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Quick Takes

Oddball occurences

Issue: "Geo-gizmos," April 25, 2009

Bomb squad

After use for years in Africa, officials in the United Kingdom may have a new tool in the fight against lost landmines: rats. Handlers at the Porfell Wildlife Park in Cornwall recently imported a Gambian pouched rat named Kofi that, according to trainer Wendy Winstanley, could be useful to British army and police for bomb detection. Already used by locals in Mozambique, the rats have proved themselves as valuable mine detectors. With a nose more sensitive than most dogs and a weight that allows them to run through a minefield without detonating anything, a trained Gambian pouched rat can clear 1,000 square feet of a minefield in about 30 minutes.

Going to pot

Perhaps expecting to live decades longer, a Nigerian farmer claiming to be 114 years old was caught by police with over 14,000 pounds of marijuana divided into 254 sacks. According to police, the man, whose age could not be confirmed, told police he believed the sacks contained rice from his farm-not the narcotic plant. While large-scale busts have become somewhat commonplace in Nigeria, the seven tons of pot would have a street value of $14.3 million in the United States.

Prayer by proxy

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While some Europeans are cybershopping for certificates to renounce their baptisms, an American website is banking on a "better safe than sorry" approach from those stateside. For those without time to pray, but yet unwilling to ditch religiosity altogether, the website InformationAgePrayer.com offers the soft apostasy of prayer outsourcing. Users of the site may subscribe and let the company's computers recite prayers for them using text-to-speech software. Protestant subscribers can pay $3.95 per month for a computer proxy to recite the Lord's Prayer each day for them. And the site encourages Catholics to "Show God you're serious" by purchasing "The Complete Rosary Package"-a purported value at nearly $50. The site has prayers for Muslims too, and a promise to point their speakers toward Mecca.

Ice scream

Students in Peabody, Mass., will have to find another way to raise money. Officials with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have ordered Peabody High School to put the kibosh on all ice-cream-related fundraisers because of concerns that the sweet socials just aren't healthy. The state organization says the socials violate a wellness policy that accompanies state and federal dollars for the school's hot lunch program. Peabody students usually hold one ice-cream fundraiser each month, selling sundaes for $3.50 apiece and raising nearly $400 each time for extracurricular clubs from sports teams to the school's newspaper. The school's principal says he's looking for ways to continue Peabody's fundraising tradition without raising the hackles of state officials.

Lights out

Burglars of an unoccupied home in Des Moines were nothing if not thorough. The thieves took furniture and appliances including the washing machine, a night stand, bed frame, television stand, and dresser. But the thieves didn't stop there. Police investigating the burglary reported the criminals also took the light bulbs directly from the sockets.

Covenant breakers

An anti-religious scheme devised by secularists in Europe has begun to catch on, especially in the United Kingdom. One group, the generically named National Secular Society, now sells certificates of "debaptism" on its website, allowing Britons a symbolic avenue to contest their own infant baptisms in the Church of England. Selling the parchment certificates "as an outward sign of the inner rationality that inspires your being," the National Secular Society charges roughly $4.50 for one. Britons wishing to spread the apostasy around may opt for the five-pack of certificates for about $15. In an interview with the AFP, a Church of England spokesman had little to say, except that "renouncing baptism is a matter between the individual and God."

Soap dispensers

Environmental regulations have created a black market in Spokane, Wash., for even the cleanest substances. A state effort to reduce phosphorus in Washington's lakes and rivers began with a test program in Spokane County and will go statewide by July 2010. Under the program, government officials booted traditional dishwasher detergent from the shelves. Normal dishwasher soap contains phosphorus, a substance that works well to break down grease and remove stains. State officials say the chemical also promotes algae in places where environmentalists don't want it: Washington lakes and rivers. But many Spokane residents are learning the environmentally friendly detergents just don't get dishes clean. So, they're driving across the state border to Idaho for regular Cascade and Electrasol. A manager at a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Costco near Spokane estimates his detergent sales have increased 10 percent since the ban.

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