Daily Brickbat

Absurd news bites, served fresh every day.

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Privacy Rules (2/19)
Joynal Abedin's family worried about him when he didn't return home from work. For more than two weeks, they wondered where he was. Then they got a $17,000 bill from the Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia. His wife rushed to the hospital to see if the bill had anything to do with her husband. But citing federal privacy rules, the hospital told her nothing. A day later, after visiting the D.C. medical examiner's office, she found out he'd been killed in a hit and run accident. The family wants to know why the police were unable to find them and tell them, but the hospital was able to find them to send a bill.

When in France… (2/18)
As France prepares to ban the display in public schools of religious symbols, such as the veils worn by some Muslim women, one official says the government could also ban beards if they are expressions of religious faith. "As soon as it becomes a religious sign and the code is apparent, it would fall under this law," said Education Minister Luc Ferry.

Legal Tender (2/17)
Curtis Smith wants his money back. Smith was sleeping in his truck on a lot he owns, when St. Louis police arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence. The police ultimately did not charge him. But while he was being processed Mayor Adrian Wright saw police counting Smith's money, which included a rare $1,000 bill, several hundreds and a few $2 bills. Wright allegedly wanted the $1,000 note and got 10 $100 bills, which he had police substitute for it when they stored Smith's money. Collectors typically pay between $1,300 and $3,500 for such a bill, depending upon its condition. When Smith was released, he was given $3,231 in cash, representing the face value of the money taken from him, but not his $1,000 bill.

See No Evil (2/13)
France is considering a bill that will force Internet service providers to block material that excuses crimes against humanity and promotes race crimes or face legal sanctions. It will also hold ISPs liable if their users illegally download or share intellectual property. The bill is actually France's attempt to codify European Union directives on electronic commerce. But ISPs say that any attempts to block prohibited material will likely stop legal material from being transmitted too.

Alert and At Attention (2/12)
When someone placed a black plastic bag near the Washington Monument and left it, no one paid much attention. They should have. It was a test by the Interior Department to see how Park Police would handle a suspicious package. The bag was first placed at the rear of the monument for 20 minutes, then at a security checkpoint for 15 minutes. No one noticed it. In fact, the only police officer around appeared to be asleep.

Top Secret (2/11)
The Greek Cypriot army is trying to find out how top secret ground plans for military bases wound up in a dump. A truck driver found the papers, which contain details such as the technical specifications for weapons launch sites and the thickness of walls at sentry posts on the island's cease-fire line with Turkey.

And You Thought Paddlings Were Bad? (2/10)
After a rumor started that a 13-year-old student at Okeeheelee Middle School in West Palm Beach had a gun, police searched the boy. They found nothing, but principal David Samore still wanted to question the student. He allegedly put a toy gun to the boy's neck. Samore says he was trying to show the student that even toy guns can frighten people. Samore was suspended for 10 days without pay. When he returned to the school, teachers welcomed him with yellow ribbons, balloons, flowers, and a plaque.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign (2/9)
Trying to sell a home in Helena, Montana, has gotten a little bit more difficult. City law says commercial signs can be no more than four square feet. But the signs real estate agents typically put up in yards push the six square foot mark. The zoning commission has recommended allowing real estate signs of up to five square feet to be placed in yards. The city commission is looking into the issue of real estate signs and mulling changes in the law.

Judge Not (2/6)
Two teenage boys were having a snowball fight in the German town of Leuneburg, when an errant snowball hit a nearby home. A man emerged from the house with a shotgun and fired two rounds, striking one of the boys. The shooter was a 55-year-old judge. Police have confiscated his shotgun and are investigating the shooting.

Wired (2/5)
Five years ago, North Carolina started an effort to put all of the state's public schools on one computer network. The state has spent $113 million so far, and it expects the tab to total at least $150 million. But just six of the state's 117 school districts are now on line, and that's as part of a trial. And the teachers who are on the network say it's difficult to gain access to the network or to do even simple things such as enter daily attendance.

Who Guards the Guardians? (2/4)
Officials at the Pentagon's Defense Contract Audit Agency are supposed to uncover fraud and waste in government contracts. But the agency is now charged with spending 1,139 man-hours altering its own files to pass an internal review. The agency actually brought in help from other offices to change the files, costing taxpayers some $1,600 in travel expenses.

