Upfront Home
In This Issue
News and Trends
 • 
 • 
Features
Times Past
The Ethicist
Debate
Teen Voices
Upfront Topics
Contact
Magazine Info
News and Trends
September 20, 2010


Something New on the Menu
Hold That Application!
Micro Oil Guzzlers
Why Spider-Man Went to Jail
Mark Twain, Uncensored
Rats With a Mission

Something New on the Menu
Have you ever even considered sitting at a table in the school cafeteria where you don't "belong"? If you give it a shot on November 9, you'll have lots of company: It's Mix It Up at Lunch Day, an annual event sponsored by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-bigotry group in Montgomery, Alabama. Students are asked to sit with someone new for just a day—a small step that could help break down social and racial barriers. According to Teaching Tolerance, the tendency to see those who aren't like us as "other" can be damaging. Since Mix It Up at Lunch Day was introduced in 2002, it's been embraced by thousands of schools across the United States. Many schools use it as a jumping-off point for daylong programs that teach tolerance and respect. For more information, go to tolerance.org/mix-it-up.

Back to Top


Hold That Application!
Just after midnight on August 1, when this year's Common Application was posted online, Cree Bautista sat down at his computer. It was 3:30 a.m. when he pushed "send" and became the first applicant for the Class of 2015 at any of the more than 400 schools that accept the Common Application. Cree, 17, a senior at Pflugerville High School in Pflugerville, Texas, says New York University is his "dream school" and he was determined to be the first to apply—even though the deadline isn't until January 1. Two days later, nearly 1,000 Common Applications had been filed, a 400 percent increase over the same period last year. But admissions officers say there's no reason to apply so far in advance: For them, thoughtfulness and deliberation are more important than speed. Shawn Abbott, an N.Y.U. admissions official, says it will be October at the earliest before Cree's application is read, adding that "it's not a horse race."

Back to Top


Micro Oil Guzzlers
Among the hidden stars of the cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico is an oil-hungry bacterium whose name sounds like something from a Dr. Seuss story—Alcanivorax. Scientists say Alcanivorax and other helpful microbes are breaking down a significant amount of the 172 million gallons of oil that gushed into the Gulf from BP's runaway well. The process is called biodegradation. On April 20, an explosion aboard a drilling rig working on a well for the oil company BP led to the largest accidental spill in history. BP capped the well in July, and is working on two relief wells that should permanently stop the flow of oil into the Gulf. While scientists report that the oil slick is biodegrading quickly, they warn that the remaining oil—even in small amounts—can still be dangerous to vulnerable plants and animals. And some marine biologists say the sudden appearance of swarms of oil-guzzling microbes in the Gulf could have drawbacks: They might consume so much oxygen that it could threaten clams, mussels, and other sea life.

Back to Top


Why Spider-Man Went to Jail
Spider-Man has fought off many villains over the years, but even he wouldn't have been a match for Mexico's federal police. In a crackdown on pirated piñatas in June, authorities in Mexico City seized thousands of them and took into custody several vendors who were selling piñatas modeled on characters like Hulk and Spider-Man, or Hombre Araña, as he's known locally. U.S.-based Marvel Entertainment owns the copyright to those and other superhero characters, so reproducing their likenesses without paying royalties to the company is illegal. A piñata is a hollow paper sculpture filled with candy and hung from a rope; blindfolded partygoers take turns trying to break it open with a stick. Piñatas were brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, but the custom may have originated in China. Pirated piñatas are part of Mexico's booming business in counterfeit goods. Some piñata vendors say there's nothing wrong with giving customers what they want, even without permission from a foreign company. "Traditionally, Mexican piñatas were made in the shape of stars," says one vendor, meaning those in the sky and not celebrities. "But with TV, children began wanting a piñata like what they saw on the screen."

Back to Top


Mark Twain, Uncensored
Most readers know Mark Twain as the folksy, humorous author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. But in his uncensored autobiography, whose first volume will be available for the first time in November—a century after his death—a very different Twain emerges: He's more politically outspoken and willing to play the role of the angry prophet. Whether speaking out against American military interventions abroad—he refers to American soldiers overseas as "hired assassins"— or criticizing Wall Street, Twain often sounds like he could be commenting on today's events. He also reflects on slavery and the slave who served as the model for Jim in Huckleberry Finn. Twain dictated most of his three-volume, 500,000-word autobiography to a stenographer in the four years before his death at age 74 in 1910. In earlier published versions, editors cut out passages they found offensive. A major reason for the censorship was that Twain's daughter Clara, who died in 1962, insisted that her father's image be protected.

Back to Top


Rats With a Mission
These rodents would send cats fleeing: They're about 30 inches long, including the tail. But the African giant pouched rat has become a hero to humans. A Dutch company, Apopo, has trained them to detect land mines. The rats are too light to set off the mines, and they can explore a suspected minefield and point with their noses to buried mines. After several months of training, a rat can clear as much land in 20 minutes as a human can in two days. The United Nations estimates that more than 2,000 people a month are killed or maimed by mine explosions worldwide. In Mozambique, where 3 million mines were planted during 30 years of war, the rats are clearing minefields from land that can then be used for farming. The rats can also be trained to sniff out tuberculosis in human mucus samples. A technician with a microscope can screen about 40 samples a day, while a rat needs only seven minutes. If you'd like to help by sponsoring a rat ($36 keeps one rat in bananas for a year), go to globalgiving.org/projects/herorats/
.

Back to Top