Watching the World
Poverty and the Environment
Despite economic growth, more than 1.3 billion people worldwide still survive on less than two dollars a day. Poverty, says a UN report, is not only persisting but worsening. More than a billion people earn less today than 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. This, in turn, contributes to environmental destruction, as “poverty demands an immediate exploitation of natural resources that defies any long-term conservation effort,” says UNESCO Sources magazine. “At present rates, forests in the Caribbean will have completely disappeared in less than 50 years . . . On a national level the situation is even worse: The Philippines have 30 years of forests remaining, Afghanistan 16 years, and Lebanon 15 years.”
The Danger of Despair
“Scientists . . . say that despair can do as much damage to the heart as smoking 20 cigarettes a day,” reports The Times of London. “A four-year study of nearly 1,000 middle-aged Finnish men found that despair led to a greatly increased risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.” The study showed that one’s state of mind can have a substantial effect on health. “We are consistently finding that psychological and emotional states play a role in health,” said Dr. Susan Everson, who led the research. “Physicians need to realise that hopelessness has a negative impact and adds to the burden of the disease. People need to recognise that when they are feeling hopeless and have this sense of despair they should try to seek help.”
Years in Traffic
Inhabitants of the principal cities of Italy spend a lot of time traveling from their home to work or to school and back again. How much time? According to Legambiente, an Italian environmental association, citizens in Naples spend 140 minutes in transit each day. Assuming that an average life span is 74 years, a Neapolitan will thus lose 7.2 years of his life stuck in traffic. A Roman, who spends 135 minutes traveling each day, will lose 6.9 years. The situation is almost as bad in other cities. People in Bologna will lose 5.9 years, and those in Milan 5.3 years, reports the newspaper La Repubblica.
Middle Eastern Time
Time changes can get complicated in the Middle East. A case in point is Iran, which for years has “set its clocks three and a half hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time rather than on the hour, the way most countries do,” says The New York Times. “In order to listen, say, to a 5 A.M. bulletin from the BBC World Service, you must tune in at 8:30 and do your best to ignore those Big Ben chimes that try to make your watch a liar.” And while the regional custom is to go off daylight saving time on the last weekend in September, this past year Israel made the change on September 13. Determining the weekend is also difficult. Most countries in the Persian Gulf region take Thursday and Friday off. However, in Egypt and most of its neighboring countries, Friday and Saturday make up the weekend, while in Lebanon it is Saturday and Sunday. “A traveler who plans to arrive in Abu Dhabi, say, on Wednesday at noon, then fly on to Beirut on Friday evening will guarantee himself a four-day weekend. The workaholic need only plot the rough reverse,” notes the Times.
Fears for French
Representatives from the French-speaking world recently attended a three-day conference held in Hanoi, Vietnam, to celebrate “the universality of French,” reported the Paris daily Le Figaro. French is regularly spoken by over 100 million people. In its heyday in the 17th century, French was the language of international diplomacy. “In a divided Europe, wars and skirmishes ended with peace treaties written in French,” says the newspaper. Now, though, the French language is “searching for its place in the world.” The decline in the use of French can be attributed to the rise of English, particularly as the language of commerce. In an attempt to reduce this gap, the French president encouraged the promotion of the French language on the information superhighway. However, one politician, in expressing his fears for the future of French, said: “The use of the French language throughout the world does not inflame public opinion, the media, or politicians. This disinterest is probably even more marked in France than in other countries.”
Seeking to End Bribery
In China it is huilu; in Kenya, kitu kidogo. Mexico uses the term una mordida; Russia, vzyatka; and the Middle East, baksheesh. In many nations, bribery is a way of life, and sometimes it is the only way to do business, to procure certain items, or even to get justice. Recently, however, 34 nations have signed a treaty aimed at eliminating bribery in international business dealings. They include the 29 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, along with Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, and Slovakia. Also taking steps against official corruption are the world’s top financial organizations—the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These steps were taken after a World Bank survey showed that 40 percent of businesses in 69 countries were paying bribes. The two organizations now allow for cutting off funds to countries that ignore corruption.
Mopane caterpillars have long been part of the diet of poor people in rural South Africa, where they are depended on as a source of protein. Offspring of the emperor moth, they get their name from the mopane tree on which they feed. In April and December, women gather the caterpillars and, after gutting them, boil them and then dry them in the sun. Their protein, fat, vitamin, and caloric values compare favorably with those of meat and fish. Now, however, the mopane caterpillar is becoming a popular food fad in South African restaurants. This fad has also spread to Europe and the United States, and this has alarmed the rural people of Africa. Why? “As demand grows there is concern about whether the species will survive,” states The Times of London. Already, “mopane have disappeared from large areas of neighbouring Botswana and Zimbabwe.”
Smoking Damage Irreversible?
Damage to arteries from smoking may be permanent, says a recent study. In The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers reported that both cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can irreversibly damage arteries. The study followed 10,914 men and women between 45 and 65 years of age. The group included smokers, former smokers, nonsmokers regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, and nonsmokers not regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. Researchers using ultrasound measured the thickness of the carotid artery in the neck. These measurements were repeated three years later.
As expected, regular smokers had a significant increase in the hardening of their arteries—50 percent in the case of subjects who, on average, had smoked a pack of cigarettes daily for 33 years. The arteries of former smokers also narrowed, at a rate 25 percent faster than those of nonsmokers—some even 20 years after they quit. Nonsmokers who were exposed to secondhand smoke showed 20 percent more arterial thickening than those who were not exposed. According to the study, an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 deaths each year in the United States alone can be attributed to exposure to secondhand smoke.
After seven years of restoration work, the Sphinx in Egypt is finally free of the scaffolding that surrounded it. “One hundred thousand stones were used between 1990 and 1997 to restore the Sphinx,” said Ahmad al-Haggar, director of antiquities for the area. However, he added that the meticulous restoration work did not include the damaged face of “the half-lion half-man limestone colossus.”