Watching the World
◆ Astronomers have continued to add to the number of moons found in our solar system. The discovery of Pluto’s moon last year raised the confirmed total to 33. Now the scientists are focusing on planetoids in the great asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and believe that they may have found evidence of at least 23 more satellites. Last year J. H. McMahon discovered a small moon circling the 130-mile (209-km)-diameter asteroid Herculina. Using similar methods, other astronomers have concluded that there may be 23 or more satellites circling the eight asteroids that they have surveyed. “The solar system appears to be becoming more complicated by the month,” observes the New York Times.
Shinto Enshrines Militarists
◆ Last fall Shinto priests reportedly enshrined 14 of Japan’s World War II leaders, including former Prime Minister Tojo, in Tokyo’s famous Yasukuni Shrine. A temple spokesman said that the dead men, who had been condemned as war criminals, were put on the sacred rolls because they had “devoted their lives to the Emperor and to Japan.” As a result, a recent visit to the shrine by the current prime minister was tinged with controversy, and Tokyo’s Daily Yomiuri editorialized: “The attempt to turn the clock back to prewar days fills us with anxiety.”
◆ How far have computers come in their ability to recognize human speech? “The most successful speech-understanding system developed to date . . . cannot even match the linguistic ability of a four-year-old child,” answers Psychology Today magazine. The best system yet devised, called HARPY, “can recognize coherent speech in a quiet room if the speaker articulates carefully and uses a vocabulary limited to 1,011 words.” HARPY’s function is to retrieve documents. Hence, it can only recognize sentences related to this function, and “cannot recognize a novel sentence—something that four-year-olds do every day,” notes the article.
◆ Mothers in both England and New Zealand recently gave birth to babies after having been “sterilized.”
Mrs. Alison Trott of Somerset, England, produced her baby 11 months after her hysterectomy. She learned of her pregnancy only two weeks before giving birth. Prior to that, believing that pregnancy was “out of the question” as a reason for a weight gain, she was desperately dieting and exercising. In explanation, her gynecologist said that he had removed only half of her uterus because the other half had never developed. “What happened was that the baby developed in a horn of what would have been the other side of her uterus had that developed,” he said. “Not only did the egg implant itself, but it grew to full term stimulating the horn, or bit of embryonic uterus, to grow and support it.”
Just as unusual was the case of Mrs. Margaret Martin of Auckland, New Zealand. At the time of her hysterectomy, apparently there was a fertilized egg already “on its five-day journey from the ovary to the womb,” reports the New Zealand Herald, and it “probably fell out of the fallopian tube into the abdominal cavity during the operation. With the womb gone, the egg attached itself to the bowel and neighbouring internal organs, drawing nourishment from the bowel’s blood supply.” Mrs. Martin did not learn of her pregnancy until 11 weeks before the birth. “I had been feeling quite queer and queasy for a while,” she said. “But I didn’t think for a minute of being pregnant.”
Freedom of Speech?
◆ When a Westchester County, New York, high-school student called one of his teachers a “foul” name, he was suspended for a day. However, the youth’s father backed his offspring’s right to let anything out of his mouth that he pleased. So a suit was filed seeking $9,000 in damages from the teacher and principal on the grounds that suspension for using “foul language” limited the boy’s constitutional right to freedom of speech. Not only that, but the deprived youth claimed “grievous mental pain and humiliation.”
Living Radiation Counter
◆ Scientists have learned that the common spiderwort plant has the ability to detect small amounts of radiation. The radiation causes genetic change that results in color variation among the cells of the flower’s stamen hairs. Some turn pink rather than remaining their normal blue. Microscopically counting the ratio of pink to blue cells is said to indicate the amount of radiation. Geneticist Sadao Ichikawa of Japan’s Saitama University claims that the plants are more sensitive to low radiation than electronic devices, though some scientists question this. Since the flower’s color change can be observed in a few days, rather than the years it takes for genetic change to show up in humans, Ichikawa believes the spiderwort is especially valuable as a living radiation monitor.
Politics of a Bishop
◆ In 1974 Israel sentenced Melkite Catholic Bishop Hilarion Capucci to 12 years in jail for using his personal auto to smuggle guns. (See Awake!, 10/22/74, p. 30.) After intercession by Pope Paul VI, he was released in 1977 and appointed inspector of Latin America’s Melkite Catholic communities, reports the New York Times, under a “tacit condition . . . that he would stay out of the Middle East.” But Capucci did not stay out. In January, “without church authorization he went to the Syrian capital to attend a meeting of the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which he is a member,” says the Times. However, after a brief period of “displeasure,” the wayward political bishop “was received by Pope John Paul II today [May 7] and appointed inspector of Melkite communities in Western Europe.”
