Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "The cost of war," Feb. 15, 2003

Socialist pigs

Is socialism dead? Several dozen free-market think-tank leaders from across Eastern and Western Europe and the United States-including Michael Novak, economist Richard Rahn, and advisors to Jack Kemp and Steve Forbes-gathered for a two-day conference last week in Brussels to discuss that question. Conclusions: conceptually, yes; practically, no. Best new example of 21st-century socialist thinking in action: "England's farmers must keep their pigs happy with toys and straw or face a big fine," reports Reuters in London. "Farmers have been told to put a football, metal chains, or hay in their pigsties to provide 'environmental enrichment' and stop pigs from getting bored and attacking each other." The law originated with the European Union and was just adopted in Great Britain. "Anyone breaking the rules faces a fine of up to 2,500 pounds."

He's no Jesse James

The "bumbling bank robber" isn't a slapstick movie character, but he could be. After stealing about $16,000 from a Wachovia Bank in Miami on Sept. 30, Charles Edward Jones, convicted in federal court last week of bank robbery, had a string of mishaps that eventually helped convict him. Fleeing the bank, Mr. Jones stuffed his gun into his waistband and accidentally fired it into his pants. He wasn't injured, but as he stepped onto the street a van delivering school lunches hit him. He stumbled to his getaway car, but he left his gun, two gold teeth, and hat on the street. The FBI, which gave him his nickname, was able to link DNA from the teeth to Mr. Jones.

Dirty remedy

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If terrorists ever detonate a "dirty bomb," health officials may make the victims swallow paint. FDA officials say a common artist's pigment, Prussian blue, may help save lives, and they want drug companies to mass-produce it as a radiation antidote. Officials say Prussian blue, also known as ferric hexacyanoferrate, is a valuable treatment for certain forms of radioactive exposure. It is said to bind with radioactive particles so that the body does not absorb them. A 1987 radiation accident in Brazil boosted Prussian blue's reputation. About 250 people were contaminated with cesium-137, which had been abandoned by a cancer clinic. The antidote cut the time victims' bodies were contaminated in half, with minor side effects.

Thy neighbor's decorator

The hottest cable TV show isn't about sports, movies, or music videos; it's about home decorating. TLC's Trading Spaces beat pro wrestling and SpongeBob SquarePants as basic cable's most popular show last month. In late January, Nielsen reported that 3.48 million homes tuned in to watch the surprise hit, in which people redecorate their neighbors' homes. TLC runs the takeoff on Britain's Changing Rooms on Saturday nights and reruns the show throughout the week. Homeowners on the show have two days (and a professional designer's help) to remake a room with a $1,000 budget. At the end comes the "reveal" in which the neighbor discovers what happened to his home. (The show disclaims responsibility if the renovations turn out displeasing.) Trading Spaces won enough acclaim to score an Emmy nomination last year. As with every hit show, Trading Spaces has spawned imitators. HGTV, a network dedicated to design that once turned down Trading Spaces, has Design on a Dime, in which decorators work within a strict budget limit. VH1 has rolled out Rock the House, sending musicians to redecorate their fans' homes. Meanwhile, TLC has launched its own variation, While You Were Out, where one spouse redecorates while the other is gone.

Radar range

It was a debate over guns or bandwidth, and it went back and forth for months. But the Defense Department struck a deal on Jan. 31 with several high-tech companies to keep new wireless Internet devices from interfering with military radar. The debate centered on the invisible radio spectrum. Officials worried about tens of millions of electronic gadgets that operate on the same frequencies as at least a dozen different radar systems. Under the agreement, manufacturers will include technology that avoids interfering with military radar. Industry experts said the add-on probably would cost a few extra dollars. The deal affects a wireless standard known as 802.11a, which is common on wireless devices. In exchange, defense officials will support proposals to nearly double the amount of lucrative wireless frequencies. Assistant Commerce Secretary Nancy J. Victory says the Bush administration "continued its goal of stimulating the economy and ensuring the national defense."

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