Strange Coincidence (2/3)
Michael Di Biase has been charged three times in the last 15 months with running a red light. Two of the tickets were withdrawn after the York Region, Canada, police officers who wrote them didn't show up for court, even though police policy is that officers must show up in court for every ticket they write. The third just disappeared. Di Biase is mayor of the city of Vaughn.

Stating the Obvious (2/2)
Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch has revealed the results of its seventh annual Wacky Warning Label Contest. The top prize went to this warning on a bottle of drain cleaner: "If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product." Second place went to this warning on a snow sled: "Beware: sled may develop high speed under certain snow conditions." Another award went to the package for a five-inch fishing hook which told buyers it was "Harmful if swallowed."

Duty Minded (1/30)
Kentucky State Police got reports that a drunken duo in a law enforcement cruiser were making traffic stops. Meanwhile, officials in Lewis County were worried because a jailer transporting a prisoner from Knox County hadn't arrived. When the police finally caught up to the cruiser, they found jailer Clarence Wilson and inmate Shawn Phillip Reynolds, both apparently intoxicated. Wilson was charged with drunken driving, impersonating a peace officer, unlawful imprisonment, and official misconduct. Reynolds, who is serving five years for credit card fraud, and burglary, was charged with intoxication.

Long Showers (1/29)
Chuck Richison's water bill usually runs about $55 a month, so he was a bit perplexed when the city of Corpus Christi, sent him one for $7,714,510.21. "It was the 21 cents that got me," Richison says. City officials said the bill was an error and promised to send one for the correct amount.

Sheriff Taylor Refused To Comment (1/28)
Five uniformed police officers and a trainee, about half of those who are typically supposed to be patrolling Greenville, South Carolina's streets, were found playing cards in a court building. The police department can suspend an officer for up to five days without pay. It can also recommend an officer be fired, but the Civil Service Commission has final say. No word on what punishment, if any, these officers face.

Bathroom Break (1/27)
You'd better have a big bladder if you plan on flying from Australia, Asia or Europe to the United States. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has banned passengers from lining up for the bathrooms during flights. Flight attendants are expected to police the toilets, looking for suspicious packages and making sure people aren't trying to form a line. "Passengers are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they are advised to move around an aircraft during flights for health reasons; but now they are being told not to congregate. It doesn't make sense," said Warren Bennett, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia. It doesn't have to make sense, Mr. Bennett. It's part of the war on terror.

White Wedding (1/26)
Jacques Martin, mayor of the French city of Nogent-sur-Marne, has banned Muslim women from wearing headscarves during civil marriage ceremonies. French couples must be married during civil ceremonies, but they may later also have a religious wedding. "The state does not have to adapt to Islam today just as it did not adapt to Judaism and separated itself from Catholicism 200 years ago," Martin, told Le Figaro.

Proper Attire (1/23)
Malaysia's PAS party keeps telling non-Muslims they have nothing to fear. But everywhere the Islamic party has taken power, it has imposed new Sharia-based regulations on private behavior. Take the city of Kuala Terengganu. The PAS-dominated government there has placed new restrictions on what women—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—may wear to work. Out are short-sleeved tops, tight jeans, skirts with slits, or skirts cut above the knee. And Muslim women must wear a headscarf drawn tightly across their face. The state government of Terengganu has imposed its own restrictions, closing karaoke lounges and pool halls and barring Muslims from all places alcohol is served.

People's Choice (1/22)
The Iranian government has barred hundreds of reform candidates from running in upcoming elections. Reformist members of parliament say more than 80 percent of current reform-minded deputies have been banned from running by the council of guardians, an unelected body of conservative religious leaders and lawyers. Those who have been told they can't run include Mohammed Reza Khatami, brother of the current president, head of the biggest reform party and current deputy speaker of parliament.

Jonas Salk: Infidel (1/21)
Muslim leaders in Nigeria have told their followers not to have themselves or their children vaccinated for polio because the vaccine is provided by the United States. The leaders told them the vaccine had been laced with drugs that cause infertility or with the HIV virus. Some Muslim authorities reportedly admitted they knew those charges weren't true; they just wanted to resist a U.S.-led program. "People believe that America hates Muslims, and so whatever comes from the United States, no matter how good it is, people will reject it," said Sheik Muhammed Nasir Muhammed, chief imam at Kano, Nigeria's second-largest mosque.

Cuban Literacy (1/20)
Cuba has recently passed a law permitting only those who have government approval to access the Internet from home. Civil servants, Communist Party members and some select others will qualify. The state-owned telephone company Etecsa will monitor home use to make sure the law is complied with.

