Watching the World
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN MOZAMBIQUE
Africa News reports that Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mozambique were granted a measure of religious freedom in 1988. In 1975 the government exiled thousands of them to a remote northern district of the country because they refused to repeat political slogans, an act that violates their Bible-trained conscience. They lived in isolation there until 1986, when rebels against the Mozambican government began to attack them, kidnapping and enslaving women and murdering dozens by death squad. They fled to neighboring Malawi, which in turn insisted that the United Nations get them out of the country. Then the Mozambican government lifted the restrictions that had exiled the Witnesses, allowing them to return to the homes they left 14 years before. They still hold faithfully to their Christian neutrality. Commendably, the government is currently allowing them to live and worship in peace.
BLOOD BANK SUED
For the first time, a U.S. blood bank has successfully been sued for providing blood that infected a transfusion recipient with the deadly AIDS virus. The victim, a five-year-old boy, was given the transfusion during open-heart surgery just a month after he was born. The lawyer for the child’s family argued in court not only that the blood bank had been negligent in its testing and screening of the blood but also that it had been fraudulent in that, motivated by a desire for profit, the blood bank had not allowed the family to donate the blood themselves. According to The New York Times, the jury decided that the blood bank had been negligent and awarded $750,000 in damages to the boy and his parents.
THE SECURITY BUSH
Security-conscious organizations in the United States, such as the CIA, the military, and NASA, have turned to an old idea in protecting their grounds: the bush. Commonly used a hundred years ago to pen in livestock, this particular shrub may look innocuous from a distance, but its leaves conceal hidden weapons—four-inch [10 cm] thorns, sharp as razors. Further, Discover magazine reports that “when mature, the hostile hedge is so thick it can stop a jeep.” It costs a fraction of what a wire fence does, yet it lasts three times longer. The proper name for this threatening thicket is trifoliate orange. Its nickname is P.T., short for Pain and Terror.
Scientists are still perplexed over the origin of life. The French daily Le Figaro made the following comment after reporting on a convention of biologists held in Paris: “Where does life come from? . . . Intervention from outer space in the form of extraterrestrials or asteroids? Divine intervention? No one has a scientific explanation.” The article went on to state: “There is already such a great difference between the most complex mineral systems and the most simple cells that no one is able to understand how the transition was made. The appearance of life on earth is the accumulation of such a series of improbabilities that it has become in itself highly improbable.” Yet life does exist. Evolution cannot explain how it got here, but the Bible does.
GREED DESTROYS TREES
India’s Uttar Pradesh state has lost nearly half of its precious forests since 1952—but not just to lumbering. India Today magazine reports that illegal tapping of pine trees for resin is doing most of the damage. The Forest Department has issued rules on how to tap the trees without damaging them but so far has been unable to enforce the rules. Meanwhile, people greedily tap the trees in such a way that not only are they rendered useless as resin producers for years to come but they also fall more readily in storms. Some even burn down the trees that they have tapped dry so as to hide the evidence of their illegal activity. This in turn causes forest fires. “It’s a classic case of venality,” remarks India Today, “slaying the goose that lays the golden eggs.”
WARS OF 1988
War continues to reap its grim harvest of corpses. The year 1988 saw 22 wars fought around the world, killing as many as 416,000 people by one estimate. According to the director of the Lentz Peace Research Lab in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A., the leading cause of conflicts was ethnic strife, with some seven wars to its credit. Other causes were rebellions from the political right or left, power struggles between rival religious factions, clashes over territory, and a struggle for “independence.” Most of the dead, though, were not soldiers. They were civilians.
ANCIENT FARMING SECRETS
Archaeologists have learned that an ancient Peruvian farming technique, lost for centuries, may be more effective than modern methods. The common practice in the plains around Lake Titicaca until a few centuries ago was simple: Fields were made of raised platforms of soil from 13 to 33 feet [4-10 m] wide, about 3 feet [1 m] high, and from 33 to 330 feet [10-100 m] long, with canals of equal width and depth alternating between them. In dry seasons, the algae from the canal beds were shoveled onto the platforms to nourish the crops. Since water retains heat, the canals also served to keep the crops warm in times of frost. The raised fields seem to survive both flood and drought better than conventional fields. In modern experiments, the ancient method produced up to ten times as much as conventional farming—and that without the expense of machinery and fertilizer.
GARBAGE IN SPACE
Mankind’s pollution woes continue to spread—even into outer space. Years of sending machinery into orbit without considering the debris left behind is beginning to exact a price. Scientists planning to launch new spacecraft must now devise ways of protecting them from space debris that hurtles along at speeds up to nearly seven miles [12 km] per second. At such speeds, a marble-sized piece of debris “can pack the explosive power of a hand grenade,” says The New York Times. One engineer has even designed an orbiting robotic space janitor to dismantle and stow away space debris. Coping with space junk is not easy, though. Hundreds of thousands of pieces are too small to be detected from earth; yet they are large enough to be deadly. As one scientist said to the Times: “There’s frustration and disgust that what ought to be a clean environment is a mess and seems to be getting worse.”
CHILD PROSTITUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES
Child prostitution has become rampant in a small town in the Philippines, reports The New York Times. In 1988, 22 foreign men were arrested for running prostitution rings. One of them had hundreds of pornographic pictures of young local boys, with their names and records available. A local organization called the Council of Citizens for the Protection of Children has made efforts to stop the disgusting trade. They have met, however, with stiff opposition—even from the children’s parents! Apparently the wealthy foreign customers shower the boys and their families with expensive gifts. The organization estimates that a third of the town’s children have taken part in the trade. Notably, the Times comments that “the powerful Roman Catholic Church has had little to say on the subject of prostitution . . . in marked contrast to its aggressive stand against artificial birth control.”
The little Italian lakeside town of Manerba had an unusual death notice posted on its billboards recently. The somber black-bordered poster read, in part: “The Parish sadly announces the spiritual death of the town of Manerba after a long and gradual illness caused by tourism, boredom, and absenteeism. The funeral will not be held because the deceased are still on their feet. One wishes to thank the small number of those who go to Sunday Mass and whoever may think of doing so in the future.” In its report on this, the newspaper Il Giornale di Brescia noted: “At the end of every summer, the number of the faithful drops, and year after year, the erosion of the assembly becomes a worrisome phenomenon.” The author of the sign, local curate Mario Filippi, added: “I know that other towns on [Lake] Garda are in the same condition. And perhaps the situation is widespread.”