Watching the World
Children have become commonplace among guerrilla armies around the globe. According to the International Herald Tribune, children quickly learn how to kill, and their sense of right and wrong is not as strong as their desire to be accepted by whatever military group has become their family. “In Rwanda and other places, the perpetrators of some of the worst atrocities were children,” said a United Nations spokesman. “They want to belong and be praised, and their only peer approval may come from being even more brave or barbarous than the adults.” In one African conflict, boys as young as eight were trained and forced to commit atrocities, such as shooting their own parents and slitting their throats. Kidnapped girls were made to cook, clean, and provide sexual amusement for the men. “Estimates of how many children are currently at war range from 50,000 to as high as 200,000 in 24 conflicts,” says Newsweek magazine.
Many botanists consider the cycad Encephalartos woodii to be the world’s rarest plant. So when South Africa decided to send a specimen of this palmlike tropical plant to London’s Chelsea Flower Show last year, they took the precaution of burying in its stem an antitheft microchip coated in antibacterial cream. All cycads transported in South Africa are now protected in this way, reports New Scientist. To combat thieves South African conservationists are now protecting wild cycads similarly, with the aid of a satellite tracking system.
Missing Manhole Covers
Over 200 residents of Beijing fell down open manholes in 1994, reported the Economic Daily newspaper. The reason? Thieves had stolen over 2,000 manhole covers from the streets of China’s capital during the year. Most were said to have been stolen by migrants, called China’s floating population. Theft of the covers has been on the rise during the last decade along with the growth of the city’s migrant population. The 132-pound [60 kg] covers can be sold for over 100 yuan ($12, U.S.). The injured residents included both pedestrians and cyclists.
New Bible Translations
“An explosion of new editions of the Bible in updated English is hitting bookstores,” notes U.S.News & World Report. Bibles have been produced for children, athletes, the elderly, stay-at-home mothers, fathers, and other groups. One, the Black Bible Chronicles, “uses slang and drama to liven up biblical narratives for African-American teenagers.” Another, The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version, attempts a gender-neutral language. God is called the “Father-Mother,” and the Son of man becomes “the human one.” To avoid offending left-handed individuals, the translators call the right hand of God his “mighty hand,” and because of racial overtones, darkness is no longer equated with evil. And a third, the New International Reader’s Version New Testament, is described by its publisher as the “first-ever Bible written at a 2.9-grade reading level, the lowest on the market.” The article concludes: “In all, there now are over 450 versions of the Bible in English alone. With all the new editions hitting the shelves, odds are the Bible won’t soon relinquish its perennial spot on the all-time bestseller list.”
China, with over 1.2 billion people, is facing a shrinking pool of surnames. According to researchers, only 3,100 surnames are now being used there, compared to some 12,000 in the past. About 350 million people—similar to the combined populations of the United States and Japan—share the five most common surnames: Li, Wang, Zhang, Liu, and Chen. Additionally, the same first names are also commonly used. In Tianjin, for example, over 2,300 people share the name Zhang Li and write it using the same characters, while many more use the same pronunciation but write it with different characters. As a result of the confusion, a number of wrongful arrests have been made, bank accounts have been emptied in error, and operations have been performed on the wrong individuals at hospitals. The Republic of Korea shares a similar problem. A 1987 survey showed that 1 out of every 5 persons there is surnamed Kim. Marriages between persons with the same surname were forbidden in order to protect against inbreeding. This resulted in thousands of couples living together but not registering their marriages, thus becoming ineligible for insurance and other benefits. However, the country’s highest court has now ruled that such same-name marriages will be considered legal if the couples first get married abroad.
Rwanda’s Women Accused
Women, as well as men, must bear responsibility for the slaughter of at least 500,000 people in Rwanda in 1994, claims the London-based organization Africa Rights. “Thousands of women were killed by other women,” their report says. “The extent to which women took an active role in the killings is unprecedented. This is not accidental. The architects of the holocaust sought to involve as much of the population as possible—men, women and even children as young as eight. They set out to create a nation of extremists bound together by the blood of genocide.” Many of the women involved were in positions of trust—cabinet ministers, regional administrators, nuns, teachers, and nurses. Some actively participated in the slaughter, using machetes and guns, while others acted in support roles by cheering the male killers on, by allowing them access to homes and hospitals, and by looting the houses and stripping the dead.
Natural Cleanup Agents
Some flowering plants demonstrate an amazing ability to cleanse and regenerate oil-contaminated desert soil, reports The Times of London. Scientists have discovered that where the oil is less than 10 percent of the sand by weight, these plants can flourish and their roots remain completely clean. The reason? Millions of bacteria living around the plants’ roots ingest oil and degrade it into inoffensive products. These plants come from one of the largest plant families, the Compositae, which includes daisies, asters, and many weeds. Scientists recommend that these be planted to speed up desert cleansing in Kuwait. Four years after the war with Iraq, about 20 square miles [50 sq km] of desert still remains polluted.
Using Their Heads
“African women walk for miles with heavy jugs of water or pots of food as if they weren’t carrying anything,” says Discover magazine. “Researchers have found that the women can carry enormous loads without using any extra energy.” Some Kenyan women can carry up to 20 percent of their weight without extra effort. How do they do it? By carrying “their burdens much more efficiently than people carrying heavy backpacks or people who have not been trained to use their heads,” answers New Scientist. “The researchers believe the secret lies in the women’s pendulum-like motion.” When we walk, we are like a pendulum that is swinging, carrying some of the energy over into the next step. For Europeans, the efficiency of this energy transfer decreases as the load gets heavier. But with the African women who carry loads on their heads, the efficiency actually increases, so that their muscles do not have to do any extra work. However, the technique takes years to perfect.
The “Jerusalem Syndrome”
It is “an affliction of tourists who, overwhelmed by the city’s intense spiritual evocations, have become convinced that they are the Saviour, or some other biblical figure, or that they have been given a special message or mandate by God,” says Time magazine. “Most have a history of mental problems.” A bearded Italian, found wandering in the hills near Bethlehem dressed in a sack, claims to be Jesus. A naked, sword-wielding man, running through the Old City, says he has a mission to heal the blind. A burly Canadian says he is Samson and “proves” it by ripping off the metal grille from the window of his hospital ward and escaping. Those afflicted with the syndrome are usually taken to Jerusalem’s Kfar Shaul Psychiatric Hospital—not to be cured but to be calmed down so that they can return home for treatment. The hospital sees about 50 such patients a year, mainly from Western Europe and the United States.