Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Pryor commitment," Sept. 13, 2003


A Zurich apartment dweller destroyed a wasp nest outside of his apartment with overwhelming force, but the collateral damage was severe. The Reuters news service reports that the man emptied an entire can of insect spray on the nest and then used a lighter to set the nest on fire. The fumes ignited and the resulting blaze burned down his apartment and the apartments of two neighbors. No one was injured in the incident, but authorities estimated the property damage from the fire at more than $350,000.

Bird call

A police call to a home in Tucson late last month seemed to have all the makings of a crisis. Responding to a 911 hang-up call, authorities found barred windows and heard a woman screaming. Unable to get inside, they knocked down a door with a battering ram. Officers instead found a parrot, intermittently making laughing sounds and sounds "identical to those of a distressed adult female."

Ruled and regulated

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What book has 75,606 pages, which no one has read completely but its contents cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars? The answer is the Federal Register, which lists the rules and regulations that businesses and citizens of the United States must follow. The Cato Institute, in a study called "The Ten Thousand Commandments," reports that the register continues to grow under the Bush administration, with federal agencies issuing 4,167 new rules last year. (The unreadable book had merely 74,258 pages in the final year of the Clinton administration.) The estimated cost of all of these arcane rules to businesses and their customers: $860 billion, or five times the current projected budget deficit.

Trump card

Jennifer Griffith, a cashier at a Des Moines, Iowa, Pier One Imports store, saw a familiar name on a customer's credit card-her own. A thief had stolen the card from Ms. Griffith's unlocked employee locker in June, then returned last month to make some purchases. The Des Moines Register reported that the customer fled when she saw the expression on Ms. Griffith's face.

Broken credibility?

A vandal last month attacked Caldwell Elementary School in Nashville, Tenn., and the miscreant will be going to the principal's office-because she is the principal. Unhappy with the condition of 49 of the school's windows, Principal Dianne Gilbert smashed them, hoping to force the school district to make repairs. Her only punishment: She will have to pay $830.12 to repair the windows. The district will not even place a record of the vandalism in her personnel file. A student who committed the same act could have been charged with criminal vandalism and faced suspension or expulsion.

Leaving tracks

A Janesville, Wis., thief's choice of loot made it easy for authorities to find him last month. The 40-year-old suspect allegedly stole a computerized tracking device from a prisoner on home detention. The $2,500 device uses a global positioning system to track such prisoners if they illegally leave their home area. Authorities, having been alerted electronically that the device was on the move, were already on the case when the prisoner called to report the theft. Rock County correctional officer Thomas Roth activated the device's GPS receiver and tracked it using the Internet, leading authorities to the suspect's apartment, where they captured him. "He apparently didn't know what he had," said Mr. Roth, "because he would be awfully stupid to steal a tracking device."

Big car payments

Australian Joseph Nabil Abdelshahid's driving habits are about to cost him far more than most new cars would. The 24-year-old last week agreed in court to pay over $45,000 in fines for 295 unpaid speeding tickets, parking fines, and tollway fines. The payment plan: His parents will refinance their home loan to come up with about a third of the fines and he'll make payments on the rest until February 2013. Missed payments, a judge warned him, will lead to jail time.


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