Watching the World
The Secret of Happiness?
Although Britons are healthier and wealthier than they were 25 years ago, they are generally less happy, according to a survey reported in The Daily Telegraph of London. One American sociologist, agreeing with these findings of the Social Trends Report from the Central Statistical Office, maintains that real happiness comes from having a “meaning in life” including “the pursuit of worthwhile goals.” After interviewing nearly 400 people, two New Zealand researchers came to a similar conclusion—that most attribute happiness to “a recognition of order and purpose in their existence.” Married people and those with strong religious convictions are more likely to experience contentment. In view of the decline of marriage and religious faith in Britain, the newspaper concludes that “as a nation, we shall continue to grow more unhappy.”
DNA and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Deciphering the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls began shortly after their discovery in the Judean desert in 1947. So far, about 15 scrolls have been translated. Remaining are some 10,000 thumbnail-size fragments from hundreds of other scrolls. Piecing the fragments together has proved frustrating. The edges are too decayed to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, and since each fragment contains only a few characters, they cannot be linked by meaning. Now, according to the International Herald Tribune, science is coming to the rescue. How? The writing was done on animal skins, so DNA-typing can identify the species, herd, and individual animal each fragment came from. This, scholars hope, will make it easier to classify and match the fragments.
Widespread Family Decay
“Around the world, in rich and poor countries alike, the structure of family life is undergoing profound changes,” states The New York Times, commenting on a recent report. “Upheaval in the family is no respecter of class or geography.” The report, based on a study of dozens of countries by the Population Council, points to trends like rising divorce rates and increasing numbers of unwed mothers. “The idea that the family is a stable and cohesive unit in which father serves as economic provider and mother serves as emotional care giver is a myth,” says Judith Bruce, one of the authors of the study. The dissolution of marriages, either by separation, abandonment, or divorce, is rapidly increasing, and unwed mothers have become common almost everywhere. For example, as many as a third of all births in Northern Europe are by unwed mothers. Researchers point to “the liberation of women,” involving their economic status and increasing role in the work force, as a prime factor for many of the changes in the family. A notable exception to the general trend is Japan, where unwed mothers and single-parent households are still relatively rare. However, three quarters of divorced fathers there do not pay child support.
Sins of the Fathers
Israel’s Religious Affairs Ministry has acknowledged that it keeps a secret blacklist on several thousand Jewish people who are prohibited from marrying other Jews because of being the offspring of forbidden relationships. Some prospective couples claim that they learn of this only as their wedding plans near completion. The Orthodox rabbinate has the final word. When Shoshana Hadad and Masoud Cohen tried to register their four-year-old son at the Interior Ministry, they found their 1982 marriage invalidated “because of a sin committed by the wife’s family some 2,500 years ago,” reports the Times Union of Albany, New York. It adds: “The ruling is based on a historic rumor. Rabbis believe a distant ancestor of Hadad . . . illegally married a divorcee in about 580 B.C.” Since then, no one in Hadad’s family has been allowed to marry anyone named Cohen. Cohens are considered descendants of the original temple priests and must abide by special restrictions. “If some great grandfather did something during the days of the First Temple, do we have to suffer for it to this very day?” asked Shoshana. The Religious Affairs Ministry says the couple could also face criminal charges for supposedly misleading the rabbi who married them.
Coming Up: First Asian Country Without Forests
The Philippines faces total deforestation, warns the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “Population pressures and unsustainable logging practices” are swallowing up more and more of the tree-covered land in the Philippines. Before the second world war, 60 to 70 percent of the country was covered with forests. Today, only 15 percent is. “By the year 2000,” reports Update, the UNDP newsletter, “the Philippines may become the first Asian country to lose all of its forested land and tree-cover.”
“Blessed Are Jehovah’s Witnesses”
As in many other countries, a blood scandal has erupted in Italy. It is claimed that thousands of liters of blood were distributed to transfusion centers without adequate screening or without proper safety precautions being taken, thereby exposing thousands of people to the risk of contracting illnesses such as AIDS and hepatitis. Commenting on the shocking situation that put profits above personal health, Luigi Pintor, editor of the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, began his article with these words: “Blessed are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who . . . refuse blood transfusions for religious reasons. As they read the newspapers these days, they will be the only ones who will not have to worry about what is going on . . . in the blood industries and clinics that sell and administer blood, plasma, and related derivatives to their fellowmen.”
Beautician for Elephants
Elephants in the south Indian state of Kerala carry heavy loads, often on their long tusks. But many of the elephants are also used in temple processions and at religious festivals. Prior to these occasions, a professional beautician gives them, not a face-lift, but a tusk-trim. The sole person in Kerala doing this exacting work, P. K. Sasidharan, acquired his skills from his grandfather. How does he decide how much to trim? The specifications—based on the elephant’s height, size, and body shape—are a well-guarded family secret. If the animal cooperates, the treatment takes about three hours, but a cantankerous elephant poses a danger and could require longer. Aside from cosmetic reasons, the tusks of working elephants require trimming every two years to keep their length convenient for carrying loads.
The Young Victims of War
At one time, the victims of wars were mostly soldiers. No longer. During the past ten years, wars have disabled and killed far more children than soldiers. About two million children have died in wars over the past decade, says The State of the World’s Children 1995, a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund. An additional 4 to 5 million children have been maimed, more than 5 million forced into refugee camps, and over 12 million left homeless. States the report: “These are statistics of shame. And they cast a long shadow over future generations and their struggle for stability and social cohesion.”
“Many people won’t even stop to pick up a penny these days,” said a spokesman for Britain’s Royal Mint. But Britain is not alone. In the United States, so many pennies are being lost or discarded each day that the banks are running short. Recently, the Key Bank of New York offered 55 cents to anyone who brought in 50 pennies. As a result, five million coins were collected in two weeks. In Massachusetts one large garbage treatment center collects $1,000 every day in small change—mostly pennies—by sifting through the ashes, reports The Sunday Times of London.
Hope for Heart-Attack Victims
“It was thought before that progression toward heart failure was inevitable following extensive heart injury, but reversing the damage is doable with exercise,” claims Dr. Peter Liu, director of cardiology research at the Toronto Hospital. Following a promising study on rats, the hospital’s Cardiac Function Clinic had heart patients “walk for gradually increasing distances each day,” reports The Globe and Mail. “Initial results show walking at least a kilometre daily can reverse the ‘downward path’ to heart failure in humans as well.” However, the pace should be relatively vigorous, and the walking done under supervision, said Dr. Liu.