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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Scotland May Hold Independence Referendum

The Flag of Scotland
The Flag of Scotland. Image: Kbolino
For the first time in three centuries, the united part of the United Kingdom may be in trouble.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), the party that runs Scotland day-to-day, is urging the Scottish people to support independence from Britain. However it still wants to keep the Queen as official leader.
Last week, British Prime Minister Gordon Cameron went to Scotland to argue that Scotland should not separate from Great Britain.
Scotland and England have been together since 1707 when the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed under the rule of the British. Ireland and Wales were already under British rule at that time.
Map of the United Kingdom
Map of Scotland (in dark blue) within the United Kingdom. Image: Morwen
Only about one-third of Scots want to separate but the SNP believes this is the best way for Scotland to prosper. The party wants to hold a referendum (a vote by the people) in 2014 to ask the people if they want to separate. Opponents of the SNP, including British Prime Minister Cameron, want this referendum held a year earlier so the SNP won’t have time to gain more support for the idea.
Prime Minister Cameron has said there would be serious consequences if Scotland leaves Great Britain. Scotland has rich resources like oil, but their banks would not have enough money to cover their debts and loans. A split could also affect the armed forces (their military), the UK’s nuclear weapons in Scotland, and the United Kingdom’s status in the United Nations.
The last real try for separation was in 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie, a famous Scottish prince, tried to attack the British because he wanted to rule both Scotland and England. The British found out about the plan and increased their forces where the attack was to happen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Syria’s “New Constitution” Ignites Further Conflict

SyriaSyria is a country in the Middle East.
Many Syrians have been protesting against its government, which has been accused of doing terrible things to its own people. The leader of Syria is President Bashar al-Assad.
The fighting between the Syrian government and its opponents this year has been intense and very violent.
Many Syrians want al-Assad to step down as leader. They want to be able to elect a new leader. (Bashar al-Assad’s family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.)
On Feb. 26 the Syrian government held a special vote. The vote was to see if people would agree or disagree with a new constitution. The constitution would let al-Assad rule for another 16 years.
On Monday, the Syrian government said the people voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new constitution. The Syrian government said the people want to keep al-Assad in power.
However, critics of Syria’s government say that is clearly not the case. The Syrian government “controlled the voting and the count… and the opposition mostly boycotted the balloting,” the New York Times reported. In other words, the outcome of the vote likely does not reflect the will of the Syrian people.
Some countries—like China, Russia and Iran—are supporting al-Assad and his government.
Many Western countries—including Canada and the U.S.—as well as the United Nations, want al-Assad to step down.
Stephen Lewis is the former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. He wants Russia and China to agree with a UN plan that would stop the fighting in Syria.
Stephen_Lewis; Image by Grant Neufeld
Stephen Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the UN wants Russia and China to stop supporting Syria's government. Image by Grant Neufeld.
He says that unless Russia and China stop supporting al-Assad’s government, the fighting in Syria will not stop. Russia and China both have reasons for wanting to support al-Assad’s government; maintaining their good relationship with Syria may give them more power politically.
Lewis said that, “thousands of Syrians are about to be sacrificed” because of China’s and Russia’s friendship with the al-Assad government.
By “sacrificed” he means that Syrians will die unnecessarily because countries will not put human rights first—ahead of money and power.
Related Links: Syria has been a big part of the “Arab Spring” protests. The Arab Spring happened when many people in some Arab countries protested against their governments. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

World’s Smallest Chameleon Discovered

World's smallest chameleon with a finger
Photo: Frank Glaw
Scientists have discovered a chameleon so small it could sit on your little finger.
The chameleon, which is about three centimetres long, lives on a small island called Nosy Hara, off the coast of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean.
It is the smallest chameleon and possibly the smallest reptile ever discovered. It lives among rocks and leaves on the forest floor. At night it sleeps on plants, about five to 10 centimetres above the ground.
It is mostly grey and brown with an orange tail, and it doesn’t change colour like most chameleons do. The scientists say this is because it’s already the right colour to blend in with its surroundings.
The scientific name for the chameleon is Brookesia micraBrookesia means it belongs to a group known as leaf chameleonsMicra is from the Greek word forsmall or tiny.
Image: Jörn Köhler
The scientists say the chameleons may have gotten smaller and smaller over several generations in order to survive in a place where food and space are limited. When animals change in this way, it is called “island dwarfism.”
The chameleons’ home is being destroyed by people cutting down trees illegally.
Because this is the only place where these chameleons have been found, the scientists say this means they could be in danger of becoming extinct

