Best of June: Counting swans, sex spots in Taiwan and stoned wallabies
Queen Elizabeth is having her swans counted. The annual Swan Upping, a tradition dating to the 12th century involving a census of swans on the River Thames, is conducted by the queen’s official Swan Marker. The process involves the Swan Marker rowing up the Thames for five days with the Swan Warden in traditional skiffs while wearing special scarlet uniforms and counting, weighing and measuring swans and cygnets.
Wild sheep on a remote Scottish island are shrinking, and scientists say global warming is to blame. The Soay sheep should be getting bigger, according to classical evolutionary theory, but they are 5 percent smaller than 25 years ago.
Ever since communism collapsed 20 years ago, Bulgarians have been waiting for a savior to rid the country of its plagues: corruption, nepotism and impunity for the powerful of the day. Days before the parliamentary election, hopes were pinned on a bodyguard-turned-politician with cropped hair, a karate black belt and the epaulettes of a general.
Radio hams and amateur astronomers around the world spent the weekend bouncing radio conversations off the Moon in commemoration of the Apollo 11 landings 40 years ago. They had some clear and extensive conversations, but they had to be patient — it takes around 2.5 seconds for a radio signal to reach the Moon and bounce back to another part of the Earth, so it took about five seconds to get a reply.
Nine centuries of male monopoly on the canals of Venice ended when the first woman passed the grueling test to become a trainee gondolier. Giorgia Boscolo, the 23-year-old daughter of a gondolier, got the lowest points for one of the 22 places available, and she is now authorized to take passengers on her gondola while completing training.
A flash of blinding light on the horizon, a deafening roar across the steppe and a nuclear mushroom cloud in the sky. The image still haunts Zheyembek Abishev, who was a child when the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear bomb near his village in Kazakhstan where generations of his ancestors grazed horses. “All the kids had to lie face down in the ditches during those explosions to keep safe. But I watched anyway,” he recalls.
Within a vast deforested area on Borneo island, Australia and Indonesia hope to turn an ecological disaster into a lesson on how to help save tropical forests and fight climate change. Half the area has been cleared and half is still forested but under threat unless alternative livelihoods are found for the 20,000 people living in and around the area.
The mystery of crop circles in poppy fields in Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania has been solved — stoned wallabies are eating the poppy heads and hopping around in circles. Poppy producer Tasmanian Alkaloids said livestock that ate the poppies were known to “act weird” — including deer and sheep in the state’s highlands.
Taiwan began a process of legalizing prostitution, and in six months, it will stop punishing sex workers after prostitutes successfully campaigned to be given the same protection as their clients. Certain locations in Taiwan will be approved for prostitution. “It’s like fishing,” a government spokesman said. “The activity may be legal, but in some places you can’t do it.”
The cars predate communist Cuba’s 1959 revolution. They hark back to a time when Detroit’s Big Three automakers were the envy of the world and a symbol of American economic power. Iron-clad chassis, scooped body and once lavishly appointed interior often seem to be the only original parts of the cars built during the heyday of General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler, that are seen lumbering down Cuba’s roads today.