|June 20, 2008|
|WHAT’S GOING ON|
|Hope in Israel-Palestine conflict
Israel and a group called the Hamas agreed to a “truce” in an area called the Gaza Strip. In other words, they agreed not to fight with each other there. This could be the first step towards the end of one of the world’s most famous (and complicated) fights! So who’s fighting with whom and why?
Jews and Palestinians have both lived in the same geographical region for centuries, and each has been the main group in that region at different times. Since that region is “home” for both sets of people, they have strong disagreements about who should get to live where. The United Nations tried to propose two countries – one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, they didn’t agree. By the time the initial fighting was over, the Jews were part of a country called Israel, while the Palestinians lived mostly in two separate regions – the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, both of which are next to Israel. But the fighting and disagreements between the two haven’t really stopped, and various attempts at peace have failed in the past.To make things even more complicated, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are currently controlled by different groups of Palestinians. A group called Hamas controls Gaza Strip.
This last week, thanks to the efforts of Egypt, the Hamas and Israel have agreed that they will not fight with each other in the Gaza Strip. Israel will also allow more goods to reach Gaza. If this peace holds, it could lead to a much wider agreement between Israel and Palestine – something that the world has been waiting for, for a very long time!
|Oil prices keep breaking records!
In the last few days, squid catchers in Japan, taxi drivers in France, and fishermen in the UK staged protests. But what is unbelievable is that they were all upset about the exact same thing. Can you guess what that might be? The answer is oil prices, which have been shooting up around the world. In fact, prices have doubled in less than a year.
Firstly, we should realize that we’re talking about crude oil (or petroleum) and products from it. Crude oil comes from the earth, as opposed to food oils like olive oil or sunflower oil – no points for guessing where those come from! We humans are very dependent on crude oil – it drives our cars, lights up our homes, grows our food, and many many more things. When oil becomes expensive, the cost of a lot of stuff suddenly goes up as well.
Why are oil prices going up so fast? There are several reasons for this. Most of the world’s oil comes from a few countries. But some of these are having political problems which makes future supply uncertain. Huge countries like China and India are growing quite fast and are consuming even more oil. Many people are treating oil as a good place to invest money, which also drives up the price. While there is more oil in the ground, we’ve taken out the oil that was easy to get to, so oil companies now have to spend more money to get to the harder oil, and to find new sources of oil. Some people estimate that we have less than 50 years of oil left, which makes it a more “precious” or expensive thing.
Many countries are working hard at finding and using other sources of energy. In Brazil, 9 out of 10 cars can run on a substance that is made from sugar cane, instead of petrol. Portugal has built the world’s largest solar farm – it uses sunlight to create electricity. Others are exploring the use of winds and waves as a source of energy!
|Pluto gets back some respect
What is Pluto? Mickey Mouse’s pet dog. Yes, but we are talking about the Pluto that was a planet in our Solar System, like Mars and Saturn and Jupiter. But as you might know, about two years ago, Pluto was changed from being a “planet” to a “dwarf planet” (Isn’t it fun when you realize that even your text books could have been wrong about a few things?). Last week, the International Astronomical Union decided to put Pluto into yet another special group – Pluto will now be a “plutoid”!
So why is poor Pluto being pushed around? When Pluto was first discovered in 1930, it seemed to be very much like the other planets. But since then, we have invented better telescopes and have discovered many more things about our Solar System. It turned out that Pluto’s orbit (its path around the Sun) would in places overlap with the orbit of another planet, and if one allowed a planet to do that, then there were several other bodies in the Solar System that would also have to be called planets. So instead, it was decided that objects like Pluto should be put in a separate group of “dwarf planets”.
It now turns out that there could be several hundreds (and maybe even thousands) of dwarf planets. But there are very few dwarf planets that exist beyond Neptune (the last planet in our system). So this class of dwarf planets is being now called “plutoids”, named after its first discovered member – Pluto! In addition, Pluto can expect the first visitor from Earth, the New Horizons space probe, to reach in another few years. Hopefully all this will help Pluto not feel too bad about not being a planet any more!
Let’s meet OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. OPEC is a group of 13 countries which have enough oil in the ground that they can sell oil to others. These countries are Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Qatar, Indonesia, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador, and Angola.
Before the 1960s, the oil industry was dominated by seven large oil companies (referred to as the “seven sisters”). Some of the oil producing countries that supplied the oil to these companies got together and founded OPEC in 1960. This was to get some control over the international oil market, and to ensure a regular and stable supply of oil. Today, OPEC has a strong influence on oil supply and prices, because between them, these countries produce more than one-third of the world’s oil. But more importantly, they actually own two-thirds of all the oil “reserves” – all the oil that we know of that will be taken out of the ground and sold in the future.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter of oil. Russia, which is not part of OPEC, is the second-largest.
|DID YOU KNOW|
|Are you a Harry Potter fan? J.K. Rowling wrote an 800-word prequel to the Harry Potter series for an auction on June 10th. It sold for 25,000 pounds (about 50,000 US dollars or 30,000 euros). The money was donated to some charities. If you want to read the prequel, you can go to http://www.waterstoneswys.com, click on “Read Our Author’s Stories”, and click on “J.K.Rowling”.|
|None of us would be able to celebrate any birthdays on Pluto! The length of one Plutonian year is 248 Earth years – much longer than any of us would live!|
Oil get you!
|The sentence “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles” is a way to remember a certain sequence of things. Do you know what that is?|
|I touch six countries that are mentioned in this edition. What am I?|
|Puzzle from last edition: I am in the Amazon rainforest in a country whose name begins with E. I need to get to another country in the Amazon rainforest whose name begins with G. What’s the shortest number of country hops I need to do to get to my destination?
Solution: It takes at least 3 hops to get to Guiyana from Ecuador (through Columbia and Venezuela, or through Peru and Brazil, or through Columbia and Brazil)
|Puzzle from last edition: I have 8 letters. The first four letters mean the inner face of your hand. The last four letters, in reverse, describe something you would have done on your bike. What am I?
Solution: Palme D’Or (from palm and rode)
|Credits: Encyclopedia Britannica for Saudi Arabia oil pipeline photo.|
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