Watching the World

“Candies” for Birds

‘A Brazilian plant uses a hitherto unknown strategy to increase its pollination rate,’ reports the German magazine GEO. Instead of a drink of liquid nectar, Combretum lanceolatum offers its visitors “candies.” Overnight, the flowers of this shrub produce pellets of sweet jelly that harden into lumps about a quarter of an inch [6 mm] in diameter. Glucose and fructose sweeten the gel, which researchers say tastes “somewhat like jelly babies,” a commercial candy. The report explains that “when the flowers unfold their leaves at sunrise, the glittering, transparent candies are laid out ready as if on a tray.” This floral delight attracts at least “28 bird species from eight families.” While foraging from shrub to shrub, birds get a good dusting of pollen, thus promoting the plant’s rapid spread.

 Happy Italian Children

“The Italian child is the happiest in Europe,” says the Rome daily La Repubblica in reporting on a study by the Italian National Center for Documentation and Analysis of Childhood and Adolescence. Researchers found that 96 percent of Italian children grow up in homes with both parents, which is a higher percentage than in other European countries, where separation and divorce are more common. Additionally, over half also have grandparents living either in the same home or nearby. Thus, “8 out of 10” grandparents see their grandchildren “more than once a week.” This, says the report, contributes to a child’s “sense of belonging” and reduces loneliness. Says psychologist Alessandra Graziottin: “The happiness of a child, like that of an adult, is derived, not from riches or designer clothing, but from feeling loved.”

Healthy Flying

For a more pleasant flight, Mexico City’s newspaper El Universal suggests the following: (1) Because air on board planes can be very dry, drink plenty of liquids. (2) Dry air can irritate the eyes, so wear eyeglasses instead of contact lenses. (3) Do simple exercises at your seat to relax your muscles and stimulate circulation in your legs. (4) Take a walk down the aisle every so often. (5) Wear shoes that are easy to remove, and use a footrest​—perhaps your overnight bag. (6) Wear comfortable, wrinkle-free clothing made of natural fibers to allow your skin to breathe. (7) Drink alcoholic beverages moderately or not at all, as altitude increases the effects of alcohol. (8) Adjust the air-conditioning so that it does not directly hit your neck or back. (9) Try to sleep, preferably using an eye mask. (10) Chew something during takeoff and landing to alleviate pressure in the ears. Babies can be given a pacifier.

Spoiled Children in Germany

“A new culture of giving in” to children has been noted among parents, says Udo Beckmann, chairman of a German teachers’ union. According to the newspaper Südwest Presse, Beckmann said that more and more children were being badly spoiled and, as a result, were not willing to exert themselves in school. “He stated that it was no longer an exception for parents to feel that homework puts ‘too great a strain’ upon their children and that it is ‘unreasonable’ to demand that children learn for class tests.” The report also said that when parents constantly give in to their children in order to avoid conflict, they deprive them of “the chance to live their lives responsibly.” Spoiled children, says Beckmann, grow up to be “egoistic adults” who want everything but are unwilling to work for it.

Why Birds Fly in V-Formation

Researchers now have empirical evidence that birds such as geese and pelicans “fly in V-shaped formations to reduce drag and save energy on long migrations,” says The Daily Telegraph of London, in discussing a report from Nature magazine. Scientists from the National Centre of Scientific Research in Villiers en Bois, France, measured the heart rates of eight pelicans flying in V-formation and then compared these figures with their “wing beats and flight patterns.” The researchers found that the birds’ heart rates dropped when in formation and that they beat their wings less frequently than when flying solo, even though their speed was similar. “In birds flying in formation,” says Nature, “each wing moves in an upwash field that is generated by the wings of the other birds in the formation.” This strategy enables great white pelicans to conserve up to 20 percent more energy than when flying alone.

Bible Reading in France

Although 42 percent of French people surveyed have a Bible, only about 2 percent say that they read it almost every day, according to a poll published in the Catholic newspaper La Croix. Seventy-two percent say they “never read the Bible.” Of those polled, 54 percent considered the Bible to be “an outdated book” that was “out of synch with the modern world.” The report explains that “French people first consider the Bible from a cultural viewpoint,” looking to it for an explanation of “the origins of Judaism and Christianity.” La Croix states that “each year, about 250,000 Bibles and 30,000 New Testaments are sold in France.”

Accredited School of Astrology

A school in the United States “where students learn to write horoscopes and give advice about the future . . . has won accreditation from a federally recognized body, in what is believed to be a first for a school of astrology,” says The New York Times. According to the institute’s founder, “the stars were favorably aligned” the month of the accreditation. Called the Astrological Institute, the school has courses that include “a master class on the asteroid goddesses” and a class on “how to write an astrological column.” Most graduates “set up private practice, though some are hired by holistic healing centers, spas and cruise ships.” The Times stated that “the institute received accreditation . . . after demonstrating that its teachers were qualified and that its graduates could be placed in jobs.” However, according to the head of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, “the accreditation did not validate astrology, but only recognized that the school fulfilled its promises to students.”

Mount Everest Cleanup

The usual picture of Mount Everest, earth’s highest mountain (29,035 feet) [8,850 meters], is one of pristine beauty and grandeur. However, a report in the New Delhi magazine Down to Earth reveals that Mount Everest has become a huge garbage dump. The hundreds of climbers who have scaled Everest’s slopes over the decades have left behind literally tons of junk, including “empty oxygen cylinders, old ladders or poles and plastic canes.” The dirtiest camp, says the report, is “the South Col camp, from where most climbers mount their final climb to the summit.” Bhumi Lal Lama, an official of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said that “we are considering paying [Sherpas] US $13.50 for each kilogramme [2.2 pounds] of garbage they collect.” Sherpas “usually act as guides and carry supplies for people” climbing Everest, says the report.

“Magic Spell” Backfires

“A Ghanaian man was shot dead by a fellow villager while testing a magic spell designed to make him bulletproof,” reports Reuters news service. A number of villagers in northeastern Ghana had asked a witch doctor to make them invulnerable to bullets. “After smearing his body with a concoction of herbs every day for two weeks,” says the report, the victim “volunteered to be shot to check if the spell had worked.” The victim died instantly from a single rifle shot. Afterward, angry neighbors grabbed the witch doctor and beat him severely because his magic spell had failed. When seeking protection from rival tribesmen, people living in the far north of Ghana often consult witch doctors.