole arm.

• "An exceptional measure of punishment"â€"the Soviet euphemism for executionâ€"was recently carried out against a former deputy minister of fisheries. His crime? Vladimir I. Rytov was believed to have been involved in a multimillion-dollar scheme to smuggle expensive caviar to the West. Western partners allegedly arranged for the caviar to be sold at $100 a can, and Soviet officials drew their share from secret Swiss bank accounts when they came to the West on business. The Ruskies aren't kidding around when they say they're going to eradicate the bourgeois mentality.

• If you had a nickel for every asinine remark made in the glorious name of "human rights," you'd be rich enough to buy the Falkland Islands, Great Britain, and Argentina lock, stock, and barrel. The latest outrage comes from John Wallace, chairman of the Fairfax, Virginia, Human Rights Committee. Mr. Wallace thinks The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is "racist trash and anyone who teaches this book is a racist." By the way, Wallace is an administrative underling at the, you guessed it, Mark Twain Intermediate School in Fairfax.

• China's policy of birth control with a vengeance has resulted in the death of one young mother. A worker cursed and beat his wife after she bore a baby daughter, then drove the woman to kill herself by drinking insecticide, the People's Daily reported. Xu Pingxi was outraged because his wife could never bear a son under the Communist government's rule of one child per couple. In China, sons are traditionally valued over daughters to carry on the family name. Food allowances are reduced for rule breakers who think they have the right to determine the size of their families.

• Unlicensed bus lines and gypsy cabs are competing with New York City Transit Authority routes. The city figures the privateers are siphoning off riders to the tune of $50 million a year in lost revenues. Mayor Ed Koch is simply chagrined that judges are reluctant to mete out stiff penalties because "they are sympathetic to the plight of passengers" who suffer delays waiting for licensed buses in remote areas. The public has already voted with its feet, and the only sensible thing left to do is to sell the city-owned buses and subways and let the gypsies run the railroad. They certainly couldn't do a worse job than the city does.

• Ralph Walker, a convict charged with escaping from prison, convinced a judge to let him serve as his own attorney. His reasoning was sound. After all, he had studied law at Leavenworth for three years. The judge bought it, but Walker lost the case when he argued that his escape was permissible because jail conditions were so intolerable. Undaunted, Walker appealed to the federal courts on the grounds that the judge had improperly allowed him to represent himself. "We may surmise that there was some method in Walker's seeming madness," the appellate judges wrote. Nice try, anyway.

• The New York City Sanitation Department has a legion of inspectors to make sure that there's no unauthorized pick-up of refuse. Armando Pollock, a Bronx school teacher, copped an empty can from a trash pile for use in his art class. He was issued a summons because of a law that prohibits anyone except a sanitation department employee from removing refuse. The incident has a funny smell to it, but the law is the law, and all that other garbage.

• Soviet trade union newspaper Trud has a bone to pick with Russian dog owners for feeding meatâ€"in critically short supplyâ€"to their pets. Selling thousands of tons of meat to pet owners when prices are kept at an artificially low $1.27 a pound is no petty thing. "Such indulgence is expensive for the state," the newspaper intoned. It's a dog's life all over.