Watching the World
● “A three-month-long annual rite, now ending in New York, has gone almost unnoticed,” says The Economist in referring to the 1984 sessions of the United Nations General Assembly that were held from September to December. Noting that most of the world’s governments send representatives “to make speeches and haggle over resolutions,” the report notes that “with very few exceptions, these resolutions sink into instant oblivion. Each session pumps out well over 200 of them, totalling about a quarter of a million words. Much of this verbiage is vain repetition, year after year.” Calling the United Nations assembly “a picture of a tedious, unproductive and costly talkathon,” the report maintains that if it “would cut its annual output back to, say, 50 resolutions, perhaps half of them might make some real impact.”
No “Wars” Since 1941
● “The formal declaring of war has gone out of style,” says The Globe and Mail of Toronto, Canada. “The last time it occurred was on Dec. 11, 1941, when, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States.” Disregarding formality, there have been some 150 to 220 wars waged since World War II. In 1984 about ten wars were being fought, though no new wars broke out during the year. “In 1984, as in 1983, all the world’s wars were fought in Third World countries. As a consequence, some that were relatively well off or had a promising future have been ruined; in others development has been set back,” says the article.
● “The pro football championship is the nation’s premier betting event,” said The Wall Street Journal, “with 17% of American adults having bet on the 1984 Super Bowl, according to a Gallup survey.” An estimated $5 billion to $10 billion (U.S.) were wagered on the event. “Far more Americans watched Sunday’s contest [on January 20] (110 million) than bothered to vote in the 1984 presidential election (89 million),” said the New York Daily News. “A 30-second commercial during the game cost a whopping $525,000 [U.S.] which, as announcer Frank Gifford pointed out, is more than it cost to build the original stadium in which the game was played.” The Daily News adds that “after such a massive buildup, the games are almost always letdowns.” This year many fans were disappointed because it was such a one-sided victory for the winning team.
● “People who exercise their brains with activities like crossword puzzles during mid-life are more likely to retain mental skills in later years than those with lazy minds,” says The Vancouver Sun in a report on a study released by Pennsylvania State University. The research, which began in 1956, was based on tests taken every seven years by 400 people and on information they supplied about their occupations, incomes, leisure activities, and travel experiences. “Those people who didn’t have very stimulating lives showed a marked decline,” said Warner Schaie, a professor of human development and psychology who is regarded as an authority on aging. The study acknowledged the role of genetic and physiological factors in determining an elderly person’s mental performance. But it refutes the notion that people have no control over declining mental abilities as they age, says Schaie.
Marriage Tempers Habits
● “In the first years after high school graduation, young people who got married showed the greatest decline in alcohol and drug use [over those who remained single and those who lived together without marriage],” says the New York Daily News in assessing the current findings of an ongoing study by the University of Michigan. The study compared 17,000 high school graduates who were questioned in regard to their habits in their senior year and in the three years following. “We don’t know yet what exactly there is about marriage that has this effect,” says Jerald G. Bachman, one of the researchers. “But it may have something to do with how these young people spend their spare time. Young married couples report they still go out as much as before—but on ‘dates’ with each other instead of ‘out with the boys’ or ‘out with the girls.’” Incidentally, the use of alcohol and drugs did not change after high school for young people living together without marrying. But it increased substantially for single people who moved away from home.
● “Overall, the number of operations performed in the United States is increasing five times faster than the population,” reports the New York Daily News. Dr. Eugene G. McCarthy of New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center believes the increase is due to the burgeoning number of surgeons coming out of medical schools. More surgeons mean more surgery, he says. How can you avoid the surgeon’s knife? It could be by getting a second opinion before making a decision. In a nationwide survey, 14 percent of 5,000 patients did not have a previously recommended operation after getting a second opinion. In New York State, a mandatory second-opinion program cut down hysterectomies by 17 percent, knee surgery by 36 percent, and prostate removals by 19 percent.
