Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Muddy Gras," March 4, 2006

Repelling repellent

Researchers from an Australian university have finally proved it: Goats know a predator when they smell its poo. Scientists at the University of Queensland have discovered that goats aren't just afraid of a tiger's roar and fangs, but also of its excrement. In field tests, goats that did not even live on the same continent as tigers stayed far away from areas where researchers spread some of the predator's feces. "If we can show this lasts weeks . . . we've just tapped into probably a billion-dollar market," said repellent creator Peter Murray. In Australia alone, pests like goats cause $311 million in agricultural damage every year.

Weed growth

The numbers are in and indicate yet another record growing season for what may be Washington state's most pricey-and illicit-crop. Officials with the state's narcotics program said the 135,323 marijuana plants seized in 2005 were worth about $270 million. That means, in a strange and illegal way, the state's busted weed harvesters have an agribusiness that would make it the state's eighth most valuable crop, even ahead of Washington's sweet cherries. The plants mark an increase from 2004 when officials with the State Patrol confiscated about 133,000 plants. Each marijuana plant can produce around one pound of pot-about a $2,000 value on the street.

Bears fan

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A Nebraska man filed a strange petition after state officials discovered and confiscated six black bears he had been keeping on his farm. The man, 37-year-old Duane Kuhl, asked court officials to grant him visitation rights on the bears, which had been moved to an Omaha zoo. Mr. Kuhl acknowledged he was planning on selling cubs from the group to people in states where having bears as pets is legal. The problem for Mr. Kuhl is that Nebraska is not one of those states. The man faces six misdemeanor charges and strong words from prosecutor Randy Ritnour, who plans to fight Mr. Kuhl's visitation request: "He has no more right to visit those bears than a drug dealer has a right to visit his stash after we take it."

Korean control

North Korea's newest political prisoners only wish they had something to cheer about. An informant who escaped from North Korea to China told the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo that 21 members of North Korean cheerleading squads were being held as political prisoners for speaking too frankly after one trip to South Korea. The North has occasionally sent teams of cheerleaders to South Korea to compete in international cheerleading competitions. Chosun Ilbo reported the women were being held after breaking an agreement to keep silent about life outside the isolated communist nation when they returned. The U.S. State Department estimates that North Korea holds up to 200,000 political dissidents in camps that make Guantanamo Bay look like a Hilton.

Striking out

Perhaps he was being a bit forward, but a 60-year-old Oregon exterminator discovered that in the question of what is a sex crime, a kiss is on the list. An Oregon Court of Appeals decided that Nicholas Meyrovich's kissing of an unsuspecting client was first-degree sexual abuse-a felony in Oregon. The problem for Mr. Meyrovich: His busted buss was his third felony, meaning that he'll spend the rest of his life in prison, according to the state's three-strikes law.

Sentence served

Many nations call drunk drivers criminals-Taiwan calls them that, and something else. Courts in Taiwan have begun to give convicted drunk drivers a choice between fines and performing civic duties. Faced with the prospects of dropping a lot of cash, many convicted Taiwanese drunk drivers are choosing to clean the streets and play mahjong with the elderly to avoid penalties. "The offenders first dismissed the duty as wasting time," said prosecution official Hsu Yi-ling, "but they soon discovered they were respected and drew satisfaction from helping the elderly."

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