Watching the World
Although tobacco consumption has significantly decreased in some countries, most nations show increases over the past two decades. China, for example, is still the world’s largest consumer and had a 297 percent increase. The United States and India maintained the number two and three consumer spots and showed increases of 27 percent and 50 percent respectively. Some other countries having large increases are Rwanda with 388 percent; Greece, 331 percent; North Korea, 325 percent; Tanzania, 227 percent; Hong Kong, 214 percent; Indonesia, 193 percent; Singapore, 186 percent; and Turkey, 185 percent. The figures, printed in Asiaweek, show the percentage of change between 1970 and 1993. Of the 138 nations listed, only 26 showed decreases in tobacco consumption.
Youths and Guns
Deaths by gunfire are increasing faster among American youths ages 10 to 19 than among any other group, says a report by the Children’s Defense Fund. Guns are now the second leading cause of death. Accidents, mostly vehicular, are the primary cause. Of American youths under 20, one died every 92 minutes from gunfire in 1993—an increase of 7 percent over the preceding year. By comparison, in all age groups, the increase was only 4.8 percent. The defense fund accused the government of doing too little to keep guns away from children and schools. U.S. Justice Department figures are said to concur. The number of juvenile murderers has tripled in the last decade, surpassing 26,000 in 1994. The number of those using guns as their murder weapons has quadrupled in the same period, although the number of those using other weapons remained about the same. The figures underscore the damage done by the availability of firearms.
“About 30,000 Americans [kill] themselves every year,” notes Scientific American, and “men are four times more likely than women to take their own lives.” The rate of suicide also increases with age, reflecting the stresses of poor health and diminished prospects. The suicide rate among those 75 years of age or older is four times greater than that of teenagers. What are the factors that determine whether a person will actually commit suicide? Prominently listed are lack of family and community support and less participation in religion. Compared with other countries, U.S. suicide rates lie in the middle range, with a rate of about 11 suicides for every 100,000 people.
Training in Violence
◼ “A year-long study of television programming, conducted by researchers at four universities, concludes that ‘psychologically harmful’ violence is pervasive on broadcast and cable TV programs,” says The Washington Post. The study found not only that the majority of programs contained some violence but also that the manner in which it was depicted could have harmful effects on viewers. Such “include learning to behave violently, becoming more desensitized to the harmful consequences of violence and becoming more fearful of being attacked.” One reason was that the perpetrators in 73 percent of the cases of violent acts on TV go unpunished, giving the message that “violence is successful.” Also, most portrayals do not show the consequences to victims, such as pain or emotional or financial harm. And, says the study, the frequent use of handguns in violent incidents on TV can “trigger aggressive thoughts and behaviors.”
◼ By the age of 30, people who watched a lot of TV violence when at a tender age “will have more convictions for violence, more arrests for drunken driving, be more aggressive under the influence of alcohol and be more abusive towards their spouse [and] also have more aggressive children,” claims Len Eron, a professor of psychology and a research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. Video games cause similar problems. As reported in The Toronto Star newspaper, Eron said that the danger associated with a video game is that it is interactive. Players “move a lever or push a button and they themselves are carrying out this awful, violent action—killing someone.” Professor Eron feels that more parental supervision is needed. However, he laments that “a lot of parents simply don’t care.”
France’s Clergy Shortage Accelerates
There is an increasing shortage of Catholic clergymen in France. The Paris newspaper Le Monde reports that in 1995, there were only 96 priests ordained in all of France and just 121 in 1994. The Jesuits had but 7 novices and the Dominicans 25 in 1995. The situation is similar for the recruitment of Catholic nuns. Le Monde says that “since the 1970’s, the number of nuns has continued to dwindle, from 92,326 in 1977 to just 51,164 last year.” In view of the advancing age of the majority of the clergy and the church’s failure to attract new recruits, predictions are that by the year 2005, there will be only about 9,000 parish priests in France. Le Monde cites “the clergy’s drop in social status, people’s fear of long-term commitments, the clergy’s unattractive image, and the loss of confidence in church leaders” as reasons for the decline.
The World’s Most Accurate Clock
A clock one thousand times more accurate than the atomic clocks used in England to determine an accepted international standard of time has been developed by scientists in Perth, Western Australia. Known as the sapphire clock, its cost is about $200,000, and several have already been built. It can measure one fleeting femtosecond, which is one millionth of a billionth of a second! Of what use is it? According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, time runs faster the higher one is above the earth. “Our goal is to measure the difference in speed over a height of about one metre—in other words between your feet and your head,” said physicist David Blair, who worked on developing the clock. However, its stability lasts for only five minutes at a time.
The Lowly Sandwich?
In 1762, Britain’s Lord Sandwich, an inveterate gambler, stayed for 24 hours at a gaming table. To satisfy his hunger, he called for two slices of bread with a piece of meat between them. This new food snack—the sandwich—was promptly named after him. The British now spend $7.9 million each day on sandwiches, a rise of 75 percent in the past five years. “Sandwiches account for more than a third of the total fast-food market,” reports The Times of London, and they are dispensed from 8,000 sandwich bars. Some 1.3 billion ready-made sandwiches are consumed in Britain each year. These sandwiches, however, are often far removed from the simple fare families pack when picnicking in the countryside or at the seashore. Some outlets offer exotic varieties, including sandwiches made of kangaroo or alligator meat or chocolate bread spread with strawberries and cream.
Asia’s Child-Sex Trade
Governments and social workers estimate that more than a million boys and girls, aged 17 and younger, are involved in prostitution in Asia, states The New York Times. While the exact figures are unknown, children who have not even entered puberty can be found in the brothels of such countries as Cambodia, China, India, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand. Why are children who are so young sought after? One reason is the fear of AIDS. “Men throughout Asia are turning toward younger and younger children, partly because they are deemed less likely to be infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS,” says the Times. Nonetheless, the AIDS virus is rapidly spreading among the prostitutes in these countries, partly because of the trafficking in prostitutes across borders and partly because the customers, some on sex tours, travel from place to place. While some children are abducted, others are sold by their parents for material gain.
Rivalry or Unity?
“The celebration of the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s birth is fast becoming a sensitive issue among churches,” reports ENI (Ecumenical News International) Bulletin. Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, has called on the churches to look upon the event “as an occasion for cooperation and unity—rather than competition for visibility.” He said, though, that the churches seemed more intent on using the year as “an occasion for evangelisation . . . to overcome their marginalisation in the public.” While commending the pope for his call to have the year 2000 “become the occasion for a strong affirmation of Christian unity,” Raiser added: “How much of these dreams can be fulfilled by the year 2000 remains to be seen—past experience nourishes scepticism.”