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News and Trends
January 18, 2010


Students vs. Sweatshops
Can a Name Be Illegal?
"Whatever" Is, You Know, Annoying
Banned From the Web
A 400-Year-Old Mystery Solved?
How Deer Remember the Cold War

Students vs. Sweatshops
The anti-sweatshop movement at dozens of American universities recently scored its first big victory in its 10-year history: persuading one of the nation's leading sportswear companies, Russell Athletic, to rehire 1,200 workers in Honduras who lost their jobs when Russell closed its factory last January after the workers unionized. The United Students Against Sweatshops mounted a nationwide campaign, persuading 96 colleges and universities to sever or suspend licensing agreements that allowed Russell to put school logos on sweatshirts and other apparel. As a result, Russell has not only agreed to reinstate the workers and open a new plant in Honduras as a unionized factory, it has also pledged not to fight unionization at its seven other plants in Honduras. Moises Alvarado, the union president at the closed plant in the city of Choloma, says, "We are very impressed by the social conscience of students in the United States."

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Can a Name Be Illegal?
Sixty million people out of China's population of 1.3 billion may have to change their names because they're not on the government's official list. When the government ordered new digital identity cards that all Chinese must carry, the computers were programmed to recognize only 32,000 of 55,000 Chinese characters. Names with other characters won't be approved. When Ma Cheng, whose family name, Ma, is very common, tried to renew her card, a Beijing official objected to her given name, Cheng, which has one of the 33,000 unrecognized characters. He told her, "Your name is so troublesome and problematic, just change it." Chinese parents' desire to give their children unusual names is understandable: About 100 surnames cover 85 percent of the Chinese population, compared with 70,000 surnames for 90 percent of Americans.

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"Whatever" Is, You Know, Annoying
Nearly 50 percent of Americans say that "whatever" is the word or phrase they find most annoying in conversation, according to a poll by the Marist Institute. People in the Northeast are a bit more tolerant of the W-word, with just 35 percent finding it the most irritating. But be sure to avoid saying "whatever" in states like Ohio and Missouri: Fifty-five percent of Midwesterners put that at the top of their most-annoying list.

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Banned From the Web
Mon dieu! After passage of a new law in France, if you're caught illegally downloading music and movies three times, you could lose your Internet access. (Britain is considering similar measures.) Under a three-strikes law approved in October, a government agency will send warning letters to people accused of copying music, movies, or other media content illegally via the Web. Those who ignore a second warning and copy files illegally a third time could face a yearlong suspension of Internet access, plus fines. While critics say the penalty is too harsh, David El Sayegh, director of the French music-industry association, believes the number of suspensions will be low. "The warnings will have a strong deterrent effect," he says. "This law is not a punishment against Internet users."

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A 400-Year-Old Mystery Solved?
A computer program called Pl@giarism was developed by a Dutch university to detect student cheating. But in a very different application, it may also help settle a 150-year-old debate about a mysterious 16th-century play about King Edward III of England. Brian Vickers of the University of London says that a comparison of The Reign of King Edward III—which was published anonymously in 1596, when William Shakespeare was 32—with works by Shakespeare turned up 200 matches of phrases of three or more words. (Vickers says he would expect to find 10 to 20 matches between two plays by different authors.) The program also found 200 matches between the play and works by playwright Thomas Kyd, which suggests he may have collaborated with Shakespeare on the play.

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How Deer Remember the Cold War
The Berlin Wall came down 20 years ago last November, and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. But the red deer living in woods where an electric fence, barbed wire, and guards with machine guns once marked the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia don't seem to understand that the Cold War is over: They still refuse to cross the border, according to The Wall Street Journal, even though the deer alive today have no memory of the fence and the no-man's-land that surrounded it. There's now a vast wildlife preserve around the footpath where the fence stood, and the deer are free to roam between Germany and the Czech Republic. But in the seven years that wildlife biologists have been tracking the deer with GPS collars, only three, all males, have set foot on the other side of the invisible "Iron Curtain" that once cut off Communist Eastern Europe from Western Europe. One of the biologists explains that deer have traditional trails passed down through generations, and females, who stay with their moms longer than their brothers, stick even more closely to their mothers' turf.

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