Dispatches > Quick Takes
Photo by Mary Murphy/The Providence Journal/AP

Quick Takes

Issue: "School choice," Aug. 25, 2012

Gray shadow

A general store in Rhode Island that dates back to pre-Constitution days closed its doors on Aug. 5 after 224 years in business. College student Jonah Waite, 21, inherited Gray's Store in Adamsville, R.I., earlier this year after his father died. The general store, believed to be the oldest, continuously running store of its kind in the nation, first opened for business in 1788-a year before the Constitution was to take effect-and has been in the Waite family for seven generations. According to Waite, a nearby grocery store that siphons business away and his studies at the University of Hartford in Connecticut made operating Gray's Store impractical. "Obviously, I understand the historical aspect of it," Waite said, "and I would really love to keep it the way it is, but it doesn't seem to me that that's the most feasible option."

Way past due

The U.S. national debt stands at about $16 trillion. Some say the German capital of Berlin owes about six times that much-to one tiny German town. Back in the 16th century, the small town of Mittenwalde in what is today eastern Germany loaned 400 Rhenish guilders, a popular currency of the time, to Berlin to help the growing town meet its financial needs. According to the terms of the loan, Germany would someday pay back the 400 guilder note with a 6 percent interest rate tacked on. But when authorities in Berlin failed to repay the note in a timely fashion, the debt slipped from the minds of Mittenwalde's inhabitants, only to be found hundreds of years later by a town clerk. Today, with the debt still collecting interest and with a Rhenish guilder still fetching .88 euros, the German capital owes the town of fewer than 9,000 residents more than $106 trillion. And just as they have in the decades since the note was uncovered, Berlin officials recently disavowed the debt.

Magnetic infraction

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Fans of the rare earth magnets known as Buckyballs have two groups to blame for ruining their fun: the kids who kept swallowing the super-magnetic toys and the safety-cop agency that announced it will move to ban sales. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued its first sale-stop order in 11 years when it filed a lawsuit to ban the sale of the popular toy known as Buckyballs on July 25, saying the toys "pose a substantial risk of injury to the public." In the suit, the CPSC cited about 20 cases in which children swallowed Buckyballs and required surgery after the BB-sized magnets stuck together in the coils of their intestines. Manufacturer Maxfield & Oberton responded to the CPSC suit by noting that its magnetic products are exclusively marketed to adults.

Green fee

Never mind drought conditions and local watering restrictions, a Colorado homeowners association just wants green lawns. A Denver homeowner learned this the hard way when her HOA, Green Valley Ranch, fined her $200 for brown spots in her lawn. Lori Wortham said she's doing the best she can do with her lawn considering Colorado's Stage 1 drought and watering restrictions in the city. Wortham said she even attempted to reseed and hand water the area. The homeowners association said it stands by the fine, saying it had given Wortham nearly a year to fix the problem.

Rescue mission

A Niantic, Conn., man has made sure that one elderly lobster won't find itself in a boiling pot of water-at least for now. When Don MacKenzie heard a restaurant in the nearby town of Waterford, Conn., had acquired a 17-pound lobster estimated to be about 80 years old, he set about to free the lobster with his pocketbook. "Let's just say that it's the most expensive lobster I never ate," MacKenzie told The Day of Connecticut. Instead of soaking the critter in butter, MacKenzie released the behemoth into an undisclosed part of Long Island Sound on July 24.

Issue resolved

It's not so much that he stole-it's what he stole. University of Louisville Police in Kentucky have charged Terry J. Davis with misdemeanor shoplifting after they say officers caught him stealing a textbook on ethics from an on-campus library on July 25 and attempting to fence the text at a local bookstore. The book's full title: Resolving Ethical Issues.

Just say no

For the first time in a dozen years, South Koreans living near the Demilitarized Zone separating the free South from the Communist North saw enemy ordnance falling from the skies. But the North Koreans weren't dropping bombs, they were dropping propaganda leaflets. According to South Korean officials, more than 15,000 leaflets urging the free population of the South to defect across the DMZ were floated across the border by balloon between July 21 and July 24 and then dropped on villages nearby. South Korean officials say they expect the propaganda to be ineffectual.

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