Our Little Earth – October 26, 2007

October 26, 2007
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Twins rule ends in Poland

Kaczynski Twins Poland elected a new prime minister, Donald Tusk, on October 21st. This will bring to an end an interesting period – this was the first time that the two heads of a national government have been identical twins! The outgoing prime minister of Poland is Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his identical twin, Lech Kaczynski, is the president. Thankfully, Lech has a mole on his cheek that his twin doesn’t – that certainly made life easier for people around them! The Kaczynski twins were born in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. They became mini-celebrities at the age of 12 when they acted in a film.

Poland was founded as a nation in the 10th century. It was ruled by other countries from the 1700s until World War I when it became independent. After World War II, it became a communist country under the control of the Soviet Union. It had its first democratic elections in 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Poland joined the European Union in 2004.

The first woman to have won a Nobel Prize was of Polish origin. Marie Curie was born in Warsaw, and later moved to France. In fact she named one of the chemical elements she discovered after Poland – polonium. In Poland, celebrating “name day” is more important than celebrating a birthday. Each day of the year has a few names associated with it, and you celebrate on the day that has your name!

A buck here and there

CoinThe value of a euro (€) reached a new record high against the US dollar ($), when its exchange rate was valued at over $1.43 this Monday. The euro is the official currency of a collection of 13 European countries, while the US dollar is the official currency of the USA. So what are exchange rates, and why does the value of money change?

If you live in Japan, you would go to the stores and buy things using Japanese money which is called yen. The yen is called the “official currency” of Japan. Similarly, in the UK, you would have to use pounds, and in the United States, it would have to be US dollars. Now lets say you live in Japan and have gone to the United States on a vacation. You walk into a store to buy some food and try to pay with your yen. But the store only accepts US dollars. So what you need to do before you can shop is to exchange the yen for US dollars. But how many dollars should you get for your yen? This is where exchange rates come in. Right now, for every 1000 yen, you would get back about 9 dollars. And yet, a friend of yours who came to the United States just three years ago got almost 10 dollars for every 1000 yen.

Why do these rates keep changing? Simply speaking, this is because not all countries do equally well. The coins and notes we use as money have to represent some true value behind them. In the olden days, this was actually a piece of gold that the country had to set aside. However, the value of gold itself was not fixed, this had to be changed to a more complicated notion of what the country was worth. Hence what one can purchase with a certain amount of money changes over time, and how it gets exchanged into another country’s currency changes as well.

So tourists with euros in the United States are going to feel just a bit richer now, while tourists from the United States visiting one of the 13 European countries will feel poorer!

Rugby World Cup

Rugby Ball South Africa beat England and won the Rugby World Cup in France on October 20th.

Rugby is an outdoor sport played by two teams of 15 players each. It evolved from football (soccer) in the 1800s. It’s considered to be one of the most rugged and physical team sports in the world. The game is played with an oval shaped ball which can be kicked, passed, or carried by hand. The aim of the game is to get the ball and take it to your opponent’s side of the field, and score as many points as possible. It’s played in over 120 countries. The first Rugby World Cup tournament was played in 1987, and has been played once every four years since. The next World Cup is in New Zealand in 2011. It is the third most watched sport on TV (after the FIFA World Cup for soccer and the Summer Olympics)!

New Zealand’s rugby team, All Black, has a popular tradition of performing a dance called the haka before every match. You can see it by clicking here.

South Africa, the country of the winning team, is called a rainbow nation because of the diverse cultures and people that live there. They say you can find all skin tones in South Africa, and it has as many as 11 official languages! One of the biggest issues that South Africa faced in the last century was apartheid, where people of different races were treated differently. Apartheid came to an end in the 1990s, and South Africa is a multi-racial democracy today.

MandelaMeet Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa. He was born in a small town in South Africa in 1918. He studied to become a lawyer. In the 1950s, he become involved in trying to bring an end to apartheid. He was arrested in 1962 and spent 27 years in jail. While in jail, he became a strong symbol for the fight against apartheid. He was finally released in 1990. It is said that in just one day after his release, he received more than 1000 interview requests from over 100 countries.

Mandela became the president of South Africa in 1994. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The street he lived on – Vilakazi Street – became known as the only street in the world that had two Nobel Prize winners living on it (the other being Bishop Desmond Tutu).

As of this week, the world’s largest passenger plane is the Airbus A380. It replaces the Boeing 747, which held that record for almost 40 years! The A380 can carry approximately 850 passengers, compared to just over 500 for the 747.
The current world record for ‘same name gathering’ is held by a group in Dubai who collected 1,600 men called Mohammed in a park in February 2005. The previous record was set in Spain when 375 Marias gathered together in 2003.
The Mohammeds might not hold the record for long – the Petes of the world are trying to gather 2000 of their name-sakes in early 2008!
“Johnny, are you ready to go to the rugby game?”
“Yes, dad!”
“Why are you wearing such warm clothes?”
“Well, it’ll be cold in the stadium.”
“It will?”
“You said so!”
“I did?”
“Yes, you said there will be thousands of fans there.”
This puzzle was found on an Egyptian scroll almost 3650 years old. Let’s see if you can match wits with the ancients!

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives.
Every wife had seven sacks,
and every sack had seven cats.
Every cat had seven kits.
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives –
How many were going to St. Ives?

I am mentioned in this newsletter. The letters of my name can spell “Lean and solemn”. Who am I?
Puzzle from last issue: What place is mentioned in the phrase: “I used to be one nation, where you could learn a Taekwondo kick or eat kimchi.”
Solution: Korea. (…learn a Taekwondo kick or eat kimchi…)
Puzzle from last issue: The letters of my name can be rearranged to say “One Major Sin”. Who am I?
Solution: Marion Jones.
Credits: El Mundo for Kaczynski photo, gifAnimations.com for the coin photo, UselessGraphics.com for rugby photo, UNESCO for the Mandela photo (©UNESCO/Dominique Roger).
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