Watching the World
A Unique Planet
Scientists have long speculated about the possibility that life exists on other planets. It was assumed that the conditions that make life possible on earth must likewise exist somewhere among the hundreds of billions of galaxies of the cosmos. The French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, however, says that it is now more and more apparent that “too many miraculous coincidences preceded the appearance of man on earth” and that the latest discoveries regarding the universe and the earth itself “have enormously reduced the probability, already minute, that the same process could have taken place elsewhere.” Commenting on the near mathematical impossibility of identical conditions existing on another planet, the magazine notes that scientists are sure that life exists on at least one planet—ours.
Television or Newspapers for Accurate News?
In Australia, television news is slipping in credibility while newspapers are gaining. According to a media study published in The Australian, “television [has] largely sacrificed accuracy, reliability and fairness to its subject in pursuit of a ‘good story.’” For example, some TV news is enhanced by old file tapes to make a more sensational story. Of the 500 news stories analyzed, 260 used file footage, the study found. If a TV news report includes file tapes, people normally expect this to be acknowledged, but this is not always done. The report states: “Research by the Ray Morgan Research Centre . . . shows the number of people who believed television was the best medium for ‘accurate and reliable news’ fell by more than 12 percentage points, from a peak of 53.7 per cent in 1986 to 41.5 per cent” in 1993.
Should parents treat their children as peers? Educator Lisandre Maria Castello Branco of São Paulo University says in the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo: “Parents are never equal to their children, and this has to be made clear. . . . When the place of authority is vacant, the youth becomes abandoned, an orphan. A child always expects of his parents the responsibility of an adult who chooses to educate a person.”
Cesarean Sections Increasing
“Ten thousand gynecologists point the finger at Italy: too many cesareans,” reports Rome’s newspaper Il Messaggero. For the number of births by cesarean section, Italy places first in Europe and third in the world, behind the United States and Brazil. Since 1980, cesarean operations have doubled in Italy; now almost 1 child in 4 is delivered by cesarean section. Why the increase? According to Il Messaggero, there are two reasons besides medical ones: Women want to avoid painful deliveries, and doctors, fearing court action, prefer a less-risky procedure. However, although cesarean sections have long been viewed as safe, many doctors believe that they are used too often and not always for good reasons. Carlo Signorelli, of La Sapienza University, Rome, said: “There would not appear to be any correlation between cesareans and perinatal mortality.” And Luciano Movicelli, of the S. Orsola Hospital, Bologna, noted: “The conviction that a cesarean equals more safety ought to be thrown out because it is absolutely false.”
Keeping Up Appearances
What is a Japanese man to do when he does not have enough relatives or friends to keep up proper appearances at weddings and funerals? The answer: Rent them. A bride and a groom each usually try to invite the same number of guests. However, if the two groups are unequal or either is too small to make a suitable impression, the bride or groom may secretly call on the services of the benriya, literally “useful persons.” Benriya do almost any odd job, including substituting for relatives and friends. In the case of funerals, they are hired not as professional mourners but as substitutes so that neighbors will not discover, for example, that the deceased’s work associates would not come. The owner of a benriya company was reported in Mainichi Daily News as saying that at one company executive’s funeral he attended, about 60 of the 100 people present were benriya. “The family must have called up 3 or 4 benriya companies,” he said.
What Makes Teachers Popular?
“Even though many children moan about school more and more often, most of them still have a favorite teacher,” reports the German newspaper Nassauische Neue Presse. Indeed, 91 percent of girls and 83 percent of boys have a favorite teacher. A survey of 2,080 students between 7 and 16 years of age tried to discover what qualities make teachers popular with their students. It may be surprising to many that “a teacher who gives little homework is not necessarily the favorite.” Much more important is that the teacher be fair, have a sense of humor, and make lessons interesting. Furthermore, students appreciate teachers who are able to explain things well, keep calm, and show understanding.
More and more Australian parents leave small children alone at home to fend for themselves while the parents are off at work or engaged in other activities. This worrisome trend has particularly come to light since the establishment of a national telephone hotline for children. It is now receiving about 35,000 calls a week from distressed youngsters. According to The Sunday Telegraph of Sydney, the help line’s director says: “We have a steady procession of kids who are at the extreme end of the problem—kids left alone without food or any sort of parental care.” The paper commented: “[This] is an indictment on modern family life as we know it.” In fact, some of these children are little more than tots; one caller to an emergency number was a scared four-year-old girl.
Our Garbage Talks
What is our garbage saying? It is telling us what patterns of human behavior we follow. Garbage reveals what we consume and what we waste. “People who live routine, predictable lives waste less, because they tend to buy only what they need and consume what they buy,” said The Toronto Star. Surprisingly, when there is a shortage of something, “people, paradoxically, waste a lot more of it than when it’s abundantly available,” added the Star. Why is this so? People hoard. They buy more than they need and then dispose of what they do not use. Hot dogs—lots of hot dogs—are the most common food found in wet garbage. Paper, an abundance of paper, particularly newsprint, finds its way into landfills. The computer age has added more, not less, paper to our dry garbage. The overall message of our garbage is that we are living in a wasteful society.
AIDS Vaccine “Unprofitable”
The World Health Organization’s director of research and development, Dr. Piot, has announced that economic considerations have caused some pharmaceutical laboratories to abandon their search for an AIDS vaccine in favor of drugs for treating AIDS patients. It is reported that the laboratories fear that if an effective AIDS vaccine were developed, government pressure would force them to surrender the product to the public, leaving little room for profit.
Parental Guidance Needed
Conversing by means of computers, children often get messages full of sexual innuendo or outright proposition. They can communicate with transvestites and homosexuals. They can learn how to make bombs, how to steal credit-card numbers, and how to break into other computer systems and to commit criminal acts. Certain computer games allure children into unlimited withdrawal from reality, and a number get addicted to them. Some say “the solution lies in that most daunting task: teaching values,” notes The Washington Post National Weekly Edition.
Mother at 62
At the age of 62, an Italian woman gave birth to a child. Mother and child, a boy weighing 7 pounds 3 ounces [3 kg 270 g], are doing fine. Along with the congratulations for the happy event, the case also raised an uproar in the field of ethics. Why? The mother became pregnant by means of artificial insemination. “I know this case will cause a storm,” commented Professor Severino Antinori, the gynecologist who assisted the birth, “but it should be considered an extreme measure.”