New Internationalist

Curiosities

Issue 259

new internationalist
issue 259 - September 1994

 

Questions
...that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this,
your section, and be answered by other readers. Please address
your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.

Is it true that during mating the male duck will sometimes drown – and kill – the female?

Female Mallard risks her life for seduction.
PHOTO BY NIKKI VAN DER GAAG

Yes, if they are Mallard drakes. They literally line up and peck and push one another off the female duck to get there next. Every year I rescue one or two ducks who have been wounded in this process, but last year was the worst. As a result of this mating ‘style’ few ducks are left and the plight of those that are is desperate. I’m a vegetarian normally but I’d eat our Mallard drakes!

Gay Challands
Shrewsbury, UK

When the duck season is well advanced – with most females having already mated and sitting on eggs – fewer and fewer ducks become available for the drakes to mate with. Any female entering breeding condition late – or having lost her eggs or ducklings – will be the target for competing drakes who will descend upon the hapless female for a gang-rape which can result in her being drowned.

Lane Morris Jorgensen
Tokomaru, Aotearoa/NZ

I’ve noticed that the war in the former Yugoslavia has been described as ‘ethnic conflict’ while what has been happening in Rwanda is described as ‘tribal war’. What is the difference between an ‘ethnic group’ and a ‘tribe’?

The King of Baganda speaking on BBC Radio 4’s File on Four programme recently said: ‘the word “tribe” essentially means the old nations of Africa’. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology states that ‘ethnic’ derives from the Greek ethnos, meaning nation. Therefore there need be no difference between an ethnic group and a tribe. Presumably we use the word derogatively because it doesn’t accord with the national boundaries imposed so arbitrarily by the colonial powers.

Janet Pascoe
Uxbridge, UK

Is it true that the hole in the ozone layer is getting smaller?

No. The ozone hole which appears over Antarctica in the springtime is as prominent as ever. There is no discernible trend in its ‘depth’ – the extent to which the ozone layer is depleted – but there are natural variations in the damage from year to year. As it happens, the hole in 1993 was the deepest yet recorded. Incorrect suggestions that the hole is getting smaller might have arisen from the finding that CFCs – the principal source of ozone-destroying chlorine atoms – are accumulating in the atmosphere at a decreasing rate. But they are accumulating nonetheless, and will probably continue to do so at least until 1998. There is now good evidence that these compounds can also cause an ozone hole of sorts to open up over the Arctic.

Dr Philip Ball
London, UK

Awaiting your answers...

Who actually thought up the term ‘political correctness’?

Tamara Torobin
Gloucester, Canada

Does anyone have the full name and address of the manufacturers of the birth control IUD Copper 7? Who do you write to if you have been made sterile as a result of this awful device? Do you sue the doctor who inserted it? Is there a law firm looking after those of us who are seeking damages?

Sue Haines
Toronto, Canada

I would like to know how the International Monetary Fund would be able to force a country – like Canada – to pay its debt if that country’s government told it to go to hell? Whose army would the IMF use?

Norman Barney
Petrolia, Canada

Which country in the world was under colonial rule for the longest time?

Tariq M M Antar
Khartoum, Sudan

If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities,
New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK,
or to your local NI office (click here for addresses).

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Cartoon by P J POLYP

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