Watching the World
Is Forced Voting Democratic?
◆ In discussing recent local government elections, the New Nigerian newspaper noted editorially that a society’s degree of democracy is often measured by the extent to which the right to vote is guaranteed. But what if “citizens are coerced into exercising this right”? Says the New Nigerian: “[That] society’s claim to democracy is laid bare.
“This is why all the hairsplitting in some quarters about the refusal of members of the Jehovah[’s] Witness[es] to vote . . . seems uncalled for,” declares the editorial. “We believe that the Jehovah[’s] Witnesses have not committed any crime. So long as an individual or a group of individuals . . . pay their taxes, do not engage in any unlawful activity and do not disturb peace and order, democracy demands that they are left in peace and given state protection—even if such an individual or group chooses not to vote.”
“Underestimation” of Flu Toll
◆ A recent book, Epidemic and Peace: 1918, reveals some new and startling information about the Spanish influenza. The author notes that the usual fatality figure is given as 21 million. However, he says that this is “probably a gross underestimation,” for that many could well have died on the Indian subcontinent alone. His research indicates that the October 1918 death rate there was “without parallel in the history of disease.”
◆ Results of predictions by 10 prominent American “psychics” were recently compared with results of those by 10 Harvard nonpsychic undergraduates made at the same time. University of Minnesota Sociologist Gary Alan Fine reports that there was apparently no difference in the predicting ability of the two groups. In fact, the Harvard men did slightly better.
That professional fortune-tellers can hit well wide of the mark is also indicated in the predictions by the noted “psychic” Jean Dixon for 1976: “The Republican nominee [for president] will be Ronald Reagan . . . Another nut will try to assassinate President Ford; he will resign, and Nelson Rockefeller will fill out his term.”
Dutch Job Idea
◆ With 60 percent of youths who finished school last summer still out of work, the Dutch government decided to act decisively. “Duojobs” were created. Two youths are hired for each job opening. “How they divide up the work is left to them and the employer,” says a Social Affairs Ministry official. Half of the wages and half of the unemployment coverage goes to each youth.
“Christians” and the Nazis
◆ The “Why” of Nazi-era sadism, often called the Holocaust, has caught growing attention from scholars and clergymen recently.
• Historian Michael D. Ryan of Drew University in New Jersey says that “no one can lay claim to the good points of Christianity without facing the Holocaust.”
• Ryan’s colleague in the newly formed National Center for Holocaust Studies, Franklin Littell of Temple University, adds that “6 million Jews were killed by baptized Christians in the heart of Christendom. There would not have been a Third Reich if Protestants and Catholics had not betrayed their baptism.”
• Boston Unitarian minister Carl Scovel, who lectures on the subject, says that his research indicates that the Protestant churches “made a super amount of compromises” with the Nazis. Among much evidence of Catholic compromise, aside from the July 1933 concordat with Hitler, is the fact that “the present Pope was the head of the passport division of the Vatican, which handed out visas and permits right and left to known Nazis after the war, getting them to South America.” Scovel marveled: “It was just amazing.”
• On the other hand, Scovel reported that “the group that suffered the most were the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were amazing. They were adamant. . . . They didn’t make compromises—an impressive group.”
Fish on High
◆ Two recent fossil finds indicate that water once covered the earth quite differently from the way it does now.
• In the middle of Montana, at 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) above sea level, researchers have found skeletons of 64 species of sharks! The report in the Denver Post says that it is believed “there was rapid sedimentation in the ancient sea, quickly burying dead fish before they could be broken up. Some of the sharks are so well preserved that the remains of shrimp can be found in their stomachs.”
•The fossil skeleton of an ancient whale, said to be about 24 feet (7.3 meters) long, also was found about 1,600 feet (487 meters) up in the Santa Monica Mountains of California.
◆ A major Italian magazine, L’Europeo, asserted recently that the Vatican and its religious orders own at least one fourth of the property in Rome. Vatican observers are said to have acknowledged that the report “appeared within reason.” L’Europeo also said that some of the Vatican’s real estate in the financially beleaguered city had been sold at huge profits without paying Italian taxes.
Birds on a Binge
◆ Hundreds of drunken birds plagued motorists in southern Sweden early this winter, diving at windshields and sitting on the roads. The waxtails had indulged in the year’s abundant supply of their favorite food, rowanberries, which were fermenting on the plants. “The waxtail is usually a shy bird during the late spring mating season,” said a Swedish bird watcher, “but undergoes a Jekyll and Hyde transformation in the winter migrations.” He notes that when a group of the now “extremely sociable” birds spy a good crop of rowanberries, “they’ll not leave until they’ve finished the lot.”
