Watching the World
A Spreading Menace
● The deadly and much dreaded disease AIDS is spreading its web of terror. According to Asiaweek, the disease has been diagnosed in 16 countries around the world, and the number of cases (about 2,500 so far) is doubling every six months. Though there has been no confirmed victim of AIDS in Asia as yet, three suspected cases—two in Thailand and one in Hong Kong—are under investigation. Medical authorities in the Far East are keeping a close watch on homosexuals, hemophiliacs and drug addicts for any signs of the disease. Gay bathhouses in Japan are closing their doors to foreigners, but Tokyo’s 300 gay bars are continuing “business as usual.”
What Is Sin?
● At the sixth World Synod of Bishops, held in Rome last October, 211 Roman Catholic bishops gathered to discuss penance and reconciliation. “The subject was chosen because of a desire to reverse the drastic drop in the number of Catholics seeking confession,” reported The New York Times. Estimates of the decline in the past 15 years ran “as high as 70 percent.” Though some charge the decline to members’ rejection of church teachings on such matters as birth control and divorce, others put the blame on the hierarchy. Loss of a sense of sin was frequently mentioned as a key factor. The Economist of London observes that some in the church “reduce the concept of sin to a ‘social deviation, requiring no forgiveness but only therapeutical treatment’; or blame it on ‘social injustice’, so that ‘if there is any sin at all, it rests on the shoulders of those who preserve the system.’” Thus, about half of the bishops at the synod took the occasion to speak on social and political issues.
Money Crises Continue
● “How many more crises can the world’s financial system survive?” asks a New York Times editorial. Nations such as Argentina, Brazil and the Philippines, which have just been bailed out, are once again in financial trouble. Around the world, more than 40 countries are steeped in foreign debt, totaling about $700 billion (U.S.). Some countries are choked by interest payments as high as half of their export earnings, and the hope of expanding their exports is hampered by the generally sluggish world economy. Bankruptcy would be another way out, but “the human toll would be ghastly and the political consequences could be revolutionary,” says the editorial. Though past rescue efforts by the industrialized nations have prevented bankruptcy, “each new crisis casts doubt on the adequacy of what’s been done,” observes the Times, and it increases “the risks that what can be done the next time will not be enough.”
A New “Theology”?
● Whatever else the proliferation of science-fiction movies is doing, it may be changing the image of God in the minds of some of today’s youth. “The grandfather and father images of God don’t do anything for me,” explains a 17-year-old, quoted in the newspaper USA Today. “God is more of a spirit, like The Force in Star Wars and The Return of the Jedi.”
Some clergymen apparently are capitalizing on the fad. “These new movies are good because they’re symbolic of a transcendent being and the power of God in life today,” says a Baptist Church official. “We utilize these themes from these movies in our teaching.” And a rabbi, who sees the trend as “a revival of theology under a different name: E.T., Star Wars, War Games, Superman, whatever,” claims that “theology is so important it is best not left solely to churches and synagogues.” Does this mean it should be left to science-fiction movie producers?
More Smoking Warnings
● A British government survey reveals that secondary-school children, aged 11 to 16, smoke nearly £60 million ($90 million, U.S.) worth of cigarettes a year. In the first year, 1 percent of the students smoke regularly and 3 percent smoke occasionally, the survey shows. But by the fifth year, regular smokers rise to 27 percent, averaging 47 cigarettes a week, and 10 percent smoke from time to time. To deal with the problem, some schools are opening smokers’ clinics as well as urging shopkeepers to stop selling cigarettes to children. Reports indicate that single cigarettes are sold to children at about 7 pence (10c, U.S.) apiece.
A recent American study suggests that “smoking is the chief factor responsible for the gap between male and female life expectancies,” reports Science magazine. Current U.S. insurance statistics show that women outlive men by about 7.5 years. But the researchers found that life expectancies are “virtually the same” for men and women who have never been smokers. “The new study does not necessarily contradict the idea that stress may be a factor in men dying earlier,” one of the researchers said, “because it could be that stress causes men to smoke and so both contribute.” Other experts are skeptical about the findings but believe that “smoking probably accounts for about half the difference.” Whatever the case may be, the researchers feel that young women will soon lose their life-expectancy advantage because they are taking up smoking at a much higher rate than are young men today.
