Watching the World
Literacy and Health
A higher level of literacy may contribute to a longer life expectancy, according to statistics cited by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). “People who have learned to read and write,” notes the magazine UNESCO Sources, “are more attentive to hygiene and health care; they tend to be less fatalistic and, in the event of illness, more likely to turn to a doctor.” Literacy, though, is only one of the factors that affect life expectancy. “Access to medical treatment, the family’s financial circumstances and the social environment” also play crucial roles.
Approximately 20,000 delegates from around the world met in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 6-12, 1995, to attend an assembly sponsored by the United Nations entitled: “World Summit for Social Development.” Their purpose in meeting? To discuss ways to bring an end to poverty, unemployment, and segregation in developing countries. It did not take long, however, to identify a major roadblock—a lack of funds. It seems that many of the poverty-stricken countries are so heavily indebted to the wealthy nations that they cannot even afford to make their interest payments. The hosting nation, Denmark, proposed that the wealthy nations follow their lead and cancel the poorest nations’ debts. There is one problem, though. Many of the poorer nations’ debts have resulted from arms procurement. Therefore, as one UN adviser explained, if the debt is canceled, they will only use the opportunity to buy more guns.
Researchers who study empathy in children have proposed that the capacity for understanding the feelings of others is learned. “It’s been shown that children who have been abused don’t respond empathically to distress in other children,” says Dr. Mark A. Barnett, a professor at Kansas State University in Manhattan, as quoted in The New York Times. “They may look at the distressed child and do nothing, or they go over and yell and push the child.” On the other hand, he adds that “a child whose own emotional needs are taken care of is more responsive to the emotions of others.” In addition to providing emotional security, however, parents need to show their children how to be empathetic. As Dr. Barnett says, empathetic parents generally rear empathetic children.
Women or Men—Who Work Longer?
Except in North America and Australia, women everywhere work longer hours on the job than men, reports Populi, the magazine of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). The greatest gap exists in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, where women in the labor force, on the average, work some 12 hours per week more than men. “In many developing countries,” notes the magazine, “women are now working 60-90 hours a week just to try to maintain their meagre living standards of a decade ago.” Meanwhile, in the industrialized world, men’s share in household work is increasing. “But,” explains Populi, this increase “is not due to a more equal division of routine cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Rather, men are taking longer to do such tasks as shopping.”
China’s Population Reaches 1.2 Billion
Earlier this year China’s population hit the 1.2 billion mark, reported China Today. The population might have reached this size nine years earlier without the national family planning program introduced in the 1970’s. Nevertheless, at the current rate of growth, China’s population will reach 1.3 billion early in the next century. Though among the world’s largest countries geographically, China’s per capita output of grain, meat, and eggs is lower than the output of countries that are more developed. In addition, total cultivated land is shrinking because of pollution and heavier land occupancy, said China Today.
Snails on the Attack
Before live South American golden snails were imported to Vietnam as a food item six years ago, scientists warned that the snails would cause great trouble if they ever escaped. Time, it seems, has proved the scientists right. Some snails did escape and quickly showed a penchant for eating rice. The government then banned the snails, but many small establishments continued to grow them anyway and sell them for food. The Associated Press reports that according to the official Vietnam News, merely eight of these tiny creatures can devour 11 square feet [1 sq m] of rice paddy in a day! The snails have reportedly destroyed 77,000 acres [31,000 ha] of rice already and have spread into the country’s most productive rice-growing region. A single female snail can lay some 40 million eggs in one year.
A Footnote to World War II
Over 50 years ago, at the height of World War II, a farmer in rural Colorado, U.S.A., might have thought himself relatively safe from enemy attack. How surprised one such farmer must have been when his tractor suddenly fell into a small cavern caused by a bomb blast! It turned out that the bomb had been launched on the other side of the Pacific Ocean—via balloon. In a curious footnote to a global war, the Japanese decided to retaliate for U.S. air raids in 1942 by launching more than 9,000 hydrogen balloons carrying small incendiary and antipersonnel bombs. The idea, according to Scripps Howard News Service, was to start forest fires and panic in the United States, some 6,200 miles [10,000 km] distant. The damage was relatively minor, although several people were killed. There were 285 balloon-related incidents reported, and at the government’s behest, the media kept the news of these quiet to avoid panic.
The demand for illicit drugs in Australia’s prisons has given rise to some innovative methods of drug smuggling. “People are filling tennis balls with illegal drugs and using racquets to hit them into Australian jails,” reports Reuters news service. Prison spokesman Keith Blyth says: “They pack the drug and then wrap it (in plastic film).” They then put it in a tennis ball and literally throw or hit it over the fence. In an attempt to stem the flow, the South Australian government has considered, among other things, using “drug-sniffing dogs” to patrol outside the state’s jails for “people with suspicious tennis balls,” explained Blyth. Another enterprising smuggler used a crossbow to propel drugs over a prison wall. The report said, however, that the “more traditional method of hiding drugs in cakes” and carrying them into prison is still popular.
Plants With a “Memory”
When attacked, many plants produce chemicals to ward off their attackers. New Scientist magazine reports that some also form a “memory” of the attack, allowing them to begin producing the repelling toxins more quickly if attacked again. A caterpillar chewing on a tobacco leaf triggers the manufacture of jasmonic acid, which travels to the roots. This initiates the production of nicotine, which returns to the leaves to make them undesirable to the eater. Plants with roots previously exposed to the acid reacted more quickly to attack. “This suggests that plants do indeed have a memory,” says Ian Baldwin of the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Declining membership in Canada’s Protestant churches has led to an “unprecedented surplus of Protestant clergy,” reports The Globe and Mail. Over the last ten years, the Anglican Church in Montreal, Quebec, has seen membership plunge from 67,000 to 27,000, while the number of priests has remained the same. The surplus of clergy has resulted in some having to take on part-time jobs or go on unemployment insurance to survive. In Toronto, Ontario, the Presbyterian Church is facing a similar crisis. Jean Armstrong, the associate secretary of ministry and church vocation, says: “We’re not sure how much longer congregations can afford full-time ministers.”