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News and Trends
February 20, 2006


Fat Cats and Dog Pounds
When Dubai Freezes Over
Google's-Eye Views
Studying a 'Strategic' Language
A Scholarship With Your Name on It?
Supreme Court Jesters

Fat Cats and Dog Pounds
Dogs and cats often share traits with their humans, including weight problems. Between 25 percent and 40 percent of America's pets are obese, according to George Fahey, a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois Animal Sciences Department. The proportion of obese adults in the U.S. is similar, at 30 percent. Fahey cites two basic reasons that pets are getting heavier: too little exercise and too many calories, problems also shared by humans. It is now possible to indulge pets with treats like peanut-butter waffle cones and carob-covered dog biscuits shaped like fire hydrants. Giving pets "people food" is another culprit. Fahey advises using pet food from a reputable manufacturer and following directions for portion size. Then, he says, take yourself and your dog out for a walk instead of a waffle cone.

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When Dubai Freezes Over
After spending a day in the 120-degree desert heat of Dubai, capital of the United Arab Emirates, it's now possible to hit the ski slopes without flying to Switzerland. Tucked inside a 25-story building at the Mall of the Emirates is the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East. Called Ski Dubai, it is styled after a Swiss mountain resort, complete with fake fir trees. The $83 million complex covers an area about the size of three football fields and contains five slopes of varying difficulty. Snowmaking jets churn out the powdery white stuff daily, while 23 massive air conditioners keep everything at 28 to 30 degrees year-round. Would-be Olympians can try out a 440-yard expert slope with a 200-foot drop. Other options include bobsled runs and a quarter pipe and stunt park for snowboarders. Those hesitant to brave the slippery slopes can opt for a snowball fight or build a snowman. The $11 admission includes rental of winter outerwear, including a jacket, ski pants, boots, and disposable socks. Lift tickets cost about $41 for two hours. Before going back out into the scorching heat, visitors can warm up with some cheese fondue and hot chocolate.

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Google's-Eye Views
Google Earth, free software introduced by Google in June, combines satellite and aerial images with mapping capabilities. It allows Internet users to zoom in on their own house, locate a restaurant, or view high-resolution "flyover" images of famous landmarks. But officials of several nations worry that Google Earth might also enable potential terrorists to pinpoint military installations, government buildings, and other sensitive sites. "It could severely compromise a country's security," says V.S. Ramamurthy of India's Department of Science and Technology. But some experts say the focus on Google Earth is misplaced. "Google Earth is not acquiring new imagery," says John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, which collects satellite imagery online. "They are simply repurposing imagery that somebody else had already acquired. So if there was any harm that was going to be done by the imagery, it would already be done."

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Studying a 'Strategic' Language
An estimated 50,000 U.S. students, from kindergarten through high school, are now learning the world's most-spoken language: Mandarin Chinese. With encouragement from the American and Chinese governments, the number of Chinese-language programs in the U.S. has tripled in 10 years. According to Scott McGinnis of the Defense Language Institute in Washington, "Chinese is strategic in a way that a lot of other languages aren't," because of China's rapid growth as a military and economic power. Last year, the Chinese Education Ministry donated 3,000 textbooks to the Chicago school system for a program the ministry considers a model for teaching students who are not of Chinese descent. Although Chinese classes are increasingly popular, it is one of the most difficult languages to learn. According to the Foreign Service Institute in Washington, which trains U.S. diplomats, the average English speaker takes 1,320 hours to become proficient in Chinese, compared with 480 hours for French, Spanish, or Italian.

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A Scholarship With Your Name on It?
Are you a Catholic with the last name of Zolp? Would you be willing to change your middle name to Huntington? Or are you a Jewish orphan studying aeronautical engineering? If you answered "yes" to any of these, you may be eligible for one of many obscure scholarships that often go unawarded due to unusual requirements. For example, it was 1994 when Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., last awarded its scholarship for people whose last name is Leavenworth. There are also scholarships out there for twins, triplets, daughters of Baptist ministers, short people, left-handed students, skateboarders, and people born with the surname Gatling or Gatlin.

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Supreme Court Jesters
It's official: Antonin Scalia, long admired for his keen wit, is the funniest U.S. Supreme Court Justice. In fact, a recent study concludes that he is 19 times funnier than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Transcripts of oral arguments at the Court have long included the notation "laughter" after a successful quip by a Justice or lawyer, but Justices were not identified by name until October 2004. Jay D. Wexler, a law professor at Boston University, has used this new data to determine which Justice is the funniest. For the nine-month term beginning in October 2004, Scalia was the hands-down winner with 77 "laughing episodes." Justice Stephen G. Breyer was second, with 45 laughs; Ginsburg got only 4. And Justice Clarence Thomas, who rarely speaks during oral arguments, didn't even get a chuckle. Wexler admits that his findings are imperfect. For example, Court transcripts do not indicate whether a Justice provoked small ripples of laughter or made a truly funny joke that brought down the Courthouse.

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