Watching the World
AIDS-contaminated blood is a toxic substance, ruled a Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn, New York. The unprecedented ruling opened the way for a doctor who contracted the AIDS virus from a carelessly discarded syringe to file a $175 million lawsuit. The doctor, a 30-year-old woman, is too sick to work anymore and so will “seek a speedy trial,” her lawyer told The New York Times.
● A report entitled Autologous and Directed Blood Programs, published by the American Association of Blood Banks, made this comment on AIDS-contaminated blood: “This was the most bitter of all medical ironies; that the precious life-giving gift of blood could turn out to be an instrument of death.”
Did the Vatican Know?
The Italian daily Corriere della Sera recently addressed the question of whether the Vatican was aware of the Nazi Holocaust while it was in progress. The article lists many authoritative eyewitnesses who reported on the genocide of the Jews and others directly to the Vatican. For instance, one chaplain who had been on a hospital train “tearfully told the pope: ‘The slaughter of the handicapped and of Jews continues. The poor Jews do not even have ration cards to buy food with, so that they die of hunger.’” Among those listed by the article as having informed the Vatican of the Holocaust were: the apostolic delegate from Berlin, the archbishops of Münster and Vienna, the papal ambassador to the German command, and the Reich’s ambassador to the Holy See. The article’s conclusion? “The Vatican knew.”
Another Theory Squashed
A theory that life on earth began at hydrothermal (hot water) vents in the ocean floor has been proved false by recent experiments. “This is probably the most unlikely area for the origin of life to occur,” said chemist Jeffrey L. Bada of the University of California. The theory had been advanced after the discovery of thriving bacteria and other organisms, such as giant clams and worms, around the hydrothermal vents. Simulating the temperatures and pressures of the vents, Bada and his colleague, Stanley L. Miller, found that amino acids, the building blocks of life, decomposed rapidly under such conditions. “The combination of amino acids into larger peptide molecules, known as polymerization, was found to be impossible in the presence of water at any temperature,” notes The New York Times. “And more complex molecules carrying the genetic code, a requirement for living organisms, did not last long in the extreme heat.” According to the Times, the researchers concluded “that the hot waters in the primitive oceans would have destroyed rather than created organic compounds in the primitive oceans.”
Who Is a Jew?
That question has recently stirred up a heated debate that affects millions of Jews, especially in Israel and the United States. The leaders of Israel’s 400,000 Orthodox Jews have long sought to change the “Law of Return,” which lets any immigrant Jew become an Israeli citizen, so that it would exclude those who were converted to Judaism by non-Orthodox rabbis, such as those of the Conservative and Reform branches. An outcry has arisen against such strict views of “who is a Jew,” especially from Conservative and Reform Jews in the United States. According to The Jerusalem Post, Israeli diplomat Abba Eban “criticized attempts to disqualify ‘a majority of the Jewish congregations, rabbis, temples and ceremonials in the world from the pride of their Jewish identity.’” Orthodox Jews make up less than 10 percent of Israel’s population.
The Japan Teachers’ Union has taken issue with Japan’s education ministry. The Economist reports that this union “dislikes what it sees as the ministry’s growing support for nationalism in the classroom” and comments that in Japan “the flag and anthem still stir memories of the 1930s.” Japanese witnesses of Jehovah who were incarcerated in Japan in the 1930’s because of their Christian neutrality have vivid memories of the nationalism of those days.
Hurricane’s Costly Aftermath
Southern England is still cleaning up the mess left behind by the battering hurricane winds of over a year ago. The storm’s enduring legacy: 15 million felled trees, many of which are still lying rotting on the ground. According to the Manchester Guardian Weekly, the storm claimed “nearly 10 million conifers, two million oaks, 1.75 million beech and 1.25 million other broadleaves.” The paper adds: “In all, 5,333 ‘ancient semi-natural woodlands’ were badly damaged.” Only about half of the fallen softwoods and 20 percent of the hardwoods had been cleared a year after the storm. Why? Clearance of debris is very expensive. Though the planting of as many as five million new trees is underway, some of the damaged woodlands will be converted into farmland. One consolation: While many good trees were lost in the storm, it also eliminated a lot of decaying ones.
Sniffing out explosives and drugs has become routine for highly trained dogs, so the chance discovery by American scientists of a colorless and odorless chemical that can neutralize a dog’s sense of smell for up to two years has raised much concern. So powerful is the chemical, reports The Times of London, that “one or two drops in the air can have the desired effect.” It is feared that if this chemical got into the hands of terrorists or drug dealers, law enforcement officers could be lulled into a false sense of security if they failed to notice that a dog had lost its sense of smell. Britain’s Ministry of Defence and Customs is financing urgent research at Warwick University to find an antidote to the chemical before it can be used.
Freedom of Religion?
In an interview with The Toronto Star, the head of Moscow’s Institute for Scientific Atheism said that the Soviet people will have more religious freedom in the future. He said that Bibles are not available locally, but since Soviet leader Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness) policy, a hundred thousand Bibles have been shipped into that land. The official news agency Tass reported recently that the Soviet Human Rights Commission has even recommended the pardoning of all religious prisoners.
Whales on Ice
Last October the superpowers cooperated to rescue two California gray whales trapped under Arctic ice off the coast of Alaska. While Inuit natives toiled to cut breathing holes for the mammals, two Soviet icebreakers “smashed through a ridge of ice big enough to contain chunks the size of houses,” according to The Toronto Star. The massive $1 million American-Soviet rescue effort finally freed the whales, although one Inuit critic of the rescue felt that the sensible thing would have been to have the whales for dinner. However, U.S. President Reagan declared: “The humane persistence . . . shows mankind’s concern for the environment.” A Kremlin spokesman added: “It would be good if the United States and the Soviet Union acted in such a concerted way when what’s involved is the saving of human life.”
Counterweights for Earthquakes
An 11-story building under construction in Tokyo, Japan, will employ a new earthquake-protection concept. The system, called the Active Mass Driver, counteracts sway by moving two heavy weights on the roof in a direction opposite to the force of the quake. The weights, one of four tons and the other of one ton, help dampen the force of the earthquake by moving on tracks at a speed of up to 132 feet [40 m] per second. When one of the sensors placed on various floors detects vibration, a computerized control system sets the weights in motion. The company that designed the system claims that it will “reduce the effects of a moderate quake by about 50 percent,” reports Asahi Evening News. How effective will it prove to be? Only the next earthquake will tell.