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NHNE News Brief 74
Friday, August 15, 1997
"A thought-provoking exploration
of the extraordinary times in which we live."
869 days until January 1, 2000
Total Paid Subscribers: 122
How to Read Minds
Global Warming Killing Penguins
Insurance for the "Big One"
The Promised Land in Nevada?
Recovery Network Debuts
THE LIGHTER SIDE:
Good Villains are Hard to Find
Nonlethal Entanglement Technology
Truth in Advertising
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
Choose Your Reality
Three Asian Movies
A Comic/Tragic Blending of Cultures
Subjects Important to Farmers
CROP CIRCLES WATCH:
1997 Crop Circle Season Update
Mount Etna Live
Volcanic Flow Reaches Montserrat Capital
USGS Volcano Web Site
Rebuilding the Eye of the Needle
How Hazardous Waste Becomes Fertilizer
Mammals Under Attack
Monitoring Hot Zones on the Net
Regrowing Spinal Cords
"God Must Have Forgotten Me"
Words of Wisdom... But Whose?
ABOUT NHNE & HOW TO JOIN US
HOW TO READ MINDS
"[Do] you know what people are thinking?
"You [want to] know how to do it? You listen to people, instead of thinking what you are going to say next."
---Juvenal, from the movie "Touch", describing his apparent ability to read the minds of others.
GLOBAL WARMING KILLING PENGUINS
(Sources: Sierra Club Newsletter #145; NEWSWEEK, 8/11/97; NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, 7/21/97, thanks to Chris Czech)
Average annual temperatures in the Antarctic have jumped 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years -- 10 times faster than the global rate. More shocking changes are occurring in the Antarctic midwinter, when average temperatures jumped 9 degrees Fahrenheit. And there is a strong possibility that the adaptations to cold which have enabled penguins to survive for millions of years may yet prove their undoing -- in 1975, scientists counted 15,200 breeding pairs Adelies penguin, now there are only 9,200. Despite mounting evidence of the sound science of global warming, the oil and coal industries continue to argue against it. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt asserted that these industries have "joined in a conspiracy to hire pseudo-scientists to deny the facts" and make arguments "that are essentially fraudulent." (JG)
INSURANCE FOR THE "BIG ONE"
(Source: EARTH CHANGES REPORT, 8/97)
Insurance companies are apparently so convinced that a major quake on the West Coast is imminent, that they are now selling securities linked to the risk that a megaquake on the West Coast will cause damage somewhere between $12 and $20 billon. According to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF INSURANCE COMMISSIONERS, the Swiss insurance company, SWISS REINSURANCE, has been approved to sell these catastrophe-linked securities. (JG)
THE PROMISED LAND IN NEVADA?
(Source: Gene Sloan, USA TODAY, 8/8/97)
A group of Hollywood investors who want to provide a more spiritual alternative to Mickey Mouse are planning to build the "Holy Land" on a 3,000 acre site in Nevada. Daxx Edder, head of QUORUM INTERNATIONAL, says the $1.6 billion theme park will feature such attractions as virtual reality scenes from all 66 books of the Bible; parting the Red Sea; and a 33-storey statue of Jesus. Several religious groups have been approached about hosting pavilions at the park. The idea is not exactly new -- in the '70s, plans were announced for religious theme parks in California, Florida, Tennessee and Ohio, but all fell through. The only one that was built was Jim Baker's ill-fated Heritage USA in Fort Mill, S.C., which is now a Radisson Hotel. (JG)
RECOVERY NETWORK DEBUTS
(Source: Anne McDermott, CNN ONLINE, 6/20/97)
The RECOVERY NETWORK, launched earlier this year, says its target audience is "the 88 million Americans who are affected by the disease of addiction." Most of the programming -- two hours a day -- is based on real-life stories of addiction and recovery. Not all RECOVERY NETWORK viewers are addicts themselves. Maria De La Vega watched to help a friend. "I couldn't reach her by talking to her but I reached her by showing her something she could identify with." As addicts return to more normal lives, there is little likelihood the cable channel will lose its audience, says William Moses, CEO. "Recovery is a lifelong event. One never really recovers. They're always in recovery." The channel's advertiser support includes rehabilitation facilities, insurance company and other businesses offering services for the recovering. (JG)
THE LIGHTER SIDE:
GOOD VILLAINS ARE HARD TO FIND
(Source: John Lippman & Hugh Pope, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/1/97)
