Watching the World

Profanity Is Escalating

Many North Americans worry that they are “in a losing battle to preserve civility,” says an article in The Toronto Star. This is especially evident in “the increasing acceptance of cursing.” According to P. M. Forni, head of the Johns Hopkins University Civility Project, profanity is now so pervasive that many young people do not think it is wrong and most adults do not seem to notice it or even care. The newspaper reports that according to Professor Timothy Jay, “children begin using profanity as early as age 1, when they gain the ability to absorb words they hear from their parents and on television.” Figures from one study reveal that “swear words account for about 10 per cent of an adult’s work vocabulary and 13 per cent in leisure environments.” Another statistic cited by the Star reveals that in the United States, “profane language on television increased more than 500 per cent from 1989 to 1999.”

 How Sleeping Swifts Keep Their Position

Swifts not only sleep while flying but also manage to stay over their territory without being carried away by the wind. To find out how they do it, ornithologists Johan Bäckman and Thomas Alerstam of Sweden’s Lund University used radar to track the swifts’ nocturnal movements. As reported by the German science magazine Bild der Wissenschaft, the researchers observed a certain flight pattern that keeps the swifts in position. The birds climb to high altitudes, up to 10,000 feet [3,000 m], and then fly diagonally to the wind, changing directions rhythmically every few minutes. This rhythmic pattern keeps them moving to and fro over their territory. At low wind speeds, however, the swifts were observed to spend their sleeping time circling.

“The Disease We Do Not Have to Have”

“Osteoporosis is the disease we do not have to have,” states The Sun-Herald of Australia. “It is largely preventable. Yet it is predicted that by 2020, one in three hospital beds will be occupied by women with fractures.” A report by Osteoporosis Australia shows that the disease, which makes bones porous and brittle, “is more prevalent than high cholesterol, allergies or the common cold. It costs more than diabetes or asthma. And the death rate in women from hip fractures is greater than the incidence of all female cancers combined.” According to Professor Philip Sambrook, estimates show that in Australia half the women and a third of the men will sustain a fracture from osteoporosis during their lifetime. “The best defence,” says the paper, “is to build peak bone mass in the first three decades of life through exercise and adequate calcium intake.” The risk of suffering from osteoporosis can be greatly reduced by avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption. Positive habits include engaging in regular exercise and consuming foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.

A “Saint” That Unties Knots

“In recent years, Saint Jude Thaddaeus, the patron of lost causes; Saint Rita, savior of the desperate; Saint Hedwig, protectress of the indebted; and Saint Expeditus, the patron of urgent causes, have all been in fashion,” notes the newspaper Veja. Now the latest “saint” to achieve popularity among Brazil’s Catholics is “Our Lady Untier of Knots.” This unusual title comes from a painting hanging in a chapel in Augsburg, Germany, that depicts the Virgin Mary unraveling the knots in a ribbon. Promoted by media personalities, “Our Lady Untier of Knots” has gained devotees who seek her help to disentangle their knotty health, marital, and financial problems. At the same time, this has generated a lively commerce in medallions, rosaries, images, and car stickers. “The ‘Untier’ craze is not a bad thing, but it won’t last long,” predicts Darci Nicioli, administrator of Brazil’s largest Catholic shrine.

The Gospel in Space

While scientists are still debating the possibility of life in outer space, priests at the Vatican Observatory, reports the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper, have come to the conclusion that “earth’s inhabitants are not the only creatures of God in the universe. God also created extraterrestrials.” As explained by George Coyne, director of the observatory, “the universe is simply far too large for us to be alone.” To reach these extraterrestrials with the Gospel, several monasteries have been sending the New Testament into space as an encoded message. What the Vatican would like to know next, says the newspaper, “is whether Jesus Christ has manifested himself on other planets too.” And, adds Coyne, “whether Jesus Christ has also saved the inhabitants” of those planets.

Resetting “Doomsday”

The directors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have pushed the hands of the famous Doomsday Clock “forward two minutes to seven minutes to midnight,” reports the Paris daily International Herald Tribune. “Concerns over lagging disarmament efforts, the security of existing nuclear stockpiles and terrorism” motivated this change. The clock​—the symbol of how near the world is to nuclear annihilation—​has been reset 17 times since its inauguration in 1947. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, the hands were moved back to 17 minutes before midnight, but over the years the hands have gradually crept closer to midnight. The clock was last advanced in 1998, from 14 to 9 minutes before midnight. Since then, only 3,000 nuclear weapons have been dismantled, leaving over 31,000 in the hands of the nuclear powers.

Switzerland Decides to Join the UN

“By a slender margin, neutral Switzerland decided in a countrywide vote . . . to leave behind decades of isolationism and become a member of the United Nations,” reports The New York Times. The submission of a formal application to the UN General Assembly is required to make Switzerland the 190th member of the organization. When the Swiss last voted on membership in 1986, the proposition was overwhelmingly rejected, “driven by fears that the nation’s traditional neutrality would be compromised.” What brought about the change? “Although the country is host to the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva and is active in a number of its agencies, the government feared that a continued reluctance to become a member would undercut Switzerland politically and economically, and undermine its mediation efforts in far-flung conflicts,” says the Times. Switzerland may also have seen a need to improve its image after recent disclosures that Swiss banks had hoarded the accounts of Holocaust victims and that Switzerland had turned away from its borders many refugees who were trying to flee Nazi Germany.

Deadly Steroids

It is estimated that in Poland “about 60 percent of those who practice bodybuilding use steroids,” reports the Polish weekly Wprost. Teenagers between 17 and 18 years of age start using them early in the year “so that by June they can show off their muscles at outdoor swimming pools.” Although the steroids “can be purchased in almost any bodybuilding gym,” they are dangerous to the body. “Steroids damage not only the liver but muscles as well,” says Professor Janusz Nauman of the Medical University in Warsaw. Other side effects include skin and hair problems, hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, and troublesome emotional disorders. Some side effects of using steroids develop only after years have elapsed. For example, in the case of “athletes from [the former] East Germany, where drugs were taken in huge amounts starting in the 1950’s, the effects on health were observed in the 1970’s and ’80’s,” says Nauman. And, adds Wprost, the use of steroids “increases the possibility of resorting to heroin and other drugs.”