Watching the World
Counting the Stars
Have you ever gazed up at a star-filled night sky and wondered how many stars you could see? Sky & Telescope magazine recently addressed this age-old question, and the answer is not as simple to find as one might assume. The magazine noted that according to astronomy reference works, the average observer can see 2,862 stars in the skies over a fairly dark suburb in northern latitudes. But not all these stars are above the local horizon at any given time; many rise and set. Furthermore, many stars that are easily visible when directly overhead are invisible when nearer the horizon. That is because at such low altitudes, the star’s light must pass through more of earth’s atmosphere in order to reach an observer’s eyes. Sky & Telescope concludes that for an observer at a latitude of 40 degrees north, some 1,809 stars would be visible throughout the year.
The Leading Killers in the United States
What are the leading causes of death in the United States? A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association sought out the main external, or nongenetic, factors that contributed to deaths in one year. After an extensive survey of statistics, the study concluded that of the 2,148,000 deaths in the United States in 1990, about 400,000 were caused by tobacco; 300,000 by diet and exercise habits; 100,000 by alcohol; 90,000 by microbial agents; 60,000 by toxic agents such as environmental pollutants or contaminants in food or water; 35,000 by firearms; 30,000 by sexual behavior; 25,000 by motor vehicles; and 20,000 by illicit drug use. In all, the study found that such external factors contributed to half of all deaths in one year.
Children and War
During the past ten years, war has proved far more dangerous for civilians—particularly children—than for soldiers, according to a recent report from the British relief agency Save the Children. The agency’s overseas spokesman was quoted in an Associated Press report as saying: “Nine out of 10 casualties of war are civilians. Children are very often the main casualties—and they are indeed much more likely to be casualties of war than are soldiers.” The 25-page report tallies the past decade’s toll on the world’s children, providing the following grim statistics. Over 1.5 million children were killed in wars around the world; over 4 million were disabled, blinded, brain damaged, or maimed; over 12 million lost their homes; 10 million became refugees; 5 million were forced to live in refugee camps, and 1 million were separated from their families. One out of every 200 children in the world was traumatized by war in the past decade and needed help to overcome the emotional distress.
Iodine in the Salt
Lack of iodine in the diet affects the well-being of at least 600 million people, estimates the United Nations Children’s Fund. Among those affected, the deficiency is believed to cause about 100,000 infants a year to be born as cretins (physically stunted and mentally deficient because of severe thyroid deficiency) and to impair the physical and mental development of another 50 million children. A lack of iodine also causes goiter, a swelling of the thyroid gland. It is easy and inexpensive to guard against iodine deficiency—simply use iodized salt. Efforts are underway to iodize the world’s salt supplies during the year 1995 and to eliminate iodine-deficiency disorders by the year 2000.
A football team in Pescara, Italy, recently sought help from a Catholic bishop to fight off the “bad luck” that was plaguing them, reports the newspaper La Repubblica. Tired of a long run of “bad luck” commonly attributed to the stadium, the team president requested a forceful intervention by the clergy. Some time before, a priest had blessed the stadium, and the team won its next match. Staff, supporters, and players who attended a “reblessing”—a celebration of Mass by the bishop himself right in the stands of the stadium—hope that this time the team will do even better. When the stadium first opened, it was blessed too, but “evidently the sprinkling of incense at the inauguration has lost its power,” says La Repubblica.
80,000 Earthquakes in 40 Years
“The seismological station at Bensberg near Cologne [Germany] has registered more than 80,000 earthquakes in all parts of the world,” reports Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. This was announced by Professor Ludwig Ahorner, head of the station, which has been tracing the earth’s quakes and tremors for 40 years. How is the station able to register earthquakes that occur in other parts of the world? By employing instruments so sensitive that they detect even the faint vibrations in the earth caused by winter storm waves breaking on the North Sea Coast, some 120 miles [200 km] away. The strongest earthquake in Germany ever registered by the station struck in April 1992. It measured 5.9 on the Richter scale.
The Great Green Wall
The Great Wall of China, which was only partly successful in repelling invading Mongol forces centuries ago, may have come into its own at last. According to Science News, ever since the 1950’s, great belts of trees have been planted along the path of the wall. This Great Green Wall, as it has been dubbed, consists of some 300 million trees. Its purpose: to act as a barrier to the dust storms that sweep into China from the Gobi Desert and other arid areas. The results? In the 1950’s, the city of Beijing was beset by 10 to 20 dust storms every spring, reducing visibility to less than half a mile [1 km] for 30 to 90 hours each month. But by the 1970’s, the number of storms had dropped to fewer than five each spring, causing milder reductions of visibility for less than ten hours a month. Science News quotes one atmospheric chemist as saying that these vast belts of forest “are probably one of the most aggressive weather modification programs in the 20th century.”
Satanism in Prison
Prison officials in Colorado, U.S.A., had denied an inmate the right to perform satanic rituals in his cell. A Federal prison rule forbade Devil worship; furthermore, the officials reasoned that some of the items that the inmate had requested for worship—including a short wooden staff, a gong, a black robe, candles and candle holders, a chalice, and incense—might be used as weapons. However, a Federal judge in Denver recently reversed the decision, ruling that the inmate has the constitutional right to practice his religion in prison. The judge further concluded that the rule against Devil worship was unconstitutional. According to an Associated Press report, the judge wrote in his ruling: “We ought to give the devil his due.” The inmate is serving a ten-year sentence for kidnapping.
Undercurrents in the South Seas
A report for the Fiji-based Pacific Conference of Churches reveals that mainstream church authorities are disturbed by the growth of what they call NRGs (New Religious Groups) in the South Pacific. Mainly, the NRGs in question are the Assemblies of God, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of the Baha’i faith. Already about 20 percent of the islanders have joined these religions, says the report by Manfred Ernst. The churches complain that NRGs prevent political change because some among them do not join political parties or protest movements; others will not join unions. “According to Ernst,” said Mainichi Daily News, “NRGs are becoming more popular because of the unattractiveness of the traditional mainline Christian churches.”
Argentine Study on Rape
From January to October 1994, a single Argentine province, Córdoba, reported 254 cases of rape. The Buenos Aires newspaper Clarín noted that a police report from Córdoba “threw out the myth that surrounds sexual violations.” Rapists are not always just degenerates who stalk anonymous victims under cover of darkness; according to this report, 4 of every 10 persons raped are violated in their own homes by their own fathers, stepfathers, or other relatives. Other statistics in the police report show that ‘of the 254 cases reported this year, 36 percent took place in the homes of the victims; 23 percent on leaving dance halls; 13 percent on the public streets; 10 percent in vacant lots; 6 percent on construction sites; and 3 percent on football fields, in bus-station rest rooms, in prison cells, and on excursion buses.’ The report concludes by mentioning that the police have solved 66.54 percent of the cases.