Watching the World
Rare Orchid Saved From Extinction
For 50 years the only lady’s-slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) growing wild in Britain was kept under 24-hour guard to prevent its extinction. The beautiful maroon-and-yellow orchid was so highly prized by the Victorians and succeeding generations that by the 1950’s, it had been “picked to death,” and just one plant remained. Botanists tried to produce seedlings from this North Yorkshire plant, but its infrequent flowering made natural pollination impossible. However, in the early 1990’s, scientists at Kew Gardens, London, discovered a method called micropropagation, which enabled them to cultivate new plants from seeds obtained by hand-pollinating the flowers. These plants were then transferred to their natural limestone habitats, with the result that between 200 and 300 lady’s-slipper orchids are now growing in the north of England. One site is on view to the public, but the rest remain in secret locations to ensure their protection, reports The Independent of London, as “scientists continue to work on making them hardy enough to cope with pests and fungi.”
Allergic to Humans
“Many animals are allergic to humans,” states the German newspaper Leipziger Volkszeitung. As reported there, the German Allergy and Asthma Association (DAAB) recently announced that “human company causes typical allergy symptoms, such as skin rashes or constant sneezing, in 1 pet out of 20.” The causes, in most cases, are said to be fallen human skin scales and the excreta of the dust mites that feed on them. If a pet keeps scratching or licking itself or plucking its fur out when it does not have fleas, its owner has an indication that the pet is allergic to humans, and improvement in symptoms after a change of environment or in the absence of the pet’s owner would be further evidence. Food and pollen were also said to trigger allergies in animals. DAAB noted, for example, an increase in the number of horses with hay fever in recent years.
What Makes a “Real Man”?
“Boys . . . still believe being good at sport, wearing the right labels and avoiding close friendships are signs of being a ‘real man,’ while working hard is ‘unmasculine,’” reports the Independent newspaper of London. “Boys respect classmates who are dominant, in control and who swear a lot. Teenagers who failed to conform to the stereotype risked being bullied or labelled as gay.” The survey of boys aged 11 to 14, conducted at 12 London schools by London University’s Birkbeck College, revealed that the boys “admitted their ‘macho act’ often left them feeling isolated and afraid to express themselves,” says the paper. Professor Stephen Frosh, who led the research, said: “Boys need positive messages that being a man doesn’t have to mean being hard and bottling up your feelings.”
Red Cross Called to Task
Shortly following the September 11 attacks, the American Red Cross was on the scene, soliciting donations of cash and blood. Some $850 million in cash was given, and 400,000 units of blood collected. While collections were quick, disbursements were not. “The American Red Cross was slow to distribute relief funds to the families affected by the attacks,” states The Washington Times. “Relief funds were being used for programs unrelated to September 11,” and a large share was slated for “long-term needs, such as [a] blood-freezing program, counseling, and future attacks.” With little need for the blood collected and its 42-day shelf life over, the blood “is useless and must be burned,” the article says. The news media reported that the Red Cross board, beset by heavy criticism, forced out its president and announced at the end of January 2002 that 90 percent of the funds gathered will go to victims of the disaster by September 11, 2002.
Deadly Natural Disasters
“Natural disasters caused at least 25,000 deaths worldwide in 2001, more than double the previous year,” states a Reuters report. According to Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, the economic losses totaled $36 billion—far more than those arising from the September 11 attacks in the United States. Two thirds of the 700 major disasters involved storms and floods. The extreme weather conditions are blamed on the continued change in global climate. “Forest fires in Australia, floods in Brazil and in Turkey, snow chaos in central and southern Europe and a typhoon in Singapore, which was meteorologically seen as impossible, are all indications for a link between climate changes and a rise in weather catastrophes,” the company said. It noted that 2001 was the second-warmest year since records started being kept 160 years ago. Earthquakes caused the most deaths—over 14,000 of them in January alone, which were the result of an earthquake that occurred in India. In all, 80 major earthquakes were counted during the year.
Rear Seat Belts Save Lives
“Passengers who fail to belt up in the back of cars are putting strapped-in front seat travellers at a fivefold greater risk of being killed in a crash,” reports The Guardian of London. In a study of the records of more than 100,000 car accidents over a five-year period in Japan, researchers at the University of Tokyo discovered that nearly 80 percent of the deaths of belted front-seat car occupants could have been avoided if rear-seat passengers had used seat belts. In a collision, unrestrained passengers are projected forward with such force that front-seat occupants are at much greater risk of being seriously injured or even crushed to death. Although wearing rear seat belts has been compulsory in Britain since 1991, surveys show that approximately 40 percent of adults there still fail to use them.
Air Pollution Hazard in Asia
“In India, over 40,000 people die every year due to air pollution,” states the environmental magazine Down to Earth. Research conducted by the World Bank and the Stockholm Environment Institute showed that air pollution in Asia far surpasses that of Europe and America combined and is responsible for thousands of deaths in Seoul, Beijing, Bangkok, Jakarta, and Manila. In Manila, for example, more than 4,000 people die each year of respiratory illnesses, while 90,000 suffer from severe chronic bronchitis. The mortality rate is even higher in Beijing and Jakarta. The problem is attributed to “the use of low quality fuel, inefficient methods of energy production, use of vehicles in poor condition and traffic congestion,” says the magazine.
Capitalizing on the Change to Euros
With the changeover to the euro, the Italian Catholic Church has taken “advantage of the occasion offered by the funeral of the lira to remedy the shortfall in alms” by “rounding up its prices,” says Corriere della Sera. The vicariate of Rome sent a circular to all its parishes to “touch up the ‘price list.’ The offering to have a mass held, which before was just 15,000 lire, goes up to 10 euros (19,363 lire). The maximum offering for a wedding, which before was 450,000 lire, goes up to 270 euros (523,000 lire).” The circular specifies, however, that “this figure refers to weddings performed for ‘non-parishioners,’ while for parishioners the size of the offering is discretionary, as it is for baptisms and funerals.” Even so, parish priests in Rome still face the problem of often finding the collection boxes depressingly empty, perhaps as a result of “a certain avarice among the faithful, together with a fall in attendances,” says the newspaper.