Our Little Earth – January 4, 2008

January 4, 2008
Our Little Earth
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More borders disappear in Europe

Schengen Nations A lot of celebrations took place on December 21st when Europe’s largest border-free zone was expanded with nine new countries. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia were added to the Schengen agreement.

Well, what does all this mean? When you travel between two neighboring countries, you go through a border check. You need your passport, and you might need a visa to visit the other country. But if these two countries are part of a border-free zone, then you don’t need a passport or a visa to travel between them. For many years there had been talks about having a border-free Europe, but nothing had happened. In 1985, five countries got together in a very small wine-making village called Schengen in Luxembourg. They decided to sign a treaty that will allow free movement of persons amongst them. These five countries were France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The treaty was called the Schengen agreement. The treaty went into effect ten years after it was signed. Today, there are 24 European nations that are part of it. The remaining Schengen countries are the following: Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland.

Not all the countries that are part of the Schengen Agreement are part of the European Union (example: Norway and Iceland). Also, not all the European Union countries are part of the Schengen Agreement (example:The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom).

Political leader in Pakistan killed

Benazir Bhutto Benazir Bhutto was killed in an attack in a city in Pakistan on December 27th. She had been the prime minister of Pakistan twice, and was hoping to win again.

Benazir Bhutto was born on June 21, 1953, in Karachi, Pakistan, into a wealthy family. After having done her schooling in Pakistan, she did her college education in Harvard  University (United States) and Oxford University (United Kingdom). Her father was also the prime minister of Pakistan and was made to step down in 1977. Bhutto was the first woman in modern times to head the government of an Islamic country. She was the prime minister of Pakistan twice (1988-1990  & 1993-1996). She too was made to step down, and lived in exile in the U.K. and Dubai (U.A.E.). She returned to Pakistan in October 2007 to be part of the next elections that were to happen this month.

Pakistan was created in 1947 – it was a part of British-ruled India before then. The national language of Pakistan is Urdu, a language considered to be very polite and polished. Urdu’s vocabulary has numerous words that reflect respect and politeness. The Urdu language is written from right to left (unlike English). !taen taht t’nsI. (Get it? Try reading it like you would Urdu – right to left).

Happy New Year!

New Year Fireworks The world celebrated New Year’s Eve and watched the year change from 2007 to 2008. New Year’s Eve is on December 31, the final day of the Gregorian calendar’s year. Most of the Western world follows the Gregorian calendar which was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.

The new year was celebrated all over the world, but let us take a look at some of the more famous new year parties. London (U.K.) celebrated the start of 2008 with a bang at the Trafalgar Square and a show of spectacular fireworks over the River Thames at the London Eye. Even though it was very cold, over a million people came to watch the giant crystal ball make its 100th drop in Times Square in New York (U.S.A.). This year the ball used environmentally friendly light bulbs that use less electricity than before. While the Americans were freezing, the Australians were enjoying the warm weather watching the brilliant fireworks show over the Harbour Bridge and Opera House in Sydney (Australia). Athens (Greece) celebrated with a beautiful fireworks show over the Parthenon. Moscow (Russia) celebrated with fireworks and a large skating rink in its Red Square. In Taipei (Taiwan), people gathered around Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings, to celebrate. In Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), millions went to the beach party at Copacabana to celebrate. Berlin (Germany) celebrated with a street party at the Brandenburg Gate. Paris (France) celebrated without fireworks but with champagne on its Champs-Elysees avenue.

Well, which country was the first to see 2008? The honor goes to Kiribati, a small country in the Pacific Ocean just west of the International Date Line. The International Date Line is an imaginary line that separates two consecutive calendar days. It mainly is on the 180º line of longitude in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The line is not straight. It has been bent in places to suit the various countries in the Pacific Ocean, including Kiribati. If you travel across the line from the east to the west, you add a day. If you travel across the line from west to the east, you subtract a day. The country just west of the International Date Line will see the new day first.  Do you know how many hours after Kiribati you celebrated your New Year?

Euro signLet’s spend some euros! The euro (sign: €) is the currency that has been adopted by 15 European Union countries and a few non-European Union countries. For example, France gave up its franc and Italy gave up its lira to adopt the euro. The euro was first introduced in 1999 as a virtual currency used for accounting purposes. On January 1, 2002, the euro’s physical coins and banknotes were introduced. The euro is already the world’s most circulated currency, having surpassed the U.S. dollar.

For a European country to use the euro as its currency, it must meet certain requirements on things such as the money it owes and the interest rates it offers. Once a country starts using the euro, it is able to do business more easily with other countries.

In the next few years, we might see a few more unified currencies. There is talk of the ‘eco’ in Western Africa and the ‘khaleeji’ in the Persian Gulf.

Tonga and Samoa are two countries in the Pacific Ocean that have the same time but are one day apart!  So when it’s 9am on Monday in Tonga, it’s 9am in Samoa as well except that it’s still Sunday!
A common New Year’s Eve custom in Spain is to eat one grape for each of the last 12 seconds of every year for good luck. This was meant to be a grape for each chime of a clock that’s striking midnight.
The geography teacher was lecturing on map reading. After explaining latitudes, longitudes, degrees, and minutes, the teacher asked, “Suppose I asked you to meet me for lunch at 23 degrees, 4 minutes north latitude and 45 degrees, 15 minutes east longitude…?”
After a confused silence, a voice volunteered, “I guess you’d be eating alone.” 
Let’s see if you are a magician that can turn a country into something in your garden! So can you convert the word “SPAIN” into “PLANT”? You are only allowed to change one letter at a time, and each change must form a new word.
If you are in Tallinn, Estonia and need to get to Lisbon, Portugal, what is the least number of visas you would need to do the trip.
Puzzle from last edition: The puzzle was about musicians in a hotel, and where the extra dollar went.

Solution: The puzzle said that the three musicians had paid nine dollars each (making $27), and that the bellboy had $2, making for a total of $29. Since we’d started with $30, it would appear that a dollar has gone missing.

$30 = $9×3 (paid by musicians) + $2 (with bellboy) + missing $1

But in reality, the $2 with the bellboy came out of the $27 that the musicians paid (and the clerk had the remaining $25). So there’s $3 that remains to be accounted for, but we know that each musician was refunded a dollar each. So:

$30 = $9×3 (paid by musicians) + $1×3 (in the musicians’ pockets)
$30 = $25 (with hotel clerk) + $2 (with bellboy) + $1×3 (in the musicians’ pockets)

No missing dollars!

Puzzle from last edition: What word, when written in capital letters, is the same forwards, backwards and upside down?

Solution: “NOON”.

Credits: Wikipedia Commons for the Schengen map; Benazir Bhutto’s book for her photo; new-year.in for the 2008 fireworks image.
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