Watching the World
Witchcraft Among Refugees
Refugees from war-torn Rwanda are plagued with yet another problem in their camps in Ngara, northern Tanzania: witchcraft. According to Reuters news service, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has singled out witchcraft as a “serious problem” in the camps. Every night, according to UNHCR spokesman Chris Bowers, two or three people are killed in occult rituals. He explains: “We know that witchcraft is involved because we find corpses mutilated in a certain way.” By late 1994, some 580,000 people were living in the Ngara camps, with 2,000 new refugees arriving each day. Reuters quotes one UN source as saying: “There is an increase in witchcraft and we don’t know how to deal with it.”
Mobile telephones may represent the utmost in convenient communication, but one bishop in Finland has decided that there can be too much of a good thing. According to Reuters, the bishop asserted that “a mobile phone should serve, not enslave, its user” and ordered church workers and ministers to curtail their use of the gadgets. It seems that parishioners’ complaints had reached the bishop’s ears—some clerics were taking phone calls during church services. One such call reportedly came right in the middle of a funeral service. Similarly, a Catholic magazine in Italy recently advised priests not to bring their phones into the confessional with them—after a woman complained that she could hear the priest’s phone ringing as she confessed her sins.
Good for Moms—Bad for Kids
Many women take iron pills for their health to give a boost to anemic blood, but some don’t know how dangerous the same pills can be for children who ingest them. According to Safety+Health magazine, iron pills are the leading cause of poisoning deaths among children under six years of age. The U.S. government has proposed that all such pills be packaged individually in hard-to-open plastic packs instead of bottles. In any case, though, mothers are advised to keep iron pills well beyond the reach of small hands, just as they do other pills and medications.
Gun Battles on the Rise in Japan
Japan is known as one of the world’s safest nations. Its annual murder rate is only 1 per 100,000 people, whereas the rate is nearly ten times higher in such countries as Thailand and the United States. Recently, though, Japan has been rocked by an increase in murders involving firearms, reports Asiaweek magazine. From 1990 to 1993, there were 180 shootings a year, all of them involving members of organized crime. But frighteningly, in 1994 the number of shootings surged upward, and seven of the victims were ordinary citizens. Although Japan has strict laws against private ownership of guns, the police have stated that there are some 100,000 illegal firearms in the country. After a doctor was shot in a crowded train station, allegedly by a disgruntled former patient, a college student remarked in an interview: “I thought this could happen only in America.”
Technology and Sabbath Loopholes
In Israel, observing Sabbath in a high-tech world presents some real challenges to those who live strictly by the Halakah, or ancient body of Jewish law. For example, Orthodox Jews are concerned about walking through a metal detector. If their keys set off the detector, then they have inadvertently closed an electrical circuit—and this, they reason, would violate the Halakah’s injuction against lighting a fire. So an organization called Tsomet has designed a metal detector that does not react to ordinary objects like keys, hence posing no threat to Sabbath observance. Similarly, another organization has solved the problem of Orthodox doctors who need to do some routine writing on the Sabbath. They have designed a felt-tip pen that writes in ink that will vanish after a few days. How does that help? The Halakah restricts writing on the Sabbath but defines writing as leaving a permanent mark. The New York Times quotes one prominent rabbi as reasoning: “If [God] left a loophole, he put it there to be used.”
The giant tortoise of the Galápagos Islands is internationally renowned and protected as an endangered species. Recently, though, it has become clear that these massive reptiles face a new danger. For a month a fire raged across Isabela Island of the Galápagos archipelago. Rescue workers dug trenches to protect the island’s precious population of 6,000 tortoises and even moved 400 of them to a special preserve. This latter measure was taken to protect the turtles not so much from fires as from people. According to The Unesco Courier, “tortoise-hunting, although illegal, is apparently a traditional practice. The meat of the tortoises, especially females, and their blood are regarded as having medicinal properties, apart from being particularly succulent.” Rescuers found the remains of 42 of these giants that had been eaten by humans.
“Death by Government”
The above is the title of a new book by R. J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii. Over a period of eight years, Mr. Rummel collected data from “thousands of sources” on the subject of the role of governments in human slaughter during this century. According to The Honolulu Advertiser, the book states: “Almost 170 million men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners.” Rummel says: “It is as though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague.” “No other century has seen a slaughter of such magnitude,” reports the newspaper concerning Rummel’s findings.
“Earthworms are India’s secret weapon in preventing another outbreak of plague,” reports New Scientist magazine. When refuse accumulates, rats and other pests that harbor deadly diseases abound. Now a native species of deep-burrowing worm, Pheretima elongata, has been put to work to convert trash into useful compost. When introduced into garbage receptacles, these worms eat their way through the refuse and produce a fine compost that disintegrates readily. This technique, already at work in Bombay, processes four tons of slaughterhouse waste each day. Local authorities who presently rely on incinerators and landfill are now looking with interest at these useful worms.
Church and War
What role has the Serbian Orthodox Church played in the conflict in the Balkans? That question was taken up at a recent roundtable discussion among Orthodox and Protestant church leaders from England, Germany, Greece, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Christ in der Gegenwart (The Contemporary Christian), a Catholic newspaper published in Germany, reported that the talks were organized by the World Council of Churches and were held in Geneva, Switzerland. The talks followed allegations that the Serbian Orthodox Church was biased in the war, “lending massive support” to the side it favored. Despite the grave accusations, the majority at the talks voted to allow the Serbian Orthodox Church to retain its membership in the World Council of Churches, although “not all differences of opinion [could be] settled.”
Drug Business Is Big Business
“International drug trafficking,” says the Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald, “has become the world’s second most lucrative business after the arms trade, mopping up $US400 billion annually and subverting political systems in Asia.” This amount of money, says Interpol’s secretary-general, “has the power to corrupt almost everyone.” Asia is in the spotlight because more than 80 percent of the world’s heroin is produced in the Golden Triangle, near the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos, as well as in the Golden Crescent of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Interpol’s chief drugs officer adds: “Drugs have taken over as the chief means of financing terrorism.”