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Watching the World

Watching the World

 Watching the World

Land Mines Redefined

Over 135 countries have already signed the Ottawa Convention banning antipersonnel mines, and the United States is scheduled to add its signature in 2006. “But there’s a disturbing trend towards technologies designed to change the definition of what constitutes a banned mine,” says New Scientist. “Japan . . . believes that explosive devices strewn on beaches are not antipersonnel mines just so long as they are remote controlled. . . . Instead of calling it a landmine, it’s dubbed a ‘projectile scattering device.’” The United States currently uses antipersonnel mines to protect antitank mines, so they are working on antitank mines that can hop around to foil attempts to clear a minefield. If some mines are cleared or destroyed to make a path through the field, the remaining robotic mines “will sense that they are missing and hop around until they form a regular pattern again,” the magazine reports. The self-righting mines “will have a powerful piston-driven foot attached to their base that should propel them more than 10 metres [30 feet] into the air.”

Greater Life Expectancy

Life expectancy increased by 12.8 years in Peru during the last 25 years, according to a recent United Nations report on human development. While life expectancy between 1970 and 1975 was 55.5 years, it went up to 68.3 years between 1995 and 2000. The increased life expectancy, says the newspaper El Peruano, is the result of improved health care, which has reduced the mortality rate of newborn babies from 115 per 1,000 to 43 per 1,000, and of children under five years of age from 178 per 1,000 to 54 per 1,000 during the same period. It is calculated that during the following five-year period, “23 percent of the population will live to 60 years of age,” states El Peruano.

Beneficial Vitamin

When we are working at a computer terminal, our eyes constantly react to the bright and dark points of light appearing on the screen, notes Zdrowie, a Polish health magazine. The stronger these visual signals are, the more our eyes consume rhodopsin, a photosensitive pigment that enables us to see. Vitamin A is essential in the production of rhodopsin. According to Zdrowie, rich sources of vitamin A include liver and cod-liver oil. People who have to limit their fat and cholesterol intake can eat foods containing beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A with the help of sunlight. Beta-carotene is present in yellow, orange, red, and green vegetables and such fruits as apricots, peaches, dried plums, melons, and mangoes.

Cell Phone Accidents

Roads are not the only places where cellular telephone usage may contribute to accidents. Railway officials in Japan say that passengers waiting on platforms get engrossed in cell-phone conversations and forget where they are. Among the recent accidents reported by Asahi Evening News is that of a young man who was leaning over the edge of a platform while talking on his telephone. When he unconsciously bowed to the person he was talking to, his head was grazed by an incoming train. Happily, he escaped with just “a cut above his right eye.” In another case, however, “a high school student talking on a cellphone leaned over the platform edge and was struck and killed by a freight train.” Station personnel report that people sometimes drop their telephones on the tracks. A 26-year-old man who jumped down to pick up his telephone was “crushed to death” by a train. Railway officials ask people “to keep in mind that railway platforms are very dangerous areas.”

Attitudes and Aircraft Accidents

An article in the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times points to social processes or interactions in the cockpit of airliners as being one of a number of potential causes of air accidents. The report says that  “cockpit interaction between the captain and his co-pilot is very hierarchical in Asia. The captain is the unchallenged boss, so that a co-pilot who spots an abnormality may hesitate to point it out for fear of challenging the captain’s authority.” According to the newspaper, people may detect a potential problem but hold back from pointing it out “because they may have to place themselves in an unfavorable light.” Or they may feel that their credibility will be doubted because of “their place in the hierarchy.” In the cockpit of an aircraft, an unwillingness to speak up on the part of the copilot could increase the risk of an accident.

Coral in Deep Trouble

From South Africa to India, coral reefs in the Indian Ocean are in big trouble, says The Economist. Marine biologists recently made the alarming discovery that “50-95% of the ocean’s coral reefs have died in the past two years.” The reason is coral’s inability to tolerate a sea temperature rise of over 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit [1 to 2 degrees Centigrade] for more than a few weeks. “In 1998, the temperature around the Seychelles was 3°C [5°F] above seasonal norms for several weeks,” says the report. The researchers believe that this provides “dramatic evidence of global warming.” Coral death cost the Maldive Islands $63 million in 1998/99. Tourists expecting to see beautiful reefs, says The Economist, “turn away in dismay from piles of unsightly grey rubble.” Olof Linden, the coeditor of the report, stated that “a large part of the most diverse ecosystem on the planet has simply tipped over.” Because coral reefs are important marine nurseries, this disaster also bodes ill for coastal populations that depend on fishing.

Retiree Divorce

In France “the number of couples over 55 years of age who split up has increased by 52 percent in four years,” reports the newspaper Le Figaro. During the same period, the divorce rate of couples over 70 has more than doubled, with an increasing number of women initiating the divorce. Difficulties in adapting to retired life is one factor. Problems that were manageable while a spouse was at work often become unbearable with both mates at home. Additionally, there is an increase in the number of financially independent women over 50. These women are more likely to divorce unfaithful husbands than women were in previous generations. While retired men often find a younger companion, a growing number of women in their 60’s and 70’s who are not widows end up on their own.

French Generosity

Women are more generous than men, and the elderly, more than the young. These are two of the conclusions of a year-long opinion poll commissioned by the Fondation de France, a philanthropic institution. The results reveal that half the French population perform acts of generosity, 28 percent of them giving several times a year, either in cash, time, or some other way. The report found that “religious practice and involvement in an association” promote generosity. Based on the study, the Paris newspaper Le Monde draws the profile of the typical French miser as being a single, nonchurchgoing young male, likely living on the Mediterranean Coast or in the countryside.

AIDS Explosion

Over five million people became infected with the AIDS virus in the year 2000, says a report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization. This brings the worldwide number of people with HIV to over 36 million, more than 50 percent higher than projections made in 1991. The epidemic has exploded in Eastern Europe, where the number of infected individuals—mainly intravenous drug users—has nearly doubled in a year. The report also notes that prevention efforts in the world’s wealthier nations have stalled, with AIDS spreading primarily among intravenous drug users and homosexual men. On the other hand, the number of new infections in sub-Saharan Africa, where 25.3 million people are infected, appears to have stabilized for the first time. Since the outbreak of the epidemic, over 21 million people have died from the disease.