Watching the World
Some have theorized that an infinite number of monkeys pecking away on an infinite number of typewriters would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. So researchers at Plymouth University in England gave six monkeys one computer for a month. The monkeys “failed to produce a single word,” reports The New York Times. The six monkeys at Paignton Zoo in southwest England “produced only five pages of text,” primarily filled with a lot of s’s. At the end of the document, the monkeys typed a few j’s, a’s, l’s, and m’s. They also used the keyboard as their community toilet.
Endangered Monarch Butterflies
On January 13, 2002, a storm swept through the mountains of Mexico where monarch butterflies winter in pine and fir trees. Temperatures dropped, and the combination of wet and cold caused the death of an estimated 500 million butterflies, which lay in piles up to three feet [1 m] deep beneath the trees. “In one terrible day, 70 to 80 percent of all the monarchs that return to the Eastern United States in the spring were dead,” says the international edition of The Miami Herald. But now, another threat is looming. In spite of the Mexican government’s creation of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, the butterfly habitat is being eroded by illegal logging. Some 44 percent of the reserve has already been affected. Although these hardy creatures survive a 2,500-mile [4,000 km] migration, only time will tell if they are able to survive the gradual loss of their wintering grounds.
According to one report, “the green revolution that boosted farm outputs around much of the world came at a price: millions of the world’s poorest farmers in Africa became poorer,” says New Scientist magazine. How so? From the late 1950’s on, high-yield varieties of wheat and rice were introduced to stem the tide of an anticipated famine caused by the world population boom. However, these high-yield varieties produced a grain surplus that caused prices to fall. “Farmers who could afford to plant these new varieties made up for lower prices with improved yields, but those who could not lost out,” says New Scientist. In addition, the new grain varieties did not do well in African conditions because the grains were developed for cultivation in Asia and Latin America.
Danger! Sleepy Drivers
“Driver fatigue or sleepiness is a widespread and serious problem within our society,” states a study reported in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA). According to researchers, “studies have attributed more than 20% of road accidents to driver sleepiness.” The study report in MJA says: “The typical fall-asleep accident involves a sole driver driving at night or in the early afternoon ‘siesta’ period at relatively high speed. As with other causes of MVAs [motor vehicle accidents], fall-asleep accidents are more common in men under 30 years.” At risk of falling asleep at the wheel are people who suffer from a common sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The journal states that OSA affects “about 25% of middle-aged men.” People with OSA may be unaware of how close they are to falling asleep when driving.
At a time when water levels of reservoirs elsewhere in the Punjab in India were low because of delayed monsoon rains, the water at the Bhakra Dam on the Sutlej River reached almost double the previous year’s level. Why? The main tributary of the Sutlej passes through an area that has 89 glaciers, states the magazine Down to Earth. “Monsoon failure has resulted in increased glacier recession. Since there are no clouds, sunlight reaching the glaciers is much more intense. This, combined with very high temperatures, is leading to the rapid melting,” explains glacier specialist Syed Iqbal Hasnain of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Experts feel that the melting may lead to overflow of glacial lakes. Moreover, smaller glaciers would mean that future water supplies would be reduced, negatively affecting energy production and agriculture.
Wanting to Look Good
In the Australian state of New South Wales, “2850 new skin cancer cases are diagnosed each year, and 340 people die of skin cancer,” reports The Sydney Morning Herald. A study by the Victorian Cancer Council revealed that in an effort to look good, a quarter of Australia’s population is actively sunbathing—a 10 percent increase in three years. The paper continues: “Alarmingly, the researchers found more than 60 per cent of teenagers were deliberately seeking a tan, with a third of people saying it made them feel healthier.” Supermarket sales of some tanning lotions rose by 18 percent in the past year, while sales of sunscreens did not. Dr. Robin Marks of the Australasian College of Dermatology notes that some people believe that acquiring a tan gradually is not dangerous. However, “skin cancer experts say it is a great misconception to think that any sunbathing, including light tanning without burning, is safe,” says the paper. Dr. Marks warns: “A tan is like a callus—it shows there is something wrong.”
Japanese Language in Crisis
A deluge of foreign words is flooding Japan, leaving particularly the older Japanese confused about their native tongue, reports The Japan Times. Foreign terms, mostly English words, now make up 10 percent of entries in some dictionaries. “[Japanese] is becoming incomprehensible,” lamented a 60-year-old woman. “Sometimes I feel like I need a translator to understand my own language.” Youths, politicians, the media, and people in sports, fashion, and high-tech industries eagerly adopt foreign words, which “tend to evoke novelty and excitement.” However, these introduced words are written in katakana, a script primarily reserved for foreign words. Hence, these terms “remain ‘foreign,’ presumably for ages,” says the paper. According to The New York Times, some Japanese are becoming “incensed over the thought that entire sentences can be strung together in contemporary Japanese using nothing but Western-derived words, save for an occasional Japanese verb or particle.” One social consequence is a widening communication gap in some households.