Gay for Pay (1/19)
Police in Victoria, Australia, will be paid for marching in a gay pride parade in uniform, whether they are on duty or not. Police commissioner Christine Nixon says its part of an effort to reach out to gays and lesbians. The police force says that officers are already paid to march in parades commemorating Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and Women's Day.

They Don't Call Them Procurement Officers for Nothing (1/16)
Robert Neal and Francis Jones, former senior procurement officers in the Pentagon, were sentenced to more than 24 years each in federal prison for conspiracy, extortion, money laundering, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. The two were found to have demanded cash, gifts and sexual favors from prostitutes sent by companies trying to do business with the military. Neal and Jones were also jointly ordered to pay $1.75 million in restitution.

Smarter Than the Average Politician (1/15)
A team of Israeli members of parliament finished in the middle of the pack in a televised IQ quiz. They beat teams of models and bodybuilders, but finished behind high school students and lawyers. But the models and bodybuilders may want to demand a rematch. The politicians have admitted to cheating on the test. "Like children, we want to succeed, (because) the whole country is watching," said Haim Katz, a member of parliament from the ruling Likud Party.

Priorities, Priorities (1/14)
Ontario's provincial auditor says the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services received about 4,000 complaints and inquiries related to debt collectors last year, including 800 written, formal complaints. But it conducted only 10 inspections of debt collection services. And 2,000 complaints about motor vehicle repairs brought just six inspections. But eight complaints about adult video stores—none in writing—prompted almost 1,600 inspections.

You Will Have a Good Time (1/13)
The staff at the US Army's Combat Equipment Battalion at Hythe, Great Britain, just had to attend the office Christmas party. No, really. They were ordered by the base command to attend the party or face disciplinary action. A memo from the base commander told them: "Let me make it clear that every employee's duty on December 19 is the Base Christmas Party. All employees not on approved leave will participate in the party… If you feel like I am trying to force FUN upon you, then you are correct."

Big Loads (1/12)
Christmas almost turned out badly for some residents of Livonia, Michigan. Postal inspectors spotted one employee apparently pulling DVDs out of the mail he was sorting and taking them to his locker. They confronted William Wrack as he went to his car and found 16 movies. Later, they searched his house and found 426 more DVDs. This is reportedly not the first time Wrack has been caught stealing from the mail.

Forget Your Rubbers (1/9)
Islamic leaders in Somalia have declared condoms illegal under religious law. They say they will flog anyone caught using or selling condoms. Sheikh Nur Barud, chairman of the Ulema Council, said the use of condoms will increase adultery, and those promoting adultery deserve to be punished.

Life on the Streets (1/8)
Maryland State Police Superintendent Edward T. Norris has been charged with illegally spending about $20,000 officials funds while he was the top cop in Baltimore. Norris allegedly used the money to cover personal expenses, including those stemming from affairs with several women. His former chief of staff, John Stendrini, was charged with misusing police money and is accused of obstructing justice.

LA Confidential (1/7)
Julie D. Nelson was arrested at a Hollywood police station for allegedly selling pirated DVDs. Police say they found hundreds of suspected bootleg films at her home and at the home of a friend. Nelson is a patrol captain and a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Don't Blame the Player. Blame the Game. (1/6)
New York City's Human Rights Commission is demanding that the makers of Grand Theft Auto remove the phrase "Kill Haitians" from the game. If Take-Two Interactive Software doesn't do so, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, it would be investigated for human-rights violations. The company has apologized and promised the phrase will not appear in future games.

Perks of Office (1/5)
Thai politicians are hopping mad over a proposal that would bar them from keeping mistresses or visiting brothels. The ruling Thai Rak Thai party is considering such a ban, but one lawmaker said the party would be able to field only about 30 candidates for parliament if the ban is enacted. The party currently has more than 200 MPs.

Destroying the Business to Save It (1/2)
New Haven, Connecticut, has had a rash of robberies and shootings at convenience stores and service stations. So it is going to beef up police patrols at those stores? No. Offer firearms instruction to clerks? No. City officials have proposed forcing the stores to close at 11 p.m. and to open no earlier than 6 a.m. Officials say that will reduce the opportunities for robbery and violence. Store owners point out that 20 percent of their business comes during those hours, and the vast majority of customers don't rob or shoot anyone.

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