Notes and shorts from around the world

Rain men
Volkswagen has been accused of causing a devastating drought around its production plant in the city of Puebla, owing to its use of “hail cannons” to stop hailstones smashing into its cars. Hailstones are a problem for carmakers. Storms in 2008 and 2013 damaged some 58,000 vehicles at VW plants in Germany. The plant at Puebla, Mexico, VW’s second biggest globally, turns out 450,000 cars a year, many of which are stored outside.  But farmers say the cannons – which work by sending waves of pressure into the atmosphere – work too well, and have stopped not only hail, but rainfall, too, in the 2,000 hectares around the factory. Faced with a legal threat, VW has agreed it will install hail netting in its yards and use its cannons more sparingly.
Prison slavery
Inmates at prisons across the USA are staging a three week long protest against what they claim amounts to modern day slavery. Owing to an exemption in the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, hundreds of thousands of prisoners in American gaols work unpaid, or for as little as a dollar a day. Many are used as cooks and cleaners in their own gaols, bringing huge cost savings; others do manual work for big corporations. The protest, which includes strikes and sit-ins, aims to highlight the use of unpaid labour, as well as other “inhumane” conditions in America’s overcrowded and often violent gaols. It comes in response to rioting in the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina in April, in which seven inmates were killed.
Seat savers
Antisocial passengers on crowded trains go to great lengths to keep the train seat next to them free. Now an American company has come up with a product to make their lives easier – the “Seat Saver.” Head to and you can buy a fake spillage made entirely of plastic – anything from an oozing ice cream tub or overturned coffee cup to a dribbling ketchup sachet or sloppy slice of pizza. Seat Savers cost between $6.30 and $63.00, and, as the company notes, make great gifts.
Substantial Roman villa found
One of the largest Roman villas ever discovered in Britain, with a footprint almost the size of that of Buckingham Palace, has been unearthed on the estate of Broughton Castle, Oxfordshire. Detectorist Keith Westcott first decided to visit the site in 2016 after a farmer told him that in 1963 he had ploughed into what turned out to be a sarcophagus of a Romano-British woman of high status. Westcott’s team has since discovered 178 items of significance on the 1% of the site so far uncovered.
Bons mots
“The struggle for a free intelligence has always been a struggle between the ironic and the literal mind.” – Christopher Hitchens, Anglo-American writer and commentator

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