Watching the World
OUR POLLUTED PLANET
“Abuse of the environment is so bad that it can now be seen from outer space,” reports The Toronto Star. Photographs taken from outer space by astronauts show that “the planet is being covered in dust from growing deserts, huge lakes are disappearing and weather patterns are being altered by pollution.” Heat from steel mills, smog from large cities, and smoke from burning forests were cited as examples of environmental damage caused by humans. According to Dick Underwood, a consultant to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the rapid growth of deserts presents “the biggest menace,” as there may be no way to stop it. Expressing his concern, he said: “Earth is just a minor planet, but it’s the only planet we’ve got.”
SOVIET RELIGIOUS REVIVAL
According to President Mikhail Gorbachev, “the Soviet Union had erred in long rejecting religion and now needed its moral force,” says The New York Times. It quoted him as saying: “The moral values that religion generated and embodied for centuries can help in the work of renewal in our country, too. In fact, this is already happening.” A report in The Wall Street Journal concurs: “Even among people who aren’t especially religious, it now is in vogue to lament the decline of the nation’s morals and pour scorn on the Marxist-Leninist view of religion as the opium of the people.” Although the change, continues the Journal, “has sparked a nationwide church revival, the Book of Books is in terribly short supply.” Soviet book publishers, still controlled “by a government that officially preaches atheism,” have not been printing Bibles to meet the demand. Black-market copies, if they can be found, go for $100 apiece, and theft of Bibles has been reported.
“Every 13 seconds, someone dies from a tobacco-induced disease,” reports the UN Chronicle. “Conservative estimates put the tobacco death toll at 2.5 million people every year.” In most countries, the number of women who smoke has been rapidly increasing. In addition to the risk of lung cancer and other respiratory ailments, women smokers using contraceptive pills run an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Pregnant women also risk the health of their child.
THE LAST DALAI LAMA?
Tibet’s Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, says he wants to step down and allow a popularly elected prime minister to take his place. According to Tibetan Buddhist doctrine, the present Dalai Lama is the 14th incarnation of Chen-re-zi, the living Buddha, patron god of Tibet. A Dalai Lama has been looked to as the religious and political sovereign of Tibet since the 17th century. Why is a change proposed now? Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s foreign minister, thinks it was meant to force Tibetans to look to the future. “Buddhism teaches that everything is impermanent and everyone must go, even the Dalai Lama,” he said. “So we have to plan for that.” But Tibetan leaders, in exile with the Dalai Lama in India, oppose the idea. Tibet has been under Communist Chinese rule since 1950. The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after an uprising against the Chinese rule failed.
LOTTERY WINNER LOSES
“I can buy what I want when I want it,” says Jean-Guy Lavigueur, who won a $7.6 million Canadian lottery jackpot in 1986, “but besides that I’m no more happy than anyone else.” The former unemployed worker from Montreal declares that becoming a millionaire “hasn’t changed me, but it’s changed everyone around me.” Now family and old friends alike have abandoned him because, as he puts it, “I didn’t give them enough money.”
MARIJUANA AND MEMORY
Researchers have found that “teenagers who abuse marijuana can suffer problems with their short-term memory up to six weeks after they stop smoking the drug,” says the magazine Science News. Noting that teenagers who had abused marijuana “often had trouble remembering rules and following conversations” while in a drug treatment program, the researchers checked them against those who abused other drugs and those who abused no drugs at all. The “boys and girls who abused marijuana did much worse on short-term memory tasks” than both the other groups, says the report, and six weeks later, “although their memories had improved slightly, still did worse than the other two groups.”
“It’s time that someone said it bluntly,” writes cleric Andrew Greeley in the National Catholic Reporter. “Church leaders are guilty of yet one more folly, one that is destroying everything for which the Catholic priesthood once stood.” What is that? “Church leadership is tolerating a double standard on celibacy and, because of stupidity and cowardice, permitting the priesthood to become substantially, perhaps in due course mostly, gay,” says Greeley. While acknowledging that “many priests, bishops, popes and even saints in ages past have probably been more homosexual than heterosexual in their orientation,” he believes that current ecclesiastical policy toward the sexuality of priests is causing the clergy to become predominantly homosexual, damaging even more “the already tarnished image of the priesthood.” Greeley adds: “It appears that many homosexual priests ordained in the past two decades are sexually active and that some of them are also pedophiles [prefer children as sex objects].”
How did King Nebuchadnezzar water the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon? That’s what President Saddam Hussein of Iraq wants to know, says the New York Post. So much so that he is offering a prize of $1.5 million to whoever comes up with the most plausible system for watering the legendary seven-level terraced gardens. However, modern technology cannot be employed in the system, only what could have been used back there in the sixth century B.C.E. The Iraqi government wants to duplicate the gardens, which may have been as high as 365 feet [110 m]. The contest is only open to Iraqis.
The penny (1 cent, U.S.) is becoming increasingly unpopular, as more merchants post signs reading: “No pennies accepted.” Many pennies are just thrown away. A Florida recycling plant says it finds $1,000 worth of pennies each week mixed in with household garbage. The U.S. Treasury Department reports that over 6,000,000,000 pennies disappear each year.
Over 4.5 million people became war casualties in 1988, according to a study by William Eckhardt of the U.S.-based Lentz Peace Research Laboratory. “Three-quarters of the victims were civilians, the majority of whom were the elderly and children unable to find shelter quickly and most vulnerable to malnutrition,” says the article in the National Catholic Reporter. Civil conflicts accounted for 18 of the 22 countries where wars were documented. However, Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Namibia, and South Africa were not included, as casualties in those nations numbered less than a thousand for the year. New wars broke out in Burundi and Northern Somalia in 1988.
SMALLEST OF THE SMALL
A new realm of aquatic microorganisms has been discovered: viruses no bigger than 0.000008 inch [.2 micrometer] in diameter. Previously, the smallest forms of life were thought to be nanoplankton, organisms that measured from 0.0004 inch to 0.0008 inch [10 to 20 micrometers] in diameter, and picoplankton, which measured less than 0.00008 inch [2 micrometers] in diameter. It is estimated that from 160 million to 1,600 million [10 million to 100 million] of the viruses exist in a single cubic inch [milliliter] of unpolluted water—ten times the number of bacteria—making them “the most numerous life-forms on the earth,” says Scientific American.
The brutal murder of four little girls in Japan has unleashed a furor there over violent videotapes, reports Asiaweek magazine. The murderer, Miyazaki Tsutomu, claims that it was graphic video violence and pornography that inspired him to commit the gruesome sexual assaults and murders. Police found about 6,000 videotapes in Tsutomu’s home; they featured real-life scenes of carnage, the dissection of human beings, and pornography. But spokesmen for the videotape industry dismissed any connection between the movies and the crimes as “ludicrous.” While parents clamored for more curbs on such tapes, a government official mentioned only the possibility of limiting them to viewers 18 years of age or older. But as Asiaweek observed: “That hardly addressed the issue: Miyazaki is 26.”