Watching the World

“Telemothers” Provide Better Food

In Madrid, Spain, busy single people who like good food but lack either the time or the inclination to cook have found a novel solution. Via the Internet, they hire a “telemother,” says Spain’s newspaper El País. Twice a week by taxi, their adopted mom sends them healthful, homemade food to last several days. Meals include fish, pasta, vegetables, legumes, meat, fruit, and dairy products. The “telemother” maintains telephone contact with each new adoptive “son” in order to check the state of his fridge, his tastes, and his needs. Daily office deliveries are available for four or more people, and there is also a weekend menu.

 A Tunnel for Toads

Engineers working on Canada’s Vancouver Island Highway were surprised to discover that the highway crossed another important route​—a “toad road.” According to Beautiful British Columbia magazine, “hundreds of thousands of three-centimetre western toads” were seen crossing the unfinished highway as they migrated from their swamp breeding grounds to their upland habitat. The potential harm the highway might cause the toads “had project engineers scratching their heads.” How would they solve the problem? Craig Barlow, the project’s environmental coordinator, said that the engineers created a “fencing system that funnels migrating toads to specially installed dry culverts under the highway.” The western toad, says the magazine, is “extremely vulnerable to water pollution, habitat loss, and climate change.”

Con Artists Capitalize on 9/11

Less than a day after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, thieves and con artists began to take advantage of the grief and generosity that followed. Some posed as rescue workers and stole from the site. Even a three-ton earth mover was stolen one night. Swindles were rampant. Some people sold bogus bioterrorism-protection equipment and anthrax cures. Others sold fake Ground Zero dirt as souvenirs. A number submitted phony life insurance and property damage claims. One couple tried to collect money, saying that their apartment, actually located four miles away [6 km] from the site, was damaged by the disaster. Many received payments for “dead” relatives who were still alive or never existed. Peddlers sold items such as flags and buttons, saying that profits would go to relief agencies, but never turned over any of the proceeds. A number of con artists used Web sites to solicit money that they claimed would go to victims. Some took the names of the missing from posters and called up their families to get personal information that they then used to steal the victims’ identities. Investigations are continuing.

Tuberculosis Persists

Tuberculosis (TB) is far from being eradicated, reports the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarín. This is especially true in countries where there is considerable poverty. In Argentina “there are 14,000 new cases annually,” the article states. “According to a report from the World Health Organization . . . , this illness continues to kill about two million people annually.” Although TB is often associated with malnutrition and poverty, its highly infectious nature puts all people at risk. “Tuberculosis is highly contagious, and it crosses all social barriers,” says Dr. Julio González Montaner, a pioneer in the use of drugs to fight TB. He explained that a person can become infected in an airplane, in his own community, or at his place of employment.

First Light-Pollution Law

The Czech Republic is the first country with a law prohibiting light pollution, notes the Berliner Morgenpost. The law, known as the Protection of the Atmosphere Act, came into force on June 1, 2002. It has found wide support among astronomers and also the population in general. The law defines light pollution as “every form of illumination by artificial light that is dispersed outside the areas it is dedicated to, particularly if directed above the level of the horizon.” Citizens and organizations are obliged to reduce stray light, which impedes observation of the night sky, by using shielded light fixtures. Even prior to June 1, the use of such fixtures in downtown Brno had markedly reduced stray light. “The improvement is spectacular,” said Czech astronomer Jan Hollan.

Worldwide Literacy Problems

Just how well are students being educated these days? The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development carried out a study based on tests involving 265,000 high school students 15 years of age in 32 countries to assess “the extent to which students approaching the end of compulsory education have the knowledge and skills needed for full participation in society.” Their findings reveal that 6 percent of pupils fall below the “lowest level of reading proficiency.” Another 12 percent can only manage “very basic reading tasks such as locating a simple piece of information or identifying the main theme of a text.” In literacy, on the average, girls in all the countries performed better than boys. Finnish pupils did the best in reading, while Japanese and Korean students were the top performers in science and mathematics. “In 20 out of 28 countries, more than one in four students consider school a place where they do not want to go,” says the study.

Ousted Headlines

“What events were ousted from the media by [the September 11, 2001] ‘Apocalypse’?” asked the French magazine Médias. The headlines that did not appear in 12 national and regional newspapers in France included news of an American fighter plane that was shot down over Iraq, an earthquake that shook Taiwan, a typhoon that killed five people in Japan, and religious violence that killed at least 165 in Nigeria. Other news items that were eclipsed by the World Trade Center disaster were a sports scandal and the fatal stabbing of a 14-year-old boy by a 15-year-old girl. The only French daily that kept its planned headline was a sports newspaper. But according to Médias, this occurred because a picture showing soccer players observing a minute’s silence before the kickoff did not arrive in time to make the front page.

Smoking’s 40-Year Legacy

In 1962, England’s Royal College of Physicians published Smoking and Health, “the first unmistakable warning from an official body in Britain about the dangers of tobacco,” says The Independent of London. At that time, 70 percent of men and 43 percent of women smoked. Over the following 40 years, “five million people in the UK have died from smoking, 12 times as many as were killed in the Second World War.” Although only 29 percent of men and 25 percent of women now smoke, cigarettes “are still promoted, glamorised and marketed to the young,” says The Independent. According to a recent report of the Royal College, tobacco consumption is again on the increase and is still the principal threat to public health. Sir Richard Doll, who in a 1950 ground-breaking study linked smoking and lung cancer, says it is never too late to quit the habit. He adds: “My message is, stop smoking, enjoy life more and enjoy more of it.”