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News and Trends
November 8 & 22, 2010


Taking Their Raw Talent Abroad
Whose Jeans Are They?
Fido of Arabia
The Rupee Makes Its Mark
Who Wants to Be a Mullah?
Was Bolívar Murdered?

Taking Their Raw Talent Abroad
Mopping floors and washing dishes are traditionally part of the daily grind for Japan's sushi chef apprentices, who often must train for years before they're even allowed to touch rice. But now many are taking a shortcut: They're checking out sites like Sushijob.com and immigrating to the U.S., Latin America, and Europe, where they can get right behind a sushi bar and make more money than in Japan. Kensuke Aoki and nine of his 10 classmates at the Tokyo Sushi Academy, for example, hope their training—which includes furiously cranking out perfect sushi rolls during three-minute drills—will prepare them for jobs abroad, where some even open sushi businesses after only a couple of years. "People say it takes . . . 10 years before you become a full-fledged sushi master," says an instructor at the Sushi Academy. "That's not a valid approach anymore."

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Whose Jeans Are They?
For centuries, the medieval city of Prato has been a symbol of "Made in Italy" chic. But those days may be over. The city now has Europe's highest concentration of Chinese—some legal, many not. The laborers—working long hours in backroom shops—have given rise to the pronto moda ("fast fashion") economy, making low-end clothes, shoes, and accessories, often with materials from China. Some Italians fear that's blurring the line between "Made in China" and "Made in Italy," undermining Italy's renown for high-end fashion handmade by skilled craftspeople. The city's culture is changing too. Many signs are in both Italian and Chinese, groceries sell Chinese imports, and schools are filled with Chinese pupils. But China-born Matteo Wong says, "If anything, [we've] brought lots of jobs to Italians."

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Fido of Arabia
It's long been thought that dogs originated in East Asia. But it turns out, the Middle East may be a better bet. Borrowing methods used to study the genetics of human disease, researchers at UCLA analyzed genomes of wolves and dogs (which are descendants of wolves) from around the world to look for similarities in their DNA. The dog and wolf genomes from the Middle East were the most similar, which suggests that the Middle East is where dogs were first domesticated from wolves. Archaeological evidence also points to the Middle East—where some of the earliest dog remains have been found—as Rover's ancestral home. Dog domestication and human settlement both occurred about 15,000 years ago—and that may not be a coincidence: One theory is that dogs served as guards for hunter-gatherers, allowing them to settle without fear of attack. Dogs may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, even before cattle.

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The Rupee Makes Its Mark
In a sign of its increasing role in the global economy, India recently joined the exclusive club of nations whose currencies have their own internationally recognized symbol. (The other currencies are the U.S. dollar, the British pound, the Japanese yen, and the euro, which is the common currency of 16 European nations.) The new rupee symbol was designed by a student at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, whose design was chosen from 3,000 submissions, and earned him a prize of 250,000 rupees (about $5,400). It will also help distinguish India's rupee from others with similar names, like the Nepalese and Pakistani rupee. It can take several years for a currency symbol to be adopted around the world. The next step is a review by the Unicode Consortium, which creates standard computer coding for many of the world's languages. If it passes, you'll soon find the new rupee symbol on keyboards worldwide.

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Who Wants to Be a Mullah?
At first glance, episodes of Imam Muda ("Young Leader") may look like American Idol, but this is Malaysian reality television—and there's a pious twist. Rather than belt out pop tunes for a panel of crabby judges, the show's contestants, ages 18 to 27, debate religious topics and recite passages from the Koran. The winner gets a job as an imam (religious leader), a scholarship to study in Saudi Arabia, and an all-expenses-paid pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's holiest city. Imam Muda has become the most-watched show ever on the Muslim lifestyle cable channel Astro Oasis, and has already attracted more than 50,000 Facebook fans. TV stations in Turkey and Egypt are talking about starting local versions, but there's no sign yet of an Imam Muda/Dancing With the Stars face-off in the U.S.

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Was Bolívar Murdered?
Simón Bolívar, South America's revered liberator, died in 1830—probably of tuberculosis. But now Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez would like a second opinion. He recently ordered an exhumation of Bolívar's body, having teeth and bone fragments removed for DNA testing. He hopes the tests will confirm his claim that the 19th-century aristocrat who freed much of South America from Spain was poisoned by members of neighboring Colombia's aristocracy. Chávez could then use that 180-year-old charge against Colombia's current government, which is on Chavez's list of those he says are plotting to assassinate him. (Chávez also rails against the U.S. and may consider himself a Bolívar-style hero of the 21st century.) Bolívar's family has asked that the body be left alone. One descendant said, "The exhumation was one of the most grotesque spectacles I have ever seen."

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