Crime, Mellow and Otherwise
I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that my favorite place on Earth is Hawaii. Two of my favorite people on Earth are Dan and Jean, who have lived in Honolulu for many decades. I’ve known Jean for some 60 years dating back to my time at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1946 to 1950 period when she and her mother were both working in the chemistry department. I met her husband Dan, also a Pitt alumnus, over 40 years ago on my first visit to Hawaii. They are both delightful people and are now true Hawaiians, mellow and full of the Aloha spirit. Aside from the gorgeous scenery in Hawaii, it’s that mellow, laid back atmosphere that I love. I talked to Dan and Jean last week and Jean told me a “horror” story that I just had to share with you.
The title of this story might be “Burglary, Hawaiian Style”. One day after lunch recently, Dan decided to lie down in their bedroom and take a nap. Jean went into their living room and fell asleep in a reclining chair. She awoke from her snooze to see a young man standing at their dining room table! The young man was neatly dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with a baseball cap on backwards. Not being here in New Jersey, Jean’s first thought on awakening was that he must have delivered something, probably flowers. She said, “Thank you so much.” The young man responded, “You’re welcome” and he calmly walked back out through the unlocked screen door. When he got to the gate, he turned and, seeing Jean looking at him, smiled at her.
By this time, Jean was fully awake and woke up Dan, who suggested she was dreaming. However, drawers were open and some deposit slips for bank and brokerage accounts were missing. The police were called and within minutes four police cars were on the scene and a helicopter buzzed overhead! It turned out other houses in the area were also broken into and various items taken. The police rounded up a number of suspects for Jean to look at but none of them was the perpetrator. I called Jean again this week and they still have not caught the fellow. After hearing her story, I remarked that this must have been the most pleasant exchange on record between a perp and his victim.
Jean then told me of another recent case in Honolulu that was just as bizarre, but more violent in nature. An acquaintance of Jean’s has a neighbor who was taking a shower at 3 AM; why at that hour I don’t know. There was a window over the shower. In the midst of his shower, the fellow was surprised to find that he was joined in the shower by an intruder who had climbed through the window! The intruder was followed by a second guy who went to the bedroom where the wife was sleeping and the two of them were tied up and robbed! I fear that Hawaii has joined the rest of the country as far as crime is concerned.
“Criminal acts of anti-science violence” are the words used by George Blumenthal, Chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) to describe more violent attacks on California researchers and their families by animal-rights activists. An article by Greg Miller in the August 8 issue of Science cites recent incidents involving the use of Molotov-cocktail-type devices to set on fire the home of UCSC neurobiologist David Feldheim. In another incident at about the same time, the car of another UCSC worker was destroyed by a similar device. More than two dozen researchers and staff members of various University of California campuses, UC Berkeley being one, have been harassed or their homes vandalized this year.
While I’m all for humane treatment of animal subjects in a medical research setting, I feel that we’ve all benefited from drugs and treatments that have evolved from research on animals. For example, on the next page of the same issue of Science there’s a report by Gretchen Vogel and Constance Holden on stem cell lines, specifically those 21 cell lines allowed by President Bush for government-sponsored research. The report concerns problems related to those stem cell lines but also mentions the work that created such a stir in the scientific community not too long ago. This was the work of Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka, who found that he could make what are termed induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells by inserting only four genes into the skin cells of mice.
This created such a stir because the achievement suggests that it won’t be necessary to use embryonic stem cells and the controversy over use of these cells could be resolved. When Yamanaka’s work on mice was reported, it was thought that to duplicate the results in humans would take years but two groups have already been made human iPS cells. Now further experiments are underway in mice and rats to use such cells to treat blood and neurological disorders. Hopefully, it won’t take too long for any positive results to be translated into treatments of human diseases. If any of my children or grandchildren benefit from these experiments, I’ll not bemoan the fact that some mice or rats have suffered in the quest for cures for major diseases.
Continuing the crime theme, is there any worse crime than a parent killing one or more of his or her children? It seems as though there are more such killings, judging from the number of media accounts. By signing up on a NASA/JPL Web site a couple months ago, I now get automatic e-mails from NASA containing their latest press releases on various subjects. A recent release dated August 22 cites the case of a potential crime of a similar nature on a cosmic scale. The Spitzer Space Telescope has taken a picture of a region known as W5, described as a cosmic cloud in which massive stars ranging from 15 to 60 times the size of our Sun have created generations of stars.
What happens is that these massive stars shed some of their material in the form of cosmic winds and intense radiation. The effect is to blow out the gases surrounding the massive stars, forming empty cavities around the huge stars. All this gas being driven out and compressed against the surrounding gas leads to the formation of new stars. At least that’s the theory and analyses of the ages of the stars surrounding the cavities do show the massive stars in the center are younger than the stars outside the cavities.
We can think of these younger stars as being the children of the massive stars since their birth was prompted by the stuff expelled by the huge suns. But what happens a few million years from now? We’ve talked previously about the fact that larger stars have shorter lives and burn up their fuel much faster than more modest sized stars such as our Sun. These huge stars will blow up in humongous supernova explosions that will end up destroying some of the younger “children” they spawned earlier. A parent kills its progeny.
OK, it may be a stretch and enough crime talk. It’s back to trying to cope with my new cable phone-Internet-HDTV package. I was surprised this week when our editor Brian Trumbore said that he thought my column describing my frustrating encounters with modern communications technologies to be one of my best columns. I thought the column showed how pitifully inept Old Bortrum is. However, after Brian’s remark, I’ll have more to say on the subject next week.
Allen F. Bortrum