Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Syria's pain," Sept. 8, 2012

Space camp

The opportunity is out of this world. A Dutch company says it wants to transport four private astronauts on a one-way trip to Mars. The company, which calls itself Mars One, proposes to use a reality television show to cull potential astronauts down to four, and use the show's proceeds to pay the cost of creating a permanent habitable base on the Red Planet by 2023-a cost the company estimates at around $6 billion for the first seven-month flight. NASA scientists have said they could land astronauts on Mars by 2030.

Burger battle

A Washington 12-year-old learned the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished. While raising money for a veterans charity by selling hamburgers, Chewelah, Wash., student Justin Peterson got a visit from a city health inspector who fined the boy $170 for not having a proper food permit. The boy, whose year-round hamburger sales in a city park have raised more than $25,000 for the Honor Flight program for World War II veterans, said he was disappointed he had to shut down. But he won't have to worry about the fine: Board members for the Northeast Tri County Health District agreed to cover the $170 penalty out of their own pockets.

Tough of turf

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A wealthy North Texas enclave has banned the use of artificial grass after a handful of residents installed the faux turf to brighten up their front yards. Highland Park, Texas, city council members passed an ordinance banning the fake lawns on Aug. 13 after officials noticed three of them in the city. A familiar sight at football stadiums, artificial turf lawns have grown in popularity due to the low maintenance and water requirements. "Plastic grass is not in keeping with the design and quality of design we want to have in our town," Councilman Andrew Barr told the Dallas Morning News after voting for the ban. The newspaper reported that Highland Park residents use three times more water on average than their neighbors in nearby cities.

Thumbs down

Always texting? Doctors are now warning that excessive texting on your mobile phone could eventually lead to a condition called "texting thumb." The repetitive stress of texting, according to doctors at Philadelphia's Jefferson University Hospital, is causing an increasing number of cases of thumb tendonitis. And while some severe cases may require surgery to cure, in most instances sufferers need simply to take a break from their iPhone or BlackBerry.

Beer emergency

Police in Columbia, Tenn., would like to remind you: Law enforcement does not exist to take you on a beer run. Police arrested 67-year-old Allen Brooks after he made repeated phone calls to 911 requesting that officers go buy him beer. "[Go to] the store and get me a beer," Brooks told a 911 dispatcher on Aug. 4. "I'll pay you." Brooks phoned the emergency number nine times in a 12-hour period asking for dispatchers or police to fetch him alcohol. Eventually, police did stop by his residence. But instead of dropping off a six-pack, officers arrested the man for abusing the 911 phone system.

Killer pets

In the superiority debate between cat and dog owners, those who own felines just got a fresh argument. Sometimes derided by dog owners as aloof and useless furballs, cats-according to new research from the University of Georgia-are actually slaughter-minded killing machines. Researchers at the Athens, Ga., university discovered that about 30 percent of roaming house cats kill prey, with an average kill count of two animals per week. That may not sound like a lot, but considering the estimated 74 million house cats in the United States, the carnage adds up. "Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American birds species are in decline," American Bird Conservancy President George Fenwick told USA Today. According to the research, house cats bring home less than a quarter of their prey, either eating their victims or leaving them to rot.

Pork chopped

Cafeteria chefs at Paul Quinn College won't be bringing home the bacon any time soon. Or the pork chops or the pork tenderloin. In a policy announced by college President Michael Sorrell, the Dallas school is banning all pork from its campus cafeterias. Sorrell said the ban isn't based on any religious tradition, but rather on health concerns. "When you come to college, you come to be educated," Sorrell said on Aug. 7. "We thought we could do more in the area of promoting healthy lifestyle choices and healthy eating habits." The pork ban is just the latest in Sorrell's push toward healthy eating on campus. When Paul Quinn College ended its football program in 2006, Sorrell converted the school's football field into an urban farm.

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