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News and Trends
March 1, 2010


A Chorus of Complaints
Are We Wired to Help?
Wanted: 'Cyber Ninjas'
Hail Caesar (Maybe)
Skywatch
Korea's Growth Complex

A Chorus of Complaints
Got problems? Why not gather 30 or 40 people together in a public place and sing about them? That's what "complaints choirs" from Singapore to Philadelphia are doing. It all started in 2005, in Birmingham, England, and has since spread to 60 cities. (You can watch some of the performances at complaintschoir.org.)And while some issues, like dating problems, seem to be universal, there are some local trends. In Tokyo, complaints about work—"I cannot say no to work on holidays"—are more common than in other cities. In Helsinki, Finland, complaints about cellphones—"ringtones are always irritating"—are high on the list. In St. Petersburg, Russia, unfulfilled love is the big issue: "Why do we keep loving when love is so painful?" And while Chicago choristers rail about the transit system, singers in Philadelphia wail that "nobody listens to me."

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Are We Wired to Help?
If you're a helpful person, you may think your parents deserve all the credit. But now some biologists think that humans may be born with a willingness to help. Michael Tomasello, an American psychologist, has found that when 18-month-old babies see an unrelated adult whose hands are full and who needs assistance picking up a dropped clothespin, they will immediately help. This behavior seems to be innate because it appears before many parents start teaching children good manners. In fact, says Tomasello, baby chimps exhibit similar behavior. But not all scientists think it's that simple. Harvard psychologist Elizabeth Spelke agrees that most infants haven't been taught to be helpful. "On the other hand," she says, "they've had lots of opportunities to experience acts of helping by others."

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Wanted: 'Cyber Ninjas'
As attacks on vital computer systems proliferate, there's a real shortage of talent to combat them: Banks, military contractors, and government agencies are all looking for "cyber ninjas" to fend off hackers, from criminals stealing credit card numbers to foreign adversaries. In response, many colleges and universities across the country—like Georgia Tech, N.Y.U., and Carnegie Mellon—are adding courses and degrees in computer security. The number of jobs in the area—with starting salaries in the $50,000 range—is expected to grow rapidly. Jeffrey Henbest graduated last year from California State Polytechnic and is now working at aerospace giant Boeing. His classmates see cyber-security "as the most technically demanding field," Henbest says, "kind of like the fighter pilot of the information technology industry."

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Hail Caesar (Maybe)
Even as divers pulled the statue from the murky Rhône River in France in 2007, the marble face was recognizable. "My God, it's Caesar!" archaeologist Luc Long shouted. Now, some experts say it's the only known surviving statue of Julius Caesar carved during his lifetime. Caesar was emperor of Rome from 49 B.C. until he was assassinated in 44 B.C. Earlier, as a general, he conquered the region known as Gaul (today France and Belgium), helping to build what would eventually become the vast Roman Empire. Some archaeologists say the bust, which has been dated to 46 B.C., may actually be a nobleman from Arles, a city founded by the Romans. Whoever it is, the bust is now on display at a museum in Arles.

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Skywatch
The World's Tallest BuildingsThe Burj Khalifa, which recently opened in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is now the world's tallest building. The 160-story Burj (Arabic for "tower") reflects Dubai's mix of Western and Islamic cultures: It will have the world's highest swimming pool (76th floor) and the highest mosque (158th floor). With Dubai's recent real estate crash, most of its new office towers stand empty. But its developers say the Burj is 90 percent sold. (The two World Trade Center towers in New York were about 1,360 feet tall before they were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.)

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Korea's Growth Complex
Convinced that height is crucial to success, South Korean parents are doing everything they can to make their kids taller—including sending them to one of the hundreds of "growth clinics" that have opened around the country. "Parents would rather add 10 centimeters to their children's stature than bequeath them 1 billion won [about $850,000]," says Shin Dong-il, a growth-clinic doctor. Some clinics offer a mix of acupuncture, aromatherapy, and herbal tonics. Others try to stretch children's spines on machines. But does any of this actually make kids taller? "There is no clinical proof or other evidence that these treatments really work," says a researcher for a consumer-advocacy group. And South Koreans are growing taller anyway, thanks to changes in their diet: Over the past 30 years, the average height of high school senior boys has increased 3.5 inches to 5 ft., 8 in., while the average for girls rose 2 inches to 5 ft., 3 in. Koreans used to value what they saw as grittiness and determination in shorter people. But smaller is no longer better, thanks in part to Western standards of beauty. "On TV," says the owner of one growth clinic, "all young pop idols are tall."

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