10 worst ideas of the week: Dec. 20, 2009

Price spikes for high-speed rail tickets, man dies after 911 dispatcher fails to send officer, UC Berkeley fee-increase protest turns violent, and a teacher brings her students to Hooters.

1. Falling-TV deaths

Kids dying even as parents buy lighter flat-screen televisions

The details: A 2-year-old New Jersey boy died Dec. 7 when he tipped over a chest of drawers holding a large TV set. A 10-month-old Philadelphia boy was critically injured Dec. 10 when a television fell onto him. An 11-month-old Phoenix girl died a month ago after her 2-year-old brother pulled a television off its stand while trying to change channels. One theory into the increase in falling-TV deaths is that as traditional TV sets became heavier, households purchased flat-screens and exiled older sets to perch atop rickety furniture in other rooms.

2. High-speed fare hike

High-speed rail ticket price goes up even though trains won’t run until 2020

The details: Tickets for a 2½-hour train ride between Los Angeles and San Francisco will cost 83 percent of an S.F.-L.A. airline ticket instead of just 50 percent. The new price would set the train fare to $105 in 2009 dollars, compared to $125 for air travel and $118 to drive. Meanwhile, the new cost estimate for the project has been raised to $42.6 billion, from the original projection of $33.6 billion in 2008.

3. Rotten care

Caretakers visit dead elderly woman for 8 months

The details: Talk about your poor bedside manner. Sheriff’s deputies in Wilmington, N.C., are investigating the details surrounding the death of Blanche Matilda Roth after her corpse was found in her home. The 87-year-old died in May. A 911 caller said caretakers visited the quiet cul-de-sac daily and investigators report the house was kept tidy. Neighbors said at least four other people live in the house.

4. Deadly wait

Injured man dies 20 hours after 911 emergency call

The details: The 911 response time in North Port, Fla., just took a big hit. Brian Wood crashed his pickup into a pole, got out and sat down nearby. A passing motorist called 911, but he couldn’t remember the exact name of the road, so an officer was never dispatched. It took a second call 20 hours later for officers to find the 55-year-old, who had died from injuries sustained in the crash. Two issues: The original caller never said what the problem was and the police chief said the dispatcher should have asked better questions.

5. No Christ for Christmas

Child sent home for drawing sketch of crucifixion

The details: An 8-year-old student in Massachusetts was asked at school to sketch something that reminded him of Christmas. He drew what appeared to be a stick figure of Jesus on the cross and soon landed in hot water with the teacher. Because of the drawing, the child has been ordered to undergo psychological testing, his father said.
6. Charity swindle

‘Homeless’ organization pocketed donations

The details: New York’s United Homeless Organization is facing closure and seizure of all its assets after investigations found that the group was scamming the public. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has sued UHO, accusing the group of duping the public into donating for homeless services — then using donations for personal expenses. Cuomo called UHO an organized panhandling network.

7. Hacked at UCSF

Doctor falls for phishing scam, exposes patients’ info

The details: An unidentified faculty doctor at UCSF left personal information for 600 patients and others available to hackers. The doc replied to an e-mail that asked for name and password information and looked legitimate. Those whose privacy was compromised were notified. Cold comfort: The school says there’s no indication that hackers actually accessed any of the sensitive info. And UCSF is trying to educate its userbase by sending examples of scam e-mails. (Let’s hope that doesn’t confuse the issue further.)

8. Violent behavior

Protesters damage UC Berkeley chancellor’s home

The details: Protests at UC Berkeley over state funding cuts and fee increases turned violent when windows, lights and planters were broken outside the home of university Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. Protesters, including many nonstudents, also threw lighted torches at police cars and at the home, although there were no fires or injuries. Birgeneau said he and his wife feared for their lives. Eight people were arrested.

9. Earlybird special

Unwitting tourists attend White House breakfast

The details: White House security was embarrassed for the second time in less than a month after it was revealed that two tourists from Georgia who had arrived a day early for a tour were granted admission to an ­invitation-­only Veterans Day breakfast. The White House claimed the couple were properly screened, and were admitted because there were no public tours available. The couple, however, said there appeared to be a mix-up, and that no one told them about the breakfast until they were ushered in and offered a buffet.

10. Cheap on child care

California reductions in foster home payments violate U.S. law

The details: California’s practice of paying foster care group homes less than what it costs to own them is a violation of federal laws, a federal appeals court ruled this week. California has been paying 80 percent of actual costs adjusted for inflation in recent years and recently slashed funding by another 10 percent, according to lawsuits filed by the Sacramento-based California Alliance of Child and Family Services. The homes care for children who need foster care, but who cannot be placed appropriately.

Sinking ship

The War on Drugs’ annual report on kids’ alcohol and drug abuse found only 45 percent of eighth-graders this year thought occasional marijuana use was harmful. That’s down from 48 percent last year and 58 percent in 1991. Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske is worried, even though actual marijuana use by teens has declined steadily since the mid-1990s. The czar noted that this downward trend stalled for the last two years and warned, “When beliefs soften, drug use worsens.”

Dim bulb of the week

Who: Mary Segall
What: The Arizona teacher took her high school choir students to Hooters
Why: She should have known better. According to the Arizona Republic, Segall has taught at the district for more than 23 years and took the school choir to Washington, D.C., for the presidential inauguration in January. Her excuse was the restaurant, known for its scantily clad waitresses, was the only place that could accommodate her group of 40.

Endorsement: Vote yes on Prop. A to strengthen public transportation in San Francisco

Prop. A will bolster S.F. investment in upgrades to public transporation

Fun, free, cheap: What to do in San Francisco this week

Car-free fun in Bayview, blooms and salsa at Union Square, outdoor films