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News and Trends
November 27, 2006


One Small Step Toward Invisibility
Paying Tribute or Trivializing?
Missing Those Pies and Fries
Why Put Up With a Lazy Rat?
Married Life, After Death
Team Congress Takes the Field

One Small Step Toward Invisibility
The ability to vanish has long been the stuff of fantasy, from disappearing Romulan warbirds on Star Trek to Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. Now, scientists have demonstrated a technology that could be a small step toward a "cloaking device." A set of concentric copper circles deflects electromagnetic waves so that they slide around a structure. Using this technology, scientists were able to cloak a copper cylinder. It's similar to a mirage, in which heat bends light waves and cloaks the road ahead. "We have built an artificial mirage that can hide something from would-be observers in any direction," says David Schurig, a research associate at Duke University in Durham, N.C. But scientists say that cloaking devices like the ones depicted in science fiction, while theoretically possible, are still a distant dream.

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Paying Tribute or Trivializing?
Rosa Parks, a civil rights symbol in life, has become a marketing phenomenon since her death in 2005, with Parks memorabilia showing up everywhere. Books, posters, and replica buses are for sale at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., where the bus on which Parks refused to give up her seat 51 years ago is on display. Unauthorized items on eBay include dog tags, buttons, and coffee mugs. Parks's estate finds it impossible to stop everyone who wants to profit from her image, and is currently in dispute with surviving family members who want a say in the matter. Licensing experts say there are millions of dollars to be made by whoever controls Parks's likeness.

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Missing Those Pies and Fries
When the British government banned junk food from school cafeterias in September, an outcry was heard from students and parents alike. Gone are fatty meat pies and French fries. In their place are two portions of fresh fruits and vegetables per day, and fish is served at least once a week. "They shouldn't be allowed to tell the kids what to eat," says Julie Critchlow, a parent at the Rawmarsh School in Rotherham, England. Concerned that their kids would go hungry, Critchlow and other mothers began selling burgers, fries, and sandwiches to as many as 50 students a day, passing the food through the school fence. (They stopped after the media denounced them as "meat-pie mums.") Andreas Petrou, an 11th-grader at Rawmarsh, says the healthier menu is "rubbish." He would much rather scarf down a "chip butty": a French-fries-and-butter sandwich doused in vinegar.

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Why Put Up With a Lazy Rat?
Lounge around. Gorge on munchies. Occasional road trips. Yes, it sounds just like some people you know. But this way of life is also common among other mammals, like the Damerland mole rats that live in southern Africa. Lazy rats can make up as much as 40 percent of a mole-rat colony, but do only about 5 percent of the work. Now, researchers at the University of Pretoria have found out why hard-working rats let their lazy neighbors get away with it. Damarland mole rats are the only mammals that are eusocial, which means their reproduction is a cooperative affair with a caste-like division of labor. Most of the time, the lazy rats do nothing but eat. But when it rains and the soil gets moist, the fat rats dig new tunnels and look for mates by connecting with another colony. So when the rats are just sitting around eating, they are actually building up energy reserves for those brief trips. "The colony puts up with them," says researcher Michael Scantlebury, "because they offer the chance of spreading the genes and creating future colonies."

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Married Life, After Death
In some rural areas of China, when a young, unmarried son dies, his parents may try to find him a bride. This folk custom, known as an "afterlife marriage," is rooted in ancestor worship, which holds that people continue to exist after death, and the living are obligated to meet their needs. Parents trying to ensure their son's happiness in the afterlife search for a family whose daughter has died and, once the corpse is obtained, bury the pair together as a married couple. A female corpse typically costs at least 10,000 yuan, or about $1,200—four years of income for the average farmer. Parents who can't afford a corpse may make a straw figure and bury it beside their son.

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Team Congress Takes the Field
If you have no idea how many yards Peyton Manning threw for on Sunday but can cite every legislative amendment proposed by Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, then Fantasy Congress could be your game. The Fantasy Congress Web site—which was created by four students at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.—made its debut this fall and already has some 600 participants. As in fantasy football, each player picks a team (in this case, 4 Senators and 12 House members) and competes with other players in a league. Players accumulate points as the legislators they've chosen go about their daily business on Capitol Hill. "It's about majority and seniority," says John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna. "You look at who's been very active, whose issues are coming up." To find out how to join a Fantasy Congress league, go to
www.fantasycongress.us.

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