Watching the World
According to The Washington Post, the United States spends or loses $163 billion each year as a result of crime. The paper reports that even after adjusting for inflation, this total is some four times the amount spent in 1965. The paper adds that the price of crime includes “better than $31.8 billion at the state and federal level for police, $24.9 billion for corrections, $36.9 billion in retail losses, $20 billion in insurance fraud, and $17.6 billion for individual property losses and medical expenses. Still $15 billion more is spent on private security, $9.3 billion on court costs and $7.2 billion on prosecution and public defense.” In a typical shooting in the Washington, D.C., area, for instance, the Post notes that treating the victim costs an average of $7,000 in the first few hours after the shooting. If the victim survives, the cost is about $22,000. If the government goes to the expense of tracking down and convicting the perpetrator, it then costs about $22,000 a year to incarcerate him.
Unsafe Blood in the Philippines
In the Philippines, blood transfusion services are “unsafe, inefficient and wasteful,” concludes a new study by a team of Filipino doctors. In findings that the country’s health minister, Juan Flavier, termed “very alarming,” the study showed that fewer than half the country’s blood banks were staffed with personnel capable of performing the screening tests for AIDS, syphilis, hepatitis B, and malaria. Further, the study examined 136 blood samples from blood banks and found that even of the blood that had been screened, some 4 percent was contaminated.
Litter on the Information Superhighway
The information superhighway, a system of computer networks that provides an exchange of information among computer users, has been widely touted as a wonder of technology. But it also has its drawbacks. In Canada’s Globe and Mail, journalist Sean Silcoff wrote of the two months he spent using the “highway” for research purposes. He concluded that it is “sleazy” and “littered throughout with the refuse of Western culture.” He noted that there were over 3,500 “discussion groups” on the system he used, many of them devoted to such topics as gossip about sports and entertainment stars, repulsively tasteless jokes, and trivial details about popular TV shows. One even featured methods for committing suicide. Silcoff remarked: “A potentially powerful tool is being squandered by a society that seems to be chock-full of sociopaths.”
Honey for Ulcers?
Writing in Canada’s Medical Post, Dr. Basil J. S. Grogono claims that the lowly honeybee may be able to do more for those who suffer from peptic ulcers than even doctors could during past decades when they would frequently resort to drastic surgery. He notes that more experts have come to recognize the role a tiny microorganism, Helicobacter pylori, plays in peptic ulcers. While some have recommended using drugs to combat this microbe, Grogono notes that these drugs have unpleasant side effects and that the microbes may develop resistance to them. He cites, on the other hand, a recent study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in which the antibacterial properties of honey were tested. One variety, which came from New Zealand bees fed on a plant called the manuka, was effective in fighting the ulcer-causing microbe.
Lead and Wine
Scientists in Belgium and France have identified a potential threat in some French wines—lead. Lead from leaded crystal decanters and from lead foil wrappers can make its way into wine. But the new study, reported in Science News, found that leaded gasoline was the source of high levels of organic lead compounds in some vintages of French wines. Where the vineyards grew alongside bustling highways, the lead in exhaust fumes made its way into the grapes. The levels of organic lead compounds in the wines were from 10 to 100 times higher than those found in drinking water. Richard Lobinski, of the University of Antwerp in Belgium, recommends avoiding only the vintages between 1975 and 1980, since the use of leaded gas in France fell off in the late 1970’s. However, he also notes that leaded gasoline is still in use, especially in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Organic lead compounds, he claims, are more dangerous than normal lead because they “can be easily absorbed, especially by the brain.”
Children on a TV-Free Island
St. Helena, a small island about a third of the way from West Africa to South America, boasts children who are “among the most well-balanced in the world,” says The Times of London, citing a report in Support for Learning, a leading educational journal. The report’s author, Dr. Tony Charlton, found that only 3.4 percent of the island’s 9- to 12-year-olds had serious behavioral problems. The Times notes that this rate is “the lowest ever recorded for any age range anywhere in the world.” The reason for the well-balanced children? One possibility is the high quality and ready availability of education for the children. But Charlton plans to investigate another possible factor. Until recently, when a satellite hookup was established, the island had never had broadcast TV. It is expected that within three years, 1,300 of the island’s 1,500 households will have a TV. Charlton will soon undertake a study of any subsequent changes in the island’s children.
No Child Support, No License
The state of Maine, U.S.A., has taken a tough stance regarding parents who refuse to pay court-ordered child support. It has revoked the driver’s licenses of eight such delinquent fathers. According to The New York Times, Jane Sheehan, the Maine Human Services commissioner, says that the eight fathers owed a total of $150,000 and had each received ample warning that they were in danger of losing their licenses. “This should not come as a surprise to anyone,” the Times quotes her as saying. “We’ve been warning people since last August this day would come.” Her office has sent similar warnings to 17,400 parents who are over 90 days late in child-support payments. So far, some $11.5 million in payments have come in as a result.
Clever Farmers, Smart Crows
In Japan, there is an ongoing battle over who gets to harvest farm crops. Crows and farmers are at constant odds, with the wily crows soon seeing through tactics farmers dream up. Now, though, shrewd farmers in Nagano Prefecture are utilizing the birds’ worst instincts to trap them, says Asahi Evening News. They erected a cage 30 feet square and 10 feet high near their crops and put crows from another area in it. Greedy local crows, enraged at these invaders of their territory, fly into the cage to attack the “foreign” crows, only to get caught themselves. Success at last? One of the farmers says: “Actually, most crows fooled by the cage are wandering ones. The local chaps are so clever they now make fools of us and fly away.” And so the battle goes on.
Over One Billion Cigarette Smokers
According to recent figures from WHO (World Health Organization), the number of people worldwide who smoke cigarettes is 1.1 billion. If the current trend continues, warns WHO, “about half a billion people currently alive will be killed by tobacco, and about half of those, 250 million people, will die in middle age.” Since the 1980’s, cigarette smoking has declined somewhat in the industrialized nations, but there has been an increase in the developing countries. Thus, world consumption remains at 1,650 cigarettes per adult per year. Says Hans Emblad, director of the WHO Program on Substance Abuse: “So far, the net effect of successful tobacco marketing in the developing countries has been to shift areas of increased tobacco use from developed to developing countries. The tobacco epidemic has not yet been put under global control.”
Harmless Speech Impediments
At a conference in Darmstadt, Germany, members of the Interdisciplinary Association for Stutter Therapy warned parents against becoming overanxious about harmless speech impediments of their young children. “Four out of every five children between the ages of four and six have minor speech impediments that sound the same as stuttering but that usually disappear of their own accord,” reports the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. How should parents react when a young child stumbles over words? “So as not to rob the child of his natural uninhibitedness in speech,” comments the newspaper, “parents should avoid putting pressure on the child to do well, should allow him plenty of time, and should build up his self-confidence.”