Watching the World
Fatal Diseases in Australia
“The number of Australians dying from AIDS-related illnesses has dropped for the first time since records were kept on the virus,” reports the Herald Sun of Melbourne. Based on recently released data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the findings show that 666 persons died in 1995 as a result of AIDS—a 13-percent drop. The overall national death rate fell by 4 percent, with cancer and heart disease still the front runners for cause of death. However, an increasing number of Australians are now dying of Alzheimer’s and other diseases related to dementia. According to the national secretary for Alzheimer’s Association Australia, “the predicted rapid rise in the number of dementia sufferers would put an enormous strain on existing facilities aimed at helping people with the disease and those who care for them.”
Opinions About the Future
With the approach of the 21st century, there is a surge of opinions about the future. In a poll conducted by Newsweek in the United States, people were asked about their expectations for the next century. About 64 percent of those surveyed predict that astronauts will walk on the planet Mars. About 55 percent expect humans eventually to inhabit other places in the universe. Seventy percent think that scientists will find a cure for AIDS, and 72 percent predict that a cure for cancer will be developed. On a more pessimistic note, 73 percent of those interviewed foresee a wider gap between the rich and the poor, and 48 percent anticipate more wars than in the past 100 years. About 70 percent think that man will not be able to eliminate world hunger.
A Horrendous Trauma
According to the FDA Consumer, the incidence and severity of burn injuries in the United States has declined significantly during the last 20 years. The survival rate of burn victims has also improved. A Food and Drug Administration official, Charles Durfor, noted that “thirty to forty years ago, many burn patients didn’t live. Advances in treatment have created a whole new patient population that not only lives, but has an improving quality of life.” Every year, more than 50,000 Americans suffer burns that require hospitalization. According to the American Burn Association, about 5,500 victims die. “A serious burn is one of the most horrendous traumas the body can suffer,” says the FDA Consumer.
Insurance companies in Argentina are losing about $200 million every year because of fraudulent practices on the part of their clients. As a result, automobile insurance costs up to 30 percent more than in most other countries. According to the newspaper Ambito Financiero, “almost half the frauds committed are the work of what could be called ‘honest citizens.’” About 40 percent of policyholders are said to have abused their insurance company in one way or another. The newspaper concludes that such fraudulent activity represents a form of vengeance by unsatisfied consumers who feel that they have been defrauded by their insurance companies.
A Dying Sea
The Dead Sea is shrinking. “Already the lowest body of water on Earth (1,344 [410 m] feet below the mean level of the world’s oceans), the surface of the Dead Sea is steadily dropping,” says U.S.News & World Report. Why? Apart from the effects of evaporation, several irrigation systems and dams divert water from the Jordan River, the Dead Sea’s principal source of water. Also, “chemical factories that pump the Dead Sea’s waters into evaporation ponds to extract minerals have accelerated the shrinkage.” Since the mid-1950’s, the surface of the Dead Sea has dropped about 60 feet [20 m]. One corrective measure that is currently under debate is the construction of a 120-mile [190 km] canal that would bring water from the Red Sea. The water would have to be pumped up 410 vertical feet [120 m] and then dropped down 1,750 vertical feet [530 m] into the Dead Sea.
In Germany fewer marriage mates are living up to their wedding vows. The result, reports the Nassauische Neue Presse, is a climbing divorce rate and an increasing number of children who suffer. In 1995 almost 170,000 marriages broke up, affecting some 142,300 children. This represents a 5-percent increase in children affected over the previous year. The newspaper noted that of the marriages solemnized during 1950, 1 in 10 failed within 25 years. Of the couples who married in 1957, about 1 in 8 split up within 25 years. The rate for marriages in 1965 that ended within a 25-year period is 1 in 5. Among those who married since 1970, 1 out of every 3 couples ended up divorced.
According to one study, “a diet low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables has been found for the first time to lower blood pressure quickly and as effectively as drugs,” reports The New York Times. Dr. Denise Simon-Morton, leader of the Prevention Scientific Research Group at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, says that the study suggests that “one diet may do it all”—help prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, and many cancers. The study tested the effects of dietary changes in hundreds of adults at six medical centers around the country. Participants were separated into three groups. One group was given a diet similar to the “average” American diet. The second was given a diet high in fruits and vegetables, but all other items remained the same. The third got a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products that was also low in total fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat. The second and third groups both had blood-pressure reductions that were medically significant, but the third group’s diet showed the best results. For participants with hypertension, the results were as good as or better than those achieved using medication. The two diets included nine to ten standard servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Humans Make Comeback in Japan
“A broad shift is underway in Japanese industry,” notes the newsmagazine Far Eastern Economic Review. “For two decades, Japanese factories have pursued efficiency by replacing man with machine. Now man is making a comeback. A few giant manufacturers are actually yanking robots off assembly lines and replacing them with humans.” Why? Because humans have something the robots do not—flexibility. When it comes time to make a model change, humans can switch over quickly, while it may take months to reprogram the robots. “Before, we ended up using people as robots,” says Tomiaki Mizukami, a factory president of NEC. “But now we must use their intelligence. Using robots was good, but now we’re discovering that using people is actually faster.” For example, it was found that workers at NEC can assemble phones 45 percent more efficiently than the robots can. People also take up less space than the machines, and simpler machinery translates into fewer mechanics and lower maintenance costs. “After two or three years of experimenting with less automation, manufacturers are claiming sizable cost savings and productivity gains,” says the magazine.
“New” Pyramids to View
For years tourists have flocked to see the Great Pyramid at Giza, built by King Khufu—also known as Cheops. But few have seen the monuments left behind by his father, Snefru. That’s because the latter were off-limits, concealed on an army base in Dahshûr. But that has changed. Egypt’s supreme Council of Antiquities has now opened up the area to the public. Of the 11 pyramids there, 3 were built by Snefru—he built 5 altogether—and include the Red Pyramid, the first one built with smooth sides. Previously built pyramids were step-sided. Perhaps more intriguing is the Bent Pyramid, so-called because its steep lower incline changes suddenly on the upper half. The steep incline has apparently discouraged stone robbers, which may be why this pyramid has the best-preserved outer casing of any of Egypt’s pyramids. While previous kings were fully deified only at death, Snefru “declared himself to be the living sun god Re,” notes Time magazine. “Snefru ended up in the Red Pyramid, entombed in a magnificent three-room burial chamber that is considered the finest of the Old Kingdom.”