Watching the World
Nuclear-War Food Peril
Two hundred of the world’s top scientists, representing 30 nations, issued a grave report on the effect that a nuclear war would have on the earth’s food supply. The two-volume study estimates that between one and four billion survivors would face death by starvation. In areas untouched by the atomic blast, the atmosphere would contain hundreds of millions of tons of sooty black smoke, so that much of the sun’s light would be blocked from reaching farmland. Plaguing the earth with a “nuclear winter” would cause global famine to follow. Dr. Mark Harwell, associate director of the Ecosystems Research Center at Cornell University, U.S.A., and coauthor of the report, said at a news conference: “We are left with images of Ethiopia and the Sudan as being more representative of what the world would look like after a nuclear war for most of the people than the sorts of images we have of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
Through a Comet’s Tail
Cruising at 46,000 miles per hour (74,000 km/hr), a half-ton (450 kg) American satellite flew safely through the tail of a distant comet last September 11. “Mankind’s first encounter with a comet has to be rated as an unqualified success,” said one of the scientists involved in interpreting data transmitted by the satellite. The comet, named Giacobini-Zinner, was 44 million miles (70 million km) from earth when the spacecraft pierced its tail. Scientists hope that the information gleaned from this historic encounter will aid space probes of the Soviet Union, Japan, and the European Space Agency in their encounters with famous Halley’s comet in March of 1986.
Why do whales get stranded on beaches? Usually it is accidental, reports The West Australian of Perth. A young, sick, or injured whale caught ashore will send out distress signals. Other whales, responding to the call, will often become stranded too. Whales are also known to swim into the shallow waters of some beaches—such as New Zealand’s notorious Opoutma, which in Maori means “Place of Skulls.” These beaches do not reflect the whales’ depth-soundings in the ordinary way. Furthermore, Science News reports that whales frequently get stranded at beaches located at the ends of ocean ‘pathways’ of low magnetism, which migrating whales seem to follow. Although beached whales become disoriented, The West Australian says that “whales always seem to understand that human beings are trying to help them . . . and submit gently to efforts to help.”
Fear of Violence
“Fear of crime was widespread and intruded into people’s routine behaviour,” concludes the 1984 British Crime Survey. One person in every four no longer goes out at night. Fear of rape worries four out of every ten women under the age of 30. This fear is understandable, since the same survey reports a 115-percent increase in the number of sexual offenses from 1981 to 1983. A Gallup poll of Britain showed that a four-fold increase in violent crimes since 1965 has prompted over one million people to arm themselves with either guns or knives. Yet another million, reports The Times of London, “sleep with a cricket bat or other blunt instrument under the bed.”
Spotlight on Blood
◻ Danish scientist Niels Jerne is regarded as “the great theoretician in immunology.” He shared the 1984 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Recently, when the Brazilian magazine Veja asked him why he refused a blood transfusion during an operation three years ago, he stated: “A person’s blood is like his fingerprints—there are no two types of blood that are exactly alike. For that reason, I preferred to let my organism do the work, and I recuperated without any problems. . . . Generally speaking, I always feel that a glass of wine and a day in bed do a better job.”
◻ Chagas’ disease, endemic in many rural areas in Brazil, is spreading at an alarming rate among city dwellers too. Why? According to the Brazilian journal O Estado de S. Paulo, one of the principal causes is blood transfusions. The contaminated blood is collected from infected country folk who have moved into the cities and who sell their blood for money to buy food. It is difficult for medical personnel to screen donors to detect the disease. Chagas’ disease causes heart-rhythm disturbances and inflammatory reactions that can lead to death.
◻ A hospital in Alessandria, Italy, investigated 48 cases of viral hepatitis and discovered that the major cause (33 percent of the cases) of these infections could be traced to blood transfusions. According to one recent study of 8,604 cases of viral hepatitis in Italy, reports Minerva Medica, more than 57 percent were blamed on blood transfusions.
