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Spray for Locusts

“What a year!” groaned Frieda Caplan, the Los Angeles wholesaler who markets exotic fruits and vegetables across the nation.

While the Midwest drought withered basic commodities, it left largely unaffected the sorts of crops Frieda’s Finest/Produce Specialties has been distributing for the last quarter of a century. Then came Hurricane Gilbert, wiping out much of the Central America and southern Mexico plantain, chayote and snow-pea crops that Caplan was counting on.

Then another disaster struck, this time in Baja: “Our carob supplier arrived to harvest her ready-to-pick pods,” she said. “As she and her workers approached the ranch in the usually very pleasant valley, they were faced with a raging fire.”

Although the woman was able to save her home, the blaze scorched most of her carob trees. “So, no carob this season,” Caplan lamented.

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“What else will our farmers be hit with?”

Sex, Drugs and Turnips

Telephone “voice mail” systems are one of the telecommunications industry’s twist in phone-answering systems. But for one Los Angeles company, this new device ended up being used for one of the oldest professions.

Certified Grocers of California was alarmed to find late last year that computer hackers had invaded the wholesale grocery company’s voice mail system and were using it to run prostitution rings and sell drugs, among other things, according to company officials quoted in a recent article in Network World, a trade publication.

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Certified Grocers eventually succeeded in evicting the hackers, primarily by forcing them to go through the company’s switchboard rather than using a toll-free 800 number. Computer-crime experts have said such voice mail systems are vulnerable to intruders, and some users worry about the privacy of their messages.

Certified Grocers declined further comment on its voice mail problems. A company representative said the Network World story had “several things in error” but declined to reveal what the errors were.

Worth Its Weight in Gold?

There are lots of gold credit cards on the market, but First Deposit National Bank thinks that it has found a way to make its card stand out. The Tilton, N.H.-based bank, in recently mailing applications to Southern Californians for its First Select Visa Card Plus, included an extra flyer to shout that the bank makes the card “using real gold!” How much gold? Bob Molke, a First Deposit vice president, said he didn’t know the precise amount but that the card’s coloring contains gold dust. “We wouldn’t have advertised it as real gold unless it was,” he said.

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Not-So-Simple Simon

Former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon’s grand plan for a merchant banking empire spanning the Pacific Rim stalled when his Australian funding dried up after the stock market crash. But things might be heating up again.

Two Simon partners, former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Preston Martin and attorney Larry B. Thrall, were spotted coming out of the Beverly Hills headquarters of “junk bond” king Michael Milken the very day Milken and some Drexel cohorts were hit with a telephone-book-sized lawsuit over alleged violations of securities laws.

“Oh, we’re just making sure everything is OK,” Thrall said in response to an observer’s question. Nobody on either side would say anything more.

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