Over 250 million Americans subscribe to cellular phone services, accounting for 82.4 percent of the nation’s total population. In the past 10 years the number of subscribers has increased by 352 percent. In 2002, just five years ago, 141 million Americans used cell phones, and 10 years ago, in 1997, only 55 million Americans were wireless.
Source: Gearlog.com and CTIA-Wireless Association
On October 29, FEMA held a press conference to brief the public on the ongoing California wildfires. According to an internal review, the agency’s press secretary, Aaron Walker, was given approximately an hour to hold the event. Aides notified reporters 15 minutes before the briefing was scheduled to begin—not enough time for any to attend. Six minutes before commencing the conference, Walker e-mailed external affairs staffers so that they would be prepared to fill chairs and ask questions in place of the absent reporters. It was not clear to the investigators why reporters listening by telephone were kept from asking questions. All of the information deputy administrator Harvey E. Johnson Jr. provided was accurate and he was unaware of the staffers posing as reporters, the review stated. Aaron Walker was asked to resign by FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison for his part in staging the event. As a result of the incident, FEMA will give at least an hour’s notice of news conferences and only allow reporters to ask questions whether present or by telephone.
Source: Washington Post
For the first time in over 25 years, obesity in Americans isn’t on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34.3 percent of adults, more than 72 million Americans, were classified as obese in 2005 and 2006. Since the previous two-year period, the numbers have remained almost unchanged. Experts suggested increased fitness club memberships, the trans-fat ban, and the government’s persistent pleas for citizens to lose weight as possible explanations for the leveling off. Glenn Gaesser, an exercise physiologist at the University of Virginia and author of the iconoclastic book Big Fat Lies, believes that the lull in growth is due to physical limitations. “You can only get so fat,” he said. Time will tell whether the numbers indicate a decline in obesity or just a plateau. Obesity is a serious health issue—400,000 people died of obesity-related illnesses in 2004, just under smoking-related diseases at 435,000. The Department of Health and Human Services set health guidelines that call for the obesity rate to drop to 15 percent by 2010, rates equivalent to the early 1970s.
Sources: Los Angeles Times
An 80-year-old turtle weighing 90 pounds is now living alone in a blue-and-white tiled-pool in a zoo in Changsha, a city in the Hunan province of China. Unremarkable and ignored for its 51-year tenure at the zoo, until earlier this year it was announced as the last living female Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle—the largest species of freshwater turtle in the world. Now it receives a special diet of raw meat and has been surrounded in bulletproof glass. The only male lives in a zoo in the city of Suzhou, is 100 years old, and weighs 200 pounds. Artificial insemination is planned for the spring in an attempt to breed them. These turtles are only symbols of the threatened biodiversity in China, where nearly 40 percent of mammals, 70 percent of nonflowering plants, and 86 percent of flowering plants are threatened. Competition for land and water in the overpopulated, rapidly developing nation has led to habitat destruction, increased development, and pollution—all of which take a toll on wildlife. Many major international conservation groups have opened offices in China and there have been successes with endangered animals. Approximately 2,000 pandas now live in reserves, and the Chinese alligator and Tibetan antelope are growing in number, but these animals hold national importance and by comparison their numbers do little to reverse the damaging effects to Chinese biodiversity. Just last year the Yangzte River dolphin, or baiji, was declared extinct and many other species are closing in on such a fate.
Source: New York Times
A military air strike on a radio station in Sri Lanka, in late November, that killed three editorial staff members brought the work-related deaths of journalists and media workers to an all-time high of 171 casualties for the year. With more than a month left in 2007 (as of this writing), the incident exceeded the 168 deaths of 2006. “The news media death toll around the world has risen almost every year since the millennium, each year worse than the one before,” said Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute. “This is despite international calls for an end to the murder of journalists and other news professionals and an end to impunity for their killers.” Iraq is the most dangerous country for media workers. Since the war began, at least 235 journalists were killed—64 last year. Sri Lanka, with six deaths, has the second highest casualties and Afghanistan, Mexico, India, and the Philippines each have five. Four media workers have died in each of the nations of Haiti, Pakistan, and Somalia.