Reversing the Trend
◆ Patients who visit the doctor usually expect to get a prescription for medication to help to alleviate their ailment. And doctors generally oblige with some kind of medication. But the Australian Medical Association has launched a campaign to reverse this trend. They encourage their members to display a poster that says, in part: “Medical science is knowing when nothing is better than something.” The Association notes that “reassurance or advice to carry out some simple measure may be all that is needed.”
Green Polar Bears
◆ During the summer of 1978, polar bears at California’s San Diego Zoo turned green. Scientists from the Zoo and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography recently announced the reason for this unusual color change. Rather than green algae growing on the bears’ fur, as first suspected, they found that the outside of their hairs was relatively clean. The algae had taken up residence inside the hairs. “The stiff guard hairs of the outer coat are hollow, and normally filled with air for extra insulation,” explains New Scientist magazine. “But green guard hairs had algae growing where the air ought to be.” One of the scientists remarked: “They are just green hitchhikers.”
◆ Africa’s Cameroon Tribune reports that “numerous groups of ‘professional women mourners’ are springing up in various Copperbelt towns [of Zambia] with a slogan of ‘good samaritans.’” The paper says that when the women learn of a death, without invitation they go to the hospital mortuary “in colourful Kitenge clothes” and “chant religious African rhythms.” The uninvited guests also join in all traditional ceremonies until the burial. Then, says the Tribune, “the mourning is stepped-up when they return home with relatives from the cemetery, for this is the important moment—the moment of payment.” They may receive $75 (U.S.) or more, depending on family wealth. However, critics of the practice say that “they carry those hymn books and Bibles as business tools to make money.”
Monkeys to Help Handicapped?
◆ Severely paralyzed persons often have to rely on costly attendants to help with the most basic functions of life. But one researcher thinks that monkeys might be trained to take over some of this work, just as guide dogs use their sight for the blind. She obtained capuchin monkeys, the type used by organ-grinders, and trained them for almost a year. Then, after six months with a man paralyzed from the shoulders down, a female monkey “learned to feed him—albeit sloppily,” reports Time magazine. She also can “turn lights on and off, fetch such small articles as keys, books and slippers, open doors, place records on a stereo turntable and put things back in their places.” Says the monkey’s new master: “Crystel has her own personality, and she won’t take any guff.”
Problems at the Core
◆ Rome’s vicar general, Ugo Cardinal Poletti, recently released a report indicating that Rome itself is suffering from a severe shortage of priests and funds. “We have 68 parishes in Rome which don’t even have a parish church,” complained the cardinal, “and some of the parishes have reached monstrous proportions with between 30,000 to 80,000 inhabitants.” Poletti also noted that the financial condition of the diocese, even with Vatican help of almost $1 million (U.S.) per year, “has reached an extremely critical phase.” Pointing to one reason for the economic difficulties, the cardinal mourned: “I’m overwhelmed with a sense of anguish when I come across cases of priests, with all their basic needs and their domestic help paid for, who have 400,000 lire [$470, U.S.] a month to spend on themselves.” How many people have this much ‘pocket money’ after expenses?
◆ The University of Illinois’ Animal Science Lab reports that their experimental pigs save energy when given the opportunity. The pigpen is outfitted with a switch on the wall that produces a blast of infrared heat for three minutes when pushed. Dr. Stanley Curtis says that the inquisitive animals usually find the switch within 10 minutes, and push it only often enough to keep the temperature at a level where the pigs do not have to use up their fat to stay warm.
Yoga a Religion
◆ The Michigan State Court of Appeals recently ruled that, contrary to the Michigan Tax Tribunal’s conclusion that Yoga is not a religion, it is a religion and should be exempt from taxation. “A plethora of evidence was offered at the hearing to establish that yoga is a religion,” stated the court ruling.
◆ Japanese scientists have devised a new “blood substitute” that they claim allows monkeys to survive with only 2 percent of their own blood. Rats reportedly survived with 90 percent of their blood replaced by the substitute, and within two weeks their own blood was naturally restored to normal levels. “The advantage of blood substitutes over transfusion with real blood,” says the report in Science News, “is that substitutes can be given without regard to the recipient’s blood type, and there is no danger of transmitting disease.” It notes that the chemicals used enable the substitute to carry “more oxygen than do the normal concentration of red blood cells.” The Japanese formulation also was said to have the advantage that its selected perfluoro-chemicals in fine emulsion do not accumulate in the body as other similar perfluoro-chemical-based substitutes have in the past.