Watching the World
A Turning Point for the UN?
“The United Nations may never be the same after the Earth Summit,” commented Charles Petit, a science writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He added: “The world body finally seems to be gaining the stature assigned to it when its charter was signed 47 years ago in San Francisco.” The UN-sponsored Earth Summit meeting, which took place in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, attempted to address some of the environmental problems now facing the world; many are clearly too large in scope for individual nations to solve. Hilary French of the Worldwatch Institute commented: “Nations are, in effect, ceding portions of their sovereignty to the international community and beginning to create a new system of international environmental governance.”
Women in the Workplace
More and more women in the world are becoming “economically active,” or working at paying jobs, but they still face enormous hurdles, according to Finance & Development, a journal published by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The journal estimates that some 830 million women worldwide are economically active, and that 70 percent of them live in developing countries. In Africa and parts of Asia, far fewer girls than boys are enrolled in secondary school, so it is not surprising that some 75 percent of women 25 and over are illiterate and that it is often harder for such women to find a decent job. Although far fewer women than men are economically active, this hardly reflects whether the women are working since the statistics deal only with formal employment and not work done in households or family-run activities. Studies have shown that in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, the average woman works some 12 or 13 hours more each week than the average man.
“Hell exists; it is eternal.” So affirm the Italian Jesuits in their Vatican-approved periodical La Civiltà Cattolica. They are evidently concerned about a trend within the Catholic Church to mute the supposed reality of hellfire and its torments. For example, they criticize a catechism for young people that fails to devote even one page “to the mystery of the retribution of the evil.” The Jesuits insist that the “fire” of hellfire is no mere “exclusion from the presence of God or the remorse of the damned” but, rather, involves pain as a punishment for earthly sins. They exhort theologians, priests, and catechists to speak about hell, particularly to young people. Yet, the Bible does not teach such a doctrine, stating that the dead “are conscious of nothing at all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5.
Sexual Assaults Blamed on Comic Books
Police in Tokyo, Japan, recently charged a 16-year-old high school student with 25 counts of sexual assault. The youth laid the blame on obscene comic books. In one incident he allegedly got a sexually explicit comic book at a convenience store and then took a ten-year-old girl into a restroom and forced her to join him in acting out one of the book’s lewd scenes. He admitted to police that he had carried out 24 similar assaults, and that most of them were likewise inspired by dirty comics. The Daily Yomiuri reports: “Last year, 86 sex crimes involving minors believed to have been inspired by obscene comics were reported in Tokyo.”
The Oldest Bakery?
Archaeologists working near Egypt’s pyramids have uncovered what may well be the oldest bakery in the world, according to an Associated Press report. Evidently the bakery was used to provide bread for the workers building the pyramids. Mark Lehner, an Egyptologist and one of the directors of the excavation, said: “We’re talking colossal baking here, easily enough to feed 30,000 people a day.” Lehner figures that the working conditions in the bakery must have been nightmarish, with intense heat and thick black smoke. “These rooms would have been like a night sky filled with rain,” he says. “We’ve dug through 1 1/2 feet [45 cm] of black-velvet, built-up ash.” The bakery is believed to date from the pyramid-building days.
Acid Rain in Japan
Acid rain in Japan has reached levels similar to those found in Europe and the United States, reports The Daily Yomiuri. The paper notes that when the pH level (a measure of acidity and alkalinity) of rainwater drops below 5.6, the rain may be considered acid. A study committee appointed by Japan’s Environment Agency measured the average acidity of rain during recent years and found levels as low as 4.3, well down in the acid range. Although it is not yet known whether acid rain is the cause, the committee’s report found that a number of cedar and pine forests in Japan are deteriorating.
Forests and Atmosphere Control
Ammonia is an important part of the earth’s atmosphere. An alkaline chemical, it can buffer the acidity in acid rain. But too much of it contributes to the ugly brown clouds of smog that hang over many cities. New studies suggest that forests help the atmosphere maintain the right balance of ammonia. The Denver Post reported that scientists measured the amounts of ammonia in winds that blew over forests in Colorado, U.S.A. When the wind contained less ammonia than the natural level found in leaf cells, the plants of the forest emitted the chemical into the air. But when the wind was already laden with higher ammonia levels, the forest flora absorbed ammonia instead of emitting it. Andrew Langford, one of the scientists who performed the experiments, said: “The entire forest is strong enough to control the atmosphere as long as it’s not overwhelmed by (unnatural) sources.”
Tomb of Caiaphas Found?
What appear to be the tomb and remains of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who was instrumental in the death of Jesus Christ, have been found in Jerusalem, reports The Star, a newspaper of Johannesburg, South Africa. The find consisted of an ossuary, or container for bones, with the inscription “Yehosef bar Caiapha.” Caiaphas became high priest in about 18 C.E. and persecuted not only Christ but also Christ’s followers. He was removed from office about 36 C.E. Mentioned also by the Jewish historian Josephus, Caiaphas is one of the few such ancient figures whose remains have been documented. The Star quotes one archaeologist as saying: “Of over a thousand ossuaries found in Jerusalem, we’ve recognised the names of maybe five.”
Alcohol and Fat?
It is hardly news that people who drink too many alcoholic beverages tend to get fat. But why? A recent study at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, came up with an interesting possibility. Apparently it is not just the calories in alcohol that make it so fattening but also the way alcohol affects the body’s ability to burn fat. Nutritionists have long known that the body is a bit sluggish when it comes to burning fat, tending to store it while burning sugars and carbohydrates more readily. But alcohol makes the body burn fat even more slowly. In an experiment, men were placed on diets that included three ounces [90 ml] of pure alcohol per day—about the equivalent of six beers. On this diet, the men burned about one-third less fat than usual. Of course, the more fat in one’s diet, the more pronounced this effect tends to become.
“A Sad Record”
The French daily Le Figaro reports that 1991 was the worst year of crime in the history of France. French law enforcement agencies have made public the latest crime statistics, which show that over 3.7 million crimes were reported in France last year—an increase of more than 7 percent above 1990. Over a fourth of all these crimes took place in the Paris region. There were “significant increases in almost every category of crime,” from “unprecedented violence in the suburbs” to “white-collar crime, particularly among politicians,” says the newspaper. These latest figures reveal that France’s crime rate is now seven times higher than it was 40 years ago. “A sad record,” concludes Le Figaro.
The New South Wales District Court in Australia recently awarded heavy damages to a 64-year-old woman who had sued her previous employers for serious health problems she claims to have suffered after working in a smoke-filled environment for about a dozen years. Previously, such cases have been settled out of court, but in this landmark decision, the court awarded $85,000 (Australian) to the claimant. The Australian newspaper reported that this is the first time a jury has ruled that a smoker can harm the health of nonsmokers who breathe the smoke-laden air. Some feel that this ruling might have widespread effects on restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, and other workplaces where nonsmoking employees could sue for heavy damages if smoke-free work areas are not provided for them.
Precocious Sex and Psychological Turmoil
Sexual intercourse can cause numerous problems for youngsters besides venereal disease. According to Italian newspaper La Stampa, one underappreciated risk is that a premature sex life can give rise to “psychopathologies that create turmoil in youngsters’ minds and in their personal relationships, to the point of causing deviant behavior patterns, alcohol and drug abuse, and crime.” At a convention held in Rome, organized by the Center for Psychosocial Studies and the Italian Ministry of Justice, it was affirmed that young people are beginning to have sexual intercourse at an increasingly early age. The average age, according to one consultant, is 17.