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News and Trends
February 5, 2007


A Hunk of What? Worth How Much?!
Wal-Mart's Bright Idea
A Tan Is So Not to Die For
A Dress Code for the Yearbook?
Speaking in (23) Tongues
Polo Shoots for Mass Appeal

A Hunk of What? Worth How Much?!
It was certainly a departure from Christmas fruitcake. In December, Dorothy Ferreira of Montauk, N.Y., opened a package from her 82-year-old sister in Iowa to find an ungainly object that looked like a gnarled, funky candle. Her sister said it was just some strange thing she found on a Long Island beach 50 years ago. But it turns out it could be a hunk of petrified whale vomit worth as much as $18,000. Walter Galcik, a Montauk resident who inspected the object, says it might be ambergris—a substance created in the intestines of sperm whales and spewed into the ocean. In its petrified form, ambergris is a rare ingredient used in fine perfumes. But even if Ferreira has the real deal, it will be difficult to cash in. Endangered-species legislation has made buying or selling ambergris illegal since the 1970s.

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Wal-Mart's Bright Idea
Fluorescent light bulbs last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, use 75 percent less energy, produce fewer greenhouse gases from power plants, and save $30 over the life of each bulb. They also cost more, give off harsher light, contain mercury (a potential pollutant), and look weird. As a result, almost nobody uses them at home. Wal-Mart hopes to change this with a marketing campaign to get the bulbs into 100 million U.S. homes by 2008. While this could save Americans $3 billion on their electric bills, critics say increased sales of the Asian-made bulbs could eliminate some U.S. jobs.

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A Tan Is So Not to Die For
The unexplained increase in skin cancer among young people has health officials targeting the $5-billion-a-year indoor tanning industry. More than 2 million teenagers a year use tanning salons. But the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology say that tanning beds are hazardous, and 19 states have passed laws restricting access to tanning salons for those under 18. There is strong evidence that ultraviolet radiation, whether from sunlight or sun lamps, causes melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. The U.S. tanning industry claims that 30 million people a year safely use tanning salons. But James M. Spencer, professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, says that indoor tanning "will cause cancer. Not maybe. Not might. It's going to cause cancer."

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A Dress Code for the Yearbook?
A high school senior was surprised by his school's refusal this fall to use a yearbook photo of him dressed in chain-mail armor with a broadsword slung over his shoulder. "I didn't think it was that big a deal," says Patrick Agin, 17, who goes to Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, R.I. "I just really liked the picture." But the school says the photo violates its zero-tolerance weapons policy. The Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) has filed suit supporting Agin's free-speech rights to use the photo. Both sides have agreed to take the matter to the State Education Commissioner. Meanwhile, the school has said that Agin is welcome to use the photo in a paid ad in the yearbook. Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island A.C.L.U. says, "I guess they think it's a danger to the school system on page 6, but not on page 26."

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Speaking in (23) Tongues
The European Union, established in 1992, is an alliance of 27 democratic countries. As the E.U. has grown, so has its list of official languages. There are now 23: Bulgaria and Romania just entered the union, and Gaelic has been recognized as an official language of Ireland. All official documents must be translated into all 23 languages, at a cost of more than $1 billion a year. But in Paris, the biggest concern is how rapidly English is replacing French as the E.U.'s common language. Jacques Chirac, the President of France, says he is determined to defend the role of French across Europe, and France thinks it has at least part of the answer: free French classes for E.U. officials.

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Polo Shoots for Mass Appeal
Polo is no longer just for people like Prince Charles or the little guy on your designer shirt. Teachers, retail clerks, nurses, and even high school students are playing. "Certainly a lot of rich people play our sport, but you don't have to be rich to give it a try," says Edward Armstrong of the U.S. Polo Association. Some polo clubs are making it easier for people to rent horses and take lessons. And the indoor arena version of the sport is less expensive than outdoor polo. In both, players ride horses and use a mallet to hit a ball into a goal. When a horse tires, a player changes mounts. The smaller field in arena polo means that riders can often play a 30-minute game on one or two horses, instead of the four or more used in the longer outdoor game. According to the U.S. Polo Association, there are now 32 high school arena-polo teams nationwide.

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