Watching the World

Counting Fame by Books

“If fame is having a book written about you, . . . Jesus Christ remains the most famous figure in the modern world,” says the British newspaper The Guardian. Research on the books in the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C., revealed 17,239 books about Jesus. That was almost twice as many as those written about William Shakespeare, who occupied second place with 9,801 books. Vladimir Lenin came in third with 4,492, followed by Abraham Lincoln, who had 4,378 books written about him, and Napoléon I, with 4,007. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was in seventh place, with 3,595 books, and was the only woman in the top 30. Joan of Arc, the next closest woman, had 545 books written about her. As for composers, Richard Wagner led the list, followed by Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. Picasso heads the list of painters, ahead of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. However, Leonardo heads the list of scientists and inventors, beating Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Galileo Galilei. “There is no living person in the top 30,” says The Guardian.

Paradise Lost?

At a special session of the United Nations General Assembly, 43 small island nations aired their concerns over environmental threats, reports the French daily Le Monde. Many of these paradisaic islands are increasingly vulnerable to hurricanes, cyclones, floods, and water shortage. According to a UN press release, Hurricane Mitch is estimated to have caused some 11,000 deaths in the Caribbean. Both the Seychelles and Mauritius have experienced severe droughts in the past two years. High temperatures and pollution are bleaching coral reefs, reducing biodiversity. Islanders also fear the effects of rising sea levels resulting from global warming. It is estimated that 80 percent of the atolls in the Maldives could disappear into the ocean.

Sleepy Drivers Versus Drunk Drivers

“Not sleeping enough can have the same results as drinking too much,” says The New York Times. A Stanford University study checked the reaction time of 113 people with sleep apnea—a condition that interrupts sleep at night and causes daytime sleepiness—against a control group of 80 volunteers. After their baseline reaction time was determined, the comparison group began drinking 80-proof alcohol. “On three out of seven tests of reaction time, people known to have apnea did worse than those whose blood alcohol measured [.08] percent, making them too drunk to drive in 16 states,” the Times reported. According to Dr. Nelson B. Powell, the lead researcher, the findings emphasize the dangers of driving while sleepy.

Nearly a Third of the World Infected With TB

Nearly one third of the world population—1.86 billion people—were infected with TB in 1997, says a panel of 86 health experts from more than 40 nations. The panel, chosen by the World Health Organization, also estimated that 1.87 million people died from the disease that year, while 7.96 million new cases of infection were reported. The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, said that “eighty percent of all incident TB cases were found in 22 countries, with more than half the cases occurring in 5 Southeast Asian countries.” According to the study, “nine of 10 countries with the highest incidence rates per capita were in Africa.” In some countries with high HIV infection rates, the case fatality rate exceeded 50 percent. High TB rates continue as a result of “poor control” of the disease in those lands. The authors of the study forecast 8.4 million new cases of TB this year. Most of those infected never become sick with the disease. However, where the bacteria is dormant, it can become active when the patient becomes malnourished or the immune system is weakened, states the same source.

Children Exposed to Cigarette Smoke

“Nearly half of the world’s children live with a smoker,” says the University of California  Berkeley Wellness Letter, commenting on a recent report from the World Health Organization. “That’s more than 700 million children.” Considering that the number of adult smokers is expected to increase to 1.6 billion during the next 20 years, even more children will be exposed to secondhand smoke. These children will have an increased risk of developing such health problems as ear infections and respiratory ailments.

Best Seller, Few Readers

“It is the biggest bestseller in the history of the planet,” states the Star-Telegram newspaper of Fort Worth, Texas. “Both cultural icon and spiritual touchstone, the Bible is revered by three major world faiths with billions of believers. But in a paradox to tax the wisdom of Solomon, it is widely unread.” Yet, Bible sales are setting new records, and most Americans—over 90 percent—are said to own an average of three versions, according to a research firm. However, one survey showed that two thirds of them do not regularly read the Bible. Most cannot even name the four Gospels or cite five of the Ten Commandments. “And the majority say they find the Good Book irrelevant,” the paper adds.

Hymns for the Millennium

British churchgoers “will soon be singing football chants during worship” if they choose to use the new worship book Songs for the New Millennium, reports The Times of London. Published jointly by the Church of England and the Methodist Church, this new book contains some hymns addressed to “dear mother God.” One pleads for her “mother love” and refers to God in the feminine gender throughout. In another song Jesus is depicted as a “player-manager” of a football team, and its chorus is a well-known football chant. Some of the songs are from children, including a group of orphans whose parents died of AIDS. Dave Hardman, one of the project’s promoters, said: “It is a song book that marries all traditions. We wanted to get songwriters to tackle the realities of life through the eyes of faith.”

Too Many Mummies?

Egypt’s problem is unique—too many antiquities. New finds are constantly being announced: the beautifully decorated tomb of Tutankhamen’s nurse at Saqqâra, a pyramid capstone at Dahshûr, a very large temple precinct at Akhmīm, a vast underground funerary complex with over 200 rooms at Luxor, sculptures and other artifacts from sunken ports and palaces off Alexandria, to name a few. Cairo’s Egyptian Museum already has over 120,000 ancient objects on display and even more than that stashed away in storage. “Each week produces exciting new finds, creating yet more pressure on bulging storerooms, as well as on the time and budgets of those who analyse, catalogue and restore artefacts,” states The Economist. The discovery of a desert cemetery that may hold as many as 10,000 graves led one archaeologist to say: “The last thing we need is more mummies.” Only a few outstanding ones will be put on display. The rest will be reburied.

Deadly Booby Traps

Angola has one of the highest concentrations of land mines in the world. But land-mine clearers there are facing a new problem: booby trap mines aimed at them. According to The Sunday Times of London, “de-mining experts have discovered two types of switch that have been attached to the mines. One detonates them on exposure to light and is powered by batteries that last for up to 12 months. The other incorporates a magnetic loop or coil designed to cause an explosion when it senses mine-sweeping equipment,” which can be over 60 feet [20 m] away. “In other words, this is a ‘de-miner mine,’” said Tim Carstairs of the Mines Advisory Group. “It is specifically designed to kill people like our volunteers who are trying to help communities by getting rid of landmines.” Angola now has an estimated 70,000 amputees as a result of mine incidents—the highest in the world—and doctors perform an average of 35 amputations each month. As mines continue to be laid by the warring parties in Angola’s civil war, farmers abandon their fields and cities have been unable to get food supplies. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warns that “hundreds of thousands of Angolans face severe malnutrition, disease and death.”