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pakistan begins demolishing bin Laden home - CBS News Article

Local residents walk past a wall with graffiti saying "Long live bin Laden" near the hideout of slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in this May 6, 2011 file photo. 
(Credit: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's army engineers on Saturday began demolishing the former home of Osama bin Laden, after authorities decided to end prospects of the location "becoming a monument" to the world's most hunted terrorist, a senior Pakistani government official told CBS News.
Though Pakistani media reported Saturday evening that the demolition had begun after backhoes and bulldozers were brought to the site, there was no official confirmation from the government.
But the government official who spoke to CBS NEWS on condition that he will not be named because he was not authorized to speak to journalists said, "If the (demolition) plan proceeds on track, the objective is to ensure that the place is flattened before sunrise (Sunday)."
In the past year, bin Laden's former home in Abbottabad has shot to global prominence after he was tracked and killed by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs on the night between May 1 and 2 last year.
Though the exact circumstances surrounding bin Laden's stay at his former home are still a matter of debate, some Pakistani and Western officials have said that he may have lived there for up to five years.
It wasn't immediately clear on Saturday exactly what prompted the Pakistani government to order the demolition now, almost 10 months after bin Laden's discovery. Abbottabad is primarily a military garrison city, home to a number of institutions belonging to the Pakistan Army, including the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy, or PMA, the main training school for Army officers whose graduates include past and present generals.
Last month, a Pakistani government minister told CBS News on condition of anonymity that the authorities were concerned about bin Laden's former home attracting widespread interest from the country's domestic as well as Western media, around the first anniversary of his killing.
"The first anniversary is probably going to revive criticism of Pakistan's failure in detecting bin Laden," the minister said. "We want to close this sorry chapter and move on," adding, "Demolishing Osama bin Laden's home will be a step to end (the legacy of) his existence in Pakistan."

Jeremy Lin - Basket Ball Player

Jeremy Lin has been a NBA sensation in 2012. Is he for real or is he just lucky? Image: Nikk La
On Feb. 4, The New York Knicks basketball team played the New Jersey Nets at Madison Square Gardens in New York City.
The Nets played hard, but they simply couldn’t beat this Knicks team. There was something special about them… and that was Jeremy Lin.
Jeremy Lin turned heads during that game by scoring 25 points and adding seven assists.
Good numbers for any player, but especially for an undrafted player with only a handful of games under his belt.
But this is where the story really gets good.
After his strong game against the Nets, the Knicks let Lin keep playing, and it’s been Lin-sanity ever since!
Lin has scored 20 points in nine of his last ten games, including 38 against the Lakers, a three-pointer within the final seconds to beat Toronto, and 28 points, 14 assists and five steals against last year’s champs, The Dallas Mavericks.
Last night, the Nets met up with the Knicks again at Madison Square Garden for their long-awaited rematch.
This time, despite Jeremy Lin’s 21 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds, the Nets were victorious 100 – 92.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Greece To Get New €130B Bailout

The Flag of Greece emblazoned across the nation.
Greece was in trouble because it took on too much debt.
But other countries have agreed to help Greece by lending the country more than 130-billion euros. Euros (€) are the units of money used in 17 countries in Europe including Greece, France and Germany.
The countries that have agreed to bail Greece out of its money problems are demanding something in return. They are insisting that the government of Greece spend less.
For example, Greece must pay its workers less. It must also reduce the amount of money paid to workers once they retire.
These cuts to spending that will affect the people of Greece are called “austerity measures.”
If the plan goes ahead, the austerity measures will also reduce, or cut, the amount of money spent on health care and education. This will have an effect on hospitals and schools in Greece.
Spending on the military to defend the country will also be cut, along with special payments to families that have at least three children.
Many Greeks are not happy about the planned spending cuts which will add up to more than three billion euros. Thousands have been protesting by marching in the streets of several cities in Greece.
Some of the protests in Greece have been peaceful, but others have been violent and included fighting with police and burning buildings.
This is the second time Greece has been bailed out of money problems in the past two years. Some countries who lent Greece money have agreed that they only have to pay back some of it.
Still, other countries in Europe want Greece to work hard to pay back the money it has borrowed. They worry that if Greece doesn’t get the situation under control, the euro currency will no longer be popular and Greece’s problems will spread to other nations.

