Watching the World
Separation of Church and State
● Greece’s socialist government has begun the process of separating Church and State, making all religions equal in the eyes of the State. The government’s objective is to confine the Greek Orthodox Church to a spiritual role. At present the church is the second-largest property owner and enterprise after the government. The government plans to put to use “all church land not being utilized.” The church gets most of its funds from collections, marriages, baptisms and funerals. “Critics argue that it is the fear of losing these receipts,” says London’s Sunday Telegraph, “and not the proclaimed desire to protect Christian traditions, which fuel the clergy’s opposition to reforms such as civil marriage, which it has termed equivalent to ‘prostitution and adultery.’ Much of the Church’s unpopularity, however, also stems from the fact that it is deeply involved in politics.”
More Computers Than People
● This year, for the first time in history, computers will outnumber people. Market researchers Dataquest Inc. and International Data Corporation report that by the end of 1982 more than five billion computers of all sizes will be in use. And they are becoming more sophisticated all the time. “A decade ago,” says Joel S. Bernbaum, director of Hewlett-Packard Corporation’s Computer Research Center, “few would have believed that there would be a $100 machine that plays chess better than 90% to 95% of the population, or a set of programs that interprets electrocardiograms better than most doctors (and even better than some cardiologists).”
Jesuits Called to Rome
● Pope John Paul II recently summoned 104 leaders of the Society of Jesus to Rome for a meeting. He made it plain to the often politically controversial Jesuits that “there is no longer room for deviations.” The pope also stressed the need for more spirituality among Jesuits. Said one Jesuit leader who attended the meeting: “There has been so much emphasis in the order on ‘being relevant’ that many Jesuits are theologically illiterate. What the Holy Father is saying is that Jesuits should know something about what happened between Jesus and Vatican II.”
Termite Gas Emissions
● A biologist recently made an unexpected discovery: Termites produce more methane and carbon dioxide than do any other creatures. They thus play an important role in regulating earth’s atmosphere. Biologist Pat Zimmerman of the National Center for Atmospheric Research made his discovery while doing research in Guatemala. He was actually studying emissions from burning plants, and, out of curiosity, put plastic bags over termite nests and attached them to a gas collector. It was previously thought that most atmospheric methane came from microorganisms in swamps. Microorganisms in the termite gut break down plants into carbon, producing gas as a by-product. Said Zimmerman: “The fact that we had no idea termites emitted gas makes me wonder if all our other numbers on the atmosphere are wrong.”
Soap That Saves Heart
● For ten years studies have revealed that localities with hard water have lower heart-disease rates. Now a recent survey in Texas shows that people who live in areas with hard water have a 25 percent lower death rate from heart attacks. They also have lower blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels. Dr. Earl Dawson of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston believes that high levels of calcium and magnesium in hard water are the beneficial factor. He reports: “In the intestines calcium and magnesium combine with fats from the diet and make soap, which is indigestible and cannot be absorbed.” So less fat is absorbed.
What can people who live in soft-water areas do to protect themselves? Dr. Dawson recommends that such persons take a daily supplement of 60 milligrams of magnesium and 100 milligrams of calcium. This would provide the equivalent of two quarts of hard water. Commenting on this, Science Digest said: “Dawson’s theory could have a profound impact. In a population of 100,000, calcium and magnesium supplements could prevent over 100 deaths from heart disease every 10 years.”
God’s Name in Church Sermons
● In Surinam, as elsewhere, the churches usually do not highlight the divine name Jehovah. It was not always that way. Writing in the newspaper De Ware Tijd (The True Time), a Roman Catholic priest said that he discovered an 1892 sermon book published by the Evangelic Brother Community, the major Protestant denomination in the country. He explained that this book entitled Joe Nem Moe De Santa (Let Your Name Be Sanctified) contains a collection of sermons for every Sunday of the year. The priest admitted that “quite a few times the word Jehovah is used” throughout the book.
Sounds of Thirsty Plants
● An Australian botanist has discovered that plants make a clicking sound when they need water. John Milburn, of the University of New England at Armidale, New South Wales, put a special microphone on the stem of a plant subjected to drought. He discovered that plants click when their stems and leaves try to draw water from the soil and are not able to get any. The clicking results from vibrations in the plant’s xylem—tiny “pipes” in the stem that transport water. Since plants having the ability to withstand drought click less, the botanist hopes the discovery will aid in identifying crops that will grow well in places with low moisture.
