Watching the World
‘Greatest Quake in History’
◆ Officials of the People’s Republic of China recently revealed more details of the nation’s disastrous 1976 Tangshan earthquake. Visiting American experts learned that over three fourths of the city’s 916 multistory buildings were shaken to the ground or badly damaged. The quake of 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale also ruined or damaged 300 miles (480 km) of railroad tracks, 231 highway bridges and 40 earth dams. Estimates of the death toll run as high as 750,000. The leader of the American group called Tangshan’s temblor “the greatest earthquake disaster in the history of mankind.”
Solar System’s Hottest Spot?
◆ What may be the hottest spot in our solar system was measured when the Voyager I spacecraft passed a point in space about 3 million miles (4.8 million km) from the planet Jupiter. An area of charged particles (plasma), with temperatures of 300 to 400 million degrees C (540 to 720 million degrees F), is apparently held in place by Jupiter’s magnetic field. The center of the sun, by comparison, is only about 20 million degrees C (36 million degrees F), and man-made temperatures have reached 70 million degrees C (126 million degrees F). “The spacecraft was not vaporized by the extreme heat,” says the scientist in charge, “because the density of the plasma is extremely low—a greater vacuum than any that exists on Earth—so that there is a very low transfer of heat between the plasma and the spacecraft.”
◆ After the DC-10 crash in Chicago, Illinois, that killed over 270 persons, many are fearful about the safety of air travel. However, the American National Safety Council still says that commercial airlines are one of the safest ways to travel. Only .04 deaths per 100 million passenger miles occurred on the airlines during a recent year, whereas railroads had .05 deaths; buses, .13 deaths; and automobiles, 1.33 deaths for the same number of passenger miles. Hence, commercial air travel is 33 times less deadly than travel in the average family auto.
Antacid to Stop Smoking?
◆ Taking small amounts of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) may help smokers to “kick the habit,” according to University of Nebraska researchers. They based their research on an earlier finding that smokers with acidic urine tend to eliminate more unmetabolized nicotine. Craving for the lost nicotine usually sends the addicts back to the cigarette pack more often than those with less acid in their urine. Working with a group of volunteers, part of whom received four grams a day of bicarbonate, it was found that by the fifth week, their average daily smokes dropped to only .14. Those not getting the antacid couldn’t get below 7.8 cigarettes a day. The researchers emphasize that these results are only preliminary, and that one needs to exercise caution in taking any form of medication.
◆ It is estimated that almost 11 million refugees world wide now have no country, and the number is rapidly growing. “Gunfire and revolution, shifting ideologies and changing maps, nationalism and racism” have all contributed to the uprooting of these people from their homelands, according to an Associated Press study. The reporter writes that “everywhere we went we found numbing hopelessness.” The people often are kept in mass accommodations, which change their way of life drastically. “Cooped up like that, their basic nature is changing,” said a Filipino doctor working with refugees in an Asiatic camp. “They used to be carefree and giving. Now they are selfish. They feel the change in themselves, and they don’t like it.”
Confidence in Clergy Drops
◆ “The leaders of organized religion now generate no more than a 20 percent vote of high confidence from Americans,” reports Louis Harris on the results of a recent national ABC News-Harris Survey. He says that confidence in the clergy dropped 14 percentage points in the past year alone and is the lowest since the rating system began in 1966.
◆ So far, over 300,000 Americans have installed “hot tubs” in their homes or gardens to soothe and relax. However, there can be peril in improper use of the tubs, as the recent deaths of a California couple illustrate. “Typical of some hot-tub owners, the LaRozas had heated the water to about 114° F (46° C),” notes the report in Time magazine. “Doctors and tub manufacturers recommend only 102° to 104° F (39° to 40° C), and even these temperatures should not be endured more than 20 minutes at a time.” The body tries to compensate for heat buildup above normal body temperature by expanding the tiny blood vessels in the skin, causing sweat. But since sweat cannot evaporate and cool a body immersed in hot water, more blood is pumped to the skin in an attempt to get rid of the heat. This can put an extra load on the heart, and even damage the brain, liver and kidneys. The use of alcoholic beverages aggravates the problem.
Working on Their “Holiday”
◆ In 1977, the Federal Republic of Germany passed a “prison holiday law” that allows convicts three weeks off a year from their prison bonds. Hamburg police recently checked on the results of this “resocialization” program. They found that one out of four robberies in the city were being committed by the “vacationing” convicts, using the opportunity to work at their old professions. Even so, “the justice ministry is convinced the holiday system will pay off in greater numbers of reformed men in the future,” says To The Point magazine.
