Watching the World
SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS
UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) predicts a bleak future for children. In its annual State of the World’s Children report, UNICEF sees a hundred million children dead from illness and malnutrition during this decade unless $2.5 thousand million is spent each year on low-cost cures that are now available. How large an outlay is this? It equals the amount spent yearly by U.S. companies on cigarette advertising, reports The Wall Street Journal.
SUIT BY AIDS SUFFERERS
Hospitals and medical institutions in Australia are being sued by AIDS sufferers. The victims claim that they contracted the deadly disease because of negligence or lack of sufficient warning of the dangers associated with blood transfusion. In addition, they allege that they were never informed about the availability of treatments that could have been used instead of blood transfusion. Most publicity to date has been given to a 16-year-old hemophiliac who is dying of the killer disease, but another 31 victims have banded together as a group and launched court action. The 16-year-old’s statement was read to the Supreme Court. He said in part: “It’s like a story book—a story book with the last page ripped out. There’s no happy ending.”
Dial Service, a telephone counseling service for children in Japan, says that recently many children who have no pressing problems and want no advice are calling up just to talk to someone about their day. They choose this alternative to make up for the lack of family conversation, says the service. However, the counselors too have communication problems. “Children hang up when they hear a preaching note in the voice of the counselor,” commented a staff member.
DRUG ABUSE TARGET: CHILDREN
◼ Drug dealers have targeted schools as the third-best market (after nightclubs and bars) for their deadly trade. “Drug merchants exploit adolescents between 13 and 15 years of age, the period of self-assertion; to introduce them to vice, they appeal to courage, manliness, and fear of isolation from the group,” reports the Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de S.Paulo. Even teachers and students are among the drug dealers. Because of the increasing drug abuse, another São Paulo newspaper, Jornal da Tarde, gave a warning: “In any country, youths are the most precious asset, and drugs are burning the brains of these young people in the same way that we are burning the forest.”
◼ Why are children inclined to drug abuse? Psychiatrist Claude Olievenstein, in an interview published in O Estado de S.Paulo, comments on some of the causes: “We teach our small children to solve their problems of fear and sleeplessness by using tranquilizers. These children grow up, and when they start having problems, they try to find the solution in drugs.” He then pins the blame on the collapse of two formerly stable institutions: “The family is going through great upheavals when it comes to traditional values. At the same time, religion has lost much of its importance, and parental authority has also diminished.”
MORE TWINS AND TRIPLETS
Every 50th pregnancy in the Federal Republic of Germany results in the birth of two or more children. Why the rise in the number of twins and triplets? Mainly, say gynecologists, because of modern medical techniques for treating infertility, for example, by means of hormonal regimen and in vitro fertilization. Another reason is that now more women desire to have a baby later in life, and the probability of multiple births increases. These pregnancies, however, seem to bear higher risks for mother and child.
WALKING GOOD FOR HEALTH
Besides preventing cardiovascular troubles, moderate exercise may have a preventive value against cancer as well, claims Rui Bevilacqua, a professor of oncology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Regular walking or other forms of exercise appears to stimulate slow-functioning intestines. Bevilacqua said: “Much of the food we consume is carcinogenic, and if it remains for some time in the intestines, it may cause cancer of the colon.” Likewise, Fúlvio Pileggi, professor of cardiology at the University of São Paulo, believes that walking is the ideal exercise for those who do not engage in sports.
WORLD’S LONGEST TRAIN
On August 26, 1989, a train of 660 fully laden freight cars, 3 other cars, and 16 locomotives, stretched 4.3 miles [7 km] down the rail tracks. It was on a special 535-mile [861 km] journey from a South African mining town to a coastal harbor with a load of iron ore sufficient to fill an entire ship. It weighed over 70,000 tons. The preparations for this trip had taken seven years. Normally, three trains are used for this amount of freight. So why the long train? So that it could be entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest and heaviest train ever run.
Back in 1932, Australia imported about a hundred cane toads from Latin America to fight the beetle infestation of sugarcane farms. The tactic has apparently done more harm than good. Now, nearly 60 years later, parts of Australia face a virtual plague of cane toads; the prolific females produce up to 40,000 eggs at a time. A four-page color brochure called 101 Ways to Kill a Cane Toad was designed to coach citizens in the offensive against this huge toad that secretes a toxic substance fatal to dogs and cats. A Brisbane alderman has organized a “Cane Toad Eradication Campaign.” He suggests putting toads in the freezer to kill them humanely: “The cane toads think it’s an early winter, go to sleep and never wake up,” he says.
HOW SAFE IS “SAFE”?
Because of growing public concern about the potential health risks of relatively low exposures to radiation, toxic chemicals, and pesticides, science has been endeavoring to find a more accurate way to assess what a “safe level” of exposure is. Until now, human risk assessments have been estimations based on tests using laboratory animals exposed to heavy doses of potential gene-damaging agents. The International Herald Tribune reports that a new and more accurate technique has been developed, showing that exposures previously considered safe can cause measurable genetic damage. A measurable increase in the frequency of a certain type of mutant white blood cell is found in people known to have been exposed to gene-damaging agents. Interestingly, they found that smokers have a 50 percent higher frequency of damage to a certain gene than nonsmokers have.
“British barristers and judges have worn wigs since Charles II imported the idea from France in the 1670s,” notes The Wall Street Journal. “The wigs distinguish barristers from solicitors, lawyers who ordinarily don’t appear in court.” But now, more and more of the treasured old wigs, which connote experience and wisdom, are disappearing from courtrooms and changing rooms, and it is feared that “most of the culprits may be barristers.” The wearing of new wigs, which are made from horsehair, is shunned, as they make a barrister look as if he just came out of school. So those who must obtain one make it look old by using it as a dust mop for a while or by hanging it out in the rain. Meanwhile, desperate requests for the return of missing wigs are found posted in nearly all criminal courts in London, although wigs are rarely recovered. While security is tight for those going into the courts, nobody challenges those walking out.