Horseplay Causes Deaths
● About fifty persons were on a suspended footbridge over one of Brazil’s Sete Quedas Falls when the bridge collapsed, plunging at least forty sightseers to their death in the swift current of the Paraná River. A rescue team member reported: “There were people fooling around, making the bridge sway. The cables broke right in the middle of the bridge and people started falling into the torrent.” Horseplay, overloading and neglect were cited as factors in the deaths.
● Seminaries report larger enrollments of women. The United Church of Christ was the first US denomination to have more women than men in its seminaries, their rate being 52 percent. Other groups reporting sizable enrollments of women are the United Presbyterian Church (32 percent), United Methodist Church (32 percent) and the American Baptist Church (29 percent).
Norway’s Wave-Power Plant
● To harness energy from ocean waves Norwegian engineers are building an unusual experimental power plant. “Just off the coast in water about 100 feet deep,” reports U.S. Maritime Monthly, “a series of horizontal plates called lenses will focus waves into a 100-foot crest that will surge up a narrow 300-foot ramp on the shoreline. The water will collect in a reservoir, then fall back into the sea, driving a turbine as it goes.” Engineers expect wave power eventually to supply one quarter of Oslo’s electricity. Though Japan and other countries are trying to harness ocean waves, Norway is the first to channel the waves up a ramp.
Snakes Make News
● In a courtroom in Sri Lanka recently three snakes emerged from under the judge’s seat, causing lawyers and litigants to run for their lives. The packed courtroom in the town of Chilaw was disrupted when, minutes before the judge was to take his seat, the snakes appeared. Police rushed to the scene and discovered to their amazement that a family of nineteen snakes lived under an anthill, together with twenty-five eggs.
A twenty-three-year-old man in Gainesville, Florida, was recently feeding his pet python when the fourteen-foot-long (4 m) snake began to wrap itself around his head. He screamed and two friends rushed to his aid. They found that the pet python was digging its teeth into the man’s forehead and was opening its jaw to take in his entire head. A fierce struggle ensued before they were able to get the snake to relax its grip. The man now says that when he feeds his pet in the future he will have two persons on hand to make sure that he does not himself become a meal for a hungry python.
Tallest Woman Dies
● The world’s tallest woman was Zeng Jinlian, a seventeen-year-old Chinese girl living in the Hunan province of central mainland China. A Peking newspaper recently reported her death from diabetes. She evidently was still growing when she died, at which time she was eight feet one inch (2.46 m) tall.
Stress—A Cancer Factor?
● Stress has been underestimated in allowing cancer to begin, reports Dr. Vernon T. Riley of the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation in Seattle. Based on experiments with mice and monkeys, Dr. Riley believes that stress can depress the disease-fighting immune system. “Stress does not cause cancer in animals,” he said. “Stress permits it to take place.” If the findings prove valid for humans, steps could be taken to reduce tension as a means of preventing cancer, Dr. Riley observed.
Nepal’s Vanishing Forests
● The government of Nepal has begun to tighten restrictions on commercial exploitation of trees. It faces a grim battle, since much of its lush forests have disappeared in the last three decades. “More than half of Nepal’s sub-Himalayan jungles have vanished since 1955,” reports India Today, “and according to conservation experts, the remaining accessible woodlands will cease to exist by the end of this century. ‘We are already at a point of no return, and all our efforts today are only geared to put off the crisis by a few years,’ admits a government official.” Denuding the forests is leading to soil erosion and another problem. Since most of the rural population depend on the forests for fuel, firewood is becoming more scarce. This means, explains a development consultant, “that not only will most Nepalis not have enough food to eat, but they will not even have the firewood to cook it with.”
Tuberculosis Still a Problem
● The director general of the World Health Organization reports that the number of tuberculosis cases is increasing in the world. “For more than 30 years,” said Dr. Halfdan Mahler, “highly effective drugs and vaccines have been available, making TB a preventable disease. But in the majority of developing countries, there has been little or no improvement in the epidemiological situation. Between four and five million highly infectious cases emerge each year, and TB brings death to at least three million people annually.”