Only in America
July 28, 2013

Sleepaway camps across the country have begun banning care packages, to prevent overbearing parents from sending their campers forbidden items such as cell phones and candy. In the escalating arms race, some parents have taken to hiding contraband inside hollowed-out books, stuffed animals, and tampons. Jim Gill, owner of a Maine camp, says the parental packages "create such a distraction from the values we're trying to promote."

The Daily Showdown
3:39 a.m. ET
The Daily Show

When Michael Brown, a black teenager, was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, everyone was outraged — just not for the same reason, Jon Stewart said on Thursday night's Daily Show. Now, a new set of Justice Department reports suggests, "everybody was right!" The DOJ declined to press charges against Wilson and also found a troubling history of racism and de facto extortion by the Ferguson police. "According to our Justice Department," Stewart summarized, "everybody's anger was separate but equally justified."

Stewart largely left the "self-vindicating gloating" about Wilson to Fox News, while he and correspondent Jessica Williams tackled the Ferguson PD's habit of stopping black residents for things like "manner of walking along roadway," then funneling the resulting selective fines to city coffers — to the tune of $2.6 million in 2013. "What? $2.6 million?" Stewart said. "Maybe they don't hate blacks, they just love green." Williams played up the shake-down angle, but watch for Jason Jones' cameo at the end. —Peter Weber

ISIS
3:15 a.m. ET

About 20,000 Iraqi army troops, Shiite militia members, and Iranian advisers are advancing on Tikrit, in Iraq's largest effort to retake a city from Islamic State control. ISIS is staging counter-attacks and, sources tells Reuters, setting fire to oil fields about 20 miles northeast of Tikrit to slow the assault. Torching the Ajil oil field, ISIS apparently believes, will protect them from Iraq military helicopters.

Before ISIS conquered Tikrit last August, the Ajil field produced about 25,000 barrels of oil and 150 million cubic feet of gas a day. Under ISIS control, that amount has gone down significantly, but ISIS partly relies on its oil sales to fund its self-proclaimed caliphate.

panda-monium
2:24 a.m. ET

Here's something you don't see every day (or night): A giant panda walking through the deserted streets of a town in southwest China. Closed-circuit television captured the bear as it ambled down the road late one night, seemingly enjoying having the streets all to herself. Experts who viewed the footage believe the animal is about 2 years old, and say that pandas are commonly found in this area. —Catherine Garcia

Ay caramba!
2:08 a.m. ET

A long-term substitute Spanish teacher in Columbus, Ohio, was sentenced to 90 days in jail after showing students the explicit film The ABCs of Death, featuring graphic violence and sex.

Sheila Kearns, 58, was found guilty of four counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. Kearns — who doesn't even speak Spanish — showed The ABCs of Death to students on April 11, 2013, and two classmates testified that they found it extremely disturbing. "This is what happens when you put a teacher in a class that she cannot teach," Judge Charles A. Schneider said, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

The excuse Kearns came up with further infuriated Schneider: Kearns claimed that she didn't watch the movie before putting it on, and had no idea what it was about (the title didn't give her a clue?). She said that the entire day, her back was turned to the television, and she never once turned around to see what was on the screen. Schneider didn't fall for it, calling her claim "unconscionable. There's no way you'll persuade me that's what happened."

last night on late night
1:53 a.m. ET

On Thursday night's Late Night, Jada Pinkett Smith talked about working with hot topless men on Magic Mike XXL, and told Seth Meyers that the film finally made her understand that thing about men having two separate, competing command centers. "For the first time in my life, that other head below started talking to me: Procreate, procreate, procreate, procreate," she said. "My top head was, like, 'Jada, there is not a Will Smith on this set, you can't procreate with nobody!'" That whole day of filming, she added, "I felt really bad for guys."

That led to Pinkett Smith talking about how she enjoys watching her husband's on-screen sex scenes. As with her use of "procreate," she got the message across using family-safe language. "When I'm with Will, I get to experience him physically," Pinkett Smith explained, "but very rarely do I get to see what he looks like when he's in the game." Meyers kept his head, but at the end he conceded that "this is the hottest interview I've ever done." And yet, somehow, it's safe for work. —Peter Weber

equal rights
1:33 a.m. ET
Facebook.com/UNWomen

It's been 20 years since the U.N. women's conference in Beijing, where 189 countries adopted a platform for action to achieve equality for women, but Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says that no country on earth has reached gender equality.