Head Of TTC Fired; Toronto Council Divided About Transit

Toronto streets are known for being full with people, bikes, cars, and TTC streetcars. Image: Benson Kua
The head of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was fired from his job this week. Most people think it’s because he disagreed with Toronto’s mayor’s plans for public transit.
In this case, public transit refers to the city’s system of buses, subways and streetcars.
Gary Webster has worked at the TTC since 1986; for nearly six years he has been the TTC’s Chief General Manager.
As the head of the TTC, part of Webster’s job was to advise Toronto’s politicians about how the city’s transit system should operate.
Both the City and the TTC agree that Toronto needs more public transportation; many bus and subway riders find the city’s transit system slow and overcrowded at times.
However, city council is divided as to how it should be built.
Mayor Rob Ford wants the new transit line to be underground—a subway.
Two weeks ago, Gary Webster said it would be better to build an above-ground “light rail transit” line.
On Tuesday, a special meeting was held. At that meeting, the politicians voted 5-4 in favour of firing Gary Webster.
The firing will cost Toronto more than half a million dollars. That’s because Webster has a contract with the city, a legal document that guarantees him a job for at least two more years.
TTC Light Rail
Light Rail Transit Lines (LRT) run between both directions of traffic, in a separate portion, free from cars, bikes, and buses. Image: Dylan Passmore
Now the city must find a new head of the TTC, and they must do it quickly. The TTC is scheduled to receive $8.4-billion from the province of Ontario to extend its transit system; it must decide how it’s going to use that money.
The Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, is becoming frustrated with Toronto council’s inability to decide how to do it.
He told The Toronto Star that “we’re running out of patience.”
There may have been other reasons for firing Gary Webster, but the politicians have been told by their lawyer that they can’t talk about the situation with the media.

Is The Colosseum Crumbling? Is The Colosseum Crumbling?

The Colosseum in Rome is one of the most recognizable buildings in the planet, day or night. Image: Diliff
The Colosseum in Rome is one of the most recognizable buildings in the planet, day or night. Image: Diliff
The Italian government is trying to figure out if there is any truth to reports that rock is falling from the Colosseum.
The Colosseum is a world-famous landmark in Rome, Italy. It is the place where gladiators fought during the time of the Roman Empire (around 80 AD).
It has been damaged over the years by earthquakes and stone robbers, but it remains one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions.
Last week, some visitors to the Colosseum said they saw some bits of stone fall from it.
An Italian environmental group says that exhaust fumes and vibrations from cars and a nearby subway are causing damage to the Colosseum.
Inside the Colosseum. Image:  Bjarki Sigursveinsson
Inside the Colosseum. Image: Bjarki Sigursveinsson
The director of the Colosseum has denied these reports of falling stone, according to news service American Press (AP); although she said that sometimes small stones have been known to fall from the ancient building, due to rain, wind or birds.
The outside of the Colosseum is made fromtravertine, a type of limestone; the interior is made from brick and tufa, another variety of limestone.
The tourist attraction is slated to get a $33-

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Attawapiskat Residents Getting Some New Homes