Perhaps it a good sign that Hollywood is having a harder and harder time finding socially-acceptable villains. In the recent summer blockbuster, "Air Force One," terrorists from Kazakstan hijack the president's plane and threaten to unleash nuclear weapons unless an imprisoned general is freed. But the script won't win any awards for geopolitical realism. Kazakstan is one of the most stable and pro-Western of the former Soviet republics. Its nuclear weapons were dismantled in 1994, its army is in tatters and its air force consists mainly of creaky old MiGs. Political correctness, meanwhile, has nixed others. Native Americans, once the Western's staple bad guys, have become heroes ("Dances With Wolves"), and even remorseless mafia killers now get empathetic treatment ("Donnie Brasco"). Protests against "Basic Instinct" by gays and lesbians, and against ethnic stereotyping in "Aladdin," have left studios skittish about offending anyone. All that is forcing screenwriters to be more creative than ever, says Steven De Souza, whose writing credits include two of the "Die Hard" films. These days, the most politically-correct villains are either natural disasters or aliens ("Volcano,""Men in Black"). Science fiction bad guys, says De Souza, "don't have lobbyists." (JG)
(Source: Glenn Lovell, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 8/11/97)
Robot Wars is a blood sport, Silicon Valley style. The contestants are radio-controlled, gas- and electric-powered forerunners of the Mars Mission's Sojourner, only not so benign. The objective is to cut, dent, drill or hammer your opponent into submission, before he can do it to you. Now in its fourth year at San Francisco's Fort Mason, this year's Robot Wars runs August 15 to 17. Organizers are expecting 100 privately-built and corporate-sponsored contestants, which range in cost anywhere from $400 to $60,000. Founder-organizer Marc Thorpe likens his brainchild to "a destruction festival -- a cockfight involving robots instead of animals." Defenders of the games tend to be male, mechanically inclined and into sci fi and comic books. They defend their pastime as "harmless fun," and remind you that, unlike organized sports, no living organism is harmed. The event's detractors, many of whom are academics who monitor TV and video-game violence, argue war is war and it matters little if flesh or metal is rent. "40 years of study tell us something like Robot Wars has no cathartic benefits," said Joel Federman, who coordinated the NATIONAL TELEVISION VIOLENCE STUDY in 1994. Lucia Chambers, a San Jose family-child therapist likens Robot Wars to laser tag and paint-pellet skirmishes: "The [robot battles] are horribly destructive, and children take everything literally." Thorpe counters, "The essence of it is survival and destruction, the chance to play out the primal essence of life and death without anybody being harmed." For more information, visit the Robot Wars Web site: <http://www.robotwars.com>. (JG)
NONLETHAL ENTANGLEMENT TECHNOLOGY
(Source: SPECTRUM, July-Aug/97)
In a move toward kinder, gentler law enforcement, the New York Police Department is testing nonlethal entanglement technology (NET). There are three types of NETs being assessed for their criminal-ensnaring abilities: a plain net, a net that delivers a stun shock, and a net impregnated with sticky glue, a la Spiderman. (JG)
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING
(Source: CONSUMER REPORTS (CR), 8/97)
POST has just started packaging its Spoon-sized Shredded Wheat in a taller box, even though it contains the same amount of cereal as the previous smaller-sized box. When asked why the new box is taller, a KRAFT FOODS customer-service representative attributed the change to the desire to make it "more easy to accommodate the cereal in your pantry." CR points out that "a box that takes up extra space isn't a help on OUR shelves."
CHIQUITA has just started marketing a "new improved" version of its Pineapple Guava Mango Juice that replaces the original 100 percent juice with a version that is only 20 percent juice. When asked why the change, a representative of CITRUS WORLD, the distributor, explained that the price of the juice had risen so much that the company was forced to raise the price or lower the quantity of the juice. It chose the latter, but pointed out that "the company had taste tests run by an outside group, [who] seemed to think that the taste was very good." (JG)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
CHOOSE YOUR REALITY
"Your News Flash about the Oliver's Castle video being a hoax (7/23/97) bordered on conclusive, however, there are some very astute and experienced croppies who feel that this video is real; in fact, if you had been at the recent GLASTONBURY CROP CIRCLE SYMPOSIUM, you'd have met at least 100 croppies from several countries and many backgrounds who feel that this video represents a historic breakthrough. I am one of them. Choose your reality! The wonderful thing in the cereological phenomenon is that, in fact, no one understands exactly what it all means -- and anyone who pretends to do so is seriously missing the point. The Circle Makers are exceptionally intelligent, even compassionate, light years ahead of us. Their work is elegant, intricate, multidimensional, educational and definitely super high-tech. In this light, there are bound to be people who want to hang on to what they ordinarily know and recognize."