Education Without School
● Twelve-year-old Ruth Lawrence was admitted to Oxford University, but she has never been to public school. The same is true of Nicholas Everdell, now at King’s College, Cambridge. Their parents opted to educate them at home, at least initially. In Britain, education, rather than school, is compulsory, and 1,100 families have exploited this subtle difference. “We were not happy with the general standards of morality,” said Ruth’s parents. Others object to the lack of discipline, while some find the schools simply “disastrous,” reports The Sunday Telegraph. Officials argue, with some merit, that home schooling and correspondence courses, though legal, lack the social “mixing” and “breadth” that regular schools provide. Some parents apparently prefer to shelter their children from these very things.
● Of the 16,000 doctors in Ontario, an estimated “12 to 14 percent of them have had, do have or will have problems with alcohol and drugs,” reports Toronto’s Sunday Star. Drug abuse among doctors is “conservatively estimated to be one per 100 compared to one per 3,000 in the general population.” Job pressure and easy availability of drugs and alcohol are frequently cited as causes. But there are other factors. “The medical situations and training do not prepare a doctor for family life,” says Frederick Glaser, chief of psychiatry at the Addiction Research Foundation. And, according to William Henderson of Ontario’s College of Physicians, the doctor’s “God-like” image makes it difficult for him to ask for help. In one study of 36 doctors with alcohol and drug problems, 86 percent said their problems were directly related to the fact that they were doctors.
● In an unprecedented move, an Anglican vicar in Alsager’s Bank, Stoke-on-Trent, England, and 40 of the 42 active members left their church to become Roman Catholics, according to The Daily Telegraph of London. Citing conscience as the reason for his move, the former vicar said that “doctrinal changes in the Anglican Communion, the ordination of women, proposed changes in matrimonial discipline . . . and the increasing presence of divorced and re-married clergymen” are “the occasions” for his change. One of the defecting members, however, expressed the general feeling by saying: “We may be joining the Catholic Church, but we still want to retain part of our Anglican identity.” A Catholic spokesman described the situation as “a very delicate matter” that might “have to be presented to Rome.”
Cost of Alcoholism
● How do you count the economic, social and human cost of alcohol abuse? Besides the obvious loss in work productivity, a U.S. congressional report links alcohol abuse to half of the nation’s automobile accidents, half of the homicides, a fourth of the suicides and about 40 percent of all family-court problems. Combining such indirect costs with expenses for medical treatments, alcoholism costs society about $10,000 (U.S.) per alcoholic each year. With an estimated 10 to 15 million problem drinkers in the country, the congressional report puts the total cost of alcohol abuse at upwards of $120 billion (U.S.) a year. This, of course, does not include the price paid in anguish, pain and suffering by families and others.
● Officially there were 1,354 centenarians in Japan as of last September, reports The Daily Yomiuri. At the top of the list is 118-year-old Shigechiyo Izumi, who is the oldest man in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Matsu Maeshiro and his wife Makato, living in Okinawa, became the first Japanese to turn 100 years of age as a couple. Since the Law for Welfare of Aged Persons was established in 1963, the number of centenarians in Japan has increased to nearly nine times what it was then. Japan takes great pride in its senior citizens. Each year the prime minister presents awards to individuals, including those living overseas, who reach the age of 100.
Detecting Computer Fraud
● In an official survey, a total of 172 cases of computer fraud and abuse were uncovered in 12 U.S. government agencies, according to The New York Times. One of the investigators, Richard Kusserow, however, told a Senate subcommittee that the survey “grossly underestimated” the extent of the problem as well as its cost to the government. He said that about half of the cases were discovered by accident, and in many cases the amount of money defrauded was far more than reported. “One overriding finding of this study is that we still do not know the scope,” Kusserow added, and “it implies that Federal agency computer systems either have inadequate controls or none at all.”
● Dogs, though considered man’s best friends elsewhere, are no longer allowed as pets in Peking. According to the official newspaper Peking Daily, “in recent years more and more people have been raising dogs in the city, harming environmental sanitation and having an adverse effect on social order.” Consequently, since last November, no dogs are allowed in Peking without hard-to-get official approval, and owners without permits were told to have their pets destroyed. During the cultural revolution of 1966-76, the keeping of pets was denounced as capitalistic, and since then not many pets are seen in Peking or elsewhere in China.