Photo: Rats on a mission

Mine detection rat

Photo: Sylvain Piraux, 2005 Tanzania. Courtesy: APOPO

A footlong rodent in a harness is ready to clear the world of landmines. Or at least, for now, parts of Africa.

Like dogs, giant African pouched rats are smart and cooperative, and have a highly developed sense of smell, plus they work for peanuts. These natives of sub-Saharan Africa are tame and can be quickly trained. Unlike dogs, they don’t bond with humans, so they can be handled by more than one trainer. It’s not a kamikaze mission for these HeroRATS, as they are called, since their light weight makes them highly unlikely to set off mines. Once a rat detects the scent of a mine, it scratches furiously at the dirt, a trainer marks the area, and the rat keeps moving.

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Cancun climate breakthrough

By Kate Sheppard

It’s not perfect, and it’s not binding, but international climate negotiators have struck a deal.

The final hours in Cancun were a world of difference from the closing night of the Copenhagen climate talks. Last year’s summit closed with drama, confusion, and plenty of unhappy delegations, but the Mexico conference came to an end with multiple standing ovations for the host country and widespread agreement among countries to approve the text of an agreement.

It was after 3 a.m. when the parties adopted the two agreements—one that delays a decision on the future of the Kyoto Protocol and another laying out in more detail a new agreement on climate that includes major emitters like the US and China. Of the 194 countries represented in Cancun, 193 backed the text—which, while it falls short on many fronts, represented “a new era in international cooperation on climate change,” said Patricia Espinosa, the minister of foreign affairs for Mexico and president of the summit. Much of what is included in the 32-page agreement for a new climate agreement is based on the spare Copenhagen Accord, formalizing it within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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‘Spider-Man’ on Broadway

Photo: Jacob Cohl

A disclaimer before I give you my opinion of Julie Taymor‘s much-hyped “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark”: I don’t, in any way shape or form, fancy myself a professional theater critic; rather, I speak as a devoted fan of Broadway. Growing up, I saw “A Chorus Line” six times, “Pacific Overtures” three times and “The Wiz” at least three times. I’ve sat through “Evita,” “Nine” and “Sweeney Todd.” (This was the 70s — tickets were a lot cheaper!) My only credential is that I love musicals.

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Photo: Green and red all over

A frog floats with cranberries awaiting harvest on a cranberry bog in Wareham, Mass. Photo: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The All-American sandwich: Fresh and natural? Anything but.

There’s one in every office. At noon, when the other cube warriors are ransacking the vending machines, texting orders to Manchu Wok or slipping off for a McDouble, she takes out a brown bag. She doesn’t say a word, but you can hear her thinking.

“Who was playing bumper carts at Kroger’s last night while everyone else was watching Modern Family? I was. Who stumbled into the kitchen at 6:30 a.m. while everyone else was burying their alarm clocks in a pile of dirty laundry? I did. And now who’s going to eat something wholesome at her desk — hi, boss! — while she dashes off a few more cranky-customer-placating emails? I—”

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Photo: Shouting down triple tuition

Police officers form a human chain during a protest against an increase in tuition fees in London on December 9. Photo: AP/Karel Prinsloo

A divided British Parliament voted today to nearly triple the amount of tuition that universities can charge. The ceiling on annual fees has been raised from 3,290 pounds (about $5,200) to a maximum of 9,000 pounds (about $14,200). Thousands of students and protesters rallied in London’s Parliament Square to show their displeasure. Protesters reportedly hurled flares, sticks and snooker balls at police as they attempted to break through barricades outside the Houses of Parliament. Late reports said that a car containing Prince Charles and his wife Camilla was kicked by demonstrators on Regent Street before it drove off.

Photo: Semper Fido

Photo: Cpl. Bobby J. Yarbrough

Cpl. Chesty XIII stands at attention and greets Marines and their families during a holiday party at Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. Earlier this year, Lance Cpl. Chesty XIII was promoted to the rank of corporal by Col. Andrew H. Smith. Cpl. Chesty XIII is the latest in a long line of English bulldogs that have served as the Marine Corps’ official Mascot. His predecessor, Chesty XII, ascended to the rank of sergeant during six years of service despite what was described as “a spotty disciplinary record.”

The first Marine mascot, an English bulldog named Private Jiggs was officially sworn into service in 1922. Private Jiggs was quickly promoted through the ranks to sergeant major. He died in 1927 and was given a full military service.

Sgt. Jiggs in 1925, after rising from the rank of private to corporal to sergeant to sergeant major in just 3 years. Photo: Library of Congress

Jews who went to the gymnasium (or the real history of Hanukkah)

Hanukkah came early this year, beating Christmas out by a good 24 days. For me — and I think for a lot of other Jewish people — Hanukkah really only became big because it happens to fall close to Christmas. The presents? That’s us trying to stay competitive during the holiday season. My father still remembers a time when he and his siblings got pennies, or gelt, for Hanukkah, not presents under the menorah.

At its heart, Hanukkah is just a fun, little festival where we light candles, sing songs, eat some tasty fried potato dishes, and celebrate a story that, when you get right down to it, doesn’t resemble Christmas at all. In fact, within the story of Hanukkah are some surprising revelations that a lot of Jews — including, until recently, myself — may be unaware of. On this, the last night of the holiday, I thought I might share some of them with you.

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Photo: ‘A date which will live in infamy’

The forward magazine of the USS Shaw explodes during the second attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Photo: U.S. Navy

On this day 69 years ago, at 7:55 a.m. Hawaiian time, 360 Japanese war planes descended on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor and attacked the Pacific fleet. Five battleships, three destroyers and seven other ships were damaged or sunk. More than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed with another 1,200 wounded. The day after the surprise attack, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941,  a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” The United States declared war on Japan, and a few days later, on December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. The United States officially entered World War II.

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