Watching the World

Garbage Diet

“It is amazing how important garbage has become as a food source for numerous birds and mammals,” says biologist Wilfried Meyer. “In some places garbage ensures the very survival of some species.” As reported in the newsmagazine Der Spiegel, a global study project found that nearly 70 species of birds and 50 species of mammals feed on refuse. A real food chain has developed at landfills. Insects thrive in the warmth produced by the rotting garbage. Birds and small mammals feed on these insects and are themselves hunted by birds of prey and other predators. Interestingly, some birds that are shy by nature do not mind the deafening noise of the compactors and the presence of other animals and humans at garbage dumps.

 Jumbo Hijackers

It appears that humans are not the only highway robbers. According to the Bangkok Post, elephants have also joined the ranks. Hungry elephants from the jungles east of Bangkok have been blocking the roads used by sugarcane trucks and hijacking their sweet cargo. About 130 elephants normally live in the Ang Lue Nai wildlife sanctuary, but dry weather has reduced the vegetation available for them, forcing the hungry elephants to wander out of the jungle in search of food. The sanctuary’s chief overseer, Yoo Senatham, reported that some elephants have also resorted to raiding plantations, while others pick up sugarcane dropped off for them by sympathetic truck drivers.

Animal Antibiotics

For a long time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned about the excessive and unnecessary use of antibiotics for farm animals that are not sick. According to the Spanish newspaper ABC, the drugs have been routinely added to animal feed “in order to fatten the farm animals quickly.” Recently, a Danish study has shown that raising animals can be profitable without the help of antibiotics. When the farmers eliminated antibiotics from animal feed, chicken production was unaffected and the cost of pork production increased by only 1 percent. WHO has applauded the Danish initiative and is encouraging other countries to take similar measures. Doing so, says the paper, “would be beneficial for public health as well.”

Cheating Chess Players

“Many chess players don’t always take the rules too seriously,” reports the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. One example is an amateur player who won against a grand master. Later, however, it was discovered that hidden under his long hair were a microphone, earphones, and a camera, for communicating with a chess player at a computer in another room. Others have been known to go to the toilet, close the door, and pull out a hand-held computer to calculate their next moves. On-line players can also be devious. Some run a chess program on their computer while participating in an on-line game. In other cases players participated under two names and played against themselves​—one name always losing and thereby pushing the other up in the ranking list. “For many it is not so much a question of prize money,” states the newspaper. “In almost every case, the motivating factor is, not greed, but vanity.”

Too Old to Learn?

“When the six-year-olds take a lesson at [an elementary school in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province], one pupil stands out head and shoulders above the rest,” reports the Daily Nation newspaper of Nairobi. It is an 84-year-old man who recently joined the first graders so that “he can learn to read the Bible.” Although he has grandchildren who are several grades ahead of him, he still attends his classes. “People have been telling me things in the Bible, which I do not know if they are true, and I want to read the Holy Book for myself and find out,” the man told the Nation. Complete with a school uniform and other study items, he tries his best to conform to the rigorous school rules. Some things, though, he is allowed to do differently. When other students are exercising and running around, he “is allowed to gently stretch his muscles.”

Deadly Earthquakes in 2003

“According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 2003 closed as the deadliest year for earthquakes since 1990, 25 times more fatal than 2002,” says a press release from the agency. “In 2002, 1711 people died in quakes around the world,” while 43,819 perished last year. About 41,000 of those deaths occurred in Iran when a magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit the city of Bam on December 26. The most severe quake, and the only one to qualify as a “great” quake, was the one that struck Hokkaido, Japan, on September 25. It had a magnitude of 8.3. According to the report, “the USGS locates about 50 earthquakes each day. . . . On average, there are 18 major earthquakes (magnitude 7.0 to 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or higher) each year worldwide. Several million earthquakes occur in the world each year, but many go undetected because they occur in remote areas or have very small magnitudes.”

Why So Much Juvenile Crime?

Specialists believe that dysfunctional family life is at the root of a rapid rise in the number of child criminals. As pointed out in a report in the South African newspaper Weekend Witness, most of these children are from broken homes or homes where both parents work and are “too busy, tired or rushed” to care for them. According to criminologist Dr. Irma Labuschagne, many teenagers do not even understand the concept of “family” and “are yearning for love and acceptance.” They thus seek these elsewhere and become easy prey for criminal gangs that offer them a sense of belonging. Parents, observed psychologist Dr. Cecelia Jansen, “are so caught up in their own search for status, success and materialism that they don’t know what is happening in the lives of their family members.” Both Labuschagne and Jansen recommend “a return to old-fashioned family values,” says the paper. It concludes: “There is no replacement for a healthy, happy, normal family.”