Watching Earth’s Weight
◆ Our planet may now be the envy of the world’s weight watchers. According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Pasadena, California, it has ‘shed’ 41.34 quadrillion short tons (37.5 quadrillion metric tons) on the measurement books. More accurate methods of measurement using spacecraft and laser beams produced the new value, which now stands at 6,586 sextillion short tons (5.975 sextillion metric tons). A sextillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
◆ A telephone call to Japan’s Matsuyama City Agricultural Cooperative advised that police were going to hold one of their customary crime vigilance drills. The caller requested employees to get two million yen ($9,300, U.S.) ready and later called to detail the make-believe robber’s appearance, including his weapon—a carving knife. According to the report from Tokyo, he also told the branch manager to “please ensure that each staff member knows his role.” Following their tradition of obedience to orders from authority, the employees were ready with the money when the armed man arrived. The “robber” calmed fearful customers, assuring them it was only a drill. Later, when the manager called police to inquire about how the “drill” went, the response was: “Drill?” None had been conducted that day. However, the 23-year-old robber was later picked up by police, based on an auto plate number that two employees, conscientiously following proper procedure, had noted.
◆ Golf magazine reports that a student doing a masters’ thesis on biorhythms used the golf scores of randomly selected professionals for comparison. “He was not at all prepared for the results,” says Golf, and “concluded that there is absolutely no relationship between biorhythm and success or failure.” The thesis stated: “Excellent, average and poor performances can all occur during any biorhythm combination. Therefore, a ‘triple high’ (physical, emotional and intellectual) does not correlate necessarily with excellence.”
Paying for Puff
◆ When purchasing a beverage, such as beer, packaged in six throwaway bottles, how much goes for the liquid and how much to other costs? Stuart Diamond of Newsday writes that the actual cost of the beverage in a pack costing $2.00 (U.S.) is nine cents! “The rest—$1.91—goes for the throwaway bottles, for advertising, taxes, distribution, labor, overhead and company profit,” says Diamond. He points out that just the cost of the throwaway bottles alone in this case is about five times the cost of the beer.
◆ The Bell System has patented an undersea glass-fiber cable that will transmit voice, data or picture information by light rather than electricity. The cable is said to be only half the diameter of existing undersea wire cables, yet can potentially carry more than twice as many circuits. To lay the cable across the ocean, only one reloading of the installation ship would be required, whereas previous cable carriers had to be reloaded five times.
Tax on Gasoline
◆ The tax on gasoline varies considerably from country to country. According to the publication Tax Notes, the tax on a gallon (3.79 L) of gasoline in Italy is $1.54; Belgium, $1.18; Federal Republic of Germany, $1.02; England, 69 cents; Spain, 55 cents, and the United States, an average of 12 cents.
◆ A Japanese electronics company worker, Hideaki Tomoyori, has claimed a world record in memory feats—memorizing 15,151 decimal places of pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Three newsmen heard him recite correctly the number of digits after the decimal point.
Dead Sea’s Water Layers Mix
◆ The Dead Sea is about nine times as salty as the ocean, but its bottom layer of water has long been even more salty than its top layer. The result is that the two layers have stayed apart like oil and water. But now a report from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science states that the bottom and top layers of the Dead Sea have finally mixed. What caused this “turning over” of the layers? The report said that, relatively very little freshwater now enters the Dead Sea, and this quickly evaporates. Gradually the upper layer reached the same degree of salt concentration as the bottom layer. When this happened last February, said the report, the two layers finally mixed. One result is that the rotten-egg odor of hydrogen sulfide has disappeared. There is the possibility, however, that the Dead Sea will once again become stratified. This is because of Israel’s plans to build a canal to connect the Mediterranean Sea with the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth. The descending waters would create a vast hydroelectric power source. If the project is completed, it will mean that the Dead Sea will once again have a less salty layer on top.
◆ According to London’s Sunday Express, gargantuan mushrooms sprang up on various lawns in the Soviet town of Osh, some of them weighing as much as 4 1/4 pounds (1.9 kg) each. Their prodigious growth began after some days of scorching sun, alternated with warm rain.
Response to Speed Limits
◆ An international survey was recently made in six countries with regard to the habits of car drivers. The percentage of those who responded that they always obeyed the speed-limit regulations was as follows: Spain, 48.5; France, 39; South Africa, 38.8; Federal Republic of Germany, 28.6; England, 18.4, and Japan, 11.1