“Practice” Marriage Harmful
Does living together before the wedding assure success in later marriage? Apparently not, according to an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University. Before her recent study, she had thought that such “trial marriages” might be helpful. But interviews with 100 couples convinced her that living together may actually be harmful to later marriage. She said that “living together creates a whole new set of problems that they wouldn’t have had if they had gotten married in the first place.” On the other hand, she noted, couples who do not live together before marriage are “a bit happier, and their marriages are more successful.”
Saving the Acropolis
Monuments in the famous 2,500-year-old Acropolis of Athens “have been subjected to the attacks of armies, vandals and trophy-hunters, in peace and in war,” says Greece—A Monthly Record. “They survived. But those dangers were nothing compared to the innocent but uncontrolled ravages of the last 40 years.” Priceless marble figures are eroding, according to experts, due to rain mixed with modern atmospheric pollution. Erosion of the base rock, and millions of visitors, also are taking their toll. Among other measures, the government has decided to replace some of the marble figures with fiber-glass casts and put the originals in the Acropolis Museum.
Hardly a Saint
◆ Vatican research on possible beatification of Spain’s 15th-century Queen Isabella is now complete. “Beatification” declares that a person is blessed in heaven and may lead to sainthood. “There is evidence that she was a woman of intense piety,” according to a Vatican source. How did she display her piety? One way was by her establishing “the Spanish Inquisition which persecuted Jews and heretics,” notes the United Press International report.
◆ The American Cancer Society’s newsletter recently contained an ad promoting a tennis tournament sponsored by a cigarette company. A woman with a tennis racket in one hand and a cigarette in the other was featured. “It’s like having Alcoholics Anonymous running a bar,” complained the former chairman of a Florida Stop Smoking Clinic.
‘Churches Spread Revolution’
◆ “The churches have spread more revolution on this continent [Africa] than Che Guevara, Lenin and Mao Tse-tung,” said a Zambian politician recently. Upon hearing about this comment, a Spanish priest in Rwanda responded: “Why not? We’ve been in the business much longer.” The report on this from the New York Times notes that “two of the four major black nationalist leaders in Rhodesia, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, are Methodist ministers.”
Meanwhile, in a number of South American countries Church-State relations are in trouble. Clergymen have been arrested and government officials excommunicated. The clergy “have no intention of letting up on [their] social involvement,” according to Vicente Faustion Zazpe, archbishop of Sante Fe, Argentina.
Giant Dam Completed
◆ The recently finished Tarbela Dam across Pakistan’s mighty Indus River is now one of the world’s largest. It is about 470 feet (143 meters) high, almost two miles (3.2 kilometers) wide and contains 186 million cubic yards (142 million cubic meters) of earthfill. Citing hopes for the dam, a Pakistani engineer said: ‘We’ve always said that the monsoon—good one year, bad another year—was beyond our control. But now, for the first time, we can control nature here, and that could change the face of Pakistan.”
South Seas and Betel Nuts
◆ The U.N. trust territories of Palau and Yap are islands administered by the United States. But a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on sales and the shipping of betel nuts has aroused some ire among the natives. Islanders have little regard for the FDA contention that betel nuts may produce oral cancer, according to a Palau official, because American “cigaret manufacturers continue to ship their deadly commodities over the state lines.”
Paying the Victims
◆ What amount of money will compensate rape victims for what they have gone through? Great Britain’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Board recently set it at 1,000 pounds ($1,650) if there were “no significant physical injuries and average psychological reaction.” A broken nose might bring a victim 200 pounds ($330); a fractured jaw, 570 pounds ($942); and a lost eye, 5,000 pounds ($8,250). Since the Board was set up in 1964, it has paid out over 31 million pounds ($51 million) in claims.
Religion in Cuba
◆ “Our only hope now is to keep religion alive,” a Havana Roman Catholic priest recently told National Geographic magazine. “Church attendance is down to about one percent of the population.”
Meanwhile three kinds of voodoo worship are said to be doing well. Due to government restrictions on the number allowed to join, thousands are reportedly waiting to be initiated into the groups. The most numerous cult, writes a Chicago Sun-Times reporter who spent a month in Cuba, “are the Santeros, who mixed Catholicism with the cults” of African slaves. “They matched Catholic saints with African gods.”
Back to Basics
◆ Do the expensive educational theories introduced in U.S. schools during recent years really help students? A three-year federal study just completed indicates that they do not. In fact, it notes that among the 30,000 students studied, those taught with less emphasis on the modern techniques “showed the greatest improvement” on standard reading and mathematics tests. The innovators fear that federal funding for their pet theories may be hindered by the report’s findings.