Watching the World
It has been said that starlings can imitate the calls of over 40 different birds. But that is not all. The common starling has been observed mimicking buses, sirens, chain saws, car alarms, sheep, and even whinnying horses. But now they have added a new sound to their repertoire—the warbling of cell phones. So “if you hear a cell phone ring outdoors, you may be startled to discover that the ‘phone’ has feathers,” reports National Geographic magazine. “As cell phones proliferate, mockingbirds, mynahs, and other mimics are likely to get into the act,” says the magazine.
“Lying Is Tough Work for the Brain”
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that the brain has to work much harder to tell a lie than it does to tell the truth. Dr. Daniel Langleben has been studying this phenomenon using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine to pinpoint which parts of the brain are activated when a person lies. When faced with a question, our brain first needs to process it. Then, “almost by instinct, a liar will first think of the true answer before devising or speaking [a] false answer,” reports The News of Mexico City. “In the brain, you never get something for nothing,” says Langleben. “The process for telling a lie is more complicated than telling the truth, resulting in more neuron activity.” This increased neuron activity shows up on an fMRI like a light bulb. “Even for the smoothest-talker, lying is tough work for the brain,” says the paper.
Global Weapons Stockpile Growing
In 2001 an estimated 639 million small firearms were held by the police, the military, rebel forces, and individuals worldwide, reports Small Arms Survey 2002, a UN-supported study. “This is at least 16 per cent greater than previously estimated,” notes the Survey. Moreover, the global stockpile of small arms grows by roughly 1 percent each year through new production. Presently, pistols, rifles, mortars, and shoulder-fired rocket launchers are produced in over 98 countries worldwide by at least 1,000 companies. According to the report, “the [total] value of global small arms production, including ammunition, in 2000 . . . was estimated to be at least USD 7 billion.” Between 80 and 90 percent of the global trade in small arms is legal, with the largest number of firearms (59 percent) belonging to civilians.
“Up to a fifth of all lung cancer deaths in cities are caused by tiny particles of pollution, most of them from vehicle exhausts,” reports New Scientist magazine. Researchers in the United States and Canada tracked approximately half a million Americans for 16 years, taking into account such risk factors as age, sex, race, smoking history, diet, alcohol consumption, and exposure to pollutants on the job. “The research focused on particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter,” says New Scientist, because “these fine particles are thought to kill by lodging deep in the lungs.” The study found that the risk of exposure to smog in some cities is “comparable with the risks to long-term passive smokers,” says the magazine.
“The births of more than 50 million children go unregistered each year—more than 40 per cent of total births worldwide,” reports the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It adds: “In 39 countries, at least 30 per cent of all children were not registered at birth and in 19 countries the proportion was at least 60 per cent.” What does this mean? Without birth certificates, children do not legally exist, and this can limit their access to basic human services. “Birth registration is a fundamental human right, opening the door to other rights such as education, health care, . . . and protection from discrimination, abuse and exploitation,” says UNICEF. And the problems resulting from unregistered births are not limited to children. “In later life, the unregistered adult may be unable to . . . obtain a marriage licence,” states the report.
“Ecological Bankruptcy” Looming
Scientists estimate that if the consumption of the earth’s natural resources continues at the present rate, “we are preparing for ecological bankruptcy,” reports Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. According to a study first published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it has been calculated that in 1961, “humans used 70 per cent of the planet’s yearly potential for biological productivity. By 1999, it was 120 per cent. Today, it’s about 125 percent.” This means that it would take the earth 15 months “to regenerate the natural capital that humanity uses” through fishing, farming, mining, and burning fossil fuels every year. “Part of the reason things are getting so much worse so quickly is that the biological capacity of the planet is diminishing as some land becomes too damaged to grow crops. Even worse, the demands on that biological capacity are increasing as the world population grows,” states the newspaper.
“When Mark Twain visited Montreal in 1881, he remarked that ‘you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window.’ Nowadays, you might break the window of a condo in a church,” says The Gazette newspaper of Montreal. Although the city still has about 600 places of worship, the paper says that up to 100 of them, many of them Catholic, may be put up for sale in the next decade. “According to the Archdiocese of Montreal, as many as 25 Catholic parishes have closed since 1960.” Canada’s Catholic population grew from about 1.5 million in 1871 to almost 10 million in 1971; yet, “church attendance plummeted, especially in Quebec,” says The Gazette. Bernard Fortin, in charge of pastoral planning for the Archdiocese of Montreal, told the paper that attendance at the churches in that area has dropped from 75 percent in 1970 to about 8 percent today.
Television-Induced Eating Disorders
According to a report in The Independent of London, “there is a significant link between television and symptoms of eating disorders in young girls.” Dr. Anne Becker of Harvard Medical School, in the United States, conducted interviews among adolescent girls in Fiji shortly after television was introduced in 1995. She found that television “appears to have had a profoundly negative impact on body image and eating disorder behaviour.” How? Fijian culture traditionally encourages good appetites and larger body shapes. But after viewing television characters who are slender, many of the schoolgirls were prompted to copy them. For example, before television was introduced to Fiji, not even one of the girls in the study had ever made herself vomit in order to control her weight. Three years later, however, 11.3 percent reported doing so. Researchers also found that 69 percent of the schoolgirls said that they had dieted to lose weight, and nearly three quarters said that they felt “too big or fat.”