Watching the World
In celebration of the millennium, Pope John Paul II has proclaimed the year 2000 a Holy Year and has offered indulgences to those who make a pilgrimage to Rome, reports L’Osservatore Romano. An indulgence is a way for Catholics to be exempted from punishment for sin. The Vatican newspaper says: “Every good work performed under grace merits a reward.” However, the same journal notes that the practice also raises some interesting questions, such as, “If God’s pardoning grace is offered to all, what need is there for the Church to grant indulgences?” and, “If the Church can grant plenary [absolute] indulgences, why does she bother with partial indulgences?”
Osteoporosis is a silent disease that “threatens more than 28 million Americans and about 1.4 million Canadians,” reports the Toronto Star newspaper. It affects men and women, young and old, and “occurs when older bone cells break down faster than they can be replaced with new bone.” Those who have the disease may see no evidence of it until they suffer a bone fracture. Experts believe that excessive dieting by a growing number of teenagers and college athletes is “eroding the very bone they should be building for adulthood. Young dieters often skip foods needed to strengthen their skeletons.” According to the report, “about 90 per cent of peak bone mass is accumulated by age 18; adults hit their peak by age 30.” The report recommends that to maximize bone density, everyone should ‘get sufficient calcium and vitamin D, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking and heavy drinking.’
“Plane rage”—out-of-control behavior on the part of airline passengers—“has jumped 400 percent in the past five years,” says the magazine Business Traveler International. What accounts for the sharp increase? Stress is a major factor. Delayed or canceled flights, congestion, and fear of flying all create anxiety, which can, in turn, lead to eruptions of rage. “Airlines promote air travel as a fast and smooth operation, and it’s not like that,” says Stuart Howard, of the International Transport Workers’ Federation. One major airline representative believes that the advent of nonsmoking flights is another factor in plane rage. According to the report, “frustrated smokers accounted for more than half [the] incidents of disruptive passenger behavior” on one airline in 1997. Another factor is alcohol consumption, the effects of which may be magnified at high altitudes. What does the report recommend if a fellow passenger is noisy? “Don’t call the crew over. Instead, leave your seat and discreetly draw the problem to their attention.” It also suggests: “Insulate yourself from possible aggravations by bringing along light reading material or listening to soothing music” on a portable stereo.
Rising Burial Costs
Increasing numbers of people have been turning to cremation to reduce the cost of burial. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a traditional funeral in the United States was $4,600 in 1996. In contrast, “cremation costs between $500 and $2,000,” says the Chicago Sun-Times, “depending on the type of container chosen for the cremation itself and the urn that will hold the ashes.” Also, cremation does not require a cemetery plot and marker, which can add another 40 percent to the cost of a traditional burial. The paper said that in the United States in 1997, cremation was used in 23.6 percent of all deaths, and the figure is expected to reach 42 percent over the next ten years.
Fossil sites that have survived for millenniums are being threatened by theft, vandalism, and overzealous tourists, reports New Scientist. “Some geologists would like to move the most precious fossils to museums or ban visitors from the sites,” the magazine says. Others, though, point to the right of the public to see these fossils in their natural setting. In an effort to solve the problem, the International Palaeontological Association has started drawing up a list of endangered sites worldwide. But so far, only about 50 locations have been put on the list.
Many a dental patient would like to see the last of the traditional dentist’s drill. According to FDA Consumer, to some extent that may soon be the case. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of the erbium:YAG laser for dental surgery. Rather than remove tooth decay with a tiny drill, dentists can now use a laser to remove it, essentially vaporizing decayed tooth tissue, says the magazine. The laser has a number of benefits over conventional drills. For one, laser treatment is usually painless. Thus, many patients will no longer need anesthesia or anesthetic injections. Second, since the dentist does not have to wait for your mouth to become numb, treatment can begin right away. In addition, the annoying vibrations of the high-speed drill are eliminated. However, one important drawback is that the laser can’t be used on teeth that already have fillings in place.
Since the 1960’s, more than 200,000 metric tons of spent fuel have been discarded by the world’s nuclear-power industry, reports New Scientist magazine. And every year another 10,000 tons is added to the heap. Where does this deadly waste go? “Most is simply stored at the reactor sites,” the magazine says. However, these locations were designed to contain radioactive waste for only a few decades. So at some point, the nuclear waste will need to be transferred to long-term disposal sites. But the problem is that no country has successfully established a safe underground storage facility for its radioactive debris. As a result, “the nuclear industry is caught in a trap it set itself,” says New Scientist.
Gesturing for the Right Word
“New research shows that gestures often help speakers access words from their memory banks,” reports Newsweek. While descriptive gestures are often used to convey an object’s size or shape, other gestures, such as “chopping the air in rhythm with one’s sentences,” serve a different function. Robert Krauss, a professor of psychology at Columbia University, says that these types of gestures “help people retrieve elusive words from their memory” by unlocking what he calls “lexical memory.” Researchers compare such memory with the encoding that occurs when a certain smell, taste, or sound is connected to an event. For example, just as the whiff of a certain perfume may conjure up memories of your grandmother, gesturing may open a similar “door” to a word, according to neuroscientist Brian Butterworth.
Worldwide, 3,000 people die each day as a result of work-related accidents, reports the French daily Le Monde. According to the International Labour Bureau, there are some 250 million employees injured annually, resulting in over a million deaths. “The number of work-related deaths is higher than the average number of deaths per year from road accidents (990,000), armed conflicts (502,000), other violence (563,000), and AIDS (312,000),” states the newspaper.
Oral Cancer Epidemic
In Delhi, India, the incidence of oral cancer is four times that of Los Angeles, California, reports The Indian Express. Presently, 18.1 percent of all new cancers among Delhi’s male population are oral cancers—up from 10 percent in 1995. Chief causes of oral cancer are chewing tobacco, bidis (Indian cigarettes), and pan masala (a mixture of tobacco, crushed betel nut, and other ingredients), which is rolled in a leaf and chewed. The newspaper called the increased use of pan masala by unsuspecting schoolchildren alarming. One expert warned that the whole of India is heading toward “an oral cancer epidemic.”