Apparently the government doesn't like Good Samaritans. When two back-to-back snowstorms paralyzed Fairfax County, Virginia, a resident attached a snowplow to his pickup truck and cleared three streets near his home. Most of his neighbors were grateful, but one complained to the police. Walter Bainbridge soon found himself charged with "unauthorized work on a public highway without a valid permit," an offense that could cost him a $100 fine. "If I hadn't plowed the street out," he observes, "the police wouldn't have been able to get to my house."
Municipal employees of Long Branch, New Jersey, are now officially forbidden from engaging in "the recitation of jokes or stories of an ethnic, racial, or sexual gender nature" while on city time. Enclosed with the paychecks of the city's 275 workers was a notice saying that insulting humor has been banned during working hours. Walter Mickens, superintendent of the municipal building, is worried. He had previously won a trophy for having the best sense of humor in the city. "Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Irish, Italians, Swedes, Polish—we don't miss anyone," he admits. Police sergeant Louis Napoletano says the new policy has dampened morale in the police department. "Our copy of Truly Tasteless Jokes has been confiscated," he reports. One detective has signed a waiver that lets city workers aim derisive jokes at him without fear of reprisal. "You have to be a lot callous to remain on this job," he explains.
Urban planners have gone edict-crazy in Boulder, Colorado. The city's new urban-design plan discourages, via "nonmandatory" guidelines, the use of indoor-outdoor carpeting, plastic shingles, and drive-in windows. Dictators of taste also officially frown on large parking lots and "New Orleans"-style wrought-iron railings. Downtown Boulder's architectural style is Victorian, and city planners want it to stay that way. Although the regulations are voluntary, builders must submit to a mandatory review by a city board. "I'm just not entirely enthused about city government trying to select the color of the wallpaper in the men's room," says Robert D. Greenlee, one of only two city council members who voted against the plan.
Try to fool Uncle Sam, will ya? The government, in hopes of preventing federal employees from cheating on drug tests, will implement guidelines that include dyeing the water in designated federal potties and rigidly monitoring test-takers. The guidelines require monitors to be stationed inside restrooms, but outside toilet stalls, while urine samples are given. Officials will take the temperature of samples within four minutes to assure their authenticity. The National Treasury Employees Union is a bit PO'd and has sued the government to stop the testing.
The IRS leaves no stone unturned in its effort to collect. The agency seized $694 in savings from a 10-year-old girl whose unemployed father couldn't pay $1,000 in back taxes. The government later returned the money, which the San Jose, California, girl had earned collecting aluminum cans and doing household chores. But the IRS still went on to place a lien on three savings accounts totaling $173 and belonging to the children of a farmer who had just been forced to sell his farm and equipment to pay debts. Senate Finance Committee member David H. Pryor says he's disturbed by the IRS's heavy-handedness. He wonders "whether legislation might be necessary to protect the piggy banks of the children of America." Hmm, good idea. Now, about Social Security, Senator Pryor…
Vice President George Bush enjoys a reputation as a slick card player. But there seems to be a joker in the deck. Sen. William Proxmire wants to know why the Air Force paid $59,000 over the last six years for playing cards given out as souvenirs to guests traveling with Bush on Air Force Two. It seems that for 20 years now, the Air Force has been buying cards for vice-presidents and their guests. Proxmire says that at a rate of $10,000 per year, "we may be looking at a wasted project totaling more than $200,000 since the 1960s."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Brickbats".