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Dispatches Quick Takes

Quick Takes

(Illustration by Krieg Barrie)

Makeshift weapon

Without mace, pepper spray, or even a gun, a Chicagoland cabbie got resourceful when a passenger tried to rob him. Elgin, Ill., police say a knife-wielding perpetrator tried to rob an unidentified 51-year-old cabbie on July 2. When the passenger held a 10-inch blade to the driver's neck and demanded money, the cabbie improvised, spraying the perp in the eyes with a can of spray deodorant he had surreptitiously reached for. The burning caused the robbery suspect to drop his weapon and flee.

Strange brew

Don't think of it as a commercial revolution, but government officials in South Korea who monitor state-run television of their communist northern neighbor noticed something strange after a July 2 news program: a three-minute beer commercial. One unidentified official who has been monitoring North Korean state television for two decades says it was the first commercial for food he has ever seen coming from the north. In the nearly three-minute advertisement, a synth and drum machine-laden soundtrack accompanied images of people enjoying Taedong River Beer or simply close-ups of the pilsner-looking beer itself. In the ad, viewers were assured that "Taedong River Beer is the pride of Pyongyang" and that the North Korean beer contained protein and vitamin B2. One thing the ad didn't discuss: how affordable such a beer would be in a nation with a per capita yearly income of $1,065.

Habitat for hamsters

For the sin of cruelty to an animal, France could be forced to fork over close to $37 million. Seen by many farmers as a pest, the great hamster of Alsace is seen by environmentalists in Europe as a dying breed. It happens to be the only wild species of hamster that exists in Western Europe. But with hamster numbers dwindling, environmentalists at the European Commission are taking legal action to preserve the hamster. The commission filed a suit in the European Court against the French government, charging France's neglect has pushed the rare hamster species to the brink of extinction. The main culprit in destroying the great hamster's habitat, according to the European Commission? Suburban sprawl.

Promoting a technicality

A recent editorial in The Washington Times isn't likely to ingratiate the newspaper with officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In a piece titled "Toss Your Ticket," Times editorialists encouraged readers to throw away traffic tickets they receive in the mail garnered from red-light cameras throughout the state, specifically in Alexandria, where local officials have apparently shortened the yellow-light time to increase tickets and revenue. But why should drivers ignore the official-looking notices? Because, according to an investigative report by the Times, in Virginia citations must be hand-delivered, not simply dropped in the mailbox.

Poppy problem

The crop circles in the Australian island state of Tasmania are no mystery. Blame them on wallabies that won't just say no. "We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite, and going around in circles," state attorney-general Lara Giddings told a parliamentary hearing in June. "Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high." Tasmania reportedly has about 500 legal poppy farms that grow the crop for use in morphine, and industry spokesman Rick Rockliff told the AFP news service that other animals also eat the plants and act strangely: "There have been many stories about sheep that have eaten some of the poppies after harvesting, and they all walk around in circles."

Ninth-inning stretch

A 52-minute delay in a game between the Houston Astros and the home team San Diego Padres created quite a buzz around the major leagues. Actually, it was the buzz that created the buzz. The trouble began in the top of the ninth inning when San Diego left fielder Kyle Blanks started walking toward the infield in between batters. "I kind of saw one or two floating around my head," said Blanks, who is allergic to bees. "Then I turned around and there was a wall." A wall of bees, that is. A swarm of bees apparently had buzzed into left field at Petco Park and caused umpires to call for a delay. A beekeeper called by the Padres was able to get rid of the buzzing pests-but not before a nearly hour-long delay.

A strong Hart

Next time Lydia Hart goes to deliver food with her Meals on Wheels partner, perhaps the pair should stop at Hart's house. That's because Hart, who has volunteered with the charity that delivers meals to low-income seniors, is herself 101 years old. Years ago, the Chesapeake, Va., woman said she was even more active. "I used to carry the meals, but after my legs and feet got the better of me, I still wanted to help," Hart told a Chesapeake television station. "It's fun for me and a chance to get out. It gives me something to do." These days, Hart rides shotgun and navigates for her 72-year-old partner. And she's not about to stop helping the "little old ladies," as she refers to her clients who are 20, sometimes 30 years her junior: "I'm not going to retire from this, since I've retired from everything else."

Grape glut

Considering current prices, Australians may wish for someone to turn wine into water instead of the other way around. That's because due to a grape glut there, the price of a bottle of wine has dipped below the price of a bottle of water. One major Australian wine producer was selling its "cleanskins," or unmarked and generically packaged wine bottles, for $1.56 each. The price plummet is a consequence of recent overplanting, which led the supply of wine grapes to greatly exceed the local demand for wine. To compensate, Foster's, the largest winemaker, has sold 31 of its vineyards. Some planters are simply letting their grapes go to waste rather than pick them.

Bouncing burglars?

What Matthew Nice sees as a toy his local housing officials see as a tool for burglary. A homeowners association in the United Kingdom town of Wicklow has informed Nice that he must remove his daughter's toy trampoline from a shared garden between his and his neighbor's houses because, in the eyes of the association, the trampoline could be used by burglars to bound through high windows. No word from the housing authority regarding the appropriateness of Tonka trucks or tricycles that, though children's toys, could possibly be seen as getaway vehicles.