Watching the World
HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGES LEGALIZED
Denmark has become “the first country in the European Community to legalize homosexual marriages,” reports The Times of London. “Registered partnerships” between males or females can now enjoy the same advantages as heterosexual marriages, including social benefits, taxation, and divorce. The bill, passed by the Danish Parliament by 71 votes to 47, allows for civil ceremonies; and if priests are willing to perform the necessary rites, they may legally do so. Medical experts hope that the new legislation will stabilize homosexual relationships and thus contribute to the containing of the present AIDS epidemic.
The World Health Organization has predicted that AIDS cases worldwide will jump tenfold by the year 2000, raising the total to 5,000,000 from the present 450,000. The number of those infected with the virus that causes AIDS is expected to rise threefold. From five to ten million people are said to be infected now. “These projections suggest very strongly that the HIV/AIDS situation during the decade of the 1990’s will be much worse than we have experienced during the 1980’s,” said Dr. Jonathan Mann, director of the agency’s AIDS program. Even if a vaccine were soon developed, it would not help most of those who will develop AIDS between now and the mid-1990’s, as they have already been infected.
CONCORDE AT AGE 20
The Concorde, the SST (supersonic transport) built by Britain and France, is 20 years old. Its maiden flight was on March 2, 1969, and its passenger service began in January 1976. The French daily La Croix reported: “Some loved it, some dragged it through the mire, others laughed at its foolish nose.” Yet the “ugly duckling” that carries 128 passengers at Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) has satisfied its users, British Airways and Air France. The 13 SSTs now in service have totaled more than 130,000 flight hours.
THE LAST WORD
In the year 1879, Scottish lexicographer James Murray began work on The Oxford English Dictionary. It took 49 years to complete, instead of the expected 10, and filled 15,500 pages, some 9,000 more than planned. A hundred years later, it was updated by a Supplement consisting of four volumes. Combining them with a further update has been the culmination of a five-year computer project costing £10 million ($15.5 million, U.S.). The 20 volumes contain 600,000 cross-references and 2.5 million quotations in 59 million words of text. The longest entry, the length of a short novel, is for the word “set,” which has 430 senses and subsenses. New words include glasnost, perestroika, and AIDS. The work is now on sale for £1,500 ($2,300, U.S.).
“There are few defenses against sophisticated terrorists determined to plant a bomb on a plane,” notes an article in The Wall Street Journal. “Worse, even those procedures that exist can collapse through human failings, when harried airport workers are overwhelmed by hordes of passengers and mountains of luggage.” Most airport security systems were designed to detect only guns or knives that may be carried by hijackers—not bombs. While machines to detect plastic explosives have recently been designed, most large airports will not have them for a year or more, and the greater part of the baggage checked on carriers worldwide today is neither X-rayed nor searched. “However, all X-ray machines depend on interpretations by operators, some of whom may be ill-trained or poorly motivated,” says the Journal. And at times, watching suitcase after suitcase go by, an operator is bound to become tired and inattentive.
NEW TRANSFUSION FEAR
“A parasite usually found in South and Central America, where it is a major cause of heart disease, has been detected after blood transfusions in the United States,” reports The New York Times. “The infection, Chagas’ disease, has been diagnosed in two patients in three years, and one of those died.” However, it is feared that additional cases may have passed undetected, as the disease is unfamiliar to American physicians, who may be unaware that it can be spread by blood transfusions. No effective treatment has been found for the disease, which in the acute stage affects the lymph nodes, the liver, and the spleen, while the chronic form damages the heart and the bowel and may be fatal. Still, many who harbor the parasite are unaware that they are infected, as symptoms may be mild and pass unnoticed, or it may be years before the parasite does its damage.
Pope John Paul II’s recent visit to Scandinavia was the first by a pope to that region, where Catholics make up less than 1 percent of the population. The visit drew small crowds and little enthusiasm compared to most of his other 41 trips abroad. Stressing a desire for closer ties to the dominant Lutheran Church, the pope cited his hope “that unity can one day be restored to the followers of Christ.” However, Lutheran bishop Andreas Aarflot of Oslo expressed unhappiness with this position, saying: “We look forward to the day when Your Holiness clearly and unequivocally expresses the recognition of the ecclesiastical character of the Lutheran and other Protestant churches.” A significant number of the Lutheran bishops opted for boycotting the ecumenical meetings with the pope.
BARBED-WIRE CURTAIN LIFTS
The entire 150-mile [240 km] barbed-wire fence between Hungary and Austria is being removed. “It makes Hungarians feel much better that we no longer have such an old-fashioned border with the West,” said the head of Hungary’s border guards. Hungary hopes to have the total length of the fence dismantled by the end of next year.
You may not have noticed it, but the world has changed shape. That is because the National Geographic Society, whose maps are so widely used, has veered away from the traditional projection that shows the Soviet Union 223 percent larger than it is, Canada 258 percent larger, and Greenland 554 percent larger. In the new projection by Professor Arthur Robinson, the Soviet Union is only 18 percent larger than it really is, Greenland 60 percent larger, and the United States 3 percent smaller. The problem comes from trying to flatten the globe onto a page. On most projections, the farther away a country is from the equator, the more it is distorted. However, Britain’s principal mapmaker is not following suit. Their map places Britain near the center, while the projection used in the Soviet Union places the Soviets at the center of the world.
LEARNING FROM THE WITNESSES
The U.S. government is gearing up for a new census to be taken beginning April 1, 1990. “Ten years ago, when the latest national census was taken, gangs didn’t pose much of a threat to conducting the head count,” states The Orange County Register of Santa Ana, California. “Times have changed.” Now they have hired a gang specialist to advise census takers on how to act in high-risk areas. Additionally, the paper reports, “census officials are examining how postal carriers and Jehovah’s Witnesses perform their tasks unharmed in such areas.”
Crime has mushroomed in the Soviet Union. According to the government’s economic report for the first quarter of 1989, crime increased 31 percent overall compared with the same period last year. Serious crimes were up by 40 percent, and thefts and burglaries up by 69 percent. Teen crimes also rose, those by adolescent girls increasing by 44 percent. Fear reigns in some cities, as many criminals are now armed with stolen weapons and while engaged in burglary do not seem to care whether people are home or not. “Lawmaking is lagging behind the realities of the day,” states an article in Pravda. “The underworld is adapting to present conditions and laws, and regrouping much faster than law-enforcement agencies.”