new internationalist
issue 192 - February 1989



The hypochondriac Japanese
In the consumption of medical drugs, Japan beats the world, according to a new World Health Organization study. Last year, it says, the 122.7 million Japanese spent an average of $116.20 each on pills, injections and other medicines - that's three times as much as they did in 1976. (In the US, the runner-up, purchases worked out at $110.50 per head.) Needless to say, this is not because they have become three times as ill. The reasons given for Japan's move to number one, besides its soaring currency, include greater affluence, an ageing population and the proliferation of new drugs.

Japanese critics of such pill-popping believe the biggest reason is over-prescribing; doctors not only prescribe the drugs, but actually sell them from their clinics. By buying at a discount from eager pharmaceutical companies and claiming reimbursement from the national health system they make big money.

From Asiaweek, Vol. 14 No. 47 1988


Reaching the parts
In Israel one determined woman launched an all-out war on a cockroach. She stamped on it and then threw it down a lavatory bowl. When the cockroach kept swimming, she sprayed an entire can of insecticide into the bowl to finish it off. Her unsuspecting husband came home minutes later, sat on the lavatory seat and lit a cigarette. On finishing smoking, he tossed the smoldering the butt down the pan. This ignited the insecticide fumes and severely burned sensitive parts of his anatomy. As the stretcher bearers carried the injured man down the steps of his home, they asked him how he received such peculiar burns. When he told them they laughed so much they accidentally dropped the stretcher, adding to his burns two broken ribs and a cracked pelvis.

United Press International, August 1988


What's in a name?
We think it is only fair to let you know that the full name of Bangkok is:

In case your Thai is not up to scratch, this means: Great City of Angels, the Supreme Repository for Divine Jewels, the Great Land Unconquerable, the Grand and Prominent Realm, the Royal and Delightful Capital City Full of Nine Noble Gems, the Highest Royal Dwelling and Grand Palace, the Divine Shelter and Living Place of the Reincarnated Spirits.

So there.

From correspondence columns, Time magazine


Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum
Haitian officials estimate some 100,000 people are employed in contraband related jobs, making it the single largest generator of employment in the economy. It is also believed to supply some 20 per cent of the country's goods. However the smuggling is bankrupting legitimate business. Contraband rice, flour and cooking oil stops the country becoming self-sufficient in these basic foods. Illegal rice from the Dominican Republic sells for less than Haitian rice because of subsidies across the border. Cheap rice means some Haitians can eat more often, but it ruins the livelihood of rice farmers.

During the Duvalier dictatorship there was tight control on imports, with effective monopolies given to favoured henchmen. After the regime was toppled in 1986, contraband flooded in and a new order of corrupt barons flourished. Curiously, the people were elated. For the cheap smuggled goods helped to bring a four per cent drop in the cost of living.

Trying to control the illegal cross-border trade with the Dominican Republic is a nightmare. For the frontier is 300 kilometres long and local soldiers and customs officials are happy to take bribes. Added to this some 500,000 Haitians work in the Dominican Republic and travel between the countries.

From Latin American Monitor, September 1988


Colombia's progress
In the course of the United Nations' Women's Decade (1975-1985) there were in Colombia, notes El Tiempo of Bogota, six women ministers, 12 governors, six presidential counsellors and 33 other women in high office. Although there are no women in the present administration, 53 have been elected mayors and one is vice president of the parliament.

Since women got the vote in 1954 they have, it appears, generated a silent and deep-running revolution'. Today women are 49.3 per cent of the nation's students. In 1964 they were 17 per cent of the country's paid work force, by 1986 the figure had grown to 40 per cent.

From El Tiempo of Bogota, reported in World Press Review, November 1988


Black skins, white masks
President for life Felix Houphouet-Boigny, has been ruling since the Ivory Coast gained independence from the French in the 1960s. One of his more eccentric acts was to have a presidential palace built, modelled on Versailles, faced with malachite flown in from Europe. The President is now building a replica of Rome's St Peter's in his home town of Yamoussoukro. The $41 million project is being paid for, Government sources say, from his personal funds. Plus ça change.

From Le Figaro, Paris reported in World Press Review, November 1988


Whoops, the China Syndrome
A US company operating a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania has been fined $1.25 million because 33 reactor workers either slept on the job or were negligent in other ways. It was the highest ever fine levied by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They also announced fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 against the present and former individual operators of the reactor - these are the first civic penalties involving individual operators.

Associated Press, August 1988

[image, unknown]

'I know of a country in the Caribbean where officials have been offered more than $250 million to take 10,000 tonnes of hazardous waste every day for a year. But that country can incinerate only 1,000 tonnes a day. What will they do with the other 9,000 tonnes?'

Dr Mostafa K Tolba, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme

Guatemalan joke:
'What is the term of office of the Secretary General
of the Guatemalan Coca Cola Workers' Union?
Life. But it's a short one.'


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