Watching the World
In 1977 a misunderstanding involving the meaning of a small word played a part in the world’s worst aircraft disaster, reports the newspaper The European. The Dutch pilot of a 747 radioed that he was “at take-off,” which the Tenerife, Canary Islands, air-traffic controller understood to mean that the plane was stationary. However, the pilot meant that his plane was accelerating down the densely fogged runway and was about to take off. As a result, the plane crashed into another 747, killing 583 people. Likewise, poor language skills were a contributing factor in the 1996 mid-air collision near Delhi, India, in which 349 died. Although serious mistakes are rare and flight crews receive rigorous training in standard aviation English, some air crews know only specialist aviation words. When an emergency occurs, their language skills may desert them. Experts recommend incorporating cockpit computer technology to ensure correct aviation communication.
Leaning Tower of Pisa Stabilized?
After centuries of tilting toward what seemed inevitable collapse, the leaning Tower of Pisa has apparently finally been stabilized—thanks to a counterweight of a thousand tons of lead ingots placed at its base. This was announced by Professor Michele Jamialcowsky, president of the international commission to ensure the tower’s safety. “The problem of stability remains serious, however,” says the Italian newspaper La Stampa, “since the five meter [16 foot] inclination from vertical that has accumulated over seven hundred years of existence is at the extremely critical limit.”
Worldwide Illicit Drug Use
Illicit drugs account for as much as 8 percent of all international trade and produce revenues of some $400 billion a year, says a UN report. The 332-page report is the first comprehensive study of the worldwide impact of illegal drugs. It shows that nearly 2.5 percent of the world’s population—about 140 million people—smoke marijuana or its derivative hashish. Thirty million use amphetamine-type stimulants, 13 million use some form of cocaine, and 8 million use heroin. While law-enforcement agencies have seized thousands of tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and morphine, much more has evaded detection. Interception rates for cocaine are about 30 percent and only 10 to 15 percent for heroin, the report said. The international drug operations are very sophisticated. “The problem has assumed such a global nature that it cannot be dealt with by individual countries,” says Giorgio Giacomelli, director-general of the UN drug-control program.
Infectious Diseases Advancing
“Within the last 20 years, 30 completely new and highly contagious illnesses have emerged,” reports the Nassauische Neue Presse. For most of these diseases—such as Ebola, AIDS, and hepatitis C—there is no cure. Moreover, infectious diseases like malaria, cholera, and tuberculosis are also advancing. Why? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “many illnesses are appearing again because more and more viruses are becoming resistant to a wider range of antibiotics. Fewer new antibiotics are being produced since the procedure is very expensive.” In an effort to reverse this trend, WHO has appealed to governments and pharmaceutical companies to “invest more in the development of new antibiotics and improved methods of screening contagious diseases.” The global death toll from infectious diseases in 1996 was about 55 million people.
Under this heading, Haim Shapiro, a member of The Jerusalem Post editorial staff, tells of incidents last March in which Jehovah’s Witnesses were attacked with stones and bricks, their hall was broken into and wrecked, and their literature was burned. He commented: “When a Catholic Church in Jaffa was attacked last year, there was an instant—and justifiable—wave of protest both in Israel and abroad. When the hall in Lod was attacked, there was barely an echo.” Although he personally ‘dislikes and disapproves’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shapiro recalls that they “were one of the groups persecuted and sent to concentration camps in Nazi Germany.” He writes: “To imagine that anyone can with impunity, attack such people, wreck their place of worship, and burn their books causes nightmares, and evokes the most hideous historical parallels.”
The Waning Devotion of a “Holy City”
Although it is called a holy city and has the head of the Catholic Church as its bishop, Rome is not nearly as religious as some might think. According to a national survey conducted by the Third University of Rome, about 10 percent of all Italians state that they are “not at all” interested in Christianity, but in Rome this figure rises to 19 percent. An additional 21 percent of Romans have “little” interest in the Catholic Church, states the newspaper La Repubblica. On the other hand, only 10 percent of them are very interested in religion. According to sociologist Roberto Cipriani, only 1 out of every 4 Romans follows closely the dictates of the church regarding attitudes and behavior.
TB Plagues India
Despite extensive efforts to bring the tuberculosis (TB) bacterium under control, the World Health Organization (WHO) claims that 1 out of every 2 adults in India is infected with it. Among India’s more than 900 million people, over 2 million develop active TB each year and up to 500,000 die from it, reports the newspaper The Asian Age. According to WHO, the pool of infection and the resulting risk of becoming infected with the disease is exceedingly great. Not only do those contracting TB face the problem of having to cope with the sickness it causes; they also have to live with the stigma that is usually attached to the disease. This can lead to rejection by neighbors, employers, and coworkers. Young brides who are found to have TB are often sent back to their parents as unfit to bear children.
A Good Rat?
“The rap on most rats is bad,” states The Wall Street Journal. “They’re faithless shipmates, residents of trash heaps—even candidates for public office.” Enter Rattie, a laboratory rat belonging to biophysicist Judy Reavis. Rattie has helped to string thousands of feet of computer wire in schools so that computer networks can be installed. “Clenching string in her teeth, Rattie squeezes between beams and ducts in walls, under floors and along ceiling panels,” explains the Journal. “She’s drawn to an exit point by tapping sounds and a plate of tasty catfood. When she emerges, the string she pulls is used to draw computer wire along her twisty track.” Rattie has become something of a celebrity and has a column and song “from” her on the Internet. Should she meet an untimely end, “we’ll train another one,” says Dr. Reavis. “After all, it’s just a rat.”
Mutilated Girls, Teenage Births
“Approximately 2 million girls are mutilated every year,” states the 1996 edition of The Progress of Nations, a United Nations Children’s Fund publication on the health, nutrition, and education of children. “Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and the Sudan account for 75% of all cases. In Djibouti and Somalia, 98% of girls are mutilated.” Aside from the pain, the procedures can cause infection, prolonged bleeding, infertility, and death. “Mutilation is not required by any religion. It is a tradition designed to preserve virginity, ensure marriageability, and contain sexuality,” states the report. Groups and organizations concerned with women’s rights and child welfare are putting pressure on governments to outlaw the practice.
A second report shows that in many lands teenage births are a persistent problem. The United States, for example, has the highest rate of the industrialized world: 64 births per year for every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19. Japan has the lowest rate at four births a year. Not only do teenage births affect a young woman’s development, education, and opportunities but they may also bring problems to the infants, such as poor care, poverty, and an unstable environment.