Watching the World
“Doomsday Clock” Reset
With the December 1991 issue, the minute hand of the “Doomsday Clock” on the cover of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been moved farther back than ever before—to 17 minutes before midnight. “A cold war icon” that first appeared in 1947, notes U.S.News & World Report, “the clock reflects nuclear tension by marking the time until the midnight of Armageddon.” When conceived, the clock had only a 15-minute range, as its founders thought that this was all that would be needed in their lifetimes. As East-West relations developed over the years, the clock was reset back and forth 13 times, in the range of 12 minutes to midnight to 2 minutes to midnight. Now, with the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the withdrawal of thousands of tactical weapons, the Bulletin editors feel that a new era has been entered, with hopes for achieving “a new world order.” “But the world is still a dangerous place,” says the Bulletin. “There are still nearly 50,000 nuclear bombs and warheads out there.”
Cambodian Mine Casualties
“Cambodia has the highest proportion of physically disabled people in the world,” states The Economist. Why? Because land mines “have been laid indiscriminately by both the government and the opposition groups in the civil war.” As no records of their locations have been kept, mines have been causing more injuries than any other weapon. Two human rights groups, Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, feel that the countries that supplied the mines or gave instruction on how to lay them—Britain, China, Singapore, the former Soviet Union, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam—have a moral obligation to see that they are cleared out. They are calling for a ban by the UN on devices that “do not distinguish between the footfall of a soldier and that of a child collecting firewood,” says the magazine.
Matrimony and Life Expectancy
According to a report by the French National Institute of Demographic Studies, married people generally live longer than those who are single. For both men and women, the report reveals a definite relationship between a person’s marital status and his or her life expectancy. Statistics show that married persons have the highest average life span, while divorced persons, single persons, widows, and widowers respectively have shorter life spans. Noting that the difference in life expectancy is less pronounced between married and unmarried women, researchers say that women seem better able to adapt to their unmarried state.
“Antarctica has finally won protection for its environment,” notes New Scientist magazine. The Antarctic Treaty nations have “signed a protocol that bans mining on the continent for at least 50 years.” The protocol’s provisions also cover rules on pollution and waste disposal, requiring that any new activity be subject to an environmental impact assessment. At present, tourism is considered to be the most immediate threat to Antarctic ecosystems. Each nation is to provide a newly formed environmental committee with detailed information on its procedures for managing the environment, as well as for monitoring the environment for pollution. The protocol does not go into force until formally ratified by the member nations, which will take about two years.
Legacy of Columbus
Columbus and other explorers did more than discover the Americas—they altered them radically. Today, writes historian Alfred Crosby, a “botanist can easily find whole meadows [in America] in which he is hard put to find a species that grew in American pre-Columbian times.” As listed in Wilson Quarterly, among the plants brought over from the Old World are bananas, cabbage, daisies, Kentucky bluegrass, lemons, lettuce, mangoes, oranges, peaches, radishes, rice, sugarcane, tumbleweed, and wheat. Animals brought over include cattle, chickens, domestic cats, donkeys, honeybees, horses, pigs, rats, sheep, sparrows, and starlings. Most destructive, though, were the diseases brought over. These included bubonic plague, chicken pox, influenza, jaundice, malaria, measles, meningitis, mumps, smallpox, tonsillitis, and whooping cough. While a number of animals and plants also made their way from the Americas to the Old World, only one disease, syphilis, is believed to have been taken back.
Each day, the average cow produces from 10 to 15 large pats of waste matter; the elephant, about four pounds [2 kg] every hour or so. Add to this the droppings of all other animals, including man, and one may wonder why our globe is not by now smothered in dung. Enter the dung beetle. Each day they clear away massive amounts of droppings. As soon as a pat is laid, thousands of beetles from as many as 120 species converge on it and quickly whisk it away. Researchers counted 16,000 beetles on a single pat of elephant dung, which was completely gone when the scientists returned two hours later. Some species even cling to the rump fur of certain animals and leap onto the droppings in midair. Whatever they do not eat, they roll into balls and bury as food for their offspring. In so doing, they perform another great service for mankind—the adding of fertilizing nitrogen to the soil. They also churn up the soil and aerate it, and beetle larvae consume the maggots and parasitic worms that live in dung and that can spread disease. So valuable are they that the ancient Egyptians even venerated the scarab.
Car makers in Japan, who keep churning out cars and would like to persuade families to buy a second car, have run into a snag—where to park it. New parking rules require that a sticker be displayed proving that the owner has a parking space for his car, either at home or near the office, a requisite for getting the car registered. But parking spaces are expensive, costing as much as ¥230,000 ($1,800, U.S.) a month in some Tokyo residential areas. So car manufacturers have entered the business of selling machines for double-tier and triple-tier parking in a single parking space. The first car is driven onto a platform, which is then raised electrically, and the second (or third) car is parked underneath. A variation is a home-parking machine that lowers the first car into a pit below ground. Information on the availability of parking spaces is also provided for car buyers.
Teeth make their own light repairs if we grant them enough time to do the job. That is what Professor Tadashi Yamada explains in Shikai Tenbo (Dental Circles View), a Japanese medical journal. After sugar enters the mouth, regardless of the amount, plaque on the teeth becomes acidy for about 8 to 20 minutes. The acidy plaque dissolves tooth calcium causing what Yamada calls “minicavities.” According to Yamada, however, calcium from the saliva gradually replaces the lost calcium, so that after a few hours, the teeth return to normal condition. Since traces of sugar are found in most foods, Yamada recommends regular brushing, especially before sleeping, and avoiding snacks between meals to allow teeth enough time to make their own repair work.
Black Sea Tragedy
“For centuries, the Black Sea produced dolphin skins and caviar and fish so plentiful that no one thought such bounty could ever end,” notes The New York Times. That has now changed. Not only does every industry and town along its shores use the Black Sea as their sewer but from a region encompassing 160 million people, over 60 rivers dump waste into the sea. The four largest—the Danube, Don, Dnieper, and Dniester—sweep through an area recognized as one of the most polluted in the world, carrying tons of toxic materials. Overfishing has also taken its toll, together with a proliferation of jellyfish that eat the eggs and larvae of other fish. As a result, only 5 of the 26 commercial fish species abundant in 1970 are found in commercial quantities today, and the seals have disappeared altogether. “Even if we stopped all the pollution as if by magic,” says biologist Yuvenaly Zaitsev, “it would be impossible to go back to the 1950’s. Nature has its own laws.”
Worldwide, 4 out of every 5 children are now immunized against six killer diseases: diphtheria, measles, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough, says the World Health Organization. Ten years ago, the ratio was about 1 in 5. Now, at a cost of only a dollar each for the vaccines, about three million children’s lives are being saved each year. Yet, according to the World Health Organization, preventable diseases still claim the lives of some two million children each year.