Watching the World

Small Children and Shocking Music

Children as young as seven or eight years of age are being exposed to music laced with profanity, sexually explicit lyrics, and violence, reports the Chicago Tribune. “In the past, children from kindergarten to middle-school age had their own ‘kids’ music,’” but “today’s elementary school children are likely to be tuning in the same stations as their parents or teenage siblings.” And while recording companies in the United States are required to put warning labels on compact discs with violent or explicit lyrics to help keep them out of the hands of children, such music can easily be reviewed at listening stations in music stores. Diane Levin, a specialist in media culture and children, at Wheelock College in Boston, warned: “We get more and more desensitized as things get more and more extreme.”

“Saint” Columbus?

“The Vatican is being pressed to make Christopher Columbus a saint,” reports The Times of London. Scholars examining Vatican archives claim that it was, not King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain who funded Columbus’ voyages, but Pope Innocent VIII who sent him on a secret mission to fund the Crusades and to “gain souls for Christianity.” A note written by Pope Pius IX in 1851 says, in part: “It will be shown with absolute certainty that Columbus undertook his excellent plan on the impulse of and with the assistance of this apostolic seat.” The next pope, Leo XIII, described the explorer as “a man of the Church.” Upon Columbus’ return to Spain in 1493, however, the rights to his discoveries were signed over to the Spanish throne by the Spanish Borgia Pope Alexander VI, who had succeeded Innocent VIII.

Avoiding Debt

A consumer watchdog group in the United Kingdom has “launched a major campaign, Don’t let credit turn into debt, to warn people of the dangers of excess debt,” reports Newstream.com. According to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), consumer credit in the UK has surged more than 60 percent in the past four years. Moreover, the average person now carries roughly $3,700 of unsecured debt. The OFT suggests doing the following before you obtain credit: “Ask yourself honestly if you can afford it.” Second, shop around. Many people seek the best price when purchasing goods but settle for whatever interest rates are offered by the merchant. Compare annual percentage rates of banks or credit card companies to see if you can get cheaper credit. And third, if you become burdened by debt, seek help.

Ingenious Recycling

Using disposable plastic bottles, a group of farmers built a five-mile-long [8 km] aqueduct near Trujillo, in northern Peru. According to Lima’s newspaper El Comercio, 81 farmers acquired some barren land and located a water source, but they could not afford to buy the pipe that was needed to transport the water to their land. To solve the problem, one of the farmers suggested another approach. They purchased discarded plastic bottles and spent 14 days cutting off both ends and joining 39,000 of them together as one continuous tube. The aqueduct will serve as a temporary water supply until a well can be dug.

Fetuses Learn and Have Memory

“Babies not only learn while still in the womb, they also have a 10-minute, short-term memory as well as a 24-hour, long-term memory,” reports Reuters news service. Dutch researchers at the University Hospital in Maastricht used vibrations and acoustics to stimulate “25 fetuses between 37 and 40 weeks of gestation” and “observed their reactions with an ultrasound scanner.” After the initial tests were performed, the stimulation was repeated at 10-minute and 24-hour intervals. “If the baby moved a limb within  one second of the stimulation, it was regarded as a positive response,” says Reuters, but “when the baby failed to respond after four consecutive stimuli, it indicated that the baby came to recognize the stimuli.” The scientists found that when the tests were repeated, the fetuses became acclimated and no longer responded to the stimulus, indicating that they remembered the stimuli.

Women and Heart Disease

“Heart disease has traditionally been seen as a man’s disease, even though equal numbers of males and females die from it every year,” reports The Toronto Star. The newspaper states that heart disease among women is often diagnosed too late. The symptoms of heart disease—North America’s leading cause of death—differ between men and women. “While men often experience heavy chest pain that can radiate to the neck, back and shoulders, women are more likely to have jaw pain, shortness of breath and nausea,” says the Star. Symptoms appear most often in women over 55, when estrogen supplies are depleted. “Once that’s completely gone, we do a very rapid catch-up with men in terms of heart disease,” says Dr. Stephanie Brister, a heart surgeon at Toronto General Hospital.

Lung Cancer in British Women

“Deaths from lung cancer have overtaken breast cancer for the first time among British women, making it the biggest female cancer killer,” reports The Daily Telegraph of London. Women now dying from the disease are those who started smoking four decades ago when the habit was advertised as an aid in losing weight. Britain’s Cancer Research Campaign says that over the past 20 years, women’s breast cancer deaths fell by 5 percent, while deaths from lung cancer rose by 36 percent. Over the same period, the number of men who died from lung cancer dropped 31 percent, reflecting a decline in smoking by men. Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the campaign, observes that despite warnings, “more young girls than boys are taking up the habit.”

Fresh Food Without a Refrigerator

Keeping perishable food cool and fresh without the aid of a powered refrigerator is challenging. However, a simple, cheap invention is proving very successful in semiarid northern Nigeria. It involves placing one earthenware pot inside another and filling the space between them with wet sand. Food is put in the smaller pot, and the pot is covered with a damp cloth. “Warm air outside draws moisture to the surface of the outer pot, where it evaporates,” says New Scientist magazine. “The water vapour carries heat away with it, so this drying action creates a constant heat flow from the interior of the pot, as long as the sand and cloth are kept wet.” When this method is used, tomatoes and peppers can remain fresh for over three weeks and eggplants can last nearly a month. The inventor of the “pot-in-pot” system, Mohammed Bah Abba, says that farmers can now sell produce as it is needed, and their daughters, who would normally stay home each day to sell food, are free to attend school.

World Loses Two Animal Breeds a Week

The world is losing 2 farm animal breeds every week, and 1,350 breeds are threatened by extinction, reports Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper. Researchers from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) spent ten years studying 6,500 domesticated mammals and birds in 170 countries. According to Dr. Keith Hammond, senior officer of FAO’s Animal Genetic Resources Group, “if something is not done, a third of breeding species will be lost in the next 20 years.” A Reuters news report from Rome explains that the export of animals from developed lands has aggravated this problem. The imported animals may mate with local animals, causing local breeds to die out. “The problem, however,” notes Dr. Hammond, “is that these animals are mainly suited to the conditions of the country they come from and they have difficulty coping with the often harsh environment of developing countries.”