Watching the World
Volcano Cools the Planet
When the Philippine volcano Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, scientists predicted that our planet would be slightly cooler as a result. They were right, as it turned out. The volcano belched forth some 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide gas into the stratosphere. The gas formed a vast cloud composed of tiny droplets of sulfuric acid and was spread around the globe by high, swift air currents in a matter of weeks. The droplets scatter and block some of the sun’s rays, resulting in cooler temperatures on the ground below. According to Science News, parts of the Northern Hemisphere have, since the eruption, seen a drop of about two degrees Fahrenheit in the average temperature. However, this effect is temporary and should not be viewed as an antidote to global warming. One climate expert predicts that this volcanically induced cooling trend will wear off by 1994.
Asia’s Organ Trade
“Supply and demand is the law of the land,” says Asiaweek magazine on the subject of the trade in human organs. In Hong Kong some 600 people were awaiting kidney transplants in the spring of 1992, but only 50 of them were expected to receive one by the end of the year. Many, therefore, travel to other countries, such as India where some 6,000 kidney transplants are performed annually in a 20-million-dollar-a-year business. Often the poor or those who have suffered some financial misfortune are willing to sell one kidney, since it is usually possible to survive with only one. But Asiaweek notes that the organ trade is plagued by corruption. Some donors have been cheated out of their money by corrupt middlemen. One man reportedly checked into a hospital with a minor stomach problem and ended up minus one kidney—it had been removed without his consent!
Slaughter of the Innocents
At least 1,383 children in the United States were killed by abuse or neglect in 1991, reports The Washington Post. This conservative estimate, supplied by the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, amounts to an appalling four abuse-related deaths of children each day, a 50-percent increase over the past six years. The causes for the increase are varied. Some specialists blame worsening economic conditions—with lost jobs, low incomes, and hopelessness—for driving people to vent their frustrations on these helpless victims. The Post notes that while several well-publicized cases have involved baby-sitters who abused the children in their charge, “the specialists know that the real story behind the numbers usually lies closer to home, with mom and dad, the ones who are supposed to love the babies the most.”
Why is overpopulation so prevalent in poorer countries? In Visão magazine, Paulo Nogueira Neto, former secretary of the environment in Brazil, puts the answer powerfully: “There is a story told in Brazil. Asked why he has nine children, a man says, ‘Because three die when they are little; three migrate to São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, or Brasília, and three stay here to take care of us when we get old.’ A child is the social security of the poor population.” Neto adds, ominously: “It is easy to observe all over the world: Where there is poverty there is demographic explosion. And if it continues, the planet will be doomed. In a world with finite resources, we cannot have infinite development, unless it be spiritual, moral, or scientific.”
Jesus on Video
Various organizations in Christendom are going to nearly desperate lengths in their efforts to lure young people into acquiring some knowledge of the Bible. For instance, the American Bible Society has produced a video version of the account at Mark 5:1-20 about Jesus’ healing a demon-possessed man. The Miami Herald of Florida reports that the style is that of a music video, with scenes edited into fast-moving snippets. One version is set to rap music, another to chants. Jesus is portrayed in T-shirt and jacket as he engages in hand-to-hand combat on a fire escape with a demon-possessed man who drools and wears a baseball cap. Another music video, called Resurrection Rap, reportedly shows Jesus as the leader of a street gang!
When war is over, what is to be done with all the unused ammunition? According to the German newspaper Hannoversche Allgemeine, after World War II, the Allies came up with a simple, if shortsighted, answer: Dump it into the sea. The paper reports that between 700,000 and 1,500,000 tons of ammunition from the Third Reich were dumped on the seabed, later to be joined by some Allied ammunition. Dumping sites were chosen—but not very precisely recorded—in the North Sea, the Baltic, and the Skagerrak. While some of this dangerous garbage was salvaged in the 1950’s, about 500,000 tons of it is thought to remain. Now concern is growing over the hazards created by this undersea refuse. Government divers are examining some of the sites and trying to assess how much ammunition is there and how dangerous it is. Some of the explosives are still in working order, and some are leaking dangerous toxins, such as lead azide, mercury, and TNT, into the water.
Backyard trampolines are becoming more popular, but they are potentially dangerous, reports The Toronto Star of Canada. While some perceive them as toys, a two-year study by Statistics Canada found that 324 serious trampoline injuries were reported across the country. “Children of all ages are at risk and the injuries suffered tend to be more severe than most other childhood injuries,” according to Arlene Huhn of the Sports Medicine Council of Alberta. Most accidents happen as people get on or off the trampoline or when they try to do flips, adds Huhn. Experts recommend that owners place the trampoline in an open area, that participants have footwear with a good grip, and that they exercise caution when getting on or off. Only one person at a time should use a trampoline. Proper supervision is important.
Some 30 years ago, a plague hit the Micronesian island of Guam and wiped out most of its species of forest birds. The plague was not a virus or a pesticide but a snake—the brown tree snake. Possibly imported from New Guinea to the island by U.S. military traffic, the snake multiplied prodigiously on Guam. There are now as many as 30,000 of the slightly venomous reptiles per square mile [12,000 per sq km] in some areas. They reportedly festoon fences and electrical wires, invade homes, pop unexpectedly out of drainpipes, and attack pets and even babies. Now environmentalists in Hawaii are concerned that the snakes will make a similar onslaught there. Hawaii has no native snakes, but it does have many species of exotic and rare birds that would be quite vulnerable to such predators. So far, several brown tree snakes have been found at Hawaii’s airports—apparently stowaways on airplanes arriving from Guam.
Venice Fights Seaweed
Venice, the beautiful city that rises from a lagoon in northern Italy, faces an unusual pollution problem—seaweed. Thanks to an overabundance of nutrients in the water, the lagoon produces a staggering 500,000 tons of seaweed a year! What is to be done with it? In the world’s first such experiment, which the magazine Le Scienze calls an “authentic success,” the seaweed is turned into paper. Using some of the 40,000 to 60,000 tons of seaweed that are harvested from the lagoon each year, scientists have produced paper in a process that is even gentler on the environment than recycling. The paper is similar, and in some ways superior to, paper made from cellulose. And its color? A pale, speckled green—naturally!
The magazine Consumer Reports recently singled out a cancer charity that mailed out letters asking people to gather donations from friends and neighbors and send it in. The report notes that deciphering the small print on the back of the letter turns up some interesting facts. For instance, while the charity raised nearly $2.5 million in the previous year, less than one penny out of each dollar actually went to fund cancer research. “The rest paid a professional fund-raiser, defrayed fund-raising costs, administered the fund, settled lawsuits arising from previous misleading solicitations, and paid for ‘public education,’” the magazine states. It cites an example of the public education in question—extremely bland and general advice on cancer prevention, such as, “Keep your workplace free of cancer hazards.”
Languages and the Brain
According to Franco Fabbro, a researcher at Trieste University in Italy, each language that we know, or know partially, is located in a distinct area of the brain. How did he reach this conclusion? A number of multilingual individuals who had suffered brain damage and were no longer able to express themselves correctly in their own language began to speak fluently in a foreign language that they had thought they knew only superficially. This suggests, says the magazine L’Espresso, “that the mother tongue interferes with the others, limiting their expression.”