Watching the World
Where Are the Martians?
◆ After the flurry of reports about possible life on Mars, has any conclusion been reached? Vance Oyama of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Ames Research Center says that there is “no need to invoke biological processes” (life) to explain seeming conflicts in experiments performed by the Martian landers. According to Science News, Oyama has developed a nonlife theory that he claims ‘fits all the facts, and elegantly so.’
Surgery in the Congo
◆ In a letter to the Belgian newspaper De Standaard, a Dr. Le Compte writes: “In the Congo I performed more than 3,000 operations and never administered one blood transfusion. Yet we lost only two patients. The reason we did not use blood lies in the fact that we could not determine blood groups because we lacked the necessary equipment. We did use physiological serum [sterile water with salt added] that we made ourselves in a large pot on the stove that belonged to the nuns. During the operation we gave this serum to the patient one drop at a time. The two patients we lost would not have been saved by a blood transfusion anyway. They were hopeless cases.”
◆ New Delhi news correspondent Rajendra Bajpai, reporting on a Red Cross campaign against India’s blood traders, says that “most of the professional donors are poor and in many cases they pass on serum hepatitis to sick patients who buy from them.” He states that “near hospitals in big cities, blood-seeking relatives of sick people are contacted by ‘brokers’ who arrange for blood donations from professionals.” These professionals “often charge $26 for a unit [250 cubic centimeters, about one half pint]—a big sum in India, equivalent to the monthly salary of many workers,” he says.
Window Fights Back
◆ When a British youth tried to throw a brick through a cricket pavilion window, the glass fought back. It was the unbreakable type, reports the London Daily Express, and “the brick rebounded and hit him hard on the foot.” But rather than viewing this as just retribution for her son’s vandalism, the boy’s mother complained that the use of such “dangerous” glass was “criminal”! Such an attitude “goes a long way to explain the actions of her offspring,” observed Sussex chief constable George Terry.
Fires for the Dead
◆ A side effect of Hong Kong’s recent Ching Ming festival in honor of the dead was 157 forest fires. “The Chinese traditionally observe the festival by burning joss sticks—fake, gold-colored paper money—and offering food to the dead by the graveside,” notes an Associated Press report. Despite public appeals for care when waving the burning joss sticks, about 400 acres of pine forest were blackened, destroying nearly 250,000 trees.
◆ When chemical sprays failed to stay the advances of cockroaches in their apartment, three New Yorkers called in a professional exterminator from Southeast Asia. “They bought a Tokay Gecko, a foot-long lizard with beady chartreuse eyes, garish orange polka dots and a voracious appetite for insects,” reports the New York Times. From its home under the refrigerator, the lizard came out to feed nightly on the teeming insects. “We used to hear him crunching on them at night,” said one of the apartment dwellers. “It woke us up at first, but after a few nights we got used to it.” In a few months the gecko brought the roach numbers down to “manageable proportions.”
The Other Catacombs
◆ Millions of tourists have seen the well-known Christian catacombs in Rome. But the Jewish catacombs of the same period are almost unknown because the Vatican has kept them closed to the general public. However, the current revision of the Vatican’s 1929 concordat with the Mussolini government calls for the Jewish catacombs to be turned over to Italy’s Jewish community. Many thousands of first- to fourth-century Jews are said to be buried in them. Most inscriptions are in the Greek then spoken by Jews, and pagan symbols such as peacocks and sea monsters decorate the walls alongside traditional Jewish menorah, shofroth and scrolls.
The “Pig of God”
◆ Recently 20 theologians and anthropologists gathered in Goroka, Papua-New Guinea, to discuss how the people could “come to terms with their traditional culture and with their newer tradition of Christianity,” reports the Port Moresby Post-Courier. In their urgency to mingle Christianity with local traditions the theologians presented papers with some bizarre, if not blasphemous, suggestions. One wrote of a traditional pig festival: “What the pigs prefigured has become true in Christ, the ‘pig of God’, who through his death brought life to the world, and not to men only.”
Most Translated Book
◆ The Bible has now appeared whole or in part in at least 1,603 languages, according to a recent American Bible Society Scripture Language Report. Recent additions include single Bible books in the Ngaanyatjarra language of Australia, the Ga’dang language of the Philippines and the Arapesh language of Papua-New Guinea.
◆ Back in 1971 a retired Danish man fell into a pile of thorny barberry branches cut from a hedge that he had been trimming. Repeated attempts to get up ended when he fainted from pain caused by thousands of needlelike thorns. In the six years since then, both he and doctors have been picking barbs from his body, making Danish medical history. After 247 visits, the hospital’s chief surgeon reported that they had removed a total of 32,131 thorns from their patient, including 261 during the 247th visit. How so many thorns could keep emerging after six years “is increasingly becoming a medical mystery,” remarked the doctor.
