Watching the World

Restless Space Travel

After spending five months on board the Russian space station Mir in 1997, astronaut Jerry Linenger noted that the change from daylight to darkness as Mir orbited the earth every 90 minutes played havoc with his sleep patterns. Why? Efforts to conserve energy meant that Mir’s main light came from sunlight through the windows. Thus, “day, night, day, night, 15 times a day starts messing you up after a while,” said Linenger. Speaking of the results of the irregular sleep patterns of two of his fellow astronauts, he said: “They’d nod off and float right past you.” According to New Scientist magazine, finding ways to keep astronauts’ daily rhythms on track “will be vital to the success of future long-haul missions.” Otherwise, “stopping astronauts from nodding off could be a major problem on long space flights.”

 Fruit Flies Did It First

Creating an engine that mixes the right amount of fuel and oxygen to power an automobile at various speeds and still maintains clean exhaust is a daunting engineering challenge. Automobile designers accomplish this by using “a system of valves that can alter the flow of fuel and air instantly as power needs change,” states The New York Times. However, researchers studying the fruit fly at the University of Würzburg in Germany have recently found that fruit flies have long used a remarkably similar method for taking in the right amount of oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide, while not losing too much water vapor. The fruit fly uses tiny openings, called spiracles, located on its thorax and abdomen to control the “proper exchange of respiratory gases while reducing water loss,” states the paper. It adds that the openings “can go from wide open to fully closed, with lots of intermediate stops between, in the course of just a few seconds.”

Intoxicated by Love

For many people, falling in love can produce a feeling of euphoria, reports El Universal newspaper of Mexico City. This increases the concentration of neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain. Family psychologist Giuseppe Amara notes that some people, not wanting to lose this intoxicating sensation, go from one infatuation to another without establishing a lasting relationship. The euphoric effect can last from months to as long as two years. Then these feelings gradually calm down, and the person can enter the next stage, in which a hormone called oxytocin increases, generating a feeling of warmth and deep attachment. Although the euphoric stage of romantic love is very pleasant, notes Amara, it can cloud one’s judgment, preventing one from seeing the defects of another. Therefore, states El Universal, specialists recommend that couples not marry until they “know each other sufficiently to maintain a good relationship.”

Separation and Divorce Skyrocket in Spain

“We don’t have to resign ourselves to one marriage all our lives,” states Inés Alberdi, sociologist and author of the book La nueva familia española (The New Spanish Family). As reported in the newspaper El País, many Spanish couples evidently feel the same way. A recent study by the Ministry of Justice shows a separation or divorce for every two marriages in Spain. Experts predict that such breakups will continue increasing as a result of changing views on marriage and the greater economic independence of women. “Couples do not have much spirit of self-sacrifice, [and] young people are not prepared to put up with anything,” explains Luis Zarraluqui, president of the Spanish Association of Family Lawyers. “Breakdowns are [even] increasing a lot among older ones, particularly when they reach the age of retirement.” Traditional religious beliefs have proved insufficient to halt this trend. Although 85 percent of Spaniards consider themselves Catholic, separations and divorces have mushroomed by 500 percent in the past 20 years.

Risks of Body Piercing

Piercing various body parts for the wearing of jewelry is very popular, especially among youths. “Unfortunately, they seldom think about the consequences of this step,” says the Polish magazine Świat Kobiety. “The period of youthful rebelliousness passes, and an eyebrow studded with pieces of metal stops being considered an ornament.” And although the metal may be removed, scars will remain. Additionally, piercing facial skin can damage nerves and blood vessels and result in “loss of feeling” as well as “infections and wounds that take a long time to heal.” Bacteria thrive in the “damp and warm environment” of the mouth, so piercings there often lead to infections and even tooth decay. Fat cysts in the form of hard papules can develop in pierced areas rich in fat cells, such as the navel and the ears. The article warns that “metal ornaments often contain an admixture of nickel. People allergic to that metal may experience allergic symptoms, such as swelling and an itchy rash.”

“Trashy Cosmetic Surgery”

Over the past ten years, lawsuits following botched-up cosmetic surgery have soared by 117 percent in France, comments the newsmagazine Le Point, with 1 case in every 3 involving breast surgery. According to specialists, up to 30 percent of cosmetic operations require further adjustments, and some patients have even died from postoperative complications. Denouncing what he calls “trashy cosmetic surgery,” Dr. Pierre Nahon, himself a plastic surgeon, states: “We can all perform in 20 minutes an operation that normally takes two hours. But the result is not the same.” According to Le Point, “some clinics take more care in choosing their lawyers than their surgeons.”

Concern About Health Care in Europe

Dissatisfaction with health services is running high in some European lands. European Commission figures indicate that many people in Portugal, Greece, and Italy feel that their health care is inadequate. European health services are admittedly under great strain. As the number of aged people in the population increases, more and more people are developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, health officials feel that Europeans could take better care of their health. According to the newsletter EUR-OP News, “dieting, sedentary lifestyles and excessive intake of saturated fats have been highlighted as dangerous trends,” and “the number of overweight men and underweight women . . . is on the increase.”

Violence Against Vicars

“Aggressive middle-class parishioners are abusing and assaulting vicars after losing their tempers in disputes over weddings and christenings,” reports The Sunday Telegraph of London. A study involving 1,300 members of the clergy in southeast England revealed that over a two-year period, more than 70 percent of them had been verbally abused, about 12 percent assaulted, and 22 percent threatened with violence. Dr. Jonathan Gabe, who led the research at London University’s Royal Holloway College, blamed the problem on “parishioners who were abusive at the very least if they couldn’t get their way.” He also cited “an increasingly assertive consumerism and a decline in public deference and trust in public figures” as causes for unruly parishioners. Some dioceses are responding by providing training in such areas as self-defense to help clergy to deal with violent parishioners.