Watching the World

Turning Trash Into Gold

A mining company in Japan has found an easy and more profitable method of acquiring precious metals. Rather than spend much time and money in the search for ore, a smelting and refining company in Akita Prefecture is now melting down scraps from discarded cell phones and computers to retrieve precious metals, reports the newspaper IHT Asahi Shimbun of Tokyo. According to the president of the company, “1 ton of used cell phones​—minus batteries—​can generate several hundred grams of gold.” Compared with traditional methods of mining, the yield per ton of this “metropolitan mine” can be about ten times greater than that from ore. Moreover, additional investments were not needed to switch processing equipment, as mining cell phones for gold is not very different from extracting metals from ore.

 Llamas on Guard

In order to guard their sheep, North American ranchers are turning to llamas. According to The Globe and Mail, of Canada, llamas “strongly identify with other animals with which they spend time.” They aggressively guard their flock by sounding an alarm call, herding the sheep, chasing intruders away, and kicking or pawing at predators. Some farmers even prefer llamas over guard dogs because they are relatively inexpensive to buy. In addition, says the paper, “because llamas graze and sleep with the sheep, there are no extra expenses for their care​—and they can outlast popular breeds of guard dogs by several years.” One Canadian sheep farmer who owns llamas described the advantages this way: “They don’t cost you anything,” and “they don’t bark.”

Natural Cooling Agent

A research team in Germany has isolated a natural chemical that has 35 times the cooling power of menthol, yet without the minty taste. The chemical, which occurs naturally in beer and whiskey, was discovered at the German Research Centre for Food Chemistry in Garching, Munich. New Scientist magazine quotes Thomas Hofmann, the director of the research team, as saying: “It could bring a supercool fresh tang to a wide range of products, including beer, bottled water, citrus drinks, chocolate and confectionery.” And because the substance feels cool to the skin in concentrations 250 times lower than mint, it could add zest to cosmetics or skin lotions.

Manure and Superbugs

“Fields across Europe are contaminated with dangerous levels of the antibiotics given to farm animals,” reports New Scientist magazine. More than 10,000 tons of antibiotics are given to farm animals each year in the European Union and the United States to promote growth and prevent disease. “But recent research has found a direct link between the increased use of these farmyard drugs and the appearance of antibiotic-resistant bugs that infect people,” states the magazine. “The drugs, which are in manure sprayed onto fields as fertiliser, could be getting into our food and water . . . , [and they] contaminate the crops, which are then eaten,” New Scientist says.

Grandparents for “Adoption”

Some families in Spain have arranged to “adopt” 66 elderly people who have no relatives, reports the Spanish newspaper El País. “The object of this program . . . is to offer those who can no longer live alone an alternative to going to a home for the elderly,” the newspaper states. Among the applicants desiring to take in the elderly are married couples in their 50’s who want to share their life with an elderly person. Other families with small children say that they would like to have a grandparent at home. Even though the adopting families receive a subsidy, “what really motivates them is not the money,” explains the general director of the program, Marisa Muñoz-Caballero. “If such were the case, they would soon get fed up because caring for the elderly is a laborious task.”

Domestic Violence in Europe

“One European woman in five experiences violence by her male partner at some point in her life,” stated Anna Diamantopoulou, the European commissioner responsible for employment and social affairs. At the Ministerial Conference on Violence against Women that was held in Spain earlier this year, Diamantopoulou noted: “Globally, women aged between 15 and 44 are more likely to be maimed or die as a result of male violence, than through cancer, malaria, road accidents or war combined.” In the United Kingdom, “a woman dies every 3 days as a result of domestic violence,” while “in Ireland, over half of women murdered are killed by their partners or husbands.” And in Austria, reports the French daily Le Monde, “half of all divorce cases are based on wives’ complaints of ill-treatment by their husbands.”

Preventing Childhood Drowning

In 26 of the world’s richest nations, drowning is the second most frequent cause of death among children up to 14 years of age, reports BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal). According to the journal, “infants are most likely to drown in the home (usually in a bathtub); toddlers in bodies of water close to the home such as swimming pools or ponds; and older children in natural bodies of water such as lakes and rivers.” For the prevention of such accidents, experts recommend the following: Have constant supervision of infants in the bathtub or around any body of water; surround a garden pond or swimming pool with fencing that does not allow for access from the home; do not allow children to swim alone or in isolated areas; obtain training in resuscitation techniques.

Early Puberty

“Puberty is starting ever earlier,” reports the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung. It is no longer uncommon for childhood to end, at least biologically, when young ones are between the ages of 10 and 12 or even earlier. Researchers the world over have observed this tendency but are not sure of the reasons. Improved nutrition and a decrease in infectious diseases are mentioned as possibilities. Others blame environmental toxicants, especially those substances that mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen. Whatever the cause, early sexual maturity can lead to early sexual activity. “Often, from playing in the sandbox to one’s first sexual experiences takes just a few years,” states the newspaper.

A Bad Temper Can Kill You

“People who have a bad temper are more prone to suffer a stroke,” notes the Spanish newspaper Diario Médico. Doctors have long associated aggressive behavior with increased risk of coronary illness. Recent research has shown that such behavior also increases the risk of stroke. In a survey of 14,000 adults, stroke risk was three times as high for anger-prone people under the age of 60. Why? It appears that anger can cause a “major increase” in blood pressure, in vascular constriction, and in blood-clotting substances, which “in time, can affect blood circulation in the brain,” states the report.