Watching the World

Spas for Tots

Wellness centers that provide spa treatments for very young children are springing up in Germany and elsewhere, reports the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. Children as young as four years of age receive warm oil massages and other therapies, besides general pampering. Some experts believe that all of this has more to do with making money than with improving children’s health. For the sake of profit, says Peter Wippermann, director of the Hamburg Office of Trends, “the children are being pressed into a grown-up world.” According to Dr. Christoph Kampmann, head of the pediatric institute at Mainz University, one concern is that “it will turn children into extreme individualists with an upper-class mentality, who are completely focused on themselves.” Rather than getting spa treatment for common childhood discomforts, “children should be out climbing trees and romping around,” says the report. “This definitely prevents posture problems, regulates appetite, and promotes good sleep.”

 Thirsty Agriculture

“Australia is the driest inhabited continent, but we have the highest per capita water use in the world,” states the Australian newspaper. Every day, Australia uses an average of 950 quarts [900 L] of water per person, compared with 630 quarts [600 L] per person for North America. “Three-quarters of the water used in Australia [goes] to irrigated agriculture,” states the report. Producing one pound [kilogram] of wheat takes 430 quarts [1010 L] of water. For a dairy to produce a quart [liter] of milk, cow pastures soak up about 600 quarts [600 L] of water. It also takes more than 8,000 quarts [18,000 L] to produce a pound [kilogram] of butter and 21,000 quarts [50,000 L] for a pound [kilogram] of pasture-fed beefsteak. Cloth production is also a thirsty industry. Producing a pound [kilogram] of cotton requires 2,300 quarts [5,300 L] of water, and over 73,000 quarts [171,000 L] of water are needed to produce one pound [kilogram] of wool. It is estimated that 650,000 quarts [685,000 L] of water are used to produce just one wool suit.

Warmer Weather and Wildlife Population

“The number of spiders in Australia, including potentially deadly redbacks, is exploding as scientists suspect global warming is wreaking havoc in wildlife populations,” reports The Weekend Australian. According to Dr. Robert Raven of the Queensland Museum, spiders that usually breed only once yearly were expected to breed three or four times this year. “Spiders which should be juveniles at this time of year are already adults,” he said. “We’re looking at some spiders doubling their lifespan.” Researchers also believe that warmer weather is affecting bird life. The newspaper states: “Birds such as forest kingfishers, which normally breed once a year, are raising two broods.” Birds are also “breeding earlier and returning earlier from wintering in Europe, suggesting changes might be global.”

More Moons Discovered

Improved technology has led to a doubling in just six years of the number of moons known to exist in our solar system, according to ¿Cómo ves? the science magazine of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. By the end of 2003, there were 136 moons known to orbit seven of the planets​—only Mercury and Venus appear to have none—​and astronomers expect to find even more. Jupiter has the most known moons (61), followed by Saturn (31), Uranus (27), Neptune (13), and Mars (2). Pluto and Earth have one moon each.

Fatigue May Signal Heart Attack

According to one study, “unusual fatigue and sleeplessness might be early warning signs of a heart attack in women,” reports the international edition of The Miami Herald. While only 30 percent of women in the study reported chest pain as an early sign, 71 percent had felt unusual fatigue more than a month before a heart attack. “The fatigue is unexplained and unusual,” says Professor Jean McSweeney of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, adding that “for some, it’s so severe that they can’t make a bed without resting as they tuck the sheets. . . . Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.” She notes, “If we can get women to recognize the symptoms early, we can get them treatment and prevent or delay a heart attack.”

Flood Protection for Venice

Venice, Italy, built on about 120 islands in the Adriatic Sea, is subject to regular flooding. After extensive studies and debates, the Italian government has given the go-ahead for the construction of a system of hinged barriers across the three mouths of the lagoon. The barriers will consist of 79 steel boxes, each about 100 feet [30 m] high, 65 feet [20 m] wide, and 15 feet [5 m] thick. In normal conditions the boxes will be filled with water so that they lie flat on the seabed, thus permitting navigation and the ebb and flow of the tide. But when flooding is expected, air will be pumped into the boxes. Now buoyant, they will swing up from the seafloor like drawbridges until the boxes rise above the surface. Side by side, the boxes will form a long barrier that will keep floodwaters out. The system is expected to be operational by 2011.

Smoking News

• “Researchers found that a smoking ban in bars, restaurants and other indoor businesses in Helena, Mont[ana], was associated with a nearly 60% drop in hospital admissions for heart attacks in the six months that it was in effect,” reports The Wall Street Journal. After a local court overturned the smoking ban, the rate of heart attacks returned to previous levels. “This is a strong piece of evidence of the need to avoid the dangers of secondhand smoke,” said cardiologist Sidney Smith.

• “State governments, once the tobacco industry’s fiercest foes, now find themselves in an unusual position: They are poised to try to rescue the country’s biggest cigarette maker,” states the Journal. The reason? A judge ruled that the company must post a $12-billion bond in order to appeal a court case. This would have forced them into bankruptcy, and billions of dollars in settlement money from a previous case would have stopped. The State governments “became hooked on the money, which for many states is staving off budgetary catastrophe,” the article noted. This “sent the states scurrying to switch sides.” Two weeks later the judge reversed his decision and allowed the company to post a smaller bond.