Zooming In

January 7, 2008

Does Pot Smoking Cause Infertilty?

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: cracking down on DUIs in Taiwan; blackmail in Greece; Nicas in Tica; and more.

Michael Gluckstadt

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the US comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.


At midnight on New Year's Day, Cyprus adopted the euro as its official currency, relegating the Cyprus Pound to the antiquated ranks of the Italian Lira and the German Mark. The induction of Cyprus into the Eurozone will undoubtedly impact Cyprus's economic standing in Europe, and increase trade with the continent [PDF]. But before the currency transforms the Cypriot economy, the citizens themselves have to get used to the new change. Cyprus Pounds are to be phased out of circulation by the end of the month. Until then, Cypriots are being urged to be vigilant about counting their change (given in euros), and making sure businesses don't take advantage of the confusion in the wake of the changeover. They will, however, enjoy the benefit of free parking while the state works to switch out parking meters in Nicosia. Outdated coins will be used for scrap metal, while the bank notes will be destroyed in a procedure "too strict and bureaucratic for anyone to able to profit from," according to Central Bank Director George Syrichas. At a Ministry of Finance ceremony featuring the first ATM withdrawal conducted in euros, President Tassos Papadopoulos proclaimed, "The last day of 2007 is the last day of the Cyprus pound — as of tomorrow the euro will be part of our lives as the official currency of the Republic of Cyprus, a member state of the European Union."


Indian lawmakers are hammering out final changes to a proposal to strengthen the laws against "dowry deaths." Dowry death or bride burning occurs when a woman is killed or driven to suicide by harassment by her husband or in-laws in order to extort a higher dowry. Despite India's rapid modernization such crimes are increasing steadily. In response to the trend and recommendations from the National Council of Women, the government is considering raising the minimum sentence to 10 years and the maximum to life in prison or the death penalty. They would also consider any wife's unnatural death as a possible case of dowry death, as opposed to just one that occurs in the first seven years. Not everyone is in favor of these recommendations. An editorial in the Times of India states that there have already been many cases cited in which frivolous accusations of dowry death have been made, partly because of the lower standard of evidence in a dowry-death case. Many have argued that if the law is passed that makes any wife's unnatural death a candidate for dowry death, the system will be easily abused.


According to a lead article in the Jamaica Gleaner, marijuana use is linked to infertility in males. Along with the use of herbicides and steroids in food production, health officials have declared that smoking marijuana can decrease sperm count and motility. In one study mentioned in the article, the sperm cells of frequent marijuana users have been known to swim abnormally fast only to "burn out" before reaching the egg. The Gleaner article contains very little new information, relying almost entirely on old studies and an interview with Joseph Frederick, professor of reproductive medicine and director of the Advanced Fertility and Research Management Unit at the University of the West Indies. Still, only a few hours after its publication the piece had caught the attention of two of the web's most active groups: pot enthusiasts and people interested in fertility. The writer, Gareth Manning, acknowledges that little new evidence has turned up, but tells Gelf "what makes it new and relevant is that health officials here are now saying that they believe based on their observations that infertility in men is a growing problem in Jamaica and they have actually begun their own local research to find empirical data." But Manning knows the main reason why his article has attracted attention. He admits, "It is also relevant because of the rampant use of marijuana here."


Greek newspapers have been understandably swept up in covering the bizarre case of deposed Culture Ministry General Secretary Christos Zahopoulos. Zahopoulos was a close friend of the Prime Minister, and had sole control over the tens of millions of euros doled out by the ministry in funding for the arts. With allegations of corruption swirling around him, Zahopoulos fell from his fourth-floor apartment last week in an apparent suicide attempt. He was immediately hospitalized in critical condition. It is thought that the suicide attempt was brought on by Zahopoulos's Public Relations Officer Evi Tsekou's alleged blackmail of the General Secretary. According to a friend of Zahopoulos, Tsekou sought 200,000 euros and an extension of her contract from the General Secretary in exchange for her keeping sex tapes of the two of them from reaching the press. Aside from his affair with Tsekou, Zahopoulos has been accused of many charges of corruption, economic and otherwise. Prior to this incident, he had been best known as the Greek Minister who sought the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum.

Costa Rica

costa rica
¿Cómo se dice population reshuffling? It's not only the United States that is concerned with the flood of illegal Latin American immigrants. Mexico has problems of its own with illegal immigration on its Southern border with Guatemala and Belize. Recently, thousands of Nicaraguans have tried to make their way into Costa Rica. With the rush of legitimate citizens and residents making their way back into Costa Rica from Nicaragua in the wake of the holiday season, an increasing number of illegal immigrants are trying to sneak in along with them. Cab drivers and others who provide passage into the country for a price are known as coyotes, and charge roughly 10,000 colons a person (around $20) for their services. The Costa Rican border police—reinforced for the post-holiday rush—have sent hundreds of people lacking the proper papers back to Nicaragua. The influx of "Nicas" into the "Tica" population (some estimates put it as high as 14 percent of the total population) has strained Costa Rican domestic services and led to increased xenophobia and tension between the two countries.


A ten-hour crackdown in Taiwan turned up 468 drunk drivers, 174 of whom had a blood alcohol level above 0.055%. (Taiwan counts DUIs starting at 0.025%. The US counts DUIs starting at 0.08%.) Conducted last Friday between the hours of 6 p.m. and 4 a.m., the search generated 1.4 million US dollars in fines, an amount that could rise to as much as NT $2.2 million after bail and arrests. According to officials from the National Police Agency, such island-wide crackdowns will occur as often as four times a month, while local authorities will carry out another four. These are the result of newer, harsher drunk driving laws in Taiwan, passed in response to the increasingly common fatalities in the country from drunk driving, the No. 1 cause of road deaths in Taiwan. The new laws include stiffer fines, more road checks, and even penalties for passengers who willingly get into a car with a drunk driver.

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Article by Michael Gluckstadt

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