Watching the World

Graffiti-Free Paris?

“The task force is impressive,” states the French newspaper Le Figaro. There are “17 equipped vans, 7 minibuses specializing in fighting graffiti, a dozen scooters, and about 130 workers supported by 16 scouts whose job it is to locate graffiti.” The mission of the new Paris antigraffiti brigade is to remove within a year 90 percent of Paris’ graffiti on walls and shutters—estimated at “200,000 square meters [about 2,000,000 square feet] on municipal and public buildings and 240,000 square meters [about 2,500,000 square feet] on private walls.” If the city’s goals are met, all but 250,000 square feet [24,000 sq m] of graffiti on private buildings will disappear by February 2001, and “any new graffiti should disappear within 12 days after being spotted.” In all, the cleaning operation is expected to cost 480 million French francs ($72 million).

The Overfed Now Equal the Underfed

“The number of overweight people in the world now rivals the number of hungry, underfed people,” notes The New York Times, commenting on a study by Worldwatch Institute. Some 1.2 billion are underfed and hungry, and an equal number or more now eat too much. Worldwide more people than ever before are malnourished, and the number of those underfed and those overfed is increasing in all societies. “We’ve created a way of life where our level of physical activity has been so reduced that our caloric intake greatly exceeds our caloric expenditure, and that surplus translates into fat,” said Lester R. Brown, president of Worldwatch, speaking of the increasing number of the overweight. “In [the United States] last year, there were 400,000 liposuction procedures. It shows how out of balance things are.”

Americans Own the Most Pets

Of the world’s 500 million pets, about 40 percent are in the United States. “Nearly 60 percent of the nation’s households include at least one of 70 million cats, 56 million dogs, 40 million birds, 100 million fish, 13 million hamsters and other small mammals, and 8 million reptiles,” reports National Geographic. Britain ranks second in pet ownership—mostly cats and dogs. “But 21 million pet fish reign in France, more than cats and dogs combined,” says the magazine.

Supreme Court of Japan Rules in Favor of Witness

Japan’s Supreme Court has ruled that “surgeons violated a woman’s right to self-determination when they gave her a blood transfusion during an operation, breaking their promise not to do so even if it meant she would die,” states the Daily Yomiuri newspaper. “It was the first time that the Supreme Court has ruled that a patient’s right to make decisions regarding her treatment was a human right.” Misae Takeda, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was given the transfusion in 1992, while still under sedation following surgery to remove a malignant tumor of the liver. The four judges of the Supreme Court unanimously decided that doctors were at fault because they failed to explain that they might give her a blood transfusion if deemed necessary during the operation, thus depriving her of the right to decide whether to accept the operation or not. The ruling of February 29, 2000, said: “When a patient refuses to undergo a transfusion because of his or her religious beliefs, such a will must be respected.” Relatives had continued the lawsuit after Misae died in 1997.—For details, please see The Watchtower of December 15, 1998, pages 26-9.

Saving Earth’s Species

“Saving a large share of the world’s species from extinction isn’t overwhelming,” says the Daily News newspaper of New York City. “Scientists who inventoried Earth’s shrinking wilds have reached an astonishing conclusion: More than a third of the planet’s plant and animal species exist exclusively on a scant 1.4% of its land surface.” The researchers suggest that more effort be focused on safeguarding 25 species-rich areas in such places as Brazil,  Madagascar, Borneo, Sumatra, the tropical Andes, and the Caribbean. Most are tropical rain forests. “For a few hundred million dollars a year, focused on these hot spots, we can go a long way toward guaranteeing maintenance of the full range of diversity of life on Earth,” said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International. While some 38 percent of these areas are already protected legally, it is mostly only on paper, since mining, grazing, and logging continue.

Clergy Shortage Spreading

A “shortage in clergy” has spread from rural areas in the United States to the large cities, states The New York Times. Citing the example of a 110-year-old synagogue that has tried in vain for over three years to attract a rabbi, the article states: “The temple’s plight is not unusual. Not only are synagogues finding it increasingly difficult to hire clergy members, so too are Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.” Parish priests have decreased by 12 percent from 1992 to 1997. A spokesman for the Episcopal Church calls their situation grave, with fewer than 300 of the 15,000 members of the clergy born after 1964. Over 22 percent of Reform Judaism congregations do not have a full-time rabbi. Only five years ago, there were more rabbis than synagogues. Some clergymen blame the shortage on a “robust economy” in which people are “attracted to more lucrative fields.” Others say that it is due to the ministry’s “declining appeal.” Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, president of Hebrew Union College, warns: “Unless we somehow increase the number of those choosing religious professional life, ultimately this will be a disaster for organized religious life.”

Caution Needed When Brushing Teeth

“It’s possible to brush your teeth too much,” says a report in The Wall Street Journal. “The problem is commonly called ‘toothbrush abrasion,’ and it can lead to sensitive teeth, receding gums and wear around the root of the tooth.” An estimated 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population “have damaged their teeth or gums as a result of overbrushing.” Diligent brushers and those using harder bristles are most at risk. “They end up doing more harm than good in the interest of being thorough,” says dentist Milan SeGall. Some people are genetically predisposed to the problem because they are born with less bone surrounding their teeth. Also vulnerable are people who have straightened or moved their teeth by means of braces and those who grind or clench their teeth. To prevent damage, the experts recommend the following: Use a soft toothbrush. First brush the back teeth, as at the start even soft brushes are somewhat firm and toothpaste is more abrasive. Gently grip the brush with just a few fingers rather than a fist. Position the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gum line, and swish gently in an elliptical motion instead of sawing back and forth.

Leaning Tower of Pisa Straightening Up

Work to straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa resulted in a two-inch improvement in just the first three months of the year, notes a dispatch of The Associated Press. Engineers believe that by June 2001 it will be sturdy enough to be open to the public again. The 12th-century tower was last climbed by tourists over ten years ago, when its tilt was deemed dangerous and efforts to straighten it began. The work is now in the final phase, and predictions are that when it is completed, the tower will lean as much as 20 inches [50 cm] less. Before it is reopened, the 800 tons of lead counterweights that were put at the base during the straightening process and the ten steel rings put around it for strengthening will be removed.

Breast-Feeding’s Added Benefit

“Besides providing your newborn with protective antibodies against diarrhea, ear infections, and allergies, breast milk may also prevent cancer,” says Parents magazine. A University of Minnesota Cancer Center study found that breast-fed babies are less likely to develop leukemia—the most common form of childhood cancer—than are bottle-fed babies. Those breast-fed for at least a month showed a 21-percent lower risk, which increased to 30 percent for those breast-fed for six months or more.