---Palden Jenkins, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
[For the record, Colin Andrews, one of the world's leading authorities on crop circles who was intimately involved in the Oliver's Castle crop circle fiasco, writes in his most recent CIRCLES PHENOMENON RESEARCH INTERNATIONAL newsletter (Spring/Summer 1997), that the Oliver's Castle crop circle video is "a proven hoax." Among other things, Andrews reports that John Wabe, the man primarily responsible for the hoax, is fully cooperating with investigators and that at least one television company, with Wabe's help, is creating a documentary that describes how the hoax was perpetuated. (See our Oliver's Castle Video News Flash, 7/23/97, News Briefs 27, 29, 45, 47, 64, and the article "1996 Crop Circle Season Update" in this issue for more details.) DS]
THREE ASIAN MOVIES
"Since I have such a love for Asian movies, let me share with you three which I found very special because of the transformations of main characters. 'To Live,' from the same director as 'Raise the Red Lantern,' is a beautiful film about a family managing to adjust to China's changing economic and political circumstances from the 50s to the near present. 'To Live' is available on video. Two new films, still at some theatres are 'Kama Sutra,' a gorgeous, luscious film which could have been a tragedy but wasn't because of strength-giving, heart-supporting Hindu philosophy, and 'Shall We Dance,' a Japanese film bound to be the feel-good film of the year -- positive and buoyant, a wilted accountant chooses life and transformation. Wonderfully-defined secondary characters too."
---Joya Pope, Fayetteville, Arkansas
A COMIC/TRAGIC BLENDING OF CULTURES
"In News Brief 73, Michael Mariner asked if any of your readers knew of any other poignant movies that truly reflected the world view of tribal peoples. I thought 'The Gods Must Be Crazy' was an interesting comic/tragic blending of cultures."
---Steve Haag, San Jose, California
SUBJECTS IMPORTANT TO FARMERS
"I live on a farm in Iowa along with my husband and children. I have so enjoyed receiving NHNE. Not only have you reported on subjects I love to read, but subjects important to us as farmers as well. Your report on the censoring of the world food supplies (News Brief 70) confirms what we have thought, there will have to be an examination of the way we grow and supply food to the world market. We live in the bread basket of the world yet each day acres of prime farmland are taken away due to roadways, sewage treatment plants, and new housing. Thanks for all the accurate reporting."
---Victoria Pospisil, Mt. Vernon, Iowa
CROP CIRCLE WATCH:
1997 CROP CIRCLE SEASON UPDATE
(Sources: CPRI NEWSLETTER, Spring-Summer/97; CROP CIRCLE CONNECTOR)
The 1997 crop circle season is well under way, with a number of dramatic developments. The official British season started quite early (News Brief 60) -- by May 6, four crop circles of diameters greater than 100 feet had been discovered in canola crops that had not even reached their familiar yellow-flower stage. The figures included a 160-foot arrangement reminiscent of a "Catherine Wheel" (some people see six sixes) on April 20 and a 150-foot replica of the Tree of Life on May 6, both discovered near Barbary Castle.
Earlier in the year in February, two circles were found in the snow in Maine. The first, found on a driveway, was 19 feet wide and showed no footsteps in the snow around it. The second was found on the thin ice of a nearby stream. The circle was about 3-feet wide and within it showed more complex designs similar to a Julia-set fractal. There were no footprints.
A strange phenomenon was recorded across the U.S. in the spring -- circular holes in clouds. The sights were seen by numerous witnesses and captured on film. Colin Andrews, founder of CIRCLES PHENOMENON RESEARCH INTERNATIONAL (CPRI), saw something similar in July in Hamshire, England.
One of the most dramatic circles of the season thusfar was a three-dimensional representation of the Golden Mean Spiral found on July 11 near Alton Barnes, Wiltshire. Called "The Spirograph," the elegant 300-foot wide design consisted of seven rings arcing around a central circle. Colin Andrews visited the feature shortly after it was discovered and was very impressed by the crispness of the boundaries, and the lack of broken stalks and disturbed soil. The formation was very similar to a design found in the book, "The Alphabet of the Heart" by Dan Winter.
