Watching the World

Perils of Multitasking

Multitasking​—trying to do more than one thing at a time—​“can actually make you less efficient and, well, stupider,” states The Wall Street Journal. “Trying to do two or three things at once or in quick succession can take longer overall than doing them one at a time, and may leave you with reduced brainpower to perform each task.” Some warning signs are short-term memory loss (such as forgetting what you just did or said), gaps in attentiveness, loss of ability to concentrate, symptoms of stress (such as shortness of breath), and problems in communicating with others. Efficiency suffers the most when the tasks require use of the same parts of the brain, such as when both talking on the phone and listening to a child calling from the next room. Multitasking is especially dangerous while driving. Activities such as eating or drinking, reaching for an item, carrying on an intense conversation with a passenger or on the phone, applying makeup, or even just adjusting the radio or another control can momentarily distract you and result in an accident.

 Never Shake a Baby!

Vigorously shaking a baby causes a sudden whiplash motion that “can cause bleeding inside the head and increased pressure on the brain, causing it to pull apart,” says the Toronto Star newspaper. Since a baby’s muscles are not fully developed and brain tissue is exceptionally fragile, “shaking a baby for only a few seconds can injure for life. Injuries can include brain swelling and damage, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, developmental delays, blindness, hearing loss, paralysis and death.” Dr. James King, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, has researched the effects of shaking babies. He says that the public needs to be educated, as in many cases the injuries are not readily apparent and the baby may be diagnosed as having a flu or a viral illness. “The message that you should never shake a baby has to go out and be loud and clear,” says Dr. King. “New parents have to know this.”

Not Interested in Religion

“It does not appear that [Japanese] people are turning to religion for answers as they struggle to cope with the current gloomy conditions,” reports the IHT Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Responding to the question “Do you believe or have some interest in religion or some type of faith?” only 13 percent of both men and women answered yes. An additional 9 percent of men and 10 percent of women said that they were “somewhat” interested. “Particularly noteworthy is low interest among women in their 20s, who posted a mere 6 percent,” the newspaper adds. The annual survey revealed that 77 percent of men in Japan and 76 percent of women say that they have no interest at all in religion or in any form of faith. Japanese interest in religion has dropped by almost half from a similar poll taken in 1978. Generally, it was the older respondents who claimed to have some interest, particularly those over 60 years of age.

Depression Linked to Other Diseases

“The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020 depression will be second only to heart disease as the leading cause of disability worldwide,” states U.S.News & World Report. Increasingly, this serious public-health problem is not considered to be “strictly psychological.” According to Philip Gold, the chief of clinical neuroendocrinology at the National Institute of Mental Health, “depression is really the only systemic disease that affects​—and complicates—​almost all other diseases.” Depression might even trigger such disorders as heart disease and diabetes. For example, research shows that people with depression “have more rigid hearts, less able to respond to the changing demands of the body for blood and oxygen,” the article points out. Also, “a depressed brain sends out signals that it needs more energy, which can trigger cortisol production, thereby raising blood sugar.” Links are also seen between depression and osteoporosis and cancer. Studies are being carried out to see if treating depression can change the outcome of such medical disorders.

Marriage and the Heart

“Research has shown that the quality of a person’s marriage can help predict their recovery from heart surgery,” states The Daily Telegraph of London. According to Dr. James Coyne, of the University of Pennsylvania, U.S.A., a happy marriage can give a patient reason for fighting his way back to health, but “a bad marriage can be worse for a patient than no marriage at all.” Dr. Coyne and his team videotaped the arguments that couples had at home and found that heart patients who were negative with their mates were nearly twice as likely to die within four years as were those who interacted less negatively. Dr. Linda Waite, a University of Chicago sociology professor, concludes that a good marriage can be put “in exactly the same category as eating a good diet, getting exercise and not smoking.”

“Violin Trees” Endangered

“For high-quality violin bows, a special kind of wood is needed​—but this wood is becoming scarce,” notes the German science magazine natur & kosmos. The tree producing this wood is the Caesalpinia echinata, also known as the Pernambuco or pau brasil. Its natural habitat is the coastal forest of Brazil. But this forest is shrinking fast as land is being cleared for agricultural purposes. The trees now cover only 4 percent of their original area and are on the list of endangered species. Moreover, only trees that are 20 years old or more develop the yellow or red-brown heartwood that is suitable for bowmaking. The article states that according to master bowmaker Thomas Gerbeth, no comparable substitute exists, as “synthetic material has not yet reached this level of refined quality.” Bowmakers and musicians alike are now promoting the conservation of their “violin tree.”

An Old Curse That Has Not Disappeared

“More than 700,000 new cases of leprosy have been detected worldwide during 2002, according to the figures from the World Health Organization,” reports the Spanish newspaper El País. Since Biblical times, leprosy has been a dreaded disease. Nowadays, the modern form of the illness can be cured. In fact, some 12 million people have recovered from leprosy over the last 20 years. However, “we cannot yet assume leprosy is a thing of the past,” states researcher Jeanette Farrell. Health authorities have not succeeded in wiping out the disease, and a steady number of new cases continue to appear. Principal countries still affected by leprosy are Brazil, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, and Nepal. With the recent deciphering of the human genome, scientists hope to find a suitable vaccine.

“Alarming Gender Imbalance” in China

“According to China’s fifth national census, the [boy to girl] birthrate ratio now stands at 116.9:100 in favor of male infants, as compared with 113.8:100 in 1990,” says the magazine China Today. “Both these figures are far in excess of the international norm of 105:100, and indicate a worsening of the already alarming gender imbalance in China.” It is predicted that in the future some 50 million Chinese men will be unable to find mates when they reach a marriageable age. The article adds: “Zheng Zizhen, chief of the Sociology and Demography Institute of Guangdong Province, is quoted as saying that this sustained abnormality in the birth gender rate will have a negative affect on the structure of the Chinese population, society, and morals.”