◆ A New York plastic surgeon recently took a novel approach to stem skyrocketing hospital prices. He does his operations in a luxury hotel, reports the New York Post. Then patients “are wheeled down the hall to their own rooms ($50 a night) to recover’’ under care of his nursing staff. The doctor also stays at the hotel. “That way I’m always on call,” he says. “Almost all elective surgery—hernias, tonsils and so on—can be done better and cheaper in a place like this,” he asserts. “The hotel supplies all the services—linen, bed, board—at a rate that’s a fraction of what hospitals are charging. And why not? That’s the business of a hotel.”
◆ “A heretofore unsuspected degree of sophistication in [migrating] birds’ use of magnetic fields” to orient their flight is reported in Science magazine. Researchers found that migratory birds changed direction and altitude more frequently than normal when flying over a large antenna system’s magnetic field. These variations occurred even though the antenna’s magnetic field was less than one percent as strong as that of the earth itself.
More than a Model
◆ A Japanese aviation enthusiast recently piloted an airplane powered only by six model airplane engines, reports the Daily Yomiuri. He flew the 65-kilogram (143-pound) plane a distance of about 300 meters (980 feet) at an altitude of three to four meters (10 to 13 feet). The pilot claims that this is the first time anyone has accomplished such a feat. It took more than two years to build the handmade plane, which is 6.7 meters (22 feet) long, with a wingspan of 14 meters (46 feet). Each of its six alcohol-fueled engines is only about the size of a fist.
Wine as a Tranquilizer
◆ Wine has a tranquilizing effect, even without its alcohol, according to researchers writing in the journal of Studies on Alcohol. They said that wine residue alone had the same calming effect on test animals as alcoholic wine did, equivalent to a mild tranquilizer.
Bagels to Israel
◆ Israel’s first bagel factory opened, not years ago, but just last year in a Tel Aviv suburb. Even now it sells only about 2,000 bagels a day in 100 stores. This may seem strange in the United States, where being Jewish and eating bagels seem almost synonymous. But in Israel, “when people see bagels in a store, most of them don’t know what they are,” says the bakery owner’s wife. Nevertheless, bagels are said to be gaining acceptance there, with sales increasing daily.
Paying Medicine Men
◆ Navajo Indians working for a large coal-mining company in Arizona requested that their union’s health and retirement fund pay for the services of tribal medicine men. Fees are said to range from $20 to $50 for short ceremonies and even up to thousands of dollars for long, complex “curing ceremonials.” The Navajos “rely on medicine men to ease aches and pains and emotional problems,” reports The Wall Street Journal, while ordinary physicians handle physical injuries.
Another Ringed Planet?
◆ For many years, Saturn was thought to be the only planet in our solar system with rings. However, a new observation of Uranus indicates that it, too, may have rings. The rings were discovered when the distant planet was observed from a flying laboratory as it eclipsed a distant star. Light from the star blinked out five times both before and after the planet itself blocked the light, indicating the possible existence of at least five rings. Four inner rings are thought to be about 10 kilometers (6 miles) across, and the outer ring, 100 kilometers (62 miles) across. They cannot be observed by earth-bound telescopes.
◆ The cross between cattle and buffalo developed by a California rancher is beginning to take hold with U.S. farmers. Pennsylvania farmer Larry Lowers says: “We were raising Herefords before, and like every other farmer we were going into the hole. This is going to pay off.” He had experimented by raising calves of “beefalo,” Hereford, Holstein and Black Angus together on pasture grass and other roughage. The “beefalo” grew to 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), while the others only reached about half that weight, he reports. It withstood disease and weather far better than the other animals and saved tons of feed grain. Lowers also claims that “beefalo” leaves less than half the percentage of waste of regular beef when slaughtered.
◆ The five-day workweek, so common in much of the industrial world, gets a cool reception in Japan. Several government agencies refused to try the shortened week in experimental programs, and banks postponed indefinitely a scheduled switch from six days to five. The Daily Yomiuri reports that recently the nation’s school boards also refused to enforce a trial five-day workweek proposed by the Ministry of Education. Why the resistance to shorter hours? Many observers believe one reason is that Japanese people like to work. Even when given Saturdays off, many will go in anyway without extra pay. Staying at work after quitting time also is common.
Speed Limit Pays
◆ According to the National Safety Council, at least 27,000 American lives have been saved in the past three years by the 55-mile-per-hour (89-kilometer-per-hour) speed limit. The toll has dropped from 55,511 deaths in 1973 to about 47,000 in 1976.