Watching the World

Sermons for Sale

“Overworked vicars struggling with their sermons have had their prayers answered: a new website offering homilies for all occasions has been launched by a Church of England lay reader,” reports The Daily Telegraph of London. The site’s author, Bob Austin, says: “Preachers are getting busier and busier these days and sermons tend to go down to the bottom of the pile.” He claims to provide “sound, ready-made sermons,” which are “thought-provoking, inspirational and educational.” The site currently lists “more than 50 ‘pulpit-tested’ sermons covering a range of Biblical texts and themes,” but it steers clear of extreme or doctrinally controversial views, explains the newspaper. Described as lasting “a congregation-friendly 10 to 12 minutes,” they cost $13 each.

 “King and Lord of the City”

“The vehicle has become king and lord of the city,” reports Mexico City’s Reforma newspaper. In 1970 there was one automobile for every 12,423 people in the metropolitan area. By 2003 that figure had increased to approximately 1 automobile for every 6 persons. So many autos are being added to the streets of Mexico City that in 2002, there were more new vehicles registered among Mexico City’s 18 million inhabitants than childbirths registered. The downside is that vehicles are responsible for more than 80 percent of Mexico City’s air pollution. Moreover, for some commuters, the trip to work can take up to three hours, largely because of the city’s clogged highways. It is estimated that by the year 2010, the number of automobiles in Mexico City will grow by one million.

Deepening Debt in Britain

“Debt in Britain is threatening to undermine the economy and leave one in four people with insurmountable financial problems,” reports The Daily Telegraph of London. It adds: “The country has established itself as a ‘pay later’ nation saddled with £878 billion [$1.49 trillion] in consumer debt.” Excluding mortgage payments, the average Briton owes £3,383 [$5,737] on credit cards, personal loans, and overdrafts. Thus, “a staggering number of adults are grappling with debts they fear they could default on at any time,” especially if interest rates and unemployment rise. Frances Walker of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service advises: “If your monthly debt payments, excluding mortgage, add up to more than 20 per cent of your monthly income, you are overexposed.” In spite of these warnings, British vacationers were expected to add £3 billion [$5 billion] to their debt during 2003.

Cows Worth More Than People?

The gap between the world’s rich and poor keeps widening. Over the last 20 years, the market share of the least-developed countries (700 million inhabitants) has decreased from 1 percent to 0.6 percent of the world’s total commerce. “The majority of the population in black Africa is poorer today than a generation ago,” writes French economist Philippe Jurgensen in Challenges magazine. In Ethiopia, for example, 67 million people live on one third the wealth of Luxembourg’s 400,000 inhabitants. Jurgensen notes that European farmers are entitled to receive a daily subsidy of 2.5 euros per cow, whereas some 2.5 billion people live on less than that each day. Thus, in many parts of the world, “a poor person is worth less than a cow,” says Jurgensen.

Music and Aggression

Researchers from Iowa State University and the Texas Department of Human Services (U.S.A.) used a series of five experiments involving over 500 college students in an attempt to determine the effects of violent songs. After listening to a number of violent and nonviolent songs all sung by the same singer, the students underwent a series of tests designed to determine the students’ level of aggressive feelings. The study, published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, concluded that violent songs may increase hostile feelings and aggressive thoughts without provocation. “One major conclusion from this and other research on violent entertainment media is that content matters,” said lead researcher Craig Anderson. “This message is important for all consumers, but especially for parents of children and adolescents,” said Anderson.

Intoxicated Children

In Britain a survey of accident and emergency departments in 50 hospitals has revealed that “children as young as six are being admitted to hospital after binge drinking,” reports The Daily Telegraph of London. In one hospital doctors and nurses reported treating as many as 100 intoxicated children a week during the summer vacation. “More than 70 per cent of staff believed that children admitted to hospital for alcohol abuse were getting younger,” says the paper. Also, a recent government report shows that alcohol-related deaths in Britain have tripled in 20 years.

Drug Use Among Italian Adolescents

According to a survey conducted by the San Raffaele Institute of Milan, 42 percent of Italian students surveyed, aged 14 to 19, admit to using drugs. However, Mariolina Moioli, a director general at the Italian Ministry of Education, believes that the actual figure is higher. The most popular drugs among those polled are marijuana and hashish. Of those students who use drugs, 34 percent confessed to doing so at school, 27 percent in discotheques, and 17 percent at home. The survey also revealed that 82 percent of the students drink alcoholic beverages.

A “Colossal” Sea Monster

“A rare and deadly squid with eyes the size of dinner plates and numerous razor-sharp hooks used to snag its prey has been caught by fishermen off Antarctica,” says The Daily Telegraph of Australia. New Zealand marine biologist Steve O’Shea said: “I’ve seen some giant squid but this is sensational.” Called the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni), the 330-pound [150 kg] specimen appears to be a juvenile. “This is a very aggressive animal,” said American marine biologist Kat Bolstad. “If you fell in the water next to it you would be in big trouble.” According to Reuters, “the colossal squid finds food by literally glowing in the dark, deep waters to light up prey for its massive eyes​—the biggest of any animal. . . . Its eight arms and two tentacles have up to 25 teeth-like hooks​—deeply rooted into muscle and able to rotate 360 degrees—​as well as the usual suckers to ensure fish do not escape.”