Watching the World
AIDS IN THAILAND
The government of Thailand has designated 1989 as the “year to combat AIDS.” According to the World Health Organization, as many as 25,000 people in Thailand may be infected with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), which leads to AIDS. The Bangkok correspondent for Britain’s magazine The Economist writes that illicit drug use and the country’s booming prostitution business—both homosexual and heterosexual—are fanning the spread of the disease. The government has responded with a campaign of classroom advice and advertisements on posters and on the radio, promoting ways to live more safely. Governmental efforts reportedly will concentrate, though, on screening the nation’s blood supply.
LOST: ONE H-BOMB
Some 24 years after the fact, a U.S. official has admitted that a hydrogen bomb was lost in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. A jet carrying the bomb accidentally rolled off the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier. The pilot was killed, and the plane sank in waters some 16,000 feet [4,900 m] deep. The news has enraged many of the Japanese people. According to Newsweek magazine, the environmental group Greenpeace claims that “at least nine nuclear reactors and 48 nuclear warheads have sunk in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where pressure and corrosion may eventually release their radioactivity.”
MORE WOMEN OWN GUNS
According to Dr. Garen Wintemute of the University of California, Davis Medical Center, handgun manufacturers have been focusing on women, portraying firearms as socially acceptable and fashionable. One supplier even plans to market handguns in “an array of designer colors.” At one fashion show, models kept concealed weapons in hair bows, brassieres, purses, and briefcases. Most women say that they keep a firearm at their residence for protection, Wintemute said, but one sad result of the availability of such a weapon is that it is the method preferred by women who want to commit suicide.
Archaeologists digging in caves near Israel’s Dead Sea have found a jug containing oil that is about 2,000 years old and still fluid. They believe that the oil was made from a type of persimmon plant that is now extinct. Persimmon oil was highly valued in Judea about the time of Christ. In fact, Roman historians wrote that the Jews tried to destroy their persimmon orchards to keep them from falling into the hands of the Roman armies that were advancing on Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Their efforts failed, however, and Roman soldiers reportedly waved persimmon plants in triumph on their return to Rome after destroying Jerusalem.
BANDIT OR “SAINT”?
A bandit hanged 80 years ago in Culiacán, Mexico, has virtually become a “saint” to people in northwestern Mexico. Bumper stickers on cars praise him, businesses are named after him, and one popular song places him second only to God. The bandit, Jesús Malverde, is revered as a benefactor of the poor and an outwitter of the authorities. Visitors flock to a shrine built to honor him in Culiacán, leaving presents to thank him for various “miracles”—lost cattle found, good catches of fish, illnesses cured, and so on. The report in The New York Times notes that notorious drug traffickers are also said to thank Malverde when their shipments of drugs arrive safely in the United States.
A stringent law against smoking has been put into effect in a section of the city of Manila in the Philippines. The new ordinance forbids smoking in enclosed public places, including movie theaters, office buildings, and hospitals, and in the public transportation system. On the day it went into effect, 109 people were arrested for violating the law. Offenders were subject to a fine of about $10 or ten days in jail. Asiaweek magazine quotes one policeman as complaining: “We can get into a fight just by explaining the law to violators.”
NEW ZEALAND CRIME
Even remote and beautiful New Zealand is not immune to the world’s swelling crime rate. The New Zealand Herald reported that 1988 saw a nearly 25-percent increase in serious violent crimes over the previous year. These crimes, ranging from murders to assaults, leaped from 6,801 in 1987 to 8,501 in 1988. Also on the rise were sexual offenses, drug abuse, dishonesty, and property damage.
SHADES OF RACISM
An employee of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has sued her employer, claiming that her supervisor discriminated against her because of her skin color. Both employee and supervisor are black women, but the fired employee is of a much lighter shade than her former boss, and she claims that this difference was the basis for the alleged discrimination. The U.S. Attorney’s office tried to have the suit dismissed, contending that discrimination suits should be limited to those of differing races. A federal judge thought otherwise. He ruled that the case go to trial, noting, according to The New York Times, “that numerous court rulings had allowed discrimination suits by whites of different national origins or facial characteristics.”
ROMANCE VERSUS AIDS
The fear of AIDS is heralding the return to old-fashioned romantic courtship for some couples, says a professor at The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing. “The AIDS epidemic has forced a turning point in American culture,” says Dr. Beverly Hall. “We really have to take a closer look at our values now. The U.S. has not confronted such a killer of a sexually transmitted disease since we found the cure for syphilis in 1943.” However, Hall adds: “Venereal disease rates among young people are on the rise, showing that sexual activity among the college crowd has not slacked off despite the threat of AIDS.”
Scientists have found an amazing variety of uses for microscopic organisms. One firm has found a way to use bacteria to help liberate microscopic bits of gold locked up in ores with stubborn impurities. Other companies have devised methods for using microbes to clean up toxic chemical and industrial wastes. One such system was tested on the oil spill off the coast of Alaska. The Japanese have even used microbes to manufacture a component for a pair of luxury headphones. Fed with certain sugars, the bacteria produce tiny threads that mesh into a fine web. The web is then dried, compressed, and finally shaped into a tiny loudspeaker diaphragm, ten times more rigid than standard diaphragms!
A 900-year-old bell tower that unexpectedly collapsed in Pavia, Italy, in March, killing four people, has caused consternation among art historians. At least 115 Italian monuments, including the famed Colosseum in Rome, are listed as suffering from serious structural defects that if left unchecked could also lead to disaster. The basic problems are soil erosion and the drying up of foundations, coupled with powdering masonry and traffic vibrations. The Times of London notes that the famed leaning tower of Pisa is expected to fall over in about a century but that “the Pavia incident could mean a recalculation of the odds.”