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News and Trends
November 17, 2008


Where's the Water?
Flipping for Judo
Shell Games
From Tonga to Texas
Keys With Conditions
Directing Traffic (at 35,000 feet)

Where's the Water?
Dowsing, or "witching," for underground water has been around for at least a thousand years. It was practiced in medieval Europe and has long been a part of rural American lore. Using a Y-shaped twig or rod, a "water witch" walks along until the rod begins to jump and twist, which is supposed to indicate the presence of water. Scientists dismiss dowsing as superstition, preferring technology like electromagnetic imaging to locate water. But as California farmers struggle through a second year of drought and ruined crops, water witches are in high demand. Phil Stine of Waterford, Calif., has helped several farmers determine where to drill their wells. Stine, who offers his witching services free of charge, has no idea how he does it. But when folks ask, he has a standard reply: "I just tell people," he says, "it's the amount of lead" in your haunches.

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Flipping for Judo Just weeks after Russia's state-run media reported that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had saved a news crew from a wild tiger, he's flexing his muscles again—this time in a martial-arts video. Let's Learn Judo With Vladimir Putin includes instructional tips from the Prime Minister, who is a black belt, and from a former world champion and other experts. The video will be sold in martial-arts schools throughout Russia. "Anyone who watches this material will learn not from your humble servant," says Putin, "but from true masters." But the martial-arts studio is not the only place where the Prime Minister has been flexing his muscles: Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev sent Russian troops into neighboring Georgia in August, setting off a 10-day war. The Russian incursion—the first outside its territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991—has sparked renewed tension between Russia and the United States and its European allies.

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Shell Games
The fate of the Yangtze giant soft-shelled turtle, which can weigh up to 220 pounds, depends on whether two elderly turtles in Chinese zoos are able to reproduce. Only one female is known to exist, an 80-year-old that has spent 50 years in a zoo in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, in southern China. In May, scientists drove her 600 miles to a zoo in the city of Suzhou in Jiansu Province, where a 100-year-old male turtle awaited her. Their union produced about 50 fertilized eggs, but scientists say the embryos died in early development. The female has been put on a nutritious diet, and the two turtles are now in neighboring ponds in the Suzhou zoo. They'll meet again next May.

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From Tonga to Texas
A pipeline from the Pacific Island kingdom of Tonga has helped make Trinity High School—more than 7,000 miles away in Euless, Texas—the nation's top-ranked prep football team. Jobs at nearby Dallas-Fort Worth Airport are what attracted 3,500 immigrants from Tonga, along with many others, to the area. Students at Trinity speak 53 languages, the flags of 31 nations hang in its entrance, and its football team has players representing at least eight nations, from Laos to Rwanda. This season, there are 16 players of Tongan descent. These linemen and linebackers, who weigh from 200 to 333 pounds, are drawn to football because it reminds them of the Tongan national sport of rugby. Before and after each game, they lead a ceremonial war dance called a haka.

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Keys With Conditions
Ford calls its new safety technology for teenage drivers "MyKey," but it probably should be called "MyParentsKey." Like a V-chip for cars, the programmable ignition key lets parents exercise some control over their teen drivers. MyKey can be used to set a maximum speed for the car, cap the volume on the stereo, enforce seat-belt use, and encourage other safe-driving habits. It will be standard on the 2010 Ford Focus and eventually on all Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury models. Ford executives and industry experts say it's the first attempt by an automaker to provide parental controls on young people behind the wheel. With 35,000 American teens killed in auto accidents in the last five years, the feature has been welcomed by safety advocates. Parents can choose which restrictions to activate. MyKey can sound a chime whenever the car goes above 45, 55, or 65 miles per hour. It can also be set to mute the radio and chime repeatedly until the driver buckles up. "Teens have the lowest seat-belt use," says Susan Cischke, a Ford vice president. "So we allow parents to turn up the annoyance factor a little bit."

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Directing Traffic (at 35,000 feet)
Occasionally, a controller at Academy Airport in Oklahoma City makes a mistake, and planes collide and erupt in a ball of fire. Fortunately, none of it is real. But this isn't just another video game. The virtual control tower at the Federal Aviation Administration Academy helps train future air traffic controllers, with the F.A.A. expecting to train about 1,700 new controllers a year for the next decade. In a class on radar control techniques, students practice with simulated airplanes in real airspace — 10,000 miles of sky above Mississippi and Louisiana. Students also learn the ropes the old-fashioned way: by carrying model planes around the room and landing them at a plywood airport. And they must master the lingo—like "hold short" to tell a pilot to wait before crossing a runway. Marisella Powell, 23, who's training as a controller after serving in the Air Force, says, "It's like learning a whole different language."

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