On July 17, a triple Julia set similar to the 1996 Windmill Hill formation appeared in Zeeland, the Netherlands. The overall formation was over 330 feet wide and consisted of 21 circles fanning out in three arms from a middle circle that had a diameter of over 75 feet.
On July 22, John Wabe, the person who claimed to have filmed the notorious "Oliver's Castle Video" which allegedly recorded the formation of a crop circle, came forward and admitted that the video was a hoax. Wabe's public declaration vindicated Colin Andrews, who challenged the video's authenticity ever since he first studied it late last summer.
On July 23, a most amazing 250-foot formation appeared on the side of Silbury Hill, Wiltshire in a field of wheat. Called the "Koch Snowflake" after a pioneering mathematician, it displayed the outline of what first appeared to be a simple Star of David, but closer examination revealed that each point of the star was also a mini-Star of David. The whole formation was outlined by 126 small circles. The crop was flattened in such a way that the floor pattern had a fluid aspect to it, as if the construction was put down in seconds. Crop circle researcher Stuart Dike reported that the central floor lay was "a web structure, masterful in its execution."
On August 8th, near the White Horse at Alton Barnes, a 200-foot formation appeared in a field of wheat that was very similar to the earlier Silbury Hill Koch Snowflake, except that the interior of "Koch Snowflake 2" incorporated a beautiful flower pattern resembling an inverted snowflake fractal. Crop circle researcher Peter Sorenson added, "The floor pattern was quite exquisite, and was superior to the Silbury lay, as the central design produced a fantastic sweeping lay around the outer section, flowing into each semi five-sided star segments. Not only that, but the whole design incorporated over 200 circles within its shape -- a new record! Within the central section, there were two circles with the most elegant [nest] centres, very carefully bound to produce these raised sections."
For up-to-the-minute information on crop circles, we recommend the CROP CIRCLE CONNECTOR:<http://alpha.mic.dundee.ac.uk/ft/crop_circles/anasazi/connect.html>. (JG)
MOUNT ETNA LIVE
(Source: Mauro Coltelli, Press Release, ISTITUTO INTERNAZIONALE DI VULCANOLOGIA, 7/30/97)
The active volcanoes of Sicily have been displaying spectacular activity these days; for example, Mount Etna has been showing vigorous Strombolian activity and lava overflows from the Southeastern Crater. Now you can see for yourself -- in real time. The ISTITUTO INTERNAZIONALE DI VULCANOLOGIA (IIV) has set up surveillance cameras to monitor the flanks of Etna, Stromboli and Volcano and the live feeds can be seen on their Web site at: <http://www.iiv.ct.cnr.it/>. Etna has been in persistent eruptive activity since late January 1997. Visibility in the summer is particularly good. Mauro Coltelli, the supervisor of the video surveillance network of IIV, says that the live-cams are being tested to determine the effective capability of the system to furnish images for long period of time in all weather conditions. (JG)
VOLCANIC FLOW REACHES MONTSERRAT CAPITAL
(Sources: REUTERS via CNN ONLINE, 8/4/97; Keith Greaves, ASSOCIATED PRESS, 8/5/97, thanks to Joya Pope)
Fires burned in Montserrat's abandoned capital as superheated rock, gas and ash from the island's unpredictable volcano recently flowed into the heart of Plymouth for the first time. The event was anticipated and the capital was deserted. Since the volcanic activity began two years ago, the island's population has dropped from 11,000 to 5,200 as residents leave for Britain or neighboring islands to find work and safer homes. According to Richard Robertson, Chief Scientist at the MONTSERRAT VOLCANO OBSERVATORY, "We are entering a period of elevated activity." The volcano's dome, a giant pile of debris pushed up from the center of the mountain, contains an estimated 2.7 billion cubic feet of material. The British government is considering evacuating the teardrop-shaped, 11-by-7 mile island in the eastern Caribbean, where some 1,200 displaced residents currently live in emergency shelters. (JG)
USGS VOLCANO WEB SITE
Pyroclastic explosions, lava flows and ash clouds are among the subjects of the newest Web site established by the U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY (USGS), Department of the Interior. The new Web site was developed by the USGS Volcano Hazards Team. Like its USGS earthquake Web cousin, this Web site offers information on erupting volcanoes around the world soon after they occur and updates information on those eruptions as long as they continue. The volcano Web site is designed to provide information on volcanoes to anyone interested in the subject. (Source: Jon Fink, USGS Press Release, 8/6/97)