Map of Attawapiskat
A Map Showing the Location of Attawapiskat, a Community on Attawapiskat River in Northern Ontario, Canada. Image: NormanEinstein
Some Attawapiskat residents will soon be moving into new “modular” homes.
Attawapiskat is a remote community in northern Ontario. Last year, the government there declared a state of emergency because residents were living in conditions that were very unsafe.
Canada’s government promised to help fix the housing problems in Attawapiskat.
The first modular home has reached the first nations community, and the second is on its way.
“Modular” in this case means that the home was built away from the community and transported there by truck.
There will be 22 modular homes added to the community.
Attawapiskat Town
Aerial View of Attawapiskat First Nations Community, July 18 2011. Image: Attawafn143
The homes were shipped to Moosonee, Ont. in December, but had to stay there while the roads going further north froze, so they could be travelled by the heavy trucks.
Many northern communities in Canada and other countries depend on “ice roads,” which are unusable–or not even there–during the summer months but which freeze over and become useable during the winter. Many ice roads go over frozen waterways like lakes.
Some of the sites where the homes are to be placed in Attawapiskat are not yet ready. More construction still needs to be done before the homes can be installed.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

12-Million-Year-Old Plant May Soon Be Extinct

Cycad at the royal palace grounds, Laung Prabang, Laos
Cycad at the royal palace grounds, Laung Prabang, Laos. Image: Tiragreene
Cycads, a very rare type of plant, are in danger of becoming extinct because of poachers.
Poaching usually means to hunt animals illegally. In this case, trees are being taken from the wild. They are then secretly sold for a lot of money – up to $100,000 each - to people who collect unusual plants.
The first cycads existed during the time of the dinosaurs, during the Jurassic period. The kinds of cycads that are alive today have been around for 12 million years. They look like a cross between a fern and a palm tree, and they can take hundreds of years to grow to their full size.
Cycads at national botanical gardens
Cycads at national botanical gardens. Image: Deadstar
There are many different types of cycads. Some types are already extinct, and others are endangered – there may soon be none left.
Some of the rarest types of cycads grow in South Africa. These are the plants poachers have been stealing. The poachers work at night, taking cycads out of the ground, then cutting them up into smaller plants so it is easier to move them.
It’s okay to sell some kinds of cycads in South Africa. Poachers sometimes remove all of the leaves from the stolen plants so no one can tell what type it is. That makes it hard to catch the poachers.
Cycads in Korakuen, Okayama, Okayama, Japan
Cycads in Korakuen, Okayama, Okayama, Japan. Image: Reggaeman
Scientists from a university in South Africa want to make a record of the DNA of all types of cycads. (DNA is a set of molecules that contains information about the characteristics of a plant or animal.) Then, plants can be checked as they are being shipped out of the country to make sure no endangered cycads are being sold.
The scientists are working with the International Barcode of Life project which is based in Canada

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Super Bowl Commercials Don’t Disappoint

Old fashion TV in 1957.
Many people like to fast-forward through commercials on TV.
However, there is one time when many people want to watch the commercials. And that’s during the Super Bowl football game.
The Super Bowl was played last Sunday.
It has become a tradition that the commercials shown during the Super Bowl are particularly interesting to watch. Many of them are funny.
For instance, in a Volkswagen ad, a dog sees a Volkswagen go by his house. He wants to chase it, but he’s too fat to fit through the doggie door. So he starts exercising himself to get in shape. He chases his own tennis ball, and he swims laps in a pool. Eventually, he is able to fit through the doggie door and chase the car. (See that commercial here.)
Some of the commercials, like one called “Big Game,” may give you goose bumps. The commercial shows two Port Credit, Ont. recreational-league hockey teams about to get on the ice for one of their normal, weekly games. However, unknown to the players, Budweiser is about to turn their usual game into a huge event. They brought in 600 fans, big screens, music, mascots, announcers and even instant replays, just like an NHL game. The players are completely surprised, as their weekend game with the boys becomes one of the biggest moments in their lives. (See “Big Game” here.)
Another commercial is a take-off on a famous movie called Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, from 1986. In the movie, teenager Ferris Bueller skips school to have a series of wild adventures. In the commercial, the actor (a now-grown-up Matthew Broderick) calls in sick to his acting job. He takes off in a Honda to have a series of wild adventures. The commercial is shot just like the movie was. (See that commercialhere.)
Commercials during the Super Bowl cost the advertisers a lot of money to run, because the audience is massive.
Many of the commercials that are shown during the Super Bowl are different in other countries than in the U.S., where the Super Bowl is played. However, Canadians and people in other countries can see most of the commercials on the Internet.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Toronto Teens Send Legonaut Into (Near-) Space

