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News and Trends
October 20, 2008


Poe in Motion?
Writing from Experience
Security That Gets Under Your Skin
When Less Isn't More
A Two-Way Strait?
The Prime Minister Is Done

Poe in Motion?
Edgar Allan Poe, author of bone-chillers like "The Tell-Tale Heart," has been buried in Baltimore ever since he died there in 1849. But with the bicentennial of his birth coming up in January, several other cities would like to claim him. Edward Pettit, a Poe scholar, insists that Poe belongs in Philadelphia, where he wrote some of his best-known works. Others say he belongs in Richmond, Va., where he grew up. Additional places that could claim Poe include Sullivan's Island, S.C., where he was stationed in the Army, and New York City, where he wrote his most famous poem, "The Raven." (Poe's relatives once considered moving him to a cemetery in Brooklyn.) But Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House in Baltimore, says, "Poe's body isn't going anywhere...If they want a body, they can have John Wilkes Booth," referring to President Lincoln's assassin, who is also buried in Baltimore.

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Writing from Experience
With her Pakistani surname and dark skin, 18-year-old Yasmine Hafiz—a Muslim who grew up in Arizona—is used to scrutiny from airport security. Most recently, it was because of a metal object in her carry-on bag: the medal she had just received from President Bush as one of 139 Presidential Scholars. This is the kind of situation that Hafiz is trying to address in The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook, published last year. Now a freshman at Yale, Hafiz wrote the book with her mother, Dilara, and her brother, Imran, 16. Intended for Muslims growing up in the West, the book discusses issues like dating, religious law, and how to deal with the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists. "People don't look at us as teenagers first, but as Muslims," says Hafiz, adding that "It's doubly important to be as patient as possible if you're the example of an entire faith."

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Security That Gets Under Your Skin
Driven by fear, some Mexicans are paying $4,000 to have tiny transmitter chips implanted in their bodies. Last year 751 kidnappings occurred in Mexico, according to official statistics cited by Reuters. The transmitter chip, designed by Xega, a Mexican security firm, is injected under the client's skin with a syringe and transmits signals to a global-positioning device carried by the client. Xega says a satellite can then help locate the person if he or she is abducted. Critics say the chip is an expensive gadget that serves no real security purpose. But one woman who had a chip implant is taking no chances. "It's not like we're wealthy," she says. "They'll kidnap you for a watch."

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When Less Isn't More
Remember the supersize phenomenon, when fast-food restaurants offered huge portions of soda and fries? The reverse is now happening in America's supermarkets and stores. In industry-speak it's called "short-sizing." To offset soaring costs of ingredients and transportation, some food manufacturers are reducing the size of packages. The price, of course, usually stays the same. Companies probably hope consumers won't notice or care. But judging by the rants on various blogs, however, many folks have noticed—and they definitely care. On a blog run by Turkey Hill Dairy, an ice-cream maker, a consumer named Thomas wrote: "We all know prices go up. It just seems sneaky to lower the contents."

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A Two-Way Strait?
It's common to think of the land bridge that existed from time to time across the Bering Strait—the 58-mile-wide sea passage that separates Alaska from Russia—as a one-way affair. The route through this area is thought to be how many humans and animals came from Asia into North America. But there were no "Eastbound Only" signs. Scientists have recently determined that the woolly mammoth, a shaggy-haired member of the elephant family, apparently traveled in both directions. Using DNA analysis of mammoth remains, scientists have identified several groups of mammoths. Some were native to Siberia; others had roots in North America. But at some point, say researchers, North American mammoths migrated back to Siberia. The Siberian mammoths began to die out, perhaps because their North American cousins moved in on their food supply. The last of the mammoths, which became extinct about 10,000 years ago, were of North American lineage. Hendrik Poinar, a scientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, says, "I'm not sure the Russians would be happy that their iconic woolly mammoth has North American origins."

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The Prime Minister Is Done
Moonlighting as a celebrity chef has cost the Prime Minister of Thailand his day job. Samak Sundaravej was forced from office in September when a court ruled that he had violated Thailand's Constitution by accepting payment for his appearances on TV cooking shows. Samak, 73, was ousted amid anti-government protests and accusations of corruption and incompetence. For the seven years before his election in January, Samak had hosted a show called Tasting and Complaining, in which he prepared spicy Thai dishes. But it was Samak's guest appearances after becoming Prime Minister that landed him in hot water. According to court testimony, he was paid $2,350 for four shows—violating a constitutional ban on private employment while in office. Samak argued that he was not an employee of the TV station and did not earn a salary. "I did it," he said, "because I liked it."

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