REBUILDING THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE
(Source: NEWSWEEK, 8/11/97)
In News Brief 65 we reported on the destruction by vandals of the natural arch called The Eye of the Needle -- a famous Montana landmark. Now it appears that the monument is going to be reassembled, and several companies are vying to help, including GM and M 2000. The latter is a Santa Barbara-based company that helps find private funds for public works. One of its better-known projects was garnering support for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. (JG)
HOW HAZARDOUS WASTE BECOMES FERTILIZER
(Source: Duff Wilson, THE SEATTLE TIMES, 7/3/97)
Processing plants across the U.S. are disposing of their dangerous chemicals and heavy metals by taking advantage of a loophole in the law to that says that any material that has fertilizing qualities can be labeled and used as a fertilizer. The wastes come from iron, zinc and aluminum smelting, mining, cement kilns, the burning of medical and municipal wastes, wood-product slurries and a variety of other heavy industries. In Moxee City, Oregon, a powdery toxic byproduct of the steel-making process from two nearby steel mills is poured into the top of silos under a federal permit to store hazardous waste and taken out of the bottom of the silos as a raw material for fertilizer. "The exact same material," says BAY ZINC President Dick Camp. "Don't ask me why. That's the wisdom of the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA)."
Federal and state governments encourage the practice in the name of recycling and, in fact, it has some benefits: Recycling waste as fertilizer saves companies money and conserves precious space in hazardous-waste landfills. The problem is that the "beneficial materials" in industrial waste, such as nitrogen and magnesium to help crops grow, often are accompanied by dangerous heavy metals such as cadmium and lead. "Nowhere in the country has a law that says if certain levels of heavy metals are exceeded, it can't be a fertilizer," said Ali Kashani, who directs fertilizer regulation in Washington state. "That would be nice to have." Instead, officials rely on fertilizer producers to document that their products are safe, and never check back for toxic components. There is not even a requirement that toxics be listed on ingredient labels.
Among the substances found in some recycled fertilizers are cadmium, lead, arsenic, radionuclides and dioxins. While the health effects are widely disputed, in other nations, including Canada, that lack of certainty has led to strict regulation. There, the approach is to limit toxic wastes in fertilizer until the practice is proven safe. In the U.S., the approach is to allow it until it's proven unsafe. "This is a definite problem," said Richard Loeppert, a soil scientist at TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY. "The public needs to know."
Tom Witte, a farmer in Washington State is angry that "people in industry think that the best way to dispose of waste is to sell it for fertilizer and let unsuspecting farmers spread it on their land." Washington State departments of agriculture, ecology and health plan to issue a report later this year saying the practice, which they have encouraged for years, is safe. Meanwhile, the EPA has promised to look into the matter.
For more detailed analysis of the problem, see: <http://www.seattletimes.com/todaysnews/special.html>. (JG)
MAMMALS UNDER ATTACK
(Sources: Roger Doyle, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 1/97; Marlene Liddell, SMITHSONIAN, 3/97)
For years, predictions have been made about the world entering a period of major species extinction. A new study by the WORLD CONSERVATION UNION (also known as the IUCN) has actually found that a higher level of threat exists than was previously thought, with an astonishing 25 percent of mammal species threatened. Of the 26 orders of mammals -- 24 are at risk. Among the most threatened are elephants and primates. The threat is highest in countries where species are endemic and habitat disturbance by humans is high. Alarming examples are the Phillipines and Madagascar where 32 and 44 percent, respectively, of all mammals are in danger of extinction. Indonesia, China and India account also have alarmingly high numbers of threatened mammals.
