Watching the World
“Tower of Babel”
The European Union (EU) has 11 official languages, and 10 more may be added later, reports the Paris newspaper International Herald Tribune. At present, the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, employs more than four times as many translators and interpreters as the United Nations headquarters, which has only five official languages. While efforts are being made to unite Europe and simplify EU operations, the opposite is happening with respect to language. Every member country defends its own tongue. “A Tower of Babel looms,” comments the newspaper. The commission also faces the problem of “Eurospeak”—an in-house language replete with jargon and abstractions. According to one translator, getting politicians to express themselves clearly is a challenge when “often the aim is precisely not to be clear.”
Pets—Good for Your Health?
“Puppy love may help keep a person out of the doctor’s office,” says The Toronto Star. Over the past decade, various studies have shown that “companion animals are associated with lower stress, fewer doctors’ visits and even better survival rates after heart attacks. An animal may help stroke victims build strength and psychiatric patients quell anxiety.” Dr. Alan Beck, of Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine in Indiana, U.S.A., believes that “animals relax people. They’re a focus of attention, a focus of touching.” Such effects can occur even if the animal is not a family pet, and this has led to the rise of “animal-assisted therapy.” Some mental-health workers have thus encouraged patients with psychiatric disorders to spend time with a pet, with positive results.
Dwindling Water Resources
“We now have less than half the amount of water available per capita than we did 50 years ago,” states The UNESCO Courier. And global reserves are expected to continue falling. This sharp decline reflects the soaring demand for fresh water resulting from increasing population, agricultural needs, and industrialization. Scientists who map the globe according to water scarcity have designated some areas as “catastrophic.” According to the Courier, this means that reserves are “unlikely to sustain a population in the event of a crisis like drought.” It adds: “Just 50 years ago, not a country in the world faced catastrophic water supply levels. Today, about 35 per cent of the population lives under these conditions.”
Playing the Beggar
Though many beggars are truly destitute, a report in The Week, a magazine published in India, shows that some are not what they appear to be. In the Indian state of Maharashtra, a beggar on crutches approached a car stopped at a stoplight. The driver of the car ignored the beggar and continued talking to his girlfriend. The beggar therefore increased the volume of his plea. At that the driver rolled down the window and pushed him away, spilling the coins in his begging bowl. The “crippled” beggar suddenly became well and began smashing the car’s windshield with his crutches. “A group of ‘blind,’ ‘lame’ and ‘crippled’ friends who were busy by the sides of other vehicles all came to his help,” flinging stones, sticks, and crutches and finally dragging the young man from his car, said The Week. The opportune arrival of a police vehicle saw the beggars beat a hasty retreat.
Global Child Abuse
The World Health Organization (WHO), in Geneva, Switzerland, estimates that 40 million children worldwide suffer from abuse. As reported in The New York Times, studies in 19 countries on children up to 14 years of age indicated that 29 percent of the boys and 34 percent of the girls studied were victims of sexual abuse. In the United States alone, said WHO, about two million children are injured by abuse each year.
Drudgery Is Unhealthy
A study of 50,000 employees in Germany revealed that those whose jobs demand too little of them face a greater risk to their health than those who are busy. “Employees whose work is marked by frequent repetition and by a lack of independence are certified as being ill more than twice as often as persons who have a demanding job,” observes the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper. No other work-related stress factor has such an impact on the frequency and duration of absences from work as a job demanding too little. According to the report, those whose work is not enough of a challenge often suffer from “high blood pressure, stomach and intestinal complaints, and disorders of the back and joints.”
Bird Brains and Sleep
A Toronto Star report notes that scientists have long understood that birds can take regular peeks with one eye during periods of sleep, which serves to protect them from predators. New findings show that the birds can decide whether to let the whole brain sleep or to keep half the brain awake to direct the peeping eye. Research conducted using mallard ducks sleeping in a row found that those at the end of the row spent a third of their sleep time with half their brain awake. Those in the center of the row were half awake only 12 percent of the time. It appears that “when the situation is risky, then birds will sleep more often with only half their brain,” says Professor Niels Rattenborg of Indiana State University.
Absolutely No Benefits
“Smoking does not keep people thin,” reports the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter. “Many young women, in particular, start smoking in the belief that it will help them stay thin.” But a study of 4,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 30 showed that “over the course of seven years, weight gain was common (averaging more than a pound a year), whether the subjects smoked or not.” The article concludes: “Weight control is not a benefit of smoking. There are no benefits.”
Bicycles for Hamsters
A Hong Kong pet supply company has invented a “pet’s bicycle,” reports New Scientist magazine. The toy’s front wheel is made like a hamster’s treadwheel, and when the pet runs inside the wheel, the bike moves along the ground. However, if the owner fears that his pet might run itself into trouble, he can flick a lever on the bike that lifts the front wheel off the ground. Thus, the pet can exercise safely in a stationary position.
Minimizing Traveler’s Back Pain
For chronic back pain sufferers, travel can be difficult. However, The Toronto Star offered the following helpful tips. For walking, “wear sensible shoes. High heels throw your body out of alignment, putting extra pressure on your spine. . . . If travelling by car, stop at regular intervals to stretch and walk around. . . . Get a travel back support” for your seat. Also, shift your position while seated. The Star notes that the pain of carrying luggage can be eased because “it’s now quite easy to find suitcases in all shapes and sizes that can be rolled along instead of lugged along. Be sure that yours has a handle long enough for you to carry it in comfort; it’s no great favour to your back if you avoid carrying only to have to walk bent over.”
So-called catharsis, “venting anger on inanimate objects—punching a pillow or hitting a punching bag, for example—increases rather than decreases aggressive behaviour,” reports Canada’s National Post. Dr. Brad J. Bushman, associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, noted: “Catharsis has enjoyed a run of support in the popular media that far outstrips its support in the research literature.” Researchers also found, notes the Post, that “books and articles that recommend ‘catharsis’ as a good method of dealing with anger actually may foster aggression by giving people permission to relax their self-control.”