Watching the World

Robbery Foiled by Internet

A man in Uruguay named Mauricio was communicating with a friend in Brazil by Internet computer camera (webcam) when his friend interrupted the video conversation to answer the door. In time, two unfamiliar men came into view, one of them carrying a gun. Mauricio looked on in horror as the robbers, unaware that they were being watched from afar, began to scoop up his friend’s valuables. Upon realizing what was happening, Mauricio phoned a relative in São Paulo. The relative alerted the police, who surrounded the house. After a three-hour standoff, the robbers surrendered to the police without harming anyone.

 The Gap Between Man and Monkeys

A recent analysis of the DNA of chimpanzees and orangutans, as well as of certain monkeys and macaques, has revealed that their genetic makeup is not as similar to man’s as scientists once thought. “Large differences in DNA, not small ones, separate apes and monkeys from both humans and each other,” says Britain’s New Scientist magazine. “There are large deletions and insertions sprinkled throughout the chromosome,” explains Kelly Frazer of Perlegen Sciences, the California, U.S.A., company that did the analysis. New Scientist characterized the differences as a “yawning gap [that] divides monkeys and us.”

Missing Relatives

Many thousands of families worldwide do not know the whereabouts of relatives who have disappeared in war or civil unrest. A recent conference in Geneva, Switzerland, bearing the theme “The Missing” addressed the plight of families of missing persons, as reported in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. According to Sophie Martin, head of the Missing Persons Project of the International Committee of the Red Cross, “anxiety can remain with [family members] for years after the fighting has subsided.” In many cases, victims’ families feel “unable to move on with their lives or begin the process of recovery.” Formerly warring parties are often disinclined to cooperate in finding missing persons. The reason may lie not so much in inability as in unwillingness. As one expert pointed out, revealing the truth about the circumstances of the deaths of missing persons can bring wartime atrocities to light.

Breast-Fed Babies​—Smarter, Healthier

“Queensland researchers who studied almost 4000 Brisbane children found that, on the whole, those who were breastfed had higher IQs,” states The Daily Telegraph of Sydney, Australia. Professor Jake Najman of the University of Queensland said: “The longer the mother breastfed, the higher the intelligence of the child. It’s not just a small advantage that the breastfed children have, it’s about eight IQ points, which is quite a substantial advantage. It’s the difference between being an average child and being a reasonably bright child.” Another possible advantage of breast-feeding is that it may be a factor in reducing by up to 30 percent a child’s risk of becoming obese, says a report in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph. According to lactation consultant Joy Heads, “there are very few waste products in breastmilk, which is almost perfectly utilised. You can have a big, chubby breast-fed baby and there is no problem with that at all. But a fat, bottle-fed baby has a higher chance of being obese later in life.”

Very Long-Distance Service Calls

A caller in Philadelphia, in the United States, dials a local customer service number. Though the young woman who answers the caller identifies herself as Michelle, her real name is Meghna, and she is located in India, where it is the middle of the night. Indian call centers employ more than 100,000 people to handle many “back-office” operations for overseas companies, such as American Express, AT&T, British Airways, Citibank, and General Electric. Moving this work to India has been prompted by affordable international telephone rates along with India’s abundance of educated, English-speaking workers, “whose wages are 80 per cent less than their western counterparts,” reports the magazine India Today. In order to sound as American as possible, operators like Meghna take months of training, including “watching Hollywood blockbusters to pick up a wide variety of American accents.” Meghna’s computer even tells her the weather in Philadelphia, so she can comment on it. And she signs off by saying: “Have a good day.”

Undersea Plumbing

Two underwater volcanoes discovered off the coast of Canada’s Vancouver Island have been found to act as a huge plumbing system running under the ocean floor, reports Canadian Geographic magazine. Scientists have long known that seawater circulates beneath the ocean floor. “The problem is that most of the seafloor doesn’t have much exposed rock that would be permeable to water,” explains Andrew Fisher, a hydrogeologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Fisher and his colleagues found that seawater is drawn into a volcanic seamount that penetrates the impermeable clay covering the ocean floor. The water comes out of another seamount more than 30 miles [50 km] away. Fisher anticipates that this discovery will lead to a better understanding of the chemistry of seawater as well as of the microbes living in the oceanic crust.

Never Too Old to Learn

In Nepal, where illiteracy is widespread, an elderly man with over 12 grandchildren has gained fame for his efforts to get an education. Bal Bahadur Karki, known as Writer Baje, was born in 1917 and fought in the second world war. At the age of 84, after four attempts, he obtained his School Leaving Certificate. Now, at the age of 86, he is taking a college course. He is majoring in English and even tutors others in the language. Sitting at a desk surrounded by young people helps him to forget his age and feel young again, he says. On his last trip to the capital, Kathmandu, he received prizes and a thunderous ovation for his accomplishments. He encouraged others not to give up just because they are old. However, Writer Baje voiced a complaint. He had been forced to walk three days in order to catch a bus because he was denied a discount and could not afford the regular airfare. He told The Kathmandu Post: “The airlines should give me a student discount as I am also a student.”

Mental Disorders Among Children

“Twenty-two percent of children and adolescents in Spain suffer from mental disorders of some kind,” reports Spain’s newspaper ABC. “The most common are behavior disorders, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders,” states child psychiatrist María Jesús Mardomingo. During the past 30 years, specialists have observed a marked increase in the number of these cases, leading them to the conclusion that emotional problems often accompany economic progress. They note, for example, dramatic changes in social and cultural values, including a significant decline in parental authority. “Although we know that inflexibility and authoritarianism are destructive,” states Mardomingo, “there is a need to combine love with authority.”