One ray of hope in this bleak picture is the work of Daphne Sheldrick in Nairobi, Kenya, who has founded an orphanage to care for homeless baby elephants whose parents have been killed by poachers. Often the baby elephants have seen their parents slaughtered by high-powered rifles and their tusks hacked out of their skulls with axes, and are so grief stricken that they are in danger of dying of broken hearts. The caretakers are careful to keep the babies warm at night as they are susceptible to pneumonia -- they give them blankets and actually sleep next to them. When they are old enough, the youngsters are taught how to forage for food and water themselves, for the goal of the program is to return the animals to the wild. In the 20 years that the program has been running, Sheldrick and her staff of eight caretakers have returned 12 orphaned elephants to their natural habitat in nearby Tsava National Park -- a small but significant number. (SDS)
MONITORING HOT ZONES ON THE NET
(Source: William M. Bulkeley, THE WALL STREETJOURNAL, 7/31/97)
Jack Woodall is a medical doctor who wields a new weapon against epidemics around the world: email. By rapidly disseminating disease reports to the world's medical community via his PROGRAM FOR MONITORING EMERGING DISEASES (PROMED), Dr. Woodall says outbreaks may be identified before they can spread. At a minimum, he says, more tourists may remember to get inoculations, and governments may be forced to acknowledge health threats more promptly.
His service is controversial because it often scoops governmental offices responsible for issuing official epidemiological data, who sometimes downplay infectious disease for fear that a health scare would damage a country's economy. Instead, he aligns himself with health professionals to be "the CNN of outbreaks," says Woodall, who is Director of the NEW YORK STATE ARBOVIRUS LABORATORY in Albany. John Marr, an epidemiologist at YALE UNIVERSITY MEDICAL SCHOOL, says he values PROMED as "a free-standing system that isn't constrained by the government."
PROMED's reports are often at odds with those of local authorities. For the past two months, it has carried accounts of a major epidemic of sometimes-fatal dengue fever in Cuba. PROMED's dispatches have been based on reports by CUBAPRESS, a dissident newspaper posted on the Internet. PROMED also published CUBAPRESS's reports of the government's arrest last month of Dessy Mendoza, a physician who maintained that the area around Santiago had experienced more than 10,000 cases of the fever and as many as 15 deaths. Dr. Dessy's statistics far exceed the 826 cases and three deaths that Cuba has reported to the PAN AMERICAN HEALTH ORGANIZATION.
Sharing information on new diseases is becoming vital at a time when frequent jet travel to remote or ecologically unique regions has hastened the spread of exotic maladies. Last year, Brazilian authorities initiated a yellow-fever inoculation campaign in Manaus after PROMED reported that a Swiss tourist had died of the disease after traveling to a remote part of the upper Amazon and returned through the city.
In May, when the USS KEARSARGE was sent to rescue civilians in strife-torn Sierra Leone, PROMED moderator Dr. Calisher posted his concern that a Lassa fever outbreak in Freetown, the country's capital, might spread to sailors on the ship. His worries registered with David Duffy, a biologist at the UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA, who emailed the Pentagon, advising that the ship stock up on ribavirin, a Lassa medicine. The Navy scrambled to find 200 doses, and cleared the ship's medical officer to use them. Lt. William Hatley, medical officer for the Atlantic Fleet, later wrote Dr. Duffy to commend PROMED as "a perfect example" of how medical intelligence "can be used to protect our people."
PROMED is now part of SATELIFE, a nonprofit group in Boston that runs a satellite communications link for hospitals and doctors in developing countries. This year, PROMED has also started tracking outbreaks of animal and plant diseases. The PROMED Web site is: <http://www.healthnet.org/programs/promed.html>. (JG)
REGROWING SPINAL CORDS
(Sources: Warren E. Leary, NEW YORK TIMES via THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/12/97; ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 7/14/97)
On July 11, 1997, America's first transplant of fetal tissue was performed into a person with a spinal cord injury, in the hope that the disability could be reversed. In the experimental treatment at SHANDS HOSPITAL at the UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA in Gainesville, embryonic human spinal cord cells were injected into a man with a deteriorating condition called syringemyelia, in which holes develop in the spinal cord nerve tissue causing pain and progressive loss of sensation and movement. The aim was to have nerve tissue grow to fill the cavities and prevent further damage. "Our primary goal is this first clinical experience is to test whether these grafts can survive and, if so, to what extent they can fill the cavities in the spinal cord," said Richard Fessler, the neurosurgeon in charge of the operation. "There is no 'magic bullet' for treating spinal cord injury. This could be one part of a potential treatment which one day could help restore some function to these patients." Adult nerve tissue does not normally grow or reproduce itself, but fetal tissue does.
The approach is controversial because a major source of fetal nerve cells is aborted fetuses. Opponents say such uses will encourage elective abortions. About 10,000 people are paralyzed each year in the U.S. because of spinal cord injuries, and some researchers believe the technique could result in relief for a number of brain and nerve conditions such as Parkinsons and Alzheimers, as well.
