Watching the World
Living for the Millennium
“It’s pretty well established that people who are seriously ill will hang on to reach significant events,” says Richard Suzman of the National Institute on Aging, in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.A. “The mechanisms are something of a mystery but the phenomenon is very real.” Having apparently willed themselves to see the year 2000, more than the average number of people died during the first week of the new year, reports The Guardian of London. In Britain, 65 percent more people died that week, and in New York City, deaths rose by over 50 percent, compared with the first week in 1999. Robert Butler, president of the International Longevity Center, said that these figures were reflected around the world. He added: “The will to live can be pretty powerful.”
Navigation by Computer
Thanks to electronic technology, ships may no longer need masses of paper charts in order to navigate, notes The Daily Telegraph of London. In November 1999, the International Maritime Organization, through the German hydrographic office, for the first time gave permission for a solely computer-based ship navigation system. In place of paper charts, the computer offers two electronic versions—a scanned facsimile of the paper chart and a digitized version known as a vector chart. A key advantage of the electronic chart is that it shows the ship’s true location at all times. And, by overlaying a radar plot on the computer screen, navigators have an extra check on hazards in their way. One shipmaster, enthusiastic about this development, said: “It lightens our load . . . so we can concentrate more on pilotage, traffic movements, other ships and, when approaching a harbour, what our pilot is doing.”
“In the last few decades, a growing number of astronomers have promulgated the view that alien civilizations are likely to be scattered among the stars,” states The New York Times. “This extraterrestrial credo has fueled not only countless books, movies and television shows . . . but a long scientific hunt that uses huge dish antennas to scan the sky for faint radio signals from intelligent aliens.” That search will most likely fail, say two prominent scientists, Dr. Peter D. Ward and Dr. Donald C. Brownlee, authors of the book Rare Earth. New findings in astronomy, paleontology, and geology, they say, show “that Earth’s composition and stability are extraordinarily rare” and that conditions elsewhere are unsuitable for complex life-forms. “We have finally said out loud what so many have thought for so long—that complex life, at least, is rare,” said Dr. Ward. Adds Dr. Brownlee: “People say the Sun is a typical star. That’s not true. Almost all environments in the universe are terrible for life. It’s only Garden of Eden places like Earth where it can exist.”
Bible Translated Into More Languages
“The Bible continues to be the most translated book in the world,” notes the Mexican newspaper Excelsior. According to the German Bible Society, the Bible was translated into another 21 languages in 1999, making it now available at least in part in 2,233 languages. Of these, “the Old Testament and the New Testament have been translated in their entirety into 371 languages, 5 more than in 1998.” Where are all these languages found? “The greatest diversity of translations is found in Africa, with 627, followed by Asia, with 553, Australia/Pacific, with 396, Latin America/Caribbean, with 384, Europe, with 197, and the United States, with 73,” says the paper. Still, “the Bible has not been translated into even half the languages spoken on earth.” Why not? Because relatively few people speak those languages, and translating the Bible into them is a challenge. Also, many people are bilingual, and if the Bible is not printed in one of their languages, they can read it in another.
Italian fishermen have recently been hauling in catches that they would have preferred not to make—chemical weapons. According to Valerio Calzolaio, under secretary to the Italian Ministry of the Environment, “from 1946 until the ’70’s . . . , the regular practice for disposing of obsolete munitions was to dump them in the sea.” It is estimated that there are some 20,000 bombs lying on the bed of the Adriatic, off the east coast of Italy. By 1997, 5 Italian fishermen had died and 236 had required hospitalization as a result of the effects of lethal chemicals leaking from corroded munitions that they brought up in their nets. Adding to the problem, an undisclosed number of bombs were jettisoned into the same waters by warplanes during the recent Balkan conflict, and some of these have already been “caught” in fishing nets. The Italian waters are not the only ones affected. It is estimated that 100,000 tons of chemical weapons lie on the bed of the Baltic Sea, and similar dumping areas are known to exist in the coastal waters of Japan, the United States, and Great Britain.
“Don’t always believe what you read in the papers,” states The Economist. Journalists “are not infallibly accurate.” This is particularly true when statistics are involved, especially those regarding disasters. Why? “In the fog of war, or of peacetime catastrophe, it is, of course, impossible to know for certain how many people have died or been hurt,” the article says. To satisfy people’s curiosity, journalists give estimates, often high ones, and “seldom reduce their estimates as time goes by.” The reason? “Journalists want to promote their stories, editors their papers, aid workers their agencies. Even government officials may want to curry sympathy.” The magazine recommends that readers “beware—of spurious accuracy, of manifest inflation, and of journalists’ persistent tendency to exaggerate.” It adds: “Whatever the power of the press in general, when it comes to killing people, the pen is truly mightier than the sword.”
Use Caution With Pets
According to the French daily Le Monde, 52 percent of households in France have pets. However, a recent study by a group of veterinarians at the Institute of Comparative Animal Immunology, in Maisons-Alfort, France, shows that fungi and parasites carried by France’s 8.4 million cats and 7.9 million dogs are responsible for various diseases in pet owners. These include ringworm, roundworm, scabies, leishmaniasis, and toxoplasmosis. The latter can cause miscarriages or fetal malformations in pregnant women. The report also mentions the many allergic reactions caused by household pets and the infections that result from dog bites—about 100,000 a year in France.
“Stanford University scientists have discovered 37 new and unique organisms in one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth: the human mouth,” reports The Toronto Star. This increases the known types of oral bacteria to over 500, “a diversity so large that it may rival that of tropical rain forests, often seen as the pinnacle of biological richness.” Is the bacteria harmful? After discovering the new organisms in oral plaque, microbiologist Dr. David Relman stated: “Such diversity is quite reassuring because it provides for biological stability and protection.” The Star adds that most types of bacteria “are thought to provide comfort, protection and nourishment.” Only a few cause problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.
Wars on the Rise
“The number of wars continued to increase” in 1999, reports the German newspaper Siegener Zeitung. The Study Group for Research Into War Causes, at the University of Hamburg, counted 35 armed conflicts in 1999, 3 more than the year before. Of them, 14 were in Africa, 12 were in Asia, one was in Europe, and the others were in the Middle East and Latin America. An end to warfare is not in sight, said the study group. In fact, “eight wars appeared on this year’s list for the first time, among them the violent conflicts in Chechnya, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, and Nigeria.” One reason is that some causes for conflicts can simmer under the surface for a long period of time before they erupt into armed conflict or full-scale war.