Watching the World
Pillage of Churches
“Once sanctuary to medieval law-breakers, Britain’s churches are fast regaining their popularity with the criminal fraternity,” states The Economist. Only now it is a rising crime wave of burglars, arsonists, and vandals striking within the church buildings themselves. In 1990 alone, Anglican church property suffered losses and damage of some $7.4 million, U.S. (£4.5 million). The current problem, says The Economist, is with “professional gangs of antique thieves, often stealing to order. Much of the booty goes abroad, where it is harder to recover and easier to explain away.” Although church silver has been put in safes, the thieves have turned to filching organ pipes, church boxes, coffin stools, stained-glass windows, and complete doors. The bold thieves even turn up in official-looking garb and steal right “from under worshippers’ noses.” Most churches now stay locked for part of the day and post guards when the doors open. The worst hit “have glassed off the entrance, limiting visitors’ religious devotion to kneeling in the porch towards the altar.” Says a police security booklet, paraphrasing Revelation 3:2: “Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain.”
“A gun gives the ordinary citizen courage. He thinks he is protected, but he is also really running great risk of becoming a criminal,” says police chief Nelson Silveira Guimarães of São Paulo, Brazil, speaking of the many people in the city who are carrying guns for protection. “The vast majority are not fit at all to have a gun,” adds Robinson do Prado, civil police investigator. “They are people without any emotional control to deal with situations of high tension.” It does not take much for one to lose self-control, notes the Brazilian newspaper Jornal da Tarde. “A provocation, a controversy, an uncontrolled gesture, and anyone can go from being a victim to being a murderer.”
Especially is this true of children. “The no-problem availability of guns in every nook of the [United States] has turned record numbers of everyday encounters into deadly ones,” says U.S.News & World Report. “The reasons why are clear. Today’s kids are desensitized to violence as never before, surrounded by gunfire and stuffed with media images of Rambos who kill at will.”
A simple preventive measure could greatly reduce the deaths caused by malaria. A recent study conducted in 73 villages in The Gambia, West Africa, showed that where beds were protected with insecticide-treated mosquito netting, malaria deaths among young children were 70 percent lower than in villages that did not use the nets. Since the mosquito that transmits the disease bites primarily at night, the nets protect people when they are the most vulnerable—when they are sleeping. Treating the nets with the insecticide permethrin makes the nets much more effective, even if they have little rips and tears. According to the World Health Organization, malaria kills as many as two million people annually. About 25 percent of the victims are children.
“Welcome to the world of ‘mega-churches,’” states The Economist. “There are now six American churches that attract more than 10,000 people every Sunday, and 35 that draw at least 5,000.” The First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, U.S.A., claims to have the largest congregation—over 20,000 in attendance at its Sunday services. Nearly all the “mega-churches” are fundamentalist, believing in faith healing and speaking in tongues, or both. Children have become a focal point. The church in Hammond not only has a Sunday school but offers Little League baseball and summer camp as well. “All you need to build a mega-church is a strong message of good and evil, a gifted preacher with a talent for organisation and a big auditorium,” notes The Economist. “For bored, atomised suburbanites in the mid-west and the sunbelt, such churches offer ready-made blessings.”
Rush to Beatify Opus Dei “Saint”
Opus Dei, a secretive elite society within the Catholic Church, was founded in Spain in 1928 by Catholic priest José María Escrivá de Balaguer. He died in 1975, and since then a campaign has been waged by Opus Dei supporters to get him beatified. The Catholic Herald of London, under the headline “Dismay at Opus Dei ‘Saint,’” reported the reactions of Spanish cardinal Enrique Tarancon, former archbishop of Madrid, and Jesuit provincial Michael Campbell-Johnson regarding the “‘inexplicable’ haste surrounding the beatification process” of the Opus Dei founder. Such haste, says the paper, contrasts with the slow pace of the process for Cardinal Newman, who died in 1890, and that of Pope John XXIII, who died in 1963. “I . . . wouldn’t say that he was an exemplary person,” said Vladimir Felzmann, a former Opus Dei member who knew Escrivá personally. “He was in many ways an anachronism. The question is: what is he being held up as an example of?”
Hepatitis and Transplants
Hepatitis C, a potentially deadly liver disease, has been added to the growing list of diseases that can be passed on by transplants. The list also includes other forms of hepatitis, AIDS, and cytomegalovirus. The findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, may explain why there are so many cases of long-term liver disease following transplant operations. A study of 29 transplant patients who received organs from people with the hepatitis C virus showed that 14 developed hepatitis C and 6 died. The researchers feel that, in most cases, doctors should not allow people carrying the hepatitis C virus to donate organs.
Libya’s Man-Made River
“Camels walking the ancient caravan route from the desert oases of western Libya to the coastal city of Benghazi have a new landmark to guide them,” notes New Scientist magazine. “They are accompanied for more than a thousand kilometres [600 miles] by a water pipe big enough to drive a car through.” This artificial river, nearly as long as the Rhine, has for seven years been the world’s largest civil engineering project. It carries 70 million cubic feet [2 million cu m] of water a day from wells sunk inland at Sirte to coastal farms that have depleted their sources of underground water. Four other phases of the proposed giant water grid across Libya remain to be constructed. The cost of moving this water from beneath the Sahara is immense. In some places the water must be pumped over hills that are more than 300 feet [100 m] high. Engineers fear that within 50 years the wells will run dry. Water specialist Tony Allen calls the project a “national fantasy—it’s madness to use this water, which can never be replaced, for agriculture.”
More Rats Than People
The World Health Organization estimates that there are about 70 million rats, or several rats for every inhabitant, in São Paulo, Brazil, reports the newspaper Jornal da Tarde. As a result, when floods hit the city, diseases such as leptospirosis, a malady transmitted by the urine of rats, are common. “If the fight against the rats depended on just poison, it would be very simple to eliminate them,” says Minekazu Matsuo, director of the Control of Rodents and Disease-Bearers in São Paulo. However, when food and water abound, the poison does not help because the rats do not eat it. To terminate the rats, says Matsuo, it is essential to eliminate the garbage they feed on.
Streets Not Lined With Gold
Almost 34 million Americans now live in poverty, says the U.S. Census Bureau. This is the first time the poverty rate has increased in seven years, from 12.8 percent of the population in 1989 to 13.5 percent in 1990. The 1990 definition of poverty is earnings of $13,359 or less for a family of four. Two thirds of those under the poverty level were white, but blacks, at 32 percent, had the highest poverty rate of any racial or ethnic group. Of children, 1 in 5 lives below the poverty rate.
AIDS and Breast-Feeding
Mothers with AIDS can transmit the disease to their babies through breast-feeding at a rate far higher than previously thought possible, researchers say. The report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, was based on a study of mothers in Kigali, capital of the Central African nation of Rwanda. Although the chance that the infants may be infected is as high as 50 percent, the risk of infant death from use of contaminated water in making infant formula is much higher. So breast-feeding in these areas is still recommended. Not all women infected with AIDS transmit the virus through their milk, and it is possible that the high rate of transmission was due to the fact that the women on which the study was based first tested positive for AIDS three months or more after giving birth. The number of viruses in the body is highest when just infected.