Here’s a glance at some of the more peculiar stories that graced news sites around the world this week.
After making calculations that presumably were done somewhere besides the back of an envelope, Tohoku University Graduate School economist Hiroshi Yoshida concluded that Japanese children won’t exist on May 18, 3011, The Japan Times reports.
Yoshida didn’t appear to care much about the fate of Japanese kids in the future. He and no one else alive today, presumably, will be around in 999 years. Rather, his calculations were meant to draw attention to a major problem facing Japan today: population decline.
Everyone has heard of the demographic disaster gripping the developed world. It’s a dilemma Americans know well: richer societies produce fewer children, setting the stage for a future where lots of old people collect public benefits at the expense of less numerous young folks who must work harder or make sacrifices in the prime of their lives to pay for the golden years of their parents and grandparents.
The dilemma is especially bad in Japan, where many believe declining birth rates and economic stagnation go hand in hand.
In a bid to draw attention to the problem, Yoshida used government statistics to determine that the population of Japanese children under the age of 15 decreases by one child every 100 seconds, the Times reported. Today, around 16.6 million in Japan are 15 or younger. The prof did the math and came up with the 3011 date. We didn’t double check.
Yoshida has set up a clock on his university’s website tallying the decline. He intends to update it annually with new statistics. “By indicating it in figures, I want people to think about the problem of the falling birthrate with a sense of urgency,” Yoshida told the newspaper.
USDebtClock.org envisioned a similar purpose for their online tally of America’s ballooning national debt. The clock has since shamed Americans into living within their means. Not.
German butterfinger drops magical Mayan rock skull stolen from Tibet by Nazis
Speaking of prognostications, some Sturm und Drang followed a German lab technician’s fumble of a supposedly mystical Mayan rock skull this week, the UK’s Daily Mail reported.
People who seriously believe the world will end on December 21, 2012 — the conclusion of the ancient Mayan calendar — also seriously believe the 1,000-year-old skull will aid them in avoiding the apocalypse, the paper reports. So when a German lab technician dropped the three-pound skull made of volcanic rock and chipped its chin, you can imagine how disappointed some credulous people were.
Historian Thomas Ritter owns the skull, the Mail said. He claims he got it from a former British soldier who took it from Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi commander who oversaw the Holocaust. Himmler’s SS men reportedly seized the artifact while they were looking for Shangri-La in Tibet in the late 1930s.
It’s not clear why the thing was in Asia. Himmler was probably too busy with his dreadful schemes to care. “The Nazis were convinced that 13 such skulls existed and that whoever owned them would have control of the world,” Ritter told the British tabloid.
End of the world. Control of the world. Pipe dreams. But still, the skull tells a good tale.
Ding dong the witch is gone
If you’re a woman in Burkina Faso, take care not to be home when a funeral procession draws close. The dead person might tell the mourners that you are responsible for their death. If this is the case — and of course you can’t prove otherwise — you’ll be run out of town because, after all, you’re a witch.
It’s called “the bearing of the body,” a widespread practice in the West African country. Villagers whose loved ones died suspiciously will carry his or her body around town hoping the corpse will guide them to whoever is to blame, IPS Africa reports. Miraculously, they usually find themselves at the doors of helpless women, who are then accused of witchcraft.
Around 600 women have become homeless because of the practice. Most have fled to 11 camps operated by NGOs, the report said.
Now, Burkina Faso’s Ministry for Social Action has unveiled an “action plan” to help the women.
The plan nominally includes housing and economic assistance. But, contrary to its title, it has all the hallmarks of government inaction. IPS reports that it took five years to draft the plan. It will be implemented over the next four years. So basically it took almost a decade to decide how to stop people from ruining their neighbors’ lives. Why? Cultural sensitivity.
“We’re not passing judgment on sorcery in Burkina, but we will respond to the facts, which are exclusion and violence,” said Boukary Sawadogo, the ministry’s director-general, speaking to IPS.
That’s bunk, said women’s advocates.
“Contrary to what many people think, we could quickly put an end to this phenomenon,” said Gérard Zongo, director of the Commission Justice et Paix, an NGO. “For example, we could ban ‘the bearing of the body.’ The authorities must be more ambitious, to achieve the plan’s objectives. We feel they are not very proactive.”
Perhaps a word from a corpse would help.