The executive director of UN Women said that while there has been some progress — mostly in women’s health and girls’ education — violence against women and a lack of women in decision-making roles are "global phenomena" that make equality difficult. "The sheer scale of the use of rape that we've seen post-Beijing, I think that tells us that the women's bodies are viewed not as something to respect, but as something that men have the right to control and to abuse," she told The Associated Press. Leaders across the world need to start speaking out "very strongly and very openly" against sexual violence and the denial of women's rights, she added.

The platform for action from the Beijing conference called for the end of discrimination against women and the closing of the gender gap in health, human rights, employment, education, and other areas. Today, there are less than 20 female heads of state and government and the percentage of women lawmakers has only increased by 11 percent over the past two decades. "We just don't have critical mass to say that post-Beijing women have reached a tipping point in their representation," Mlambo-Ngcuka told AP. Next week, the Commission on the Status of Women will meet to revisit the Beijing platform.

Daily Show shrinkage
12:52 a.m. ET
The Daily Show

Whoever takes over for Jon Stewart at The Daily Show — and now we know it won't be Samantha Bee — will have plenty of opportunity to hire new talent. On Thursday, TBS announced that it has signed Bee for her own topical comedy show, as yet unnamed, that will allow her to "apply her smart and satirical point of view to current and relevant issues." TBS also recently poached Bee's husband, Jason Jones, for a scripted comedy series.

Jones and Bee will be executive producers on both shows, and TBS is talking up the "family affair" angle. "We actually have their kids coming in next week to pitch us animation," said Brett Weitz, TBS executive vice president of original programming, in a statement. Presumably TBS will leave the comedy writing to the pros.

leave harper lee alone
12:21 a.m. ET

The notoriously press-shy Harper Lee isn't one to mince words, and she let a pesky reporter know that his efforts to get her to talk were all in vain.

Over on AL.com, Connor Sheets admits that he basically stalked Lee for several days, trying to reach the author through her lawyer and publisher before actually going to her nursing home in Monroeville, Alabama. Despite the fact that she has been known to tell reporters asking for an interview "not just no, but hell no," Sheets said he finally decided to send her a two page letter on Feb. 5. He let her know that while he didn't expect a response, he was hoping she would "confirm that she is in fact lucid and fully in control of the destiny of Go Set a Watchman," her soon-to-be-released book.

Instead of answering this insulting question — did he seriously expect her to write back, "Why yes, I am completely lucid! Thanks so much for your concern about my mental faculties, random stranger!" — she returned the now-crumpled letter with a brief message scrawled on the bottom: "Go away! Harper Lee." Sounds like a fitting response to someone who just can't take a hint.

Memory Lane
12:12 a.m. ET

Sometimes you forget how deep Saturday Night Live's roots spread through American comedy. Conan O'Brien was a writer at SNL when a 23-year-old Adam Sandler joined the cast in 1990. On Thursday night's Conan, O'Brien asked if Sandler remembered those days, and Sandler mostly recalled being cocky, telling Lorne Michaels that he was going to be "the next Eddie Murphy," and a memorable staff dinner with actor Michael Keaton.

Then Sandler took over the questioning. "Hey Conan, do you remember [Chris] Farley's order when we would go out?" Conan remembered: "Chris Farley loved to eat, to a degree I've never seen since, by any human being." Sandler's recounting of his late friend's dining-out habits is still pretty shocking, and yet there's something kind of touching in watching him describe it. Watch below. —Peter Weber

if you can't say something nice...
March 5, 2015
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

An American helicopter mechanic is learning the hard way that the United Arab Emirates takes cyber-slander laws very seriously.

Ryan Pate worked in the United Arab Emirates at Global Aerospace Logistics (GAL), and was upset that the company would not let him extend his time off back home to see a doctor about a back injury. While in the U.S., he turned to Facebook and went on a rant, calling GAL "backstabbers" and using a racial slur against Arabs, the BBC reports. When he came back to the UAE to resign, he was summoned to the police station, where he was presented with screenshots of his Facebook post.

The authorities told him that GAL filed charges against him, saying he broke the country's laws against slander; in 2012, the UAE made it an offense to use the internet to say derogatory things about people and organizations. Pate's trial will start March 17, and he could face a hefty fine and up to five years in jail if convicted. 

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