Vineland, New Jersey, officials thought they had painted colorful Albert Pagano into a corner. But the rugged individualist turned out to be somewhat of an escape artist. Busybody housing inspector Gustavo Serrano was searching for eyesores at the City Council's behest. He ordered Pagano to clean up his property and paint the outside of his house, or face a $300 fine and possible jail term. So Pagano drenched the vacant home in shiny black enamel paint that glows on a sunny day. A bright red trim and pale green porch provided the finishing touches. "We can only make him paint it," laments housing commissar Serrano. "We can't stop him from painting it his way."
Accepting responsibility for one's own acts is about as fashionable as fox-trot lessons. First, there was the fellow who jumped in front of a New York subway train in an effort to end it all. His suicide attempt failed, so he sued the Transit Authority for negligence in not stopping him from jumping and won a huge award. Now a teenager in Media, Pennsylvania, is suing the Sony Corp. for $80,000 because he was hit by a car he didn't see or hear barreling down the road while he was wearing a Walkman. He says Sony should have recognized "the inherent immaturity of minors" and warned him about the device's "unreasonable danger."
Linn Cowick of Wichita, Kansas, came up with an idea to make a profit out of keeping drunk drivers off the roads. For a $20 fee, her Underground Delivery Service will drive the drunks and their cars from anywhere within five miles of the customer's residence. But Wichita officials just can't let a good thing be. They're insisting that Ms. Cowick apply for a taxi permit. If she operates the service without one, she could be fined $100 for each ride. Ms. Cowick refuses to secure the permit because she's not offering a taxi service. "I'm making sober drivers available to take drunks safely home in their own cars," she says. "I don't have any cars for hire." She also doesn't want the city to set her rates, as it does with real taxis. But the city is adamant—no permit, no service. It's enough to drive you to drink.
Los Angeles school officials were proud as peacocks when they announced that students scored above the national average on a standardized mathematics test, representing a remarkable improvement in just a few years. It turns out that the schools had administered standardized exams with an identical set of test questions for seven years in a row. Many other big-city school systems, including those of New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, have been doing the same thing. Los Angeles school officials agreed that teachers are "probably" drilling their students on some questions that will appear on a future test, but they doubted that it's a serious problem. What may be a problem is the fact that even with the teachers feeding them the answers in advance, it still took the school children seven years to get them right.
The probation sentence for a youth in Tucson, Arizona, convicted of theft included an unusual requirement—reading books and magazines. The judge said that 19-year-old Carl Whitehead was "brain-dead" from watching too much television, and ordered him to provide a monthly list of his completed reading to his probation officer. TV Guide is definitely prohibited.
When the Pentagon suddenly awarded six beefy military contracts worth $23 million in his California district, Rep. Fortney H. Stark began to investigate. He learned that the windfall was actually small potatoes. On September 30, the last day of the fiscal year, the Defense Department closed 234 contracts worth $4.2 billion in order to spend every available cent provided by Congress for the period. Stark introduced a bill to limit all federal agencies to spending 20 percent of their budgets or less in the last two months of a fiscal year. "My bill is like a well-balanced diet—allowing these departments their meat and vegetables, but cutting down on the French pastry at the end of a meal," he says.
If you think our senators have it made, consider the lottery-like prizes their counterparts in Canada pull down. The "job" there, which consists of the ability to show up at no more than three meetings a year, includes a yearly salary of $61,425, office staffs, free postage, free haircuts, free massages, travel allowances, subsidized lunches, and tax exemptions. There's no limit on earning money elsewhere. A Canadian senator is appointed by the prime minister. The only qualifications are that he be at least 30 years old, a Canadian citizen, and presumably breathing at the time of his appointment. One newspaper publisher likened the job to "drawing a royal straight flush in the biggest pot of the night."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Brickbats".