Source: The Guardian (UK) and International News Safety Institute
In late November, Google announced plans to develop more affordable renewable energy to reduce the need for coal-based power, which supplies 40 percent of the world’s electricity. The company’s for-profit philanthropic subsidiary, Google.org, will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the initiative called RE < C (renewable energy less/cheaper than coal), by investing in renewable energy start-ups and hiring 20 to 30 engineers and energy experts. The initiative will focus on green technologies like advanced solar thermal power, wind power, and geothermal systems. The company plans to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy, enough to power a city the size of San Francisco, more cheaply than coal-generated energy within five years. Google has taken steps in the past toward minimizing the company’s carbon footprint. It draws about 30 percent of the electricity for its million-square-foot Mountain View, California, headquarters from 9,000 solar panels installed on the rooftops of the 11 buildings and in parking lot overhangs—one of the largest solar power installations in the country.
Source: Los Angeles Times, Google Press Release, and Wired
Continuing improvement in data collection worldwide shows the number of people living with HIV has leveled off and new infections have fallen. In 2007, an estimated 33.2 million people were living with HIV, 2.5 million were newly infected, and 2.1 million died of AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa, the most severely infected region in the world, has 22.5 million people living with HIV, 68 percent of the global total, but has seen a reduction of new infections. Last year’s 1.7 million new cases is a significant decrease from 2001. However, in the same time frame, new infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia increased by 150 percent—from 630,000 to 1.6 million in 2007. People living with HIV in Vietnam more than doubled between 2000 and 2005, and Indonesia has the fastest growing infection rate. These numbers represent more accurate information on the disease collected worldwide. This news was released just days after the death of Dr. Merle Sande, a San Francisco infectious-disease specialist who pioneered HIV and AIDS treatment in the early years of the AIDS outbreak and later worked to create an infrastructure to prevent and treat AIDS in Africa. Under his leadership, San Francisco General Hospital opened the first ward and outpatient clinic for AIDS patients.
Source: The Economist, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and World Health Organization Press Release, and Los Angeles Times
The World Economic Forum (WEF) released their second annual Global Gender Gap Report in November. The Swiss-based think tank took economic opportunity, education, political empowerment, and health into account when compiling the list. Topping the list with the smallest gap were affluent, developed nations: Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland, respectively. Of the 128 countries monitored, those that enforce traditional gender roles like Pakistan (126), Chad (127), and Yemen (last on the list) ranked lowest because of the inequality between the sexes. Since the inception of the study in 2006, the US has dropped from 23 to 31, behind Estonia, Namibia, and Costa Rica. While wealthier nations show less gender disparity the WEF attempted to eliminate bias by only measuring the inequality within the nation.
Source: Salon.com and the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2007
The 11,755 non-US troops from 26 countries account for about 7 percent of the 175,000 multinational soldiers in Iraq. These numbers represent a steady decline since the mid-2004 peak—25,595 soldiers representing 32 nations—and more countries plan to reduce numbers or pull out altogether. Sixteen nations in the “Coalition of the Willing” have 100 or fewer soldiers deployed and five nations have fewer than 10, including three Latvians, two Slovakians, and the lone soldier from Singapore. America’s largest ally and the only other combat nation, Britain, will withdraw half of its troops, leaving about 2,500 by spring. Noncombat missions carried out by foreign forces include surveillance, reconstruction, hospital administration, security, operating checkpoints, and distribution of food and school supplies. Salvadorian soldiers told the Washington Post that they want to help protect Iraqi civilians from the atrocities they experienced during their 12-year civil war in the 1980s. In response to the dwindling coalition nations Salvadorian Col. José Benítez said, “Perhaps they haven’t lived, in flesh and blood, terrorism like we have.” El Salvador is the only Latin American country left in Iraq and President Elías Antonio Saca announced a 10th contingent of 280 soldiers—100 fewer than previous deployments—to aid in reconstruction. Georgia, an Eastern European nation seeking NATO membership, has nearly 2,000 soldiers, approximately a quarter of its national army, in outposts along the Iranian border, but by next summer only 300 troops will remain.
Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, and BBC News