Watching the World
Radio Station Changes Its Music
In an unusual stand, a California radio station that broadcasts a lot of rap music recently announced that it would no longer play songs the station deems “socially irresponsible.” That would include any music that “glorifies drug use, is sexually explicit, encourages violence or denigrates women.” The New York Times recently reported that the station had already banned nine such songs, several of them with unprintable titles. The station’s program director asserts that the change was motivated by a desire to serve the community better. Competing stations suggest that the new policy was prompted by a desire to garner publicity.
How do ants find their way around? Many leave a chemical trail so that they can retrace their steps and find their way home. But Dr. Rudiger Wehner, a zoologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, wondered how ants in the Sahara navigate. After all, the desert sun would evaporate a chemical trail in minutes. In a lecture at the University of Texas, Dr. Wehner described how the desert ants use a sophisticated navigation system similar to a device once used in World War II aircraft navigation. The ants look at the sky and see complex patterns of polarized light invisible to human eyes. They circle under the pattern to reorient themselves and then head directly homeward. The Dallas Morning News quipped: “If you get lost in the north Saharan desert in the middle of the day, you’d better ask an ant for directions.”
Another Fake Fossil
A fly suspended in a chunk of amber, or fossilized tree sap, was long revered in scientific circles as a perfectly preserved specimen from 38 million years ago. However, New Scientist magazine reported that this prized specimen has actually turned out to be “an entomological crime on a par with the Piltdown hoax.” It seems that at least 140 years ago, some con artist actually sliced open the piece of amber, made a hollow in one of the halves, and placed a common latrine fly inside. This “fossil” was sold to England’s Natural History Museum back in 1922 and has since been examined by top scientists, even being mentioned in a book on fossils as recently as 1992.
First Muslim Chaplain
The U.S. armed forces employ some 3,152 chaplains representing 243 different religions—all of them, until recently, of the “Judeo-Christian” variety. Now, according to The Washington Post, the army has appointed its first Muslim chaplain. Bearing a crescent-shaped insignia on his uniform, the chaplain is an Imam, a Muslim religious leader. The U.S. Defense Department says there are 2,500 Muslims in the U.S. Army, although an Islamic group in the army insists that the real number is closer to 10,000. Some American soldiers were reported to have converted to Islam while stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf war. Now, Buddhist soldiers are seeking a candidate to act as their army chaplain.
Wild Horses on the Wane
Wild horses called lavradeiros run free in the harsh Lavrado region of northern Brazil. According to the periodical Ciência Hoje of São Paulo, they are the last wild horses in the world that do not have some form of official government protection. Because of hunting, crossbreeding, and commercialization, they are fast dwindling in number. People in the Lavrado region estimate that the horses numbered as many as 3,000 just a few years ago; today there are only 200. The lavradeiros are unusually fertile, disease resistant, and fast—they can run about 35 miles per hour [55 km/hr] for as long as half an hour!
British Marriage Woes
Marriage is in trouble everywhere in Europe but perhaps nowhere more so than in Britain, a recent survey has found. Eurostat, a statistical office for the EU (European Union), attempted to measure the varying life-styles of the 177 million women living in the EU’s member nations. On the average, 6.5 percent of the women were raising children without a partner, but in Britain the average was higher—10.1 percent. The next highest average came from Germany, with 7.7 percent. British women married at a younger age on the average than did other EU women—before they turned 24 years old. Also Britain’s divorce rate was the highest.
The Complete Manual of Suicide has become a best-selling book in Japan recently; apparently it has already played a role in several deaths. The book describes the 6,000-acre [2,500 ha] Aokigahara forest at the foot of Mount Fuji as an “ideal place” for committing suicide. Within three months of publication, two bodies were found in Aokigahara; both had the Manual with them. Another would-be suicide was picked up wandering in the forest with the book. By the end of October 1993, suicides in Aokigahara had already increased by 50 percent over the entire previous year. The book’s author, however, denied any direct connection between the suicides and his book. He said: “With this book, I am trying to make life easier by including suicide as one of life’s choices.”
According to a recent survey, an increasing number of Italians are affected by “TV bulimia,” the inordinate desire to consume more and more television programs. During a sample week, 82 percent of Italians watched TV, “and those who did were in front of the screen, on the average, a little less than five hours” a day, affirms La Repubblica. Among four- to seven-year-olds, TV consumption increased by 15 percent over the previous year. But “the subjects hardest hit by TV bulimia are teenagers and those that did not continue their schooling beyond elementary level.” Are people watching more TV because TV is getting better? Francesco Siliato, director of the institute that analyzed the survey, asserted: “The figures do not seem to be in the least connected with the quality of programs broadcast.”
Another Kind of Traffic Hazard
Responsible parents take reasonable precautions when driving with their children, buckling them in safely even for a quick trip to the grocery store. But few may recognize the hazards that children face once they get to the store. Parents magazine noted recently that in 1991 some 19,000 children under five years of age had to be rushed to hospital emergency rooms in the United States after falling out of grocery carts. Consequently, two of the country’s leading manufacturers of grocery carts recently agreed to install seat belts for children in all the carts they sell in New York and Texas. Signs in the carts will also warn parents not to leave their children unattended.
Can one bird tell that another is from a different region just by listening to the way it sings? National Geographic reports that according to Lance Workman, an expert in animal psychology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales, the answer among robins is a definite yes. Workman found that when he recorded and codified the songs of robins, he could easily classify them according to the region of England the bird hailed from. In fact, when a male robin from Sussex heard a recorded song of a male from Wales, he puffed up his feathers indignantly and attacked the tape player!
Bringing Up Father
The Japanese Ministry of Education has embarked on a project to educate Japanese fathers, who spend on an average only 36 minutes a day with their children. The ministry is sponsoring “a series of seminars on ‘household education,’ with the aim of getting fathers to help out more around the house and spend more time with their children,” reports Mainichi Daily News. The course, consisting of five sessions of one-and-a-half to two hours each, will be held at or near workplaces at convenient times to make it easier for fathers to attend. Ironically, among the first to benefit from the course are fathers working for the Ministry of Education, which has a reputation for requiring long hours of overtime work.
Make Reading Fun
Statistics show that 2.9 million Canadian adults are unable to read “well enough to cope with material found in everyday life,” The Toronto Star reported recently. In an effort to combat illiteracy, Canadian Children’s Book Week is designed to promote the “joy and love of reading.” Teaching children to love reading in today’s age of music, television, and videos is not easy though. The key is to start when children are very young and minimize distractions. The paper quotes one ten-year-old girl, whose family disposed of their television, as saying: “[Reading is] fun and it helps me learn.” Said a ten-year-old boy: “I like reading because it is like a window to anywhere.”