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News and Trends
September 5, 2005


The Man Behind the Mask
Killers That Also Cure
When in Doubt, Sort It Out
Hard-Spell Advertising
Should Soda & Snacks Be Suspended?
Presidential 'Pod

The Man Behind the Mask
Tutankhamen had just become Pharaoh of Egypt around 1322 b.c. when he died rather suddenly. The young king was in his late teens when his face was immortalized in a golden burial mask. But the Pharaoh we know as "King Tut" might not have been quite as handsome as his mask suggests. CAT-scan images of his mummy have enabled artists and scientists to reconstruct his face as it might have looked in real life. They show King Tut with a long skull, a narrow face, and full lips. He also had an overbite and a weak chin. But he was not lacking in wealth. Many of his treasures are now on display in "Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through Nov. 15. The exhibit will then go to Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

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Killers That Also Cure
It's the ultimate Fear Factor nightmare: Chase down one of the world's deadliest snakes, grab it by the head, and squeeze the venom from its fangs. Bryan Fry, a biologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, does just that with rattlesnakes, king cobras, death adders, sea snakes, and other reptiles most of us would rather avoid. "Working with some of these snakes is the biggest adrenaline rush you could ever do," says Fry. But that rush is not what drives him to handle some 3,000 snakes a year. Fry's goal is to decipher the evolution of snake venoms over the past 60 million years. This research could lead to medical breakthroughs, he says. For the past 35 years, scientists have been turning snake venoms into drugs. The world's deadliest venom comes from Australia's inland taipan: Victims of this nine-foot-long snake collapse within seconds and die quickly. But Fry and his colleagues have found a molecule in its venom that may help treat congestive heart failure. Fry knows that most people don't share his affinity for deadly snakes, but he hopes the creatures will be protected. "If you kill off the snakes," he says, "you could be killing the next wonder drug."

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When in Doubt, Sort It Out
When residents of Yokohama recently received a 27-page booklet on how to sort their trash into 10 categories, they found detailed instructions on 518 items. Socks? If only one, it goes in the burnables bin; a pair goes into the used-cloth bin, but only if the socks "are not torn and the left and right sock match." Lipstick goes with the burnables, but empty lipstick tubes go in the small-metals or plastics bin. Land-scarce Japan incinerates about 80 percent of its garbage; the push to recycle aims to reduce that percentage. Yokohama, a city of 3.5 million people, has set a goal of reducing incineration by 30 percent over five years. A volunteer army of "garbage police" helps nudge nonsorting slackers onto the right path. Mitsuharu Taniyama drives around his area twice a day, looking for missorted trash. When he finds an offending bag, he leaves a note for the culprit: "Your practice of sorting garbage is wrong. Please correct it."

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Hard-Spell Advertising
Even in this age of Internet pop-ups and text-message marketing, many small businesses still advertise with low-tech, hand-lettered signs. And these often come with fractured grammar and creative spelling that provide insights into new immigrant communities taking root in U.S. cities. Elyse B. Rudolph, director of the Literacy Assistance Center, which helps newcomers learn English, says that many immigrants, though smart and ambitious, are not literate in English or their native language. Overlapping of nationalities often compounds the language problem: With Mexicans working in pizzerias and Afghans running hot-dog stands, even ethnic words get misspelled. One New York pizzeria offers "spaguetti" and the sign on a lunch cart lists an Eastern European potato pie as a "kanish" instead of a knish. Even when stores change hands and signs are repainted, some messages linger. A "Convinient Store" in Brooklyn still bears a sign from the days when pagers were all the rage: "Beerpers."

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Should Soda & Snacks Be Suspended?
Connecticut's Legislature has been rocked by a food fight-over a bill that would have banned soda and candy from public-school cafeterias and vending machines in an effort to fight childhood obesity. But some school officials feared the loss of vending-machine revenues, and beverage companies said their products were unfairly singled out while schools still served foods like pizza and chicken nuggets. The bill was vetoed in June by the Governor. Meanwhile, students in New Haven have adjusted to a soda-and-candy ban enacted by their school system in 2003. It was "hard at first," says one senior, who now washes down those nuggets with fruit juice.

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Presidential 'Pod
When President Bush sets out on one of his 18-mile mountain-bike rides, he takes along a familiar motivator: an iPod loaded with country and rock tunes. What kind of music gets the presidential heart rate up to a chest-pounding 170 beats per minute? The "First iPod" is heavy with traditional country singers like George Jones, Alan Jackson, and Kenny Chesney. Bush also has selections from Van Morrison, whose "Brown Eyed Girl" is one of his favorites. Another is John Fogerty's ballpark standard "Centerfield" (Oh, put me in coach / I'm ready to play today). The President has had his iPod since July 2004, when he received it as a birthday gift from his daughters. He has around 250 songs on it-a fraction of the 10,000 it can hold. Bush doesn't have time to download the music himself. That job falls to Blake Gottesman, the President's personal aide, who buys individual songs and albums from the iTunes music store.

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