Lighten Up, It’s Christmas!

Barney Talks Holiday Pranks and Online Scams

Deck the Porta-Potty: When attorney Joe Howell and his wife Barb returned home from the Santa Barbara Independent Christmas party the other night, what did their wondering eyes behold but. Hint: it wasn’t a sleigh and eight reindeer.

Nope. Just their porta-potty all gift-wrapped and gleaming with holidays lights. So what was that all about? Howells’ neighbor, Amanda Craig, gave me the story: “Joe and his wife Barb are remodeling their house, and they’ve put a porta-potty outside for the workers. Barb says they’ve had people walk by and knock on their door, asking to use their ‘bathroom.’ They’re sick and tired of having it there, so we figured we’d spruce it up for the holidays. [Joe]’s always setting up pranks on us, so we got him back.”

I know the feeling. Our neighbors had the same kind of lovely item in their yard, right in our line of sight – not for months, but for several years. Every construction worker on the street, garbage men, and who knows who else would climb in. Maybe we should have hung a for-sale sign on it.

Is It Really Your Bank?: It was the second letter Douglas Van Sicklen received in two weeks from con artists using the old Nigerian Letter scam. “The first was from ‘The Bank of America.’ Fortunately, I called the bank to check it out, as they already have my information on file. They said that they never ask for this kind of information over the Internet. It’s interesting: If you call the phone number listed in the e-mail, they answer ‘Bank of America’ or, in the case of the Wachovia version, ‘Wachovia.’ Of course, many of these so-called Nigerian letters that fish for your banking info come from con artists in other countries. It’s an old racket, but it still fools the unwary, or greedy.

On the Beat

Dirt Blowers: “Thank you for your December 4 post highlighting the leaf blower ban (although you are more accurate to call them dirt blowers),” writes Dan Litten, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last month. “You correctly mention that it ‘falls to police to enforce the rules, as a last resort.’ In my experience, most blower users know it’s officially illegal, but also know there’s no muscle behind this law, as they have seen many patrol cars go right past them. And they’re right – the police generally don’t care. Many police seem to have no problem zooming past the site of a complaint, then reporting back with, ‘No violation seen.’ I’ve also spoken with one filer of multiple complaints, who reports that the police have now said she is the public nuisance. We seem to do a great job of ticketing cars parked on the wrong side of the street. How about just a tenth of that effort dedicated to making it a cleaner and quieter city? Once operators got a ticket or two, I bet we’d see use fall off real fast.”

Dan, you know I’m a hawk on dirt blower violations, but I sympathize with the police. I’d rather have them tend to their important business and have the city councilmembers pass on the blower enforcement job to other patrol agencies. I talked to an officer from a neighboring city, who smirked at Santa Barbara cops having to chase after dirt-blowers. “We fight crime,” he cracked.

Botswana: After I wrote about Alexander McCall Smith’s series of detective stories about the African nation of Botswana, where Sue and I visited recently, I heard from the author. “Thank you for your extremely kind remarks about my books. I am delighted that you have enjoyed them. I am also pleased to read that you have visited Botswana. What a wonderful country it is. If you ever address your readers again on the subject of Botswana, one thing you might consider mentioning is the tremendous contribution that the United States has made in that country to the battle against AIDS. I find that many people in the USA are unaware of the remarkable generosity that their country has shown to the people of Botswana in their hour of need, but there it is. The USA has done an amazing amount through both public programs and through the work of the Harvard AIDS Initiative. It is something of which I think the people in the United States can be very proud indeed.”

New Magazine: Sarah Miller McCune, of Sage Publications, plans to launch a new Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy, along with a magazine, website, internships, and fellowships for developing journalists. “We aim to provide the general public with concrete, researched-based options for dealing with major national and global public policy problems,” the Center announced. The website,, due to be in operation in January, “is devoted to breaking news stories about significant policy problems, research providing options for dealing with such problems, and commentary on the potential costs, benefits, and outcomes of policy proposals.” The national bi-monthly publication, Miller McCune Magazine, launching in April, will “focus on pressing social problems” and address solutions. John Mecklin is editor in chief and Michael Todd, former News-Press business editor, will be their online editor. The opening of the Miller-McCune Center will be celebrated at a cocktail reception on January 17.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns on Tuesdays and Fridays and a print column on Thursdays.


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