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News and Trends
March 31, 2008


Gliding to School
Olympic Take-Out
Starship Kimchi
David Wilson, Meet David Wilson
A Complex Web

Gliding to School
The large, red aluminum contraption resembles a houseboat on skis. But for residents of La Pointe, Wis., this strange vehicle, known as a windsled, is their school bus. La Pointe (population 250) is a village on Madeline Island, just off the tip of mainland Wisconsin. Most of the year, a ferry carries La Pointe's students across Lake Superior to school in Bayfield, Wis. But when the lake freezes in the winter, they glide to school in the windsled. The 9,000-pound vehicle was built by two brothers who own a local construction business. It's propelled by twin fans and steered by a driver. The interior is heated and has padded benches with room for about 20 students. But the 10-minute trip is no thrill ride: The noisy vehicle bumps along the ice at about 18 miles an hour.

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Olympic Take-Out
When 600 U.S. athletes head to Beijing for the Olympic Games this summer, they'll bring their own breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some food in China has been found to be tainted with insecticides and illegal veterinary drugs. Last year, a caterer working for the U.S. Olympic Committee found that chicken from a Chinese supermarket would have caused athletes to test positive for steroids. So the Committee has made arrangements with American companies like Kellogg's and Tyson Foods to ship about 25,000 pounds of lean protein to China for the Olympics. But once athletes have finished competing, they'll be free to sample local fare like live sea horses or hard-boiled fertilized duck eggs.

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Starship Kimchi
Kimchi, the fermented cabbage dish Koreans have with almost every meal, is about to head into orbit. When South Korea's first astronaut, Yi So-yeon, blasts off April 8 on a Russian spaceship bound for the International Space Station, her beloved national dish will be on board. It took researchers several years and millions of dollars to perfect a kimchi that would not turn lethal when exposed to cosmic rays in space. Since 1961, 34 countries, including Vietnam, Mongolia, and Afghanistan, have sent almost 500 astronauts into space. Yi, a 29-year-old bioengineer, will spend 10 days aboard the space station. On April 12, she'll prepare a Korean dinner to celebrate the 47th anniversary of the day Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

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David Wilson, Meet David Wilson
Three years ago, David Wilson began making a documentary about race and his search for his family's history. Along the way, he made a discovery that startled him: He found a living descendant of the family that had owned his family as slaves—and his name was also David Wilson. So Wilson, a 31-year-old Brooklynite, took a camera and headed south to North Carolina, where his slave ancestors worked on a tobacco plantation, and where the other David Wilson still lives. In the film, Meeting David Wilson, which will be shown on MSNBC on April 11, he finds the grave of his great-grandfather, Reuben Wilson, who was born a slave and then founded a black church after Emancipation. He also spends a day working on a tobacco farm as his ancestors did. And he meets the other David Wilson and asks him if he feels any responsibility for slavery. "He said he didn't feel responsible for what happened back in those times, but that he does feel responsible for being a part of the solution," Wilson says. "I think that's fair."

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A Complex Web
A few years ago, when scientists tried to protect Kenya's acacia trees from leaf-munching animals like elephants and giraffes, they noticed something strange: Instead of thriving, the trees withered and died. The investigation that followed uncovered a complex relationship among the animals, the trees, and a species of ant. The ants nest in the trees' thorns and sip their nectar, ready to attack when the tree is disturbed by a giraffe or elephant. But scientists found that the trees seem to sense when the animals stop munching their leaves, so they produce less nectar and the ants depart. Wood-boring beetles then take over, and their tunnels cause the trees to become sickly and die.

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Merging Two Traditions
Ask Kareem Salama—billed as the first Muslim country-western singer—what makes his music "country" and he says, "Probably my accent." It's a genuine Southern drawl, rooted in Salama's rural Oklahoma childhood. The son of Egyptian immigrants, Salama, 29, was born in Ponca City, northwest of Tulsa. His songs highlight typical "country" themes like love and home. Salama performs mostly on Muslim concert circuits in the U.S. and Britain. The question is whether he can find wider acceptance of both parts of his identity. "I am certain there are some people who can't accept it," he says. "But hopefully, even if they don't like you as person, they will like the music."

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