Will north go south?
"It sounds unlikely but it's true: The magnetic north pole is moving faster than at any time in human history, threatening everything from the safety of modern transport systems to the traditional navigation routes of migrating animals," The Independent reports. "Scientists say that magnetic north, which for two centuries has been in the icy wilderness of Canada, is currently relocating toward Russia at a rate of about 40 miles [65 kilometres]a year. The speed of its movement has increased by a third in the past decade, prompting speculation that the field could be about to 'flip,' causing compasses to invert and point south rather north, something that happens between three and seven times every million years."
A glut of guys
"According to the United Nations, there are far more men than women on the planet," Newsweek reports. "The gender gap is especially pronounced in Asia, where there are 100 million more guys than girls. … The question left open by economists is what the consequences will be of such a large surplus of young men. History offers a disquieting answer. According to the German scholar Gunnar Heinsohn, European imperial expansion after 1500 was the result of a male 'youth bulge.' Japan's imperial expansion after 1914 was the result of a similar youth bulge, Heinsohn argues. … [He]has also linked the recent rise of Islamist extremism in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan to an Islamic youth bulge. Political scientists Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer warn that China and India could be the next countries to overdose on testosterone."
What next? Robo-customers?
The retail sector is becoming more automated, the Los Angeles Times reports. "[C]mpanies increasingly are looking to peddle more products with fewer employees. Shipping and warehousing workers are being replaced by robots that can process packages more efficiently than humans. Virtual assistants are taking the place of customer-service representatives. Kiosks and self-service machines are reducing the need for checkout clerks. Vending machines now sell iPods, bathing suits, gold coins, sunglasses and razors; some will even dispense prescription drugs and medical marijuana to consumers willing to submit to a fingerprint scan."
More jobs under threat?
Relatively inexpensive software is performing the "discovery" work of lawyers, according to The New York Times. "Computers are getting better at mimicking human reasoning … and they are claiming work once done by people in high-paying professions. The number of computer-chip designers, for example, has largely stagnated because powerful software programs replace the work once done by legions of logic designers and draftsmen. Software is also making its way into tasks that were the exclusive province of human decision-makers, like loan and mortgage officers and tax accountants."
Thou shalt not exaggerate
"In surveys, most Americans claim to belong to a religion and believe in God, and about 40 per cent claim that they attend services nearly every week," The Boston Globe reports. "However, studies of how people actually use their time have found that the attendance rate is lower by 10 to 20 percentage points. A new analysis suggests that this is not a general phenomenon. Europeans … don't exaggerate as much. But we're not alone: Canadians tend to exaggerate almost as much as we do."
The minister's speech
"India's foreign minister has been ridiculed by opposition MPs after accidentally delivering another country's speech at the United Nations," The Sunday Times of London reports. "S.M. Krishna opened with the usual general remarks during an address to the security council, so it was a good three minutes into the speech before an official realized that something was wrong. The minister had picked up a copy of a speech by Portugal's foreign minister, which had been circulated in advance. Krishna didn't even spot his error when he announced his satisfaction that 'two Portuguese-speaking countries' were present. After delivering the correct speech, he said: 'There was nothing wrong in it. There were so many papers in front of me.' "
HIV patients threatened
"HIV patients in the South African township of Umlazi live in fear of being robbed of their life-saving antiretroviral drugs," BBC News reports. "They have become attractive targets for gangs who steal their pills, which are then combined with detergent powder and rat poison to make 'whoonga' - a highly toxic and addictive street drug. Smokers use it to lace joints, believing the antiretroviral Stocrin increases the hallucinogenic effects of marijuana - though there is no scientific proof of this. The threat to HIV patients in this poor community of KwaZulu-Natal province is very real. 'On the one hand, we are battling to stay alive,' says 49-year-old Phumzile Sibiya, who has been taking ARV drugs for six months. 'Now we have to worry about thugs who will want to rob us for a chance to live because that's what they are stealing from us when they take our pills.' "
Thought du jour
"I'm a student of violence because I'm a student of the human heart."
- Sam Peckinpah (1925-84), U.S. filmmaker