Dispatches > Quick Takes
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Quick Takes

Issue: "Libyan exodus," March 26, 2011

Retaliatory strike

Perhaps simply seeking to be polite, the American South has found what may be the perfect reciprocal gift for Asia, whose invasive kudzu has become a ubiquitous blight across the Southeastern United States. Genetic testing confirms that fire ant populations cropping up in Asia ultimately came not from South America but from the American South. Both foreign invasive species-kudzu in Dixie and fire ants in China and Taiwan-seem to be thriving in their new environments. But it was only recently that scientists discovered that fire ants in Asia had emigrated from the American South. "Various exotic invasive pests have been and are being transported to the U.S. by commerce, so it's ironic that one of our pests has used the southern U.S. as a staging area, and then as a port of exit for worldwide destinations," said University of Texas researcher Larry Gilbert.

Nineteen is enough

After 48 years on the job, Olive Stephens has finally decided to retire-from elected office. The 94-year-old was first elected to the city council of Shady Shores, Texas, in 1962, embarking on a nearly five-decade tour of duty at the top levels of government for the neighborhood-turned-suburb of Dallas. In 1972, she was elected mayor, a position she still holds today. Now the 19-term incumbent says she won't be seeking a 20th and will retire when her term expires. The nonagenarian told KXAS-TV in Dallas that she'll be watching how the city proceeds without her. "Well, I've left you without any debt and money in the bank," she said, "so let's see if we can keep it that way."

Bighorn bypass

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A trio of new bridges in northwest Arizona have cost taxpayers almost $5 million-and no drivers will ever use them. But state officials insist the money is well spent. That's because the three bridges over U.S. Highway 93 near the new Hoover Dam bypass are for about 500 desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife that roam the area. Wildlife officials say that the three concrete bridges will both help preserve the state's largest bighorn population and help prevent highway accidents with the 150-pound animals. Will the animals choose to use the three structures? "Nobody's really ever tried it before," Curt Steinke, vice president of the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, told The Arizona Republic, "not an overhead bridge."

Beer outing

Begrudgingly admitting what the rest of the world knew, Russia is set to classify beer as an alcoholic beverage for the first time. Long classified as merely a foodstuff, the sudsy beverage evaded tougher alcohol regulations for years. Russians' penchant for stronger drinks like vodka has led many in the nation to view beer as little more than a soft drink. Officials who are concerned about the yearly half-million alcohol-related deaths hope the reclassification of beer will lead to a crackdown on nighttime sales and advertisements.

Ancient antibiotic

Long before the discovery of penicillin, one culture used beer as an antibiotic to stave off infection and diseases. Archeologists and anthropologists studying ancient Nubia now say they are reasonably certain that the antibiotic tetracycline found in Nubian bones comes from the ancient people's brewing method. The discovery proves that people in the Sudan area of Africa had access to antibiotics long before Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin. "Discovering the tetracycline was like unwrapping an Egyptian mummy and seeing a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses strapped to the head," Emory University anthropology professor George Armelagos told the San Jose Mercury News. "It was that surprising."

Must-see TV?

Channel-surfing Ontario residents may stumble onto a delicious surprise this Spring. At the end of February, the Canadian restaurant chain Swiss Chalet began operating its own television channel. Programming the channel was simple: The channel shows only a continuous loop tape of a dozen chickens roasting on a spit. The chain chicken restaurant says its hypnotic, saliva-inducing channel-number 208 on Rogers digital in Ontario-is part of a marketing campaign and will keep running into May.

Rise and shine

Receiving a pre-recorded robo-call at 6:15 may not seem unusual, but for about 500 high-school students in Fall River, Mass., such calls will come at 6:15 a.m., not p.m. The calls will come from their school, B.M.C. Durfee High, and feature the voice of the school's principal, Paul Marshall: "It's 6:15 and it's Durfee High School calling." School officials hope the wake-up calls will lower chronic tardiness and absenteeism, and they are targeting the calls to regular offenders. Schools in New York and Illinois reportedly pioneered the practice, with New York City using the voice of former basketball star Magic Johnson for its calls.

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