Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Beginning of the end," March 29, 2003

Building humility

It's not often that radical protesters ask the police for help. But usually they haven't chained themselves to the wrong building. Jody Mason last week went to downtown Olympia, Wash., intending to padlock himself to the federal Department of Energy building to protest the Iraqi war. Instead, he chained himself to the building next door, which belongs to the Washington State Grange, a nonprofit group that advocates for residents of rural areas. Police had to use heavy-duty bolt cutters to free Mr. Mason, who spent hours linked to the Grange building. "He asked for help because he didn't have the key," Olympia police Commander Steve Nelson told The Olympian.

Half-baked Brits

Hot cross buns are simply too Christian for many British schools. Local authorities across the country are nixing the tradition of handing out the buns to students at Easter to avoid offending non-Christians. London's Sunday Telegraph quotes one local official as saying that he had received "a lot" of complaints about the pastry, although he would not say how many. Special menus will continue for secular feasts like Chinese New Year and Russian Independence Day. The whole issue is "very, very bizarre," according to a British Muslim Council spokesman. "British Muslims have been quite happily eating and digesting hot cross buns for many years and I don't think they are suddenly going to be offended," the unnamed representative said.

Rock star

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Who knew honing your "Rock, Scissors, Paper" skills could land you some major dough? In proof there's a contest for nearly everything, about 120 enthusiasts of the children's game vied for the $1,000 prize at a contest on March 15 in Healdsburg, Calif., north of San Francisco. "It's really about the mind games," said Doug Walker, co-president of the Toronto-based World Rock Scissors Paper Society, which sponsored the annual contest. "There's a lot of trash talking and mental intimidation." It's all about subtle strategy, contestants said. "Whenever you see a tense muscle, they're going rock," said Jeff Johnson, a salesman from nearby Santa Rosa. "If they looked relaxed, it's going to be paper." The $1,000 prize went to Ana Martinez, a 20-year-old student from Oakland whose rock smashed her opponent's scissors.

Diversity isn't his strength

McDonald's may be struggling a bit financially, but don't blame Don Gorske. The Fond du Lac, Wis., resident is in the Guinness Book of World Records for eating Big Macs and last week downed his 19,000th. Mr. Gorske, who eats two Big Macs per day, says he would "be clueless" about what to eat if it weren't for Big Macs. McDonald's cites the 6-foot, 180-lb. man in defense against lawsuits that claim the burger chain's food makes people fat.

Citizens' canes

Members of school clubs can speak for themselves without speaking for their school. So ruled U.S. District Judge Frank Freedman last week when he found that a Massachusetts principal had violated the First Amendment rights of students by prohibiting members of a Bible study club from handing out candy canes with Christmas messages. Lawyers for Westfield High School argued that because the school sponsors the club, other students might think the school endorsed the candied messages. But the messages clearly came from the citizen and not the state, said Mr. Freedman, and students have free-speech rights "so long as their communication with other students does not substantially or materially disrupt the operation of the classroom." And in this case, the judge said, the candy canes had not subverted classroom operations, with the evidence showing that unbelieving students had "merely set the messages aside and enjoyed a minty treat for their troubles." The U.S. Justice Department and the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union submitted briefs supporting the Bible study club's members.

Studying Homer

The University of California, Berkeley, now offers a philosophy class based on The Simpsons. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that student instructor Tyler Shores developed the course after 14 years of cartoon watching and now bills it as an academically rigorous course. "I figured Berkeley students are smart and want something to pique their interest," Mr. Shores told the paper. "But they also want something fun ... so I put the two together." The course arose from a special program in which students can create their own for-credit classes. Four hundred students vied for 100 slots in The Simpsons class.

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