Watching the World

Jesuits Denied Registration in Russia

The Russian Ministry of Justice has denied the application of the Society of Jesus for registration as an independent religious organization, reports the National Catholic Reporter. The Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, was established in 1540. Under Russia’s new religion law, most religious organizations are required to reregister in order to receive legal recognition. Groups that are denied registration cannot print or distribute religious literature, invite foreign citizens for religious activities, or set up educational facilities. Jehovah’s Witnesses were reregistered nationally on April 29, 1999.

Suicides Soar in Japan

In Japan more people committed suicide in 1998 than in any previous year, reports The Daily Yomiuri. According to Japan’s National Police Agency, 32,863 people killed themselves in 1998—more than three times the number killed in traffic accidents in Japan. Much of the increase has been attributed to financial problems caused by unemployment, which has gripped the nation following a recent economic slump. Suicide is the sixth leading cause of death in Japan.

Deadly Air Pollution

“Road traffic is the fastest growing source of pollution in Europe and in some countries more people are dying as a result of this air pollution than are being killed in [traffic] accidents,” reports Reuters news service. According to a study by the World Health Organization, 21,000 people in Austria, France, and Switzerland die prematurely every year from respiratory or heart diseases that are triggered by air pollution. In a separate report, it is estimated that in 36 Indian cities, 110 people die prematurely every day as a result of air pollution.

Digital Data Fading Fast

For years computer scientists said that storing information in digital form was more reliable than storing it on paper. Now, however, librarians and archivists are starting to tell a different story. “We’re losing vast amounts of important scientific and historical material because of disintegration or obsolescence,” says Newsweek magazine. Digital storage systems such as disk drives are sensitive to heat, humidity, oxidation, and stray magnetic fields. And depending on storage conditions, the magnetic tape used to store digital data might last only a decade, says the magazine. Another challenge for those trying to preserve digital information is the rapid change in technology. The hardware that is used to store data changes so rapidly that systems quickly become obsolete. Says Abby Smith, of the Council on Library and Information Resources: “Information doesn’t have much of a chance, unless you keep a museum of tape players and PCs [personal computers] around.”

India’s Population Passes One Billion

According to the United Nations Population Division, India’s population passed the one billion mark in August 1999. Just over 50 years ago, India’s population was one third of what it is now. If it continues to grow at its present rate of 1.6 percent a year, in about four decades, India will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation. “India and China already account for more than one-third of the world’s people,” reports The New York Times. In less than half a century, life expectancy in India has increased from 39 years to 63 years.

U.S. Marriage Rate Dropping

A study by Rutgers University’s National Marriage Project found that the U.S. marriage rate has dropped to its lowest point in recorded history, reports The Washington Post on its Web site. The study also noted that immediately following World War II, 80 percent of the nation’s children were being raised in a family with two biological parents. Today, however, the figure has dropped to 60 percent. “The percentage of teenage girls who said having a child out of wedlock is a ‘worthwhile lifestyle’ increased from  33 percent to 53 percent in the past two decades,” says the report. Little wonder that the report said: “The institution of marriage is in serious trouble”!

Education Woes in Africa

Over 40 million school-age children in sub-Saharan Africa do not go to school, reports All Africa News Agency. A number of problems have plagued the region’s school systems. For example, as a result of economic problems, many schools have no water and few or no toilets. There are shortages of textbooks, and teachers are poorly trained. In addition to economic woes, there is a high incidence of pregnancy among teenage girls, which is a major cause of their high dropout rate. AIDS has also had a negative impact on school attendance. “Early sexual activity among adolescents has led to higher AIDS infection among adolescents,” says Africa News. In some cases girls who have not contracted AIDS are required to stay home to care for relatives who are stricken with the disease. Says Dr. Edward Fiske, a primary education specialist for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization: “With no school, the future for most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa hangs on balance.”

Mummy Found to Have Prosthetic Toe

“A prosthetic toe found attached to a mummy seems to have been used in life before being buried with its owner 2,500 years ago,” reports The Sunday Times of London. The fake toe, made of linen impregnated with animal glue and plaster of Paris, is described by Dr. Nicholas Reeves as “a sophisticated production, beautifully designed, skilfully and strongly made, and clearly a special order.” The toe came fitted with a toenail and was coated with a fleshlike tint. A series of eight holes were drilled in the toe for attachment. The holes closely follow the line of a Y-thong sandal strap so that when the toe was in place, the holes would have been concealed by the sandal’s strap.

Headaches From Painkillers!

Those who take medication for headaches three or more times a week may be suffering from medication misuse headache (MMH). Thought to affect 1 in 50 persons, MMH is caused by simple remedies, such as aspirin, as well as by prescription painkillers. When the analgesic effect wears off, the medication can cause a headache that the patient mistakes for a normal headache or a migraine. The patient takes more painkillers, thus repeating the cycle. Dr. Tim Steiner, of Imperial College, London, explains that “any patient complaining of chronic daily headache should be assumed to have MMH.” He also notes that although the condition has been recognized for some years, most family doctors are unfamiliar with it and simply prescribe stronger painkillers, when all that is needed is for patients to stop taking them, reports The Sunday Telegraph of London.

Tongue Care

Bacteria that hide on the back of your tongue can produce sulfur gases that cause bad breath, says a report in the Prince George Citizen newspaper. “Bacteria thrive in a dry, oxygen-free environment which is why they live in the crevices and pits away from the air we send down to our lungs,” states the report. Brushing and flossing your teeth will help, but only about 25 percent of bacteria are eliminated by brushing. Dentist Allan Grove believes that tongue scraping, an ancient tradition in Europe, is “the single most important thing you can do to prevent bad breath.” Using a plastic scraper “is far better than a brush for keeping the tongue clean and pink,” says the Citizen.

A New Eye on the Universe

The Gemini North telescope, based on Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, opened its eye on the universe in June 1999. Its light-collecting mirror, which is 26.5 feet [8.1 meters] in diameter, will enable astronomers to view the faintest objects in the distant reaches of deep space, reports the Independent newspaper of London. Both the Gemini North and the space-based Hubble telescopes aid astronomers to see events that happened long ago and thus “to look back in time.” The advantage of the Hubble telescope is that it is located in space. Gemini, though ground-based, relies on computer equipment to subtract distortion caused by atmospheric disturbance, and it produces images as distinct as those from Hubble—if not more so.