Watching the World
Better Than Human Intervention
Ten years after a storm felled 15 million trees in England in 1987, it was found that woodland areas undisturbed by human intervention had experienced the most prolific regrowth, reports The Daily Telegraph. Where trees had been blown down, more light reached the ground. This caused saplings and shrubs to grow to a height of 20 feet, and insects, birds, and plants have also proliferated. Many fallen oak and yew trees did not rot as expected, and their timber, now seasoned, has tripled in value. Says conservationist Peter Raine: “More damage was done by well-intentioned cleaning up [by humans] than by the storm itself. Many of the trees planted that autumn were planted hurriedly, badly, and they died.”
Work, Strain, and Heart Attacks
Mental strain at work is the second most important risk factor for heart and circulatory problems, with smoking the first, reports the Frankfurter Rundschau. Summarizing a survey carried out by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, in Berlin, Germany, the report says: “Those most at risk are employees whose latitude to make decisions is very limited and whose job offers little variety. Should they also be under pressure during their leisure time, for instance because they are building their own house or nursing a sick relative, then the risk of a heart attack increases to almost nine times.” One expert urges that employees be allowed greater latitude in decision making. “Just one discussion a month among all workers in a department could improve matters.”
‘World’s Most Efficient Transportation’
When you are traveling less than five miles in an urban setting, a bicycle may be faster than a car, reports The Island, of Colombo, Sri Lanka. The international environmental group Friends of the Earth call the bicycle “the most efficient form of transportation on Earth.” They point out that a bicycle can cover as many as 1,500 pollution-free miles on the food energy equivalent of just one gallon of gasoline, notes the report. It adds that bicycle use also provides health benefits.
A survey coordinated by Rome’s La Sapienza University reveals that many students face forms of bullying that include insults, abuse, petty theft, physical aggression, and threats. The offenses were especially noted in Rome, where over 50 percent of both boys and girls had suffered episodes of bullying within a three-month period. “During deeper conversations,” explained researcher Anna Costanza Baldry, “many girls recounted episodes of even serious molestation that they had not reported, both because of fear and . . . because they consider certain kinds of behavior to be normal,” said the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Bullying is not confined to children. The Irish Times reports that many adults experience bullying at their place of work, mostly by their superiors. “Verbal aggression, criticism of people’s work and the circulation of rumours about them are the favourite ploys of workplace bullies,” it said. “Humiliation and the setting of unrealistic work targets were also common.” Bullying is linked to psychological effects that include “anxiety, irritableness, depression, paranoia, stress, loss of confidence, loss of self-esteem and withdrawal,” says the Times. In extreme cases this kind of bullying can lead to “breakdown or even suicide.”
Cesarean or Normal Birth?
Brazilian doctors and mothers often prefer cesarean section to normal birth. The doctor finds that “he can handle more births, can earn more money in his office, and does not have to lose his weekend,” reports Veja magazine. Mothers “choose not to go through the normal birth procedure, in order to avoid pain (however, there is much more pain involved in recuperating from a cesarean birth), and they believe the procedure will be aesthetically beneficial to the body (which it is not).” In public hospitals, a third of all births are by cesarean, and in some private hospitals, the rate is as high as 80 percent. “Childbirth has become a commercial product,” says Dr. João Luiz Carvalho Pinto e Silva, head of obstetrics at the University of Campinas. “People often forget that contrary to normal birth, a cesarean is surgery. There is greater loss of blood, anesthesia time is longer, and the possibility of infection increases.” According to the doctor, “cesareans should be done only in three cases: when the life of the patient or of the baby is in danger, when there are no signs of labor, or when there are sudden complications,” says Veja.
Religious Devotion in Greece Wanes
The Athens newspaper Ta Nea recently published a poll on religion in Greece similar to one it had conducted in 1963. The results show a decline in religious devotion in that country. A generation ago, 66 percent said that they go to church at least two or three times a month, compared with less than 30 percent in the recent poll. More than two thirds of the 965 adults polled in the greater Athens area said that the church served society “a little” or “not at all,” reports Reuters news service. Writing in Ta Nea, respected Greek pollster Elias Nikolakopoulos spoke of “a gradual secularization of Greek society,” noting that there is now “wariness and resentment” toward the church in Greece.
Feed Your Junk Mail to the Tomatoes
What might a post office do with 500 tons a month of undeliverable junk mail, including catalogs and other advertisements? The Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, post office has begun sending much of it to be turned into compost. The compost is being used to grow tomatoes and marigolds, reports The New York Times, and the results have been promising. The bacteria that convert the shredded junk mail into compost are fed stale beer and soft drinks, waste products of beverage manufacturers. The beer and soda contain sugar, on which the bacteria thrive. Says Joel Simpson, vice president of the composting company conducting the experiment: “The same things that make us fat make those bacteria fat and happy.”
Help for Those With Skin Disorders
“Many people who suffer from skin disorders do not seek treatment because of embarrassment and can spend years ‘suffering in silence,’” reports The Irish Times. Highlighting their plight, Dr. Gillian Murphy says: “I have patients with psoriasis, whose skin literally falls off when they take their clothes off, and they feel so unclean and embarrassed they won’t stay in a hotel or go to the hairdressers.” Bill Cunliffe, professor of dermatology at Leeds University, adds: “Acne affects people physically and mentally. There is the notion that it is dirty and infectious. If two people [are] present for interview with the same capabilities, the one without acne will get the job.” Cunliffe says that he has had some patients so distraught over having acne that they’ve attempted suicide. Doctors at a recent Congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology in Dublin, Ireland, emphasized the need to seek early treatment. “It is a terrible problem for some people,” said one doctor, “but it is important to remember that there are very good treatments available.”
Parent Talk—More Than Soothing Sounds?
Parents who playfully babble to their babies may be giving them much more than tender affection, some scientists say. Patricia Kuhl, of the University of Washington, and her coworkers studied infant-directed speech of three different languages—Russian, Swedish, and English. It seems that parents’ highly exaggerated speech patterns not only get their baby’s attention but also serve as a basis for the baby to learn that language. “By 6 months of age,” says Science magazine, “babies learn to categorize vowel sounds, paying attention to distinctions that are meaningful in their native language, such as the difference between ‘ee’ and ‘ah,’ while ignoring meaningless variations.”