Falls on Escalators
● “Grid patterns on escalators in North America create a visual depth illusion which is chiefly responsible for an estimated 60,000 falls each year,” reports The Medical Post of Toronto, Canada. Falls while going up an escalator occur slightly more frequently than while going down, “whereas on stairs, people rarely fall going up,” says Dr. Theodore Cohn, associate professor of physiological optics at the University of California in Berkeley. He offers some simple solutions to prevent falls: “Closing one eye while viewing an escalator turns off the depth illusion and disorientation does not occur. Another way is to approach the escalator diagonally.”
Fishing by Satellite
● The fishing industry is turning to weather satellites to find the best fishing spots, reports the Asahi Evening News of Japan. How is it done? The U.S. satellite NOAA, which covers all the world’s oceans, sends data for infrared pictures to the earth once every several hours for any given place. A receiving device on specially equipped fishing boats breaks down the data so that fishermen can determine ocean temperatures by using 16 different colors on a video monitor. From the display they can tell where junctions between ocean currents lie, which are often good fishing areas. In an early test, several fishing boats hauled in ten tons of bonitos using this technique. So far, 20 boats are equipped with the device.
● Most people take it for granted that crime is rampant in all big cities. But not so, says The Express of Easton, Pennsylvania. It calls Tokyo, one of the world’s largest cities, “one of the safest cities in the world.” According to the latest figures, in Tokyo 1.6 murders, 5.6 robberies, and 3.8 rapes occur per 100,000 persons, presumably annual figures. But in New York City there are 22.8 murders, 1,183.7 robberies, and 51.6 rapes per 100,000 persons over the same time period. “Tokyo’s metropolitan police claim an arrest record of 95 percent for violent crimes,” adds the report.
● Forty-six native and foreign species of plants and animals have been added to or proposed for the list of endangered species of the Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Interior Department. Among the latest animals listed were the wood stork, the woodland caribou, and the giant panda of China. But, says The New York Times, “there is still a large backlog of over 1,000 ‘candidates’ for protection” not yet on the list. Interestingly, the brown pelican was proposed for removal from the endangered list. If the proposal is carried out, “it would be the first time a creature had been delisted because . . . [it] was no longer in danger of extinction,” says the report. “Usually a species is removed from the listed after it has become extinct.”
Cordless Phone Warning
● “The Food and Drug Administration says that it has 120 complaints on file from consumers who say their hearing was damaged by . . . battery-powered portable phones,” reports The Express of Easton, Pennsylvania. Why this problem? Because cordless phones, which usually have ringing mechanisms right by the earpiece, do not stop ringing when they are picked up. Unlike conventional phones, users must move a switch to stop the noise. If the user forgets, the high-decibel ringing can cause permanent hearing damage. Consumers should exercise care when using these phones and keep them away from children, says the FDA. Many manufacturers are redesigning these troublesome phones.
● “Every tree cut down, including Christmas firs, adds to the problem of dying forests.” So claimed Greens politician Jutta Ditfurth in the Frankfurt Abendpost. The Greens, an environmentally active political party in the Federal Republic of Germany, were joined by some ecologists in urging the public not to buy Christmas trees last year. But foresters and agricultural officials in the Federal Republic of Germany took issue with their charge. “No one must fear hurting pollution-damaged forests by purchasing a Christmas tree,” proclaimed the Association of German Forest Owners. It claimed that about 90 percent of the 17 million Christmas trees sold annually are cut from stands of firs grown especially for the holiday season or thinned from forests as part of tree-cultivation techniques. Nevertheless, early sales lagged in 1984. “The Greens’ campaign has had an obvious effect,” said tree-seller Horst Mueller.
● Wearing body armor and helmets and using fireworks are among the standard defenses against tiger attack in the Sundarbans, the 3,000-square-mile (7,800 sq km) delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers that straddle India and Bangladesh. Nevertheless, even though this is a sparsely populated area, “fishermen, woodcutters and honey collectors visit regularly and are picked off by the tigers at the rate of about 50 a year,” says The Times of London in a sum-up of a recent report by Earthscan, part of the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development. Lately field workers have been trying a new technique to cut down fatalities—wiring human dummies to car batteries through a transformer. The 240-volt shock seems to teach individual tigers a lesson, but whether the dummies will make any long-term difference in the casualty toll remains to be seen. The Sundarbans is the home of 600 to 700 tigers, thought to be the largest tiger population in the world.