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Watching the World

Watching the World

 Watching the World

Destructive Beauty

The water hyacinth is an aquatic plant that produces a beautiful purple flower. Introduced into Africa’s Lake Victoria some decades ago, the hyacinth has proliferated so fast that it now covers 770 square miles [2,000 sq km] of the lake’s surface, disrupting the vital fishing industry that feeds millions of people in the bordering countries of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. It has caused serious problems for Uganda’s water and hydroelectric plants by clogging the pipes that supply water. It also provides an ideal environment for mosquitoes, snails, and snakes, resulting in a rise in snakebites and cases of malaria and schistosomiasis (bilharzia). While weevils that feed exclusively on hyacinths have been introduced, so far they have been unable to keep pace with the plant’s explosive growth. Fishing communities have resorted to removing the weed manually, harvesting thousands of tons. But this has proved to be only a temporary solution. The World Bank is involved in a multimillion-dollar project to clean up the lake.

Feathered Fossil a Hoax

A fossil found in Liaoning Province, China, was reported by National Geographic to be “a true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs to birds.” The fossil, named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, was said to have the tail of a dinosaur and the chest and shoulders of a bird. Now, however, scientists are becoming convinced that “they have been snookered by a bit of fossil fakery,” reports Science News. Paleontologists who examined the fossil became suspicious after they noticed that the bones connecting the tail to the body were missing and that the rock slab showed signs of being reworked. Philip Currie, of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, suspects that someone “sought to enhance the value of Archaeoraptor by pasting one part of the dinosaur’s tail to a bird fossil,” says the report.

Underwater Gunslingers

It looks like a Western movie: The duelists face each other, their weapons loaded and cocked. After the first combatant has fired and retreated, the other aims and fires. But when pistol shrimps fight, no one gets hurt, since they always keep a safe distance from each other. However, as reported in the newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the jets of water spurting from their right claw are not always harmless. The water pistol is also used to stun and kill such prey as worms, crabs, and little fish. The jet of water, produced by snapping shut the claw with great force, is even strong enough to shatter the glass side of an aquarium. Should a pistol shrimp lose its weapon, the little “gunslinger” becomes left-handed, its left claw developing into a new pistol, while the former shooting hand grows a new regular claw.

Living Buddha Enthroned

“Chinese authorities have presided over the enthronement of a 2-year-old boy as an important ‘living Buddha’ in the Tibetan religion,” reports The New York Times. The boy, Soinam Puncog, was selected from among 670 boys to serve as the seventh Reting Lama. The monks who chose the lama are said to have used divination to select him. “But whether most Tibetan people and monks will accept the boy’s authenticity is in question,” says the paper. Why? Because earlier the Dalai Lama, the highest religious leader of Tibet, announced his own choice for Reting Lama. In times past, the Reting Lamas have served as regents when the Dalai Lamas were absent.

Polluting Idols

Immersing idols in the nearest body of water after a ceremonial holiday is a common practice among Hindus. This wasn’t an environmental problem when idols were painted with colors made from flower or vegetable dyes. However, when manufacturers switched to paints made with heavy metals and carcinogens, some areas of India experienced severe water pollution after thousands of idols were dropped into streams and lakes. In order to limit water pollution, the  residents in one town collected hundreds of idols and took them to a large plot where they broke the idols into pieces. The magazine Down to Earth suggests that this be done everywhere in India and that makers of idols revert to using traditional dyes instead of synthetic paints. “Otherwise,” says the magazine, “the rivers that Hindus worship may be poisoned by the idols they worship.”

World Survey of Youths

A survey of more than 4,300 youths between the ages of 12 and 24 reveals that today’s youths prize traditional values, such as trustworthiness, courtesy, and hard work, reports The Globe and Mail. According to the Angus Reid Group, which polled youths from 11 different countries, 95 percent said that the most important value is ‘keeping your word.’ “Showing courtesy to others” was identified by 92 percent as the next most important value, and “working hard” was highly regarded by 83 percent of respondents. While “nearly eight out of 10 thought it important to have a lifelong partner,” only 56 percent considered getting married as being important. Surprisingly, only 31 percent thought that “being really rich” was an important value. The findings also indicate that only 45 percent “feel positive about the 21st century.”

Web-Site Facts

The World Wide Web is a vast computer network that links millions of computers throughout the world. To find out how extensive it is, Inktomi, an Internet software developer, spent four months examining and cataloging the Web. What did it find? The number of unique pages came to over one billion! English was by far the most common language found on the Web. It is used over 86 percent of the time. French appears in slightly over 2 percent of all Web documents, and Dutch accounted for about 0.5 percent.

Toxic Medicine?

Medical mistakes kill anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 hospitalized Americans a year, reports the Institute of Medicine. The problem is said to be the result of flaws in the way hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies operate. For example, pharmacists filling prescriptions are often hampered by doctors’ poor handwriting. Did the doctor prescribe ten milligrams or ten micrograms? Compounding the problem are the many drugs having similar-sounding names, which can cause confusion among doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and patients alike. The Institute of Medicine has called for a 50-percent reduction in medical errors within five years.

The Internet and the Elderly

Electronic mail is proving to be a boon to the institutionalized elderly. “Experts say nursing home residents, even frail ones, take to computers quickly and can revitalize their lives through e-mail and the Internet,” says The New York Times. “People who master the technology gain confidence that spreads into other aspects of their lives, and many take pride in helping teach the skills to their fellow residents.” Not only does E-mail put the elderly in touch with distant family members, health-care providers, and old friends but it also does much to overcome the helplessness, boredom, and loneliness that descend on those confined to nursing homes and wheelchairs as a result of illness and advanced age. Morale is boosted, and depression drops as well. Some elderly ones even participate in on-line educational programs, enabling them to pass on their accumulated knowledge and wisdom to future generations. However, some changes need to be made. These include keyboards that are easier to use and a convenient way to increase print size.

Man-Made Food Shortages

“Human induced disasters such as civil strife and economic crises have more effect on food shortages than nature-induced crises,” reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Dr. Hartwig de Haen, assistant director-general of FAO, said: “In 1984, man-made disasters contributed to only about ten percent of total emergencies. Now, it is more than 50 percent.” It is estimated that 52 million people from 35 countries face food shortages. The report adds: “That is the largest number of people to face serious food shortages since a drought hit sub-Saharan Africa in 1984.”