Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Oddball occurrences

Issue: "Why Grey matters," March 17, 2007

Advance and retreat

Accidentally flexing its military muscle, Switzerland invaded tiny Liechtenstein with a company of 170 infantry soldiers. The soldiers accidentally passed into the unarmed nation during a training exercise; when military officials realized their mistake, the Swiss troops promptly retreated. In doing so they passed up the chance for an easy victory: Liechtenstein has only 34,000 citizens spread over an area slightly smaller than Washington, D.C.

We'll always have Paris

It started as a laudable goal, but the Associated Press could only hold out so long. The wire service ended its blackout of Paris Hilton stories after one week when the famous-for-being-famous hotel heiress was arrested for driving with a suspended license. AP entertainment editor Jesse Washington had declared his entertainment wire a Paris Hilton--free zone after lamenting that every "shallow frivolity" gained headlines. "There was a surprising amount of hand-wringing," Washington said. "A lot of people in the newsroom were saying this was tampering with the news."

Name that cloth

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A researcher from the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., may have just invented the next entrant into the late-night infomercial market. Research chemist Ron Simandl developed the so-called "Negligible-Residue Non-Tacky Tack Cloth" to wipe up harmful beryllium particles around the nuclear facility. Cleaning industry experts say the super dusting cloths, used to clean up industrial accidents or make "clean rooms" truly clean, could make a powerful entry into the cleaning supplies market-but they need a different name.

Food for thought

After a series of food fights in the Jefferson County, Pa., jail, David Riley chose prison's nuclear option: He sent in "the Food Loaf." In the world of cuisine offenses, the food loaf is close to cruel and unusual punishment: Jail cooks take the elements of the day's menu, mix them up, and mold the product into a loaf that is warmed in a microwave before serving. "I had one inmate tell me, 'Well warden, you broke me,'" Riley said. "It has had the desired effect."

Toxic taxis?

Cab drivers in Beijing apparently have something like a home office: Many sleep, eat, and smoke in their cabs. At least one top Chinese political adviser, Shi Xiangpeng, fears this practice will hurt the country's image during the 2008 Olympic Games. The reason: the "unbearable stink" of garlic and other smells in the taxis. Shi told the Xinhua news agency that he's "had to roll down the windows, regardless of how cold it was outside," and that smelly cabs "are not polite to the [Olympic] guests."

Dirty job

Can't afford to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land? One businessman figures someone will pay to receive some of the land in the mail: For $20, Steven Friedman will sell you a 16-ounce package of dirt scraped up from a property in Israel. Of course, due to import regulations, the soil must be purified of tiny microbes before shipping. But Friedman says for Jews-or anyone else-who dreamed of being buried in Israel, having some genuine Holy Land dirt in your coffin is the next best thing.

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