Watching the World
Alcohol Deaths in Japan
Cases of acute alcohol poisoning have risen dramatically in Japan recently, reports The Daily Yomiuri. One contributing factor: the revival of ikkinomi, or chugalugging—that is, drinking an alcoholic beverage without pausing. It often occurs under pressure or even under force from a crowd of onlookers who goad and cheer the drinker on. This fad had died down somewhat, only to see a resurgence last year. Miyako Omoto, an assistant professor at the medical school of Toho University, equates forcing someone to chugalug an alcoholic beverage with attempted murder. She said: “Ikkinomi is dangerous because a person consumes more alcohol than his body can handle before his body starts sending a warning signal.” The Tokyo Fire Department says that 9,122 people had to be taken to hospitals with acute alcohol poisoning in 1991—an 8-percent rise over the previous year. Six of them died.
Whom would you least like to have living next door? The European Value Systems Study Group posed that question to 20,000 persons in 14 countries in an effort to discover common fears and prejudices. “The most easy-going nation by far is Denmark,” notes The European, while Portugal was reportedly the least tolerant. Regarding neighbors with AIDS, people in such largely Catholic lands as Italy, Spain, and Ireland showed the most hostility whereas Belgians revealed more racial and religious intolerance. Germans were averse to political extremists as neighbors. Men and women exhibited little difference when it came to intolerance. But one factor seemed to be associated with intolerance in all countries—age. Older persons in general were choosier about whom they wanted as neighbors.
Number of Tigers on the Wane
One of India’s top nature reserves is losing its rare Bengal tigers, reports New Scientist magazine. A recent census in the Ranthambhor reserve found only 15 tigers—down from 44 just three years ago. The problem, not surprisingly, is poaching. But poachers these days are after more than the beautiful skins. The bones of the tiger are used to make “tiger bone wine,” which is popular as a tonic in some Asian countries. Poachers usually kill the tigers with poisoned bait, sometimes wiping out cubs along with mother tigers. Ironically, the Ranthambhor reserve was originally the showpiece of Project Tiger—a conservation effort designed to save the Bengal tiger from extinction. In all, there are only an estimated 6,000 to 9,000 of these magnificent animals left in the world.
Smoking and Broken Bones
“The day has arrived when even orthopedists will order their patients to stop smoking,” reports the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. A study of 29 persons with bone fractures revealed that nicotine from tobacco smoke made the blood vessels of chronic smokers more rigid. In contrast, nonsmokers and those who had smoked for less than two years had blood vessels that were better able to contract and expand, which helps fractures to heal faster. On the average, fractures of nonsmokers recovered 28 percent faster than those of longtime smokers. Also, inhaling carbon monoxide when smoking reduces the flow of oxygen, so that the broken bone receives less nutrition.
Chagas’ Disease Spreads
The World Health Organization reports that some 18 million people in Latin America are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas’ disease, which can lead to serious heart trouble and even death. A total of 90 million people—25 percent of the population—in 17 Latin-American countries are at risk of contracting the disease, according to Bolivian newspaper El Diario. An insect commonly called the kissing bug often transmits the disease. Notícias Bolivianas recommends whitewashing all walls, keeping all animals in outdoor pens instead of in the house, and cleaning vigorously to rid the home of disease-carrying bugs. As to blood transfusions, the same journal notes that 47.6 percent of them carry some risk of transmitting Chagas’ disease. It concludes: “Abstinence from blood is recommended in harmony with the Biblical commandment.”
Of the 273 species of birds that breed in Germany, 166 are endangered, claims the German Conservation Society. The reasons are said to be the encroachment on available land by roads, industry, intensive farming, and tourism. The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that even though many lakes, river courses, and wetlands in Germany have been declared protected areas, these measures are not enough to help such species as the black tern, the little bittern, and the white-tailed sea eagle. Conservation of breeding grounds achieves little unless the birds’ winter refuge areas, such as those in Africa, are also protected. Thus, the paper notes: “In many cases, conservation can only bring results following international cooperation.”
Benefits of Baby Massage
“Intuition and personal experience tell us that person-to-person touch is healthy,” comments Stress & Health Report. This principle was applied to the care of a group of premature babies, and the newsletter, published by Enloe Hospital in California, cites a scientific study of 40 such infants. Twenty of them were given three gentle, 15-minute massages per day. Twenty other premature infants received normal care. The 20 who had been massaged fared better than the other 20 in several respects. Their daily weight gain averaged 47 percent higher, their scores on behavioral tests were higher, and they seemed more active and alert. Stress & Health Report concludes: “What is good for very small babes probably is good for us all.”
A Smothering Lake
Africa’s spectacular Lake Victoria, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, is facing a grim death by asphyxiation, some scientists believe. It seems that algae are flourishing on the lake bottom and sapping the water of its oxygen. The cause? In a word, man, through deforestation, farming, and overpopulation. High levels of nutrients from soil runoff, sewage, and wood smoke are feeding the algae. Also, fishery officials decided some 30 years ago to bolster the fishing industry by introducing the Nile perch. These newcomers thrived, and the fishing trade boomed as planned. However, the Nile perch devoured the tiny fish that had long kept the balance by feeding on algae. More than half the species of such fish have vanished. Now, because of overfishing and oxygen depletion, the perch may be endangered as well. Some 30 million people depend on Lake Victoria’s fishing trade.
“Sound Brains.” That is the name of a Finnish campaign that emphasizes putting the brain to use. The premise is simple. The more we use our brain—by pondering, designing, learning new things—the better it works. “In the brain we have an endless potential to solve problems, but unfortunately man uses only a tenth of the brain capacity on the average,” stresses Juhani Juntunen, a brain researcher and hospital administrator acting as a project manager in the campaign. “Shape your brains up, learn new things, and you will have more capacity at your disposal,” he urges. He finds it annoying that so many idolize youth and underestimate the brain capacity of older people, for he believes that older brains tend to work even better than younger ones in some respects. “It is no coincidence that high posts are held by old-timers,” remarks Juntunen. “The brain may be a deteriorating instrument, but the old ones use it more skillfully than the young.”
According to the Brazilian magazine Superinteressante, several kinds of melons in Spain and varieties of onions in Central Asia are disappearing, and in Brazil there are species of sugarcane and corn that are already extinct. “The fault lies with industry and the consumers, who always prefer the same products,” Edouard Saouma, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, is quoted as saying. The magazine adds: “Since farmers try to satisfy the market, the decrease of species is becoming more acute each day.” Because of such standardization, mankind may lose 40,000 kinds of vegetables in the coming decades, Saouma warns. Scientists fear that without biological diversity, harvests will become more vulnerable to plagues.
The Most Deadly Addictive Substance
Cigarettes not only are among the most addictive drugs of abuse but are “by far the most deadly,” observes the former director of the Institute for the Study of Smoking Behavior and Policy, Thomas C. Schelling. Quitting is hard, he says in the January 24, 1992, issue of Science magazine. The success rate for quitting for two years or more is 1 in 5 per attempt. Why is it so hard to quit? Schelling lists these reasons: Cigarettes are cheap, quickly available, portable, and storable; they produce no impairment of any faculty; and smoking requires no equipment. “The damage is slow in arriving,” he says. “The people who suffer cancer and lung and heart disease from smoking have typically smoked for three decades or more before symptoms appear.” Although nicotine is the main addictive substance in cigarette smoke, Schelling also suspects that the taste of tobacco smoke and the mood control produced by smoking may add to the addiction. Why is relapse so common? “Most smokers who have quit are rarely more than 5 minutes from the nearest cigarette, and it takes only the briefest loss of control to consummate the urge to smoke,” he says.