Watching the World
“The Year the World Caught Fire”
Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature International’s forest program, claims that “1997 will be remembered as the year the world caught fire.” Serious fires burned in every continent except Antarctica. For example, valuable woodlands in Indonesia and Brazil, equal to the land area of Switzerland, were consumed. Causes range from deliberate land clearing for agricultural purposes to drought, which is thought to be the result of weather extremes caused by El Niño. The resulting high levels of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels add to air pollution and increase the danger of global warming, reports London’s newspaper The Independent. Mr. Jeanrenaud warns: “We are creating a vicious cycle of destruction, where increased fires are both a result of changes in weather and a contributory factor to these changes.”
More Calcium Needed
“Because of their bone growth, young people have an increased need of calcium,” warns the German newsletter Gesundheit in Wort und Bild (Health in Word and Picture). The recommended daily intake is 1,200 milligrams, but only 56 percent of the young women and 75 percent of the young men in Germany between 15 and 19 years of age reach that level. “Throughout Europe the calcium supply for young girls is inadequate,” says Mary Fraser, of the European Foundation for Osteoporosis. Though remaining unnoticed for a long time, such deficiency may lay the foundation for osteoporosis in later life. “Calcium-rich food items are cheese, milk, yogurt, sesame seeds, amaranth seeds, soybeans, green vegetables, nuts, and fish,” the article says.
The Dominating Dollar
“Few Americans may realize it, but more U.S. currency is in circulation outside the United States than inside,” says U.S.News & World Report. “Of the $450 billion in bills and coins now lining people’s wallets, cash registers, bank vaults, and mattresses, about two thirds—or $300 billion—is abroad.” And that amount has been growing by $15 billion to $20 billion a year. While cash in the United States circulates mainly in $20 bills, most of the cash abroad is in the form of $100 bills, indicating that the money is used, not for small daily purchases, but for savings and for commercial transactions. This is true especially in lands where there is much inflation and people do not trust the banks. About 60 percent of the new $100 bills that were printed last year were shipped directly overseas. From the U.S. standpoint, the large amount of money circulating abroad is comparable to giving the U.S. government an interest-free loan that does not have to be redeemed for goods or services, saving the government billions of dollars.
License to Loot
“Brazil’s Roman Catholic leaders have spoken out for the poor and starving, and defended those who have stolen food to survive,” reports the ENI Bulletin. Because of a severe drought in Brazil’s northeast, lootings of supermarkets and warehouses have been approved. According to the archbishop of Belo Horizonte, cardinal Serafim Fernandes de Araujo, “the church does not condemn anybody who takes food, wherever they find it, to avoid starvation.” And cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns is quoted as saying: “We are going to fight against this neo-liberalism which concentrates wealth in the hands of a few privileged people while the poor become ever poorer.” He added: “It is time for the people in the cities and the countryside to wake up.”
“The average [Canadian] spends $1,236 on gifts, entertainment and travel during the holiday season,” reports The Vancouver Sun newspaper, and “much of that spending will end up on a credit card.” There is tremendous emotional pressure to spend money during Christmastime, say financial counselors, and when pocket money is lacking, it is easy to keep spending by using credit cards. One adviser believes that job security seems to give consumers “confidence to take on even more debt instead of paying their way out.” By the end of 1997, Canadians held a record $20.42 billion in unpaid credit-card balances—double the 1991 figure. Experts estimate that it takes the average shopper six months to pay off holiday bills and that many will still be carrying some of the debt as they start another “spending binge” the following Christmas season.
“It is parents and teachers who should minimize the heroism encouraged by movies and TV in order not to trivialize death,” explains the Jornal do Brasil. A study in Rio de Janeiro shows that children under 13 years of age commit 10 percent of the crimes. “These are children who carry guns, attack, maim, or kill schoolmates, and are guilty of sexual abuse against those who are younger,” the article states. Says psychiatrist Alfredo Castro Neto: “A culture such as we have now, which encourages competition and shows in films that one can kill to get what one wants, can only increase the mental confusion of these children.” Recommending educational toys rather than guns, educator Josefa Pech says that it is essential to show the child that this “image of a hero who kills everybody is foolish and unreal and that weapons are not status or power symbols but, rather, objects that kill people.”
“Smoking kills more Americans each year than died in battle during World War II and the Vietnam War put together,” states the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter. “Every day more than 1,200 Americans die from smoking-related causes, the equivalent of three or four fully loaded jumbo jets crashing with no survivors.”
Lemming Myth Disproved
Do lemmings—small rodents living in cold northern regions—commit suicide by mass drowning? Many people still believe this. Scientists have long maintained a skeptical attitude, however, and now a British Broadcasting Corporation Wildlife on One team, filming for six months in the west Canadian Arctic, has disproved the myth. As long as their food supply lasts, lemmings flourish with overcrowding. How, then, did the story of their mass suicide arise? Norwegian lemmings had been seen falling accidentally into water when migrating down mountains to lusher pastures, reports The Guardian newspaper of London.
Germany’s hospitals are being plagued by thieves. “Three hundred thefts a year are reported by the university hospitals in Cologne,” reports the newspaper Emsdettener Tageblatt. “A bunch of flowers in the hand, a charming smile on the lips—and for the thief in a hospital, the booty is as good as certain.” Disguised as patients’ visitors, their domain extends from bedside tables to coatracks. Older patients in particular make work easy for the thieves. For instance, one elderly man was found keeping several thousand deutsche marks under the pillow of his hospital bed. Unrestricted visiting times allow the thieves great freedom, and more or less anyone can enter a hospital without being stopped. Therefore, patients are warned to lock away money and valuables in a hospital safe or elsewhere or to give them to someone for safekeeping.
When a burglar was convicted recently in London, it was his ear that gave him away. How? Although he was very careful never to leave a fingerprint at the scene of a crime, he had the habit of putting his ear to a window or a keyhole to check if anybody was at home before breaking in, thus leaving behind his ear prints. “Ear prints are as unique as fingerprints,” says Professor Peter Vanesis, forensic pathologist at Scotland’s Glasgow University. Unlike fingerprints, though, ears continue to grow throughout adult life, as do hair and nails, reports The Daily Telegraph of London. However, the police know that our ears, whatever their size, are unique, as were this burglar’s. He was the first to be convicted in Britain on the evidence of an ear print, and he admitted to five counts of burglary.