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Three times as far from Earth as Pluto, the ninth planet, astronomers have discovered what some people are calling the solar system’s tenth planet – named Sedna after the Inuit goddess of the ocean. It is the largest object found orbiting our sun since Pluto was discovered in 1930. There is a debate about what actually qualifies as a planet but Sedna, which is estimated to be about three-quarters the size of Pluto and may possibly have its own moon, seems like a strong candidate. Some scientists suggest that there may be many similar “planetoids” to be found on the fringes of the solar system.
Presidential elections are in full swing here and the biggest debate may be whether the media’s constant overexposure of the campaigns will leave viewers and voters numb. Early polls suggest President George Bush could be getting the boot from disappointed swing voters after four years of terrorism, war, job losses and monstrous budget deficits. Bush’s presidential opponent, John F. Kerry from the Democratic Party, is a 60-year old Senator with 20 years experience in Washington. He is married to a Heinz ketchup heiress who is worth $500 million USD.
This French-speaking Caribbean nation, founded by freed African slaves, should have been busy celebrating its 200th year of independence. Unfortunately a violent history of military takeovers and government corruption has once again shaken a destitute people. Armed guerrillas took over the country prompting the arrival of U.S. Marine peacekeepers who evacuated the elected leader of Haiti, Bertrand Aristide. Aristide, now claims he was forced out by the Americans who allowed terrorist gangs to assume control of his nation. An international peacekeeping force is needed to restore order to Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
In a spring election Spanish voters kicked the ruling party out of power in retaliation for the government’s support of the US war in Iraq despite 90% of the population being against it. Spanish involvement in the war apparently led to train bombings by al-Qaeda which left over 200 people in the capital city of Madrid. The new Socialist Prime Minister has promised to pull its troops out of the American coalition in Iraq. Governments in Britain, Italy, Japan, Poland and Australia were other strong supporters of the Iraq invasion and all have been named as targets by al-Qaeda but remain committed to their troops’ presence in Iraq.
The French government has passed laws banning students and teachers from wearing or displaying conspicuous religious clothing or symbols in schools. Prompted by recurring legal battles over Muslim girls wearing face-concealing headscarves in class, the new laws outlaw the Muslim headscarves, Jewish yarmulkes and obvious religious icons such as oversized crosses or stars of David. France has a strong tradition of striving to keep religion out of schools and government agencies. Over 70% of France agreed with the new ban, including a majority of Muslim women. France is home to both of the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe.
No more fish and chimps? While the oceans’ fish populations are quickly being depleted by widespread overfishing, on land tropical wildlife is undergoing a similar shocking disappearance. Western Africa in particular is seeing the destruction of huge swathes of virgin rainforest through unchecked logging operations and a growing slaughter of wild animals sold to local markets for human consumption. Known as “bushmeat” and including endangered species such as chimpanzees, gorillas, lions, hippopotamuses, monkeys and antelopes, the jungle game are highly sought after meats for both rural poor and wealthy urban diners.
The Chinese Communist government is changing its constitution to allow its citizens to own property. This is a historic move signaling a further endorsement of Western capitalism. Since the Communist revolution in 1948 homes and farms and buildings were all owned by the “people’s” Communist government. As well as property rights, the refreshed constitution has also seen the addition of new human rights policies. As many Chinese grow wealthier and more informed, more Western-style freedom are being demanded. China is currently the sixth largest economy in the world and should rise to third place by the year 2020 behind Japan and world leader America.
Seven years after it all began The Lord of the Rings trilogy came to a momentous end with the last movie, The Return of the King, becoming only the second movie in history to bring in over $1 billion US dollars in ticket sales (the all-time highest grossing movie is Titanic). The Return of the King won a record-tying 11 Oscars, matching Ben-Hur (1960) and Titanic (1998). The series brought the beauty of New Zealand to the whole world while bringing the work of author J.R.R. Tolkien to the big screen. Tolkien’s beloved novels are the second bestselling books of all time, second only to the Bible. As for the movie’s director, Peter Jackson, there is talk of him filming the Rings prequel “The Hobbit”.