Dispatches > The Buzz

Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Iraq: What went wrong?," May 15, 2004

Village pillage

What would you do if an ATM machine gave you a 20 instead of a 10? Someone in Wooler, a small village in northeast England, last month decided to keep the money and tell friends. As word spread, reports the Daily Telegraph, a line at the ATM formed and within an hour stretched along most of the village's main street.

It turns out that 20-pound notes had been mistakenly loaded into the 10-pound note drawer at the Barclays Bank ATM, and customers withdrew 65,000 pounds ($117,000) during what a local merchant called "the busiest night in Wooler for years." Bank officials say they will have to accept the loss, since they "can't pinpoint" which customers stole from them.

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Low-speed chase

A police chase in Berlin on April 25 only covered about 2.5 miles, and the driver was going just 20 miles per hour. But the public was still in danger, say police, because the driver was drunk and his vehicle was a 17-ton bulldozer. The Reuters news service reports that the unidentified driver didn't stop his joyride until a police officer jumped on the vehicle, smashed the window, and sprayed mace in his face.

Monster's rights

Note to tourists in Sweden: Don't kill a giant serpent that has the head of a dog and fins on its neck. The mythical monster, which supposedly lives in Sweden's Lake Storsjoen, is officially on the country's endangered species list. Parliamentary investigators last week discovered a 1986 local court ruling that made it a crime to kill the animal or harm its eggs. They say Parliament may set aside the ruling.

Riches to rags

Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in the Virginia Lottery in 1993; now she's reportedly broke and more than $150,000 in debt. The Roanoke Times reports that Ms. Mullins took out a loan in 1998 from the People's Lottery Foundation, a company that specializes in loaning money to lottery winners who want more than their annual lottery payments provide.

She apparently stopped making payments on the loan in 2001, and a circuit court ruled last month that she owes $154,147. Her attorney says her son-in-law's medical bills ate into her winnings, but Tom Nasta, a Roanoke financial consultant, told the paper that many lottery winners go broke, including a client whose only asset seven years after winning $1 million was a mobile home.

Federal plunder

Federal employees racked up $16 billion last year on government-issued credit cards, according to the General Accounting Office. Among the more questionable purchases noted by the Reuters news service: two cars, cosmetic surgery, and a motorcycle for one Navy employee; $200 for LEGO toy robots (supposedly to "teach Navy engineers about robotics"); a mounted deer head; and a designer briefcase.

One employee of the Defense Department reportedly bought three global positioning systems because "he routinely got lost when he went on travel." Another DOD employee used her card to funnel $1.7 million to her brother's fictitious company. The credit cards were introduced in 1994, and spending with them has increased from $1 billion annually to the current $16 billion.

Quality control

A new German law would slap fines on all businesses, including brothels, that fail to hire trainees. The German magazine Der Spiegel reports that the legislation, drafted by the nation's Social Democrat and Green parties, would penalize companies that don't employ at least one apprentice for every 15 workers. Some Greens argued that brothels, legalized in Germany in 2002, should be exempt from the requirement. But the Education Ministry, which will enforce the law, nixed that idea: Allowing brothels not to train new prostitutes "would cause considerable difficulties."

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