• Watching the World

    Earthquakes Unpredictable

    For many years scientists felt it should be possible to predict earthquakes. They looked at changing water-table levels, subtle motions in the earth’s crust, radon gas escaping from wells, and other telltale signs. “Many of the nation’s leading seismologists now think that earthquakes are inherently unpredictable,” notes an article in The New York Times. “They say that the search for ways to warn people days, hours or minutes before an earthquake appears to be futile. . . . While recent research suggests that some earthquakes may produce precursory signals involving shifts in the earth’s crust, those signals are so small, faint and hidden from view that detecting them in any practical sense may be impossible.” Some people are now calling for the government to take the funds away from earthquake research and use them on reducing the resulting hazards. Scientists, though, do agree that more knowledge of how the ground moves and how buildings react in earthquakes is needed.

    Surviving Immersion in Cold Water

    Scientists investigating why people falling into icy water die so quickly have found that the body’s natural response to cold shock is to hyperventilate. “The sudden intake of breath is followed by an influx of water—and drowning,” says New Scientist

    magazine. Hyperventilation cannot be prevented. So survival depends on keeping the head above water until the response to gulp air subsides, usually within two or three minutes.

    Sports and Longevity

    Germans spend the equivalent of $25 billion per year on sports, or over $300 per person. This money is paid for “outfits, equipment, training, hiring sports grounds, and club fees,” reports the

    Nassauische Neue Presse. More than three million people exercise at fitness studios, and millions more go jogging. Might sports enthusiasts therefore live longer or better than stay-at-homes? Not necessarily. The book Physiologie des Menschen (Human Physiology) states: “To generalize that sports are the best medicine is definitely not correct.” Why? Because more than 1.5 million Germans visit the doctor each year with sports-related injuries incurred during recreation on weekends and on vacations. The book advises that exercise and sports are good for health only “as long as the improvement in well-being is not impaired by accidents or chronic sporting injuries.”

    No Obligation to Tell the Truth

    Recent U.S. court trials have caught worldwide public attention and astounded viewers. “While prosecutors have an obligation to present the truth, defense lawyers operate in a different hall of mirrors,” says The New York Times. “The job of a defense lawyer is to get the client an acquittal, a hung jury (by instilling reasonable doubt in the mind of even a single juror) or a conviction on the least serious charges.” “They have no obligation to insure that a not-guilty verdict is correct,” says Stephen Gillers, teacher of legal ethics at New York University law school. “We tell the jury that the trial is a search for truth, and we never tell them that defense lawyers are obligated to fool them.” When “faced with facts that glaringly implicate the client, lawyers must often create stories for the jury to tell itself in order to look past those facts and vote for an acquittal,” states the Times. What happens when lawyers know their client is guilty but the client still insists on taking his chances with the jury? “Then lawyers will go into court like Uriah Heep, full of false humility, and proclaim their deep belief in the integrity of their client’s story while knowing it is 100 percent false,” says Gillers.

    New Values

    Russian youths as well as Russian society as a whole are undergoing a crisis of values. A recent survey taken in St. Petersburg, Russia, found that the attitude of youths gives emphasis to “the values common to humanity—that is, health, life, family, and love as well as personal values, such as success , career, comfort, and material security,” reports the Russian newspaper Sankt-Peterburgskiye Vyedomosti. Other dominating values center on parents, money, welfare, happiness, friendship, and knowledge. Interestingly, having a

    good reputation and enjoying personal freedoms occupy two of the last places in the minds of youths. What is in last place? Honesty. The report concludes: “If lying is all around them, then in the minds of the growing generation [honesty] is valueless.”

    Unfruitful Decade

    British churches declared this to be the “Decade of Evangelism.” Now, halfway through, what has been accomplished? Says spokesman Michael Green in the

    Church Times: “We have hardly begun to shape the gospel to meet the questions ordinary people are raising. I see little sign of churches operating beyond their walls and getting out with the good news among the community. . . . We have scarcely begun to make any impact on unchurched modern youth, and that comprises about 86 per cent of all our young people in the country.” Why the lack of success ? “We persuade ourselves that our lifestyle will do it without a word being said. We are frightened of putting anyone off,” says Green.

    Bold Holdups

    In Canada, 1 bank in 7 was raided by thieves in 1994—more raids per branch than in any other country. However, in Italy, where 1 in 13 bank branch offices was attacked, the robbers did seem to be more brazen than elsewhere. Few Italian bank thieves bothered to disguise themselves or even use weapons. Some simply threatened the bank tellers verbally and were given cash. A couple of robbers even resorted to hypnotism, reports The Economist. Bank robbers in Italy are also very persistent: 165 bank branches were raided twice, 27 three times, and 9 four times during the course of the year. The average amount taken in a robbery in 1994? Sixty-one million lire ($37,803, U.S.), the lowest figure since 1987.

    Crocodile News

    The recently unearthed fossilized jaws of an ancient crocodile “may represent the first known herbivorous member” of the crocodile family, reports Nature

    magazine. Instead of the long pointed teeth of the modern crocodile, so feared by humans today, this ancient forebear had flattened teeth reportedly better suited to chewing grass. Indications are that this creature—discovered by Chinese and Canadian researchers in Hupeh Province in China on a hill near the southern bank of the Yangtze River—was also a land dweller, not an amphibian. Its size? It measured about three feet [1 m]

    in length.

    Increasing Stress

    A recent study in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, found that over 35 percent of people seeking medical attention were suffering from various forms of mental disturbance, reports Veja. The magazine asked Dr. Jorge Alberto Costa e Silva, mental-health director for the World Health Organization (WHO): “How can these figures be explained? Did the world get worse or did people become psychologically weaker?” His response: “We live in a time of extremely fast changes, which end up causing anxiety and stress at levels never before seen in mankind’s history.” One common source of stress, he claims, is the prevalent violence in Rio de Janeiro. This often leads to posttraumatic stress, which, he explains, “affects people when they in one way or another have been in a life-endangering situation. During the day they manifest insecurity in relation to everything. At night they have nightmares in which the episode that put their lives in danger is relived.”

    Health Gap

    The health gap is widening between rich and poor nations. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the average life expectancy of people who live in developed countries and were born there is 76 years—compared with 54 years for those in less-developed countries. In 1950, infant mortality in poor countries was three times higher than it was in rich countries; now it is 15 times higher. By the late 1980’s, in poor countries the death rate due to maternal complications was 100 times greater than in rich nations. Contributing to the problem, states WHO, is the fact that fewer than half the people living in poor countries have access to clean water and sanitation. According to the United Nations, the number of “least developed countries” increased from 27 in 1975 to 48 in 1995. Worldwide there are 1.3 billion poor people, and their number is increasing.

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