Watching the World
Life Sentence—In the Hive
“African honeybees have devised a bizarre but highly effective tactic for dealing with unwanted guests,” says the magazine New Scientist. “They lock them up in prison cells inside their hives. This penal policy keeps a lid on the parasites and, if necessary, buys the colony time to escape.” Researchers “studied how bees in South Africa defend themselves against the small hive beetle Aethina tumida, which is about half the size of a bee.” Peter Neumann, one of the researchers, describes the beetle as “built like a tank.” Hence, the bees’ only defense is beetle incarceration. “While some bees build the prison, others continuously guard the beetles to prevent escape,” Neumann explains. The raw material is tree resin, which the bees collect, and construction takes up to four days. Bees of European stock, including North American bees, do not have this behavioral strategy. So when the beetle, which was introduced accidentally into the United States about five years ago, invades one of their hives, the hive is “basically doomed.”
Animals Monitor Pollution
Earthworms are ideal organisms for measuring air and ground pollution, claims zoologist Steve Hopkin. Abundant and cheap, these humble animals do a better job than sophisticated artificial devices. The common mussel is used to measure water quality. The musselmonitor—a device that is the size of a bucket and contains eight live mussels—has already proved effective in measuring pollution in the Rhine and Danube rivers. “If there is a sudden increase in the concentration of a pollutant, the mussels detect it,” said the designer of the device, Kees Kramer. The mussels react to thousands of different chemical contaminants by closing their shell, which triggers an alarm in the musselmonitor. The principal advantage of these monitors is that they measure the effect of contamination on living organisms, reports Spain’s El País.
“More than 300,000 children—some as young as 7—are fighting as soldiers in 41 countries around the world,” said an Associated Press dispatch. Most are between the ages of 15 and 18. “Besides being used as front-line fighters, children are used to detect land mines and also as spies, porters and sex slaves, according to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.” Drugs are often administered to make children fearless. Those who refuse drugs are killed, said a 14-year-old rebel soldier in Sierra Leone. Regarding his fighting in 1999 when he was 15, a North African youth reported: “They put all the 15- and 16-year-olds in the front line while the army retreated. I was with 40 other kids. I was fighting for 24 hours. When I saw that only three of my friends were alive, I ran back.” The Coalition’s report stated that governments recruit children because of “their very qualities as children—they can be cheap, expendable and easier to condition into fearless killing and unthinking obedience.”
New Record for Bible Translation
“In complete or partial form, the Bible is now available in a total of 2,261 languages, an increase of 28 since 12 months ago,” reports Britain’s Bible Society. “In its complete form [the Bible] is now available in 383 languages, 13 more than a year ago.” Complete volumes of either the Hebrew or the Greek Scriptures, also called the Old and New Testaments, are now available in 987 languages.
A New Chemical Heavyweight
Chemists have “a new building block in their construction set: hassium, a heavy metal,” reports the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Scientists at the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung (Heavy Ion Research Center) in Darmstadt, Germany, have succeeded for the first time in fusing hassium atoms with oxygen, forming a new chemical compound. Named after the German state of Hesse, hassium does not occur naturally. It was first produced by nuclear physicists in 1984. Both hassium and its new compound are radioactive, unstable, and short-lived and hence are of no immediate practical value.
Blood Transfusion Dangers
“One in three transfusions were being administered when, under [New South Wales] Health guidelines, they should not have been,” reports Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald. “The guidelines call for a blood transfusion if the patient’s haemoglobin level is seven or below.” Dr. Ross Wilson, who conducted the study on blood use, explained that “giving an unnecessary transfusion could kill a patient by inducing heart failure.” According to a study that Dr. Wilson conducted six years earlier, “about 18,000 [Australians] a year died as a result of complications they developed directly as a result of the medical treatment they received.” Dr. Wilson recommends that doctors be reminded of the blood transfusion health guidelines each time they request a transfusion and also that patients be informed about the guidelines so they can question their physician directly.
Stiff Penalty for Internet Porn
“Germany’s top criminal court announced . . . that distributing child pornography over the Internet is no different from circulating such material in print and will carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years,” reports the Associated Press. The article explained that “the ruling by the Federal Court of Justice set a precedent for Germany, which previously had no firm legal policy for punishing people who distribute pornographic images of children over the Internet.” The high court overturned a state court ruling that distributing child pornography over the Internet is not as serious a sexual offense as distributing such material in print.
Marijuana and the Heart
“Middle-aged pot [marijuana] users face a fivefold increase in the risk of a heart attack in the hour after they smoke the drug,” says Canada’s Globe and Mail in a report on a new study. “Smoking marijuana causes the heart rate to increase—often doubling it—while altering blood pressure . . . It may also trigger a heart attack by causing the formation of a clot, blocking the flow of blood to the heart muscle.” Dr. Harold Kalant of the University of Toronto said: “For older people, the increased workload on the heart will be a risk factor for a heart attack.” Cocaine is even more dangerous, says the report, because it increases the risk of a heart attack about 25-fold during the first hour after use.
A Rose by What Name?
Because of the sheer number of different plants being bred, naming new varieties has become a major challenge. “Already there are about 100,000 day lilies with names,” says The Wall Street Journal, “at least that many roses and more than 14,000 dahlias. All the obvious poetic nouns and adjectives, such as beauty, blush, delight, dream, glory, queen, sunrise, sunset, velvet, fragrant, delight and magic, have been appropriated—and registered—in virtually every possible combination. Today, plant namers are being driven to new heights—and depths—of commercial nomenclature.” For example, “at gardening stores these days,” says the Journal, “you can buy a Taco Supreme iris, a Macho Man rose, an Abba Dabba Do hosta, a Primal Scream day lily or a Kung Fu dahlia.” You can even have a flower named after yourself—for a price. A company in California allows you to name a rose for $10,000, providing the name is in good taste. Another charges $75,000 but throws in a few extras, including a weekend in Los Angeles.