Programming Minds: The magazine Civilization reports the uncivilized results of subliminal messages on your TV screen and what can now be done about them. These 2-3/32 second scenes are oftentimes responsible for violence. For instance, in Tokyo, the photograph of cult leader Shoko Asahara that flashed across the screen during a national cartoon broadcast was the alleged cause for the Tokyo subway gas attacks of 1995.
Then in December 1997, more than 700 Japanese children, watching an episode of Pocket Monsters simultaneously convulsed with seizures, writing in pain. Frightened parents rushed their children to the hospital. A ratlike “pocket monster” with strobe-like explosions of lightning shooting out of its eyes was to blame.
In April, after program producers agreed to avoid such hazardous flashes and reduce scenes to no more than three per second, Pocket Monsters returned to Japanese TV, this time with slightly slower but just as deadly lightning-bolt explosions. Enter, Mediachef, a device that scans video information frame by frame, measures the time lapse between scene changes, and flags any abrupt one- or two-frame “scenes” as possible subliminals. The rat, his show and a Nintendo video game based on his adventures are scheduled to arrive in the US shortly. The Mediachef can be acquired from Hitachi.
Children with Guns: While passing by the video arcade in a Century Theater, I observed a very determined lad equipped with a gun manipulating an arcade machine. As “people” walked on a street on the screen, he shot off their heads, blood spurting all around. When he noticed me, he turned the gun toward me, but alas, the weapon only shot electronic bullets. Had the gun been real, I doubt I’d be writing this column. Furthermore, I wonder if this young boy may eventually shoot real bullets. One of our candidates for governor suggests outlawing such arcade games. But we already have enough laws and have problems enforcing them. It seems the owner or the lessee of the arcade or the game manufacturer is contributing to the delinquency of a minor and perhaps inciting criminal behavior.
Infant & Fetal Rights: Princeton University has hired Peter Singer to the Professorship of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton effective July 1999. Known in the United States for his defense of animal rights, in Europe advocates of the disabled object to his idea that children with birth defects have less moral value than most animals and therefore can be euthanized. Singer asserts that “killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all.” He argues that if a parent may consider aborting the child in the womb, they should be equally prepared to consider euthanasia if birth reveals unexpected imperfections in the child. Princeton justifies his appointment “for his quality as a scholar, not to endorse his point-of-view.” Are the boards of Senior Deans and University Trustees really so naive as to think that an Assistant Professor will be promoted to Associate Professorship and make tenure without endorsing the Chief’s (Singer’s) point of view?
Headless Children for Organs: Also at Princeton, a Biology Professor, Lee Silver, has developed headless mice. His research team discovered the gene that produces the head and deleted that gene in a thousand embryos. Four mice survived until birth. He feels this is the first step in producing humans without a forebrain, which he would not consider persons. Hence Silver feels it would be legal to keep them alive as sources of transplantable organs . . . A few technical problems, but remember, Dr Robin Cook was able to overcome them in COMA.
Mice vs. microbes: White mice and guinea pigs are no longer laboratory fixtures. Molecular biology, built on the rock of DNA and its double helix, was largely realized out of the study of a single-celled microbe–the human symbiont in the colon: Escherichia coli. Five decades of research of single-celled life caused the joke that soon biology PhD’s wouldn’t remember how to raise a white mouse.
Youth vs. golden years: University of Pennsylvania researchers followed 71 adults aged 64-94 to see how they responded to life’s disappointments. Expecting to find that pessimistic individuals would be more prone to depression, as is true in young people, they were surprised to find the reverse–elderly pessimists appeared to experience less depression. Being optimistic may not be realistic later in life.