Watching the World
Failing Marks for UN
“Forty years after it was established, the United Nations gets far less than a passing grade on its efforts to resolve world conflicts,” reports The Toronto Star. A Gallup poll of over 20,000 people in 17 noncommunist nations revealed that only about a third of the people thought that the UN was doing well “in trying to solve the problems it has had to face.”
Disappointment has also been voiced by those responsible for the organization. “Like so many disappointed parents,” states The New York Times, “many of the participants at a two-day conference on the ‘United Nations at 40’ expressed disillusionment, anger and resentment that the child they had conceived did not turn out the way they wanted.” The conference, held at New York University, brought together a number of veteran UN observers, law professors, and former ambassadors—including the only surviving American signer of the UN charter. The UN was criticized as being little more than “a debating forum.”
The body of Queen Rambhai Bharni of Thailand was cremated last April—almost a full year after she died. The elaborate ceremony, replete with trumpeters, drummers, and conch blowers in regal dress, cost over $1 million (U.S.) and took more than six months to prepare. At the end, jewels valued at a quarter of a million dollars were placed in the urn along with the queen’s ashes. Her husband, King Prajadhipok, was the last absolute monarch of Thailand.
“Scientists have discovered the genetic equivalent of the fingerprint,” reports The Globe and Mail of Toronto, Canada, “so that a single human cell could verify the attacker in a rape case, the father in a paternity suit and the identity of a body.” The telltale identifier is a “seemingly useless segment” of DNA called an intron, copies of which are found throughout human chromosomes. The chance of two different individuals having the same pattern of these copies in a strand of their DNA is one out of ten billion-billion. Researchers from the University of Leicester made the discovery.
Kenya’s growth rate, at 4 percent, is the world’s highest and will probably increase to 4.5 percent by the end of the century. “In a nation where only a fifth of the land is cultivable,” states The Sunday Star of Toronto, Canada, “most families produce twice as many children as the average for the rest of the Third World—and they show no signs of slowing down.” Efforts to curb the growth have not succeeded, partly because of the high adult illiteracy rate and a drop in the infant mortality rate. Additionally, large families have traditionally been considered necessary to maintain income, and birth control is viewed as leading to small tribes that would fall under the control of larger ones. According to a study, half the population of Kenya already live in poverty.
For Good and for Bad
Electric power derived from nuclear sources is on the increase, reports the International Atomic Energy Agency. A total of 344 atomic reactors—33 more than the previous year—were in operation at the end of 1984, producing electricity for 26 countries. France, at 58.7 percent, was the highest user, followed by Belgium, Finland, and Sweden. The United States gets 13.5 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, says the agency. It estimates 9 percent for the Soviet Union.
A growing number of nations are also accelerating their efforts to achieve nuclear-weapon capability. “The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace . . . lists eight nations that have taken ‘important steps’ since 1983 toward becoming members in good standing of the nuclear club,” states Science Digest magazine. The nations mentioned are: South Africa, Pakistan, India, Israel, Iraq, Libya, Argentina, and Brazil.
Bible for Aboriginals
Australian aborigines will soon have parts of the Bible available in one of their many languages, according to The Courier Mail of Brisbane. Kriol, spoken by the largest group of aboriginals, was selected as the most suitable language. The work was ten years in preparation. Called Holi Baibul, it contains the books of Genesis and Ruth, plus selected parts of Judges, the four Gospels, Philemon, and Revelation.
For the 11th time since 1972, an extra second was added to the atomic clocks used as the standard for timekeeping by the U.S. government. In case you did not notice, the extra second was slipped in between the end of June 30 and the beginning of July 1. The reason, says the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., is that solar time, based on the earth’s rate of rotation, is not as accurate as the atomic clocks, based on the resonant frequency of the cesium atom. While the earth’s rotation “is uniform to within a one-thousandth of a second a day,” states The New York Times, the atomic-clock system “is accurate to within a billionth of a second per day.”
Beer and Baseball
A number of major-league teams have put restrictions on drinking alcoholic beverages during baseball games. Why? “Because of rising concern about fans who get into fights, shout obscenities or throw beach balls and bottles onto the fields,” reports The New York Times. In Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, only low-alcohol beer is served. In New York’s Yankee Stadium, beer is sold only until the seventh inning. In Comiskey Park in Chicago, printed messages on beer cups warn fans not to overindulge. In Atlanta, certain sections close to the playing field are off limits to drinkers. Says Rick Cerrone, an aide to the baseball commissioner: “In this day of people fearing episodes in ballparks, we want them to know it’s not a place to go to get drunk or be rowdy.”
Thousands of tons of toxic materials—including cancer-causing agents—are being released into the air by chemical companies, according to a recent U.S. Congressional survey. The levels were found to be much higher and more widespread than previously suspected. “Almost every chemical plant we received information about is releasing staggeringly high rates of hazardous chemicals, even in routine releases,” said Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. National standards for airborne pollutants exist for only five toxic substances: asbestos, benzene, beryllium, mercury, and vinyl chloride. Standards for other substances are left to each city or state, and they vary widely—sometimes by a factor of ten.
Looting the Past
Worldwide looting of historical sites “is reaching unprecedented proportions,” says U.S.News & World Report. “Authorities fear that vandalism will soon strip all known archaeological sites in the Americas and around the world.” With large sums of money to be made from wealthy collectors, thieves have plundered Aztec and Mayan tombs, American Indian burial sites, and sunken ships—often leaving the sites in ruins and making academic study of them impossible. “Many place blame for looting on the pop-culture portrayals of archaeology in such recent films as ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘Romancing the Stone,’” says the magazine.
“A child born in the US in 1985 has more than one in three chances of eventually developing invasive cancer,” states Ca-A Cancer Journal for Clinicians published by the ACS (American Cancer Society). According to the ACS, for males born in 1985, the chances of dying from cancer are almost one in four. For females, the chances are one in five. The apparent rise in the probability of dying from cancer is due, in part, to the fact that people live longer, since other causes of death, such as cardiovascular diseases, have been decreasing. This circumstance, in turn, gives more people more time to be exposed to cancer risks, says the ACS. On a more positive side, a recent ACS report shows “five-year survival rates of virtually 50 percent for newly diagnosed cancer patients.”
“A Gallup survey recently ranked Brazil as the second most violent country in the world, behind Colombia,” states The Wall Street Journal. “In the past five years, the survey found, 34% of Brazil’s families experienced some kind of crime. The comparable figure for the U.S. was 13%.” So much crime occurs, says the report, “that news of violence just doesn’t generate much excitement anymore.” Gun sales and bodyguard services have flourished. Police in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have advised nighttime drivers not even to stop for traffic lights, lest they be robbed. Most robberies are attributed to youths of poor families who, according to one priest, feel “thoroughly justified in taking from the rich” and “don’t even confess stealing as a sin.”
In an effort to get people to church one Sunday, the Bethlehem United Methodist Church tried to cover all excuses that people come up with. As reported in The Lufkin Daily News of Texas, there were beds for those who feel that Sunday is their only day to sleep, a TV for those who don’t want to miss a favorite program, and hard hats for those who say that “the roof would fall in if I came to church.” Blankets and fans were provided for those who feel the building is either too hot or too cold, name tags for those who don’t know anyone, sports equipment for those who play on Sunday, and clothes for those with nothing to wear. Among a number of other things provided were both straight and easy chairs, a pickup and delivery service, and scorecards “to keep track of all the hypocrites present.”