“Perplexed New Generation”
“The permissive child-rearing theory has left behind perplexed parents and a just-as-perplexed new generation—what went wrong?” asks the Swiss newspaper Die Weltwoche. In addition, author Renato Biscioni, an expert in child psychology and training from Winterthur, Switzerland, noted that something new has appeared in child behavior: “A terrifying tendency to be egocentric and domineering, to be touchy, to persist in infantile behavior, and to be continually demanding.” Thus, teaching children no moral boundaries has not been the key to happiness. The author concludes: “Today it is urgent to educate [them] to be considerate and fair, to have a certain form of inner discipline, yes, even of decency.”
Mothers Make Good Teachers
Although educators encourage parents to send their children to nursery schools, a recent study has challenged the practice. In Young Children Learning, authors Barbara Tizard and Martin Hughes analyzed the conversations of 30 British four-year-old girls. They found that the girls had more stimulating conversations at home than at school. Additionally, they talked more freely, engaging in 27 conversations per hour with their mothers compared to only 10 per hour with adults at school. Instruction at home, being one-on-one, was superior to the group instruction at school. The authors conclude that the typical home is a far richer educational environment for tots than is the typical nursery school.
“Make Room for Silence”
Irritation from loud music can lead to violence. A man in a park in the Bronx, New York, wounded four people while trying to shoot a large battery-powered radio after the owner refused to turn it off. “I, too, have often felt like shooting these radios,” writes James Kullander in The New York Times, though he maintains he would not stoop “to such a primitive stage.” Prior to this incident, and because of public outcry, the City of New York designated “radio-free zones” at sections of its beaches and at Sheep Meadow in Central Park. Writes Kullander: “I for one rejoice . . . over the move to cut back on the noise around us and to make room for silence.”
World’s Worst Air Crash
The world’s worst single airplane crash claimed the lives of 520 people in Japan last August. Though the plane smashed into a mountainous area with no access roads, four persons incredibly survived to tell firsthand the experience of riding a plane through the gates of obliteration. Rescuers took 16 hours to arrive at the crash site. The airline’s president reacted with great compassion and humbly bowed to families of the victims and apologized, as he said, “from the bottom of my heart.” He also offered to resign.
Still in Business
“A group of prisoners in the new ultra-modern maximum security jail at Parklea [in Australia] have been discovered printing their own $20 notes,” reported The Sun-Herald of Sydney. The prisoners also printed false marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, and birth certificates, and had access to a telephone. Ex-convicts duped companies by telling them that the phone’s number was that of a previous employer. Several companies called and were assured that the potential customer was a good credit risk. When the customer didn’t pay what was owed, the companies called again. The response? “Sorry, this is Parklea prison. You have the wrong number.”
Some call them aids to safer driving and a defense against police entrapment. Police call them tools to break the law. They are radar detectors designed to alert drivers to the presence of police radar, which police use to detect speeding automobiles. Costing from less than $100 to over $300 apiece, an estimated two million of them will be sold in the United States this year. Observes a police lieutenant: “The ones driving in flagrant violation of the speed limit are almost without exception using radar detectors.”
“After ringing true for three or four centuries the bells in many of the steeples and carillons of Holland have, in the past 25 years, gone out of tune,” reports Scientific American. Why? Acid rain. Explains the report: “[Acid rain] corrodes the wall of a bell, thinning the metal and lowering the bell’s pitch. The corrosion affects small bells faster than large ones,” making the many bells in the carillons “increasingly dissonant.” Is there a solution? “The remedy is to lower the tone of the larger bells by carefully scraping the inside,” says the report. The government is studying the matter to determine what steps need to be taken.
Life After 80
Life expectancy in Japan, already the world’s highest, has topped 80 years for girls born in 1984. Baby boys can expect to live up to 74.5 years. But this has brought on concern for looking after a “society of longevity,” as the Japanese cabinet calls the coming aging group. At present, persons aged 65 or older account for 10 percent of the Japanese population. But it is expected that by the year 2020 the older people will comprise 22 percent of the population. How the elderly can lead active and comfortable lives will become a weighty problem needing a solution in just a few more years.