In a related story, researchers at San Diego's UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SCHOOL OF MEDICINE have reported that gene therapy was used to stimulate the regrowth of nerve cells in the severed spinal cords of rats. Samples of normal skin cells taken through a biopsy were modified to produce a growth protein, neurotrophin-3, which encourages the survival and growth of nerve cells. The skin cells were then grafted to the spine at the injured site of the animals. There, the modified cells continuously delivered the growth protein for several months, further enhancing the regeneration of damaged nerve cells. "The goal in spinal injury research is to promote the regrowth of cut or damaged axons," or specific parts of nerve cells, said Dr. Mark Tuszynski, an associate neurosciences professor at UCSD and the study's senior author. "These results indicate that cellular delivery of [the growth protein] through gene therapy can restore function." While the California scientists said the new research is encouraging, years of research will be required before such a treatment could be available for humans. (JG)
WORDS OF WISDOM... BUT WHOSE?
(Source: Mary Schmich, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 8/3/97, thanks to Steve Haag)
On Friday, August 1, a speech started circulating around the Net that was attributed to Kurt Vonnegut and his commencement address at the MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (MIT). Here are some excerpts:
"If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
"Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall, in a way you can't grasp now, how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.
"Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.
"Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.
"Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
"Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.
"Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don't.
"Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone. Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
"Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
"Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.
"Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth... but trust me on the sunscreen."
The truth about the speech is that it was not made by Kurt Vonnegut -- this year's commencement speaker at MIT was Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations. The real author is a newspaper columnist with THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE by the name of Mary Schmich. She has no idea how Vonnegut's name got linked in cyberspace with the speech. Vonnegut had heard about the sunscreen speech from a women's magazine that wanted to reprint it, until he denied he wrote it. "It is very witty," he admitted, "but it isn't my wittiness." Schmich sums up her experience thusly, "Reams could be written on the lessons in this episode. Space confines me to two. One: I should put Kurt Vonnegut's name on my column. It would be like sticking a Calvin Klein label on a pair of K-Mart jeans. Two: Cyberspace is spooky." (JG)
"GOD MUST HAVE FORGOTTEN ME"
(Sources: REUTERS, 8/4/97; ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 8/5/96; REUTERS, 8/14/97)
On August 4, the world's oldest person, Jeanne Calment, died at 122 years of age in Arles, France. Born in 1875, she was a living link back to a time without cars, telephones, movies or aircraft. Her life spanned the rule of 20 French presidents. Though blind, deaf and confined to a wheelchair, the frail, white-haired five-foot-tall Calment remained lucid and kept her cheerful sense of humour to the end. She used to say that a smile was her recipe for long life. Arles mayor Michel Vauzelle said the town was in mourning: "She was the living memory of our town. She brought us comfort and hope with her liveliness, humour and tenderness."
Calment outlived her husband, who died in 1942, her daughter who died in 1934 and her grandson, who died in 1963. She enjoyed wine, chocolate and the odd cigarette until the end despite doctors' misgivings. THE GUINNESS BOOK OF RECORDS listed her as the oldest person who ever lived, with a birth certificate to prove it. Her resilience kept her riding a bicycle until 100.
On October 17, 1995, Calment reached 120 years and 238 days passing the then oldest-ever authenticated human, Japan's Schigechiyo Izumi who died in 1986 at the age of 120 years, 237 days. On her 121st birthday in 1996, the "doyenne of humanity" launched an improbable career as a pop artist, issuing a four-track compact disc entitled "Mistress of Time," on which she rapped to a backing of funk-rap, techno and dance music.
Calment even outlived a lawyer who gambled in a 1965 property deal that he could inherit her home cheaply. When Calment was 90, Andre-Francois Raffray, then 47, agreed to pay her a "rent" of 2,500 francs ($500) a month until she died, on condition he would inherit her house in Arles, a system common in France. Raffray died in 1995, aged 77. Over 30 years, he paid Calment more than 900,000 francs ($180,000), three times the value of the house. "We all make bad deals in life," she remarked on his passing.
The world's oldest person "title" now passes to a 116-year-old Canadian named Marie Louise Febronie Meilleur. GUINNESS confirmed Meilleur's age after checking her birth and baptism certificates, census records and two marriage certificates. Meilleur, who now lives in a nursing home in Corbeil, north Ontario, has 300 descendants. (JG/DS)
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