Watching the World
Teach Religious History?
In a recent poll conducted by the newspaper Le Monde and the magazine Notre Histoire, only 57 percent of French people declared that they would be in favor of having a course on religious history in State-run schools. “Remarkably, the number of opponents is growing,” says Notre Histoire. “This shows either a suspicion toward proselytizing or a concept of a school from which religion should be totally left out.” The paradox is that a vast majority believe that such courses would promote tolerance among pupils. According to the poll, Islam, with four million adherents, is now the second main religion in France after Catholicism, while Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Orthodox Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses also form part of the country’s “diversified religious landscape.”
“Infectious diseases can be passed from one person to another by such simple actions as turning on a tap or picking up the telephone,” says The Guardian of London. Scientists at the University of Arizona, Tucson, U.S.A., reported that a person with a bad cold who blew his nose and turned on a tap could leave “more than 1,000 viruses on the handle.” Many of these could infect the next person who touched the tap, especially if that one then touched his mouth, nose, or eyes. Tests involving a bacterium and a bacterial virus showed that “telephone receivers passed on 39% of the bacteria and 66% of the viruses, while taps passed on 28% and 34%.” Touching the lower lip with an infected finger would transfer more than a third of these pathogens. Diseases caused by rotaviruses and diarrhea caused by salmonella could easily be passed on in this way by unwashed hands.
Locust Plague Remedy
“An army of 700,000 specially trained ducks and chickens has been mobilised to help fight China’s biggest locust plague in 25 years,” reports The Daily Telegraph of London. In the summer of 2000, locust swarms destroyed 4.1 million acres [1.6 million ha] of crops in the north and east of the country and 9.6 million acres [3.9 million ha] of grassland in far western Xinjiang. The ducks and chickens have been trained to pursue and eat the insects at the sound of a whistle. Zhao Xinchun, deputy head of the Locust and Rat Control Office in Xinjiang, where the birds are trained and used, explains: “Farmers knew that chickens were very fond of eating locusts, so we did some tests [and] found that ducks can eat more than chickens [up to 400 locusts each per day], are tougher than chickens in bad weather and do not get eaten by eagles or weasels. . . . We release them on the grassland, blow whistles, and they eat the locusts.” The birds are part of a program that includes crop-dusting planes and microorganisms that kill locusts.
Sleep Is Not a Luxury
“At least a quarter of South Africans are functioning on half throttle [at half their potential] due to sleep deprivation or disorders,” states the South African newspaper The Natal Witness. According to Dr. James Maas, a sleep researcher, sleep enables the brain to replenish vital neurotransmitters, so adequate sleep is essential for good memory, creativity, problem solving, and learning capabilities. The effects of insufficient sleep include depression, irritability, anxiety, decreased sense of humor and social skills, decreased ability to concentrate and remember, reduced communication and decision skills, increased risk taking, and reduced productivity and quality of life. People who sleep five hours or less also reduce their resistance to viruses. “For peak performance,” says Maas, “we must invest one-third of our life in sleep which averages out to eight hours per night.”
“In the deep, dark, chilly waters of Northern Europe, coral reefs have been discovered—reefs with all the intensity and diversity of marine life typical of their tropical counterparts,” reports Canada’s National Post. The corals support hundreds of species, including sponges, sea fans, and “copious species of marine worm, many of which scientists have never described.” Numerous small animals were found in sediment samples from the seabed, “about half of which were new to science,” says Alex Rogers of Southampton University Oceanography Centre in the United Kingdom. “We need to protect these reefs not so much for the coral itself—it exists in single colonies elsewhere—but for the habitat of the other creatures that live there.” He estimates that some 900 species live among the coral. It is also suspected that the corals are home to “the juvenile stages of some commercially important fish,” says the newspaper.
Britain’s Family Breakdown
Britain has the highest divorce rate in Europe and an even greater rate of breakdown among cohabiting couples. “The Cost of Family Breakdown,” a report on a study commissioned by the government, warns: “The principal cause of declining child well-being is family breakdown—specifically the break-up of the mother-father child-raising unit.” The direct results cost the British taxpayer an average of £11 [$15] per week, but indirect costs include the extra homes needed for split families and consequent damage to the environment. While not intending to moralize, the report states: “We believe that marriage has proven through the ages to provide the surest foundation for a stable society and raising children.”
Delinquent Elephant Adolescents
Young bull elephants are responsible for 36 recorded rhino deaths since 1991 in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park in South Africa, says an African Wildlife report entitled “Spare the Trunk, Spoil the Child.” The abnormally aggressive adolescents, it turns out, are relocated orphaned survivors of Kruger National Park’s elephant-culling policy that have reached musth, or sexual excitement, many years earlier than usual. Researchers believe that the absence of a normal elephant social structure is responsible for their errant behavior. That is why ten elephant patriarchs have been brought from Kruger National Park to bring discipline to the ill-tempered youngsters. Another game reserve, where this program was introduced in 1998, has thus far reported no more rhino deaths.
China’s Terra-cotta Army Under Attack
“One of China’s most famous tourist attractions, the 2,200-year-old terracotta army, is facing a new enemy,” reports The Guardian of London. Forty types of fungus have attacked over 1,400 of the more than 8,000 life-size soldiers, archers, and horses unearthed near the imperial grave of China’s emperor Qin Shihuang outside Xi’an, the country’s ancient capital. This spectacular collection, which was first discovered in 1974 and is now housed in an underground vault, is also endangered because “the breath and body heat of nearly 4,300 visitors a day is washing away the remains of the figures’ once-bright pigmentation,” says The Times of London. To prevent the mold from spreading to all the figures, Xi’an city authorities have called in a Belgian company that specializes in treating fungi.
Winter—Friend or Foe?
Cold and wet weather may not necessarily be harmful to your health, reports the German health newsletter Apotheken Umschau. On the contrary, regular walks in winter weather can give your heart and circulation a good workout and can strengthen the whole body, according to medical climatologist Dr. Angela Schuh. It may be that holing up in heated rooms can cause the body to lose its ability to react properly to temperature changes. This, it is thought, could increase susceptibility to infections, tiredness, and headaches. But a body hardened by regular exercise in “bad” weather may become less sensitive to cold and increase its stamina.