Two students launch a legonaut into space.
Two teenagers in Toronto, Ontario.  Have taken a giant leap – for themselves, and for one little Lego man.
The teens launched a Lego figure into near-space.
They hooked a helium weather balloon, a home-sewn nylon parachute and four cameras to the figure. And then they went out to a soccer field and let their contraption go.
The cameras were set to take pictures every 20 seconds.
When their figure came back to Earth, they looked at the pictures the cameras had taken.
They were shocked to see their little Lego figure, clutching his Canadian flag, with a picture of the curved horizon of the Earth in the background.
That means the figure had gone up very high. In fact, it had gone about three times as high as the average airplane flies (24 kilometres above the Earth).
About four months ago, the teens had decided it would be cool to try to launch a Lego figure into space. They spent about $400 on materials and most of their free time on Saturdays on the project.
Neither Mathew Ho nor Asad Muhammad thought their project would work as well as it did.
Since their story was reported by The Toronto Star newspaper, it has been covered by many journalists around the world. The two have been given free cameras by Canon, asked to speak at engineering competitions and have been given money to cover the cost of their project. Lego also sent them congratulations.
On Saturday, The Toronto Star published pictures of the figure–which The Star is calling a Legonaut–with Canadian celebrities including astronaut Roberta Bondar, talk show host George Stroumboulopoulos, politician Olivia Chow, a gorilla at The Toronto Zoo and the Stanley Cup.
The two teenagers attend Agincourt Collegiate high school in Scarborough, Ont., near Toronto. They are in grade 12. Their project wasn’t for school—it was just for fun.
The Star said that Muhammad’s family came to Canada from Pakistan when he was in middle school; at that time, Muhammad spoke no English. Other students ignored him, except for Ho—and the two became friends.
The details of the teens’ project are very interesting. The two had to figure out where the balloon would land (about 122 kilometres away), how to keep the cameras working even in the cold atmosphere above the earth, and whether or not they were doing something dangerous or illegal by sending the figure into space.
For more details about the project, read the original article from The Toronto Star here.
Here is The Toronto Star’s Legonaut picture gallery with Canadian celebrities.

Europe In The Grip Of A Cold Snap

 Satellite image of January 26th 2012 SouthEast Europe
snowstorm that brought over 100 cm of snow to some places.

Some countries in Europe are experiencing a bitterly cold winter.

Ukraine, in eastern Europe, has been especially hard hit. More than 100 people have died there in the last week, as temperatures dropped as low as -30C. Many of the people who froze to death were homeless people living in the city’s capital, Kiev.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, there have been avalanches and strong winds. The country declared a state of emergency.
One woman in Croatia had to have neighbours help her give birth to her baby after the ambulance could not reach her because of a blizzard. She later named her baby Snjezana, which is Snow White in Croatian.
In the UK, about half of the 1,300 flights out of Heathrow Airport have been cancelled due to bad weather. Heathrow is the busiest airport in Europe.
Cars were stopped by heavy snow in London last weekend, bringing major highways to a standstill.
Last Friday, Rome, Italy had the most snow it has had since 1985. Schools were closed and train service was stopped. Tourist sites including the Colosseum and the Roman Forum were also closed.
About 33,000 homes in Rome had no electricity.
The Siberian cold front that is causing much of the severe weather, is expected to ease up later this week.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Giants Take The 2012 Super Bowl

The New York Giants pulled off a stunning victory over the New England Patriots and became NFL champions  Sunday.Yesterday, The New York Giants and the New England Patriots faced off in the year’s most important football game — the Super Bowl. The game was played in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The two teams had faced each other at the Super Bowl before, four years ago. And just like the game back in 2008, the Giants won.
The final score this year was New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17.
It was a terrific contest between two great football teams, two fantastic coaches, and it was also a rematch between two great quarterbacks.
Tom Brady, the quarterback for the Patriots, is a future hall-of-famer. He threw very well all night including a record-setting 16 straight completions.
Meanwhile, Eli Manning, the Giants quarterback, had an exceptional game of his own. His last minute “drive” gave the Giants the victory and earned him the Most Valuable Player Award.