Dihydrogen monoxide--threat or menace? The city council of Aliso Viejo, California, almost voted to ban dihydrogen monoxide--H2O, aka water--after being informed that it was an odorless, tasteless compound that could kill you if you breathed it in. A March 14 Associated Press story quoted the city manager, who blamed the fiasco on "a paralegal who did bad research." No word on whether anyone in the local government ever passed high school chemistry.
Voting is an ethnic thing. According to the newsletter "Latino Research" (December), published by the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame, the percentage of Mexican-American U.S. citizens who voted in 2000 was 47. The percentage of Cuban-American U.S. citizens who voted was 68.
"Unspeakably bad" is Andrew Greeley's description of the media advice most Catholic bishops are receiving. "Bishops may not want competent media advisers," he writes in his new book, Priests: A Calling in Crisis, "but it's high time they begin to understand that they must have them. Everyone in the business of communicating with the public--and bishops are certainly in that business--needs to pay someone to tell them when they have made a fool of themselves and that they should never again say something as dumb as they've just said. A man who is unwilling to take the risk of hearing that every day should resign and go to a monastery to spend his life in prayer and pious works."
Peer pressure. "White students at a large state university who are randomly assigned African-American roommates are more likely to endorse affirmative action policies one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years after entering college," according to a working paper by Northwestern University's Greg Duncan and colleagues ("Institute for Policy Research News," Winter). "Students become less supportive of higher taxes for the wealthy when they are assigned roommates from high-income backgrounds, and they appear to be more likely to volunteer when assigned roommates from low-income families. Taken together, these results suggest students become more empathetic with the social groups to which their roommates belong."
Railroad dreamin'. Dave Randall, president of the Illinois Association of Railroad Passengers, compares Amtrak to the airlines in the group's February newsletter, "Railgram": "If [Amtrak] had been giving consistently courteous, on-time service with equipment that works, they, too, would be seeing the double-digit ridership increases needed to catch the attention of Congress."
Has Lake Michigan sprung a leak? Yes, say U.S. Geological Survey scientists cited in a February 24 Great Lakes Bulletin News Service story distributed online by the Michigan Land Use Institute. The story states, "Communities in southeastern Wisconsin are actually withdrawing Great Lakes surface water, not just groundwater, when they pump," reversing a flow that has long gone the other way. Nevertheless, the scientists maintain, "because the Great Lakes hold more than six quadrillion gallons of water, the 10 million gallon per day backflow they discovered is, by itself, insignificant."
Ever wonder how Islamic society managed to go from the world leader in science and technology 1,000 years ago to a largely ignorant backwater today? The U.S. may be starting to repeat the feat. Writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (March/April), Linda Rothstein describes the Office of Management and Budget's "Draft Bulletin on Peer Review" as "a little something designed to give a White House known for denying unpleasant facts absolute power over information." The proposed guidelines would give OMB veto power over scientific peer-review practices at federal agencies such as the EPA. "OMB, not the agencies or their scientific experts," would "be in charge of naming reviewers....Agencies would be prohibited from releasing any information to the public unless that information has first been vetted (at length) by OMB--even in most cases of emergency." And "government and university scientists who work for or consult with agencies are automatically assumed to have a conflict [of interest]. But those who work for profit-making corporations are not."