Watching the World

“Gray” Criminals

“Britain’s first prison wing specially adapted for elderly inmates has been established to cope with a sharp rise in the number of pensioners turning to crime,” reports The Sunday Times of London. The unit, in a Portsmouth jail, has stairlifts, adapted gym equipment, and staff trained in nursing skills. Research shows that more than 100,000 pensioners “have turned to​—or considered turning to—​crime” to augment their state benefits and pensions. Some have resorted to drug dealing, shoplifting, smuggling cigarettes and alcohol into Britain, and even robbing banks. In 1990, 355 pensioners were jailed, but the figure for 2000 was 1,138. Many have no previous criminal record but “are under huge pressure to maintain a standard of living,” says criminologist Bill Tupman. “These are not the very poorest pensioners but those in the middle classes who have been hard-working, law-abiding members of society throughout their lives.”

 How Seal Moms and Pups Find Each Other

When mother seals return home after weeks of feeding at sea, the moms and their newborn pups must find each other in a noisy crowd of hundreds of other adult and baby seals. How do they do it? According to The Vancouver Sun of Canada, “pups learn to recognize their mother’s voice in as little as two days after they’re born and mothers quickly learn to identify their baby’s call.” A study conducted on Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean showed that “mom and baby can find each other in just seven minutes after mom’s return from her first trip to sea,” says the Sun. “A mother will feed only its own pup and can be very aggressive towards other pups,” says Dr. Isabelle Charrier, who carried out the study, “so it’s very important for the pup to recognize its mother.”

Mandarin Chinese and the Brain

Psychologist Dr. Sophie Scott and her colleagues in London and Oxford recently used brain scans to determine which parts of the brain help us to understand speech. The researchers discovered that when English speakers heard English, their left temporal lobes became active. However, “when Mandarin Chinese speakers heard their native tongue, there was a buzz of action in both the right and left temporal lobes,” reports The Guardian newspaper. Why? “The left temporal lobe is normally associated with piecing sounds together into words; the right with processing melody and intonation,” explains the paper. “In Mandarin, a different intonation delivers a different meaning: the syllable ‘ma,’ for instance, can mean mother, scold, horse or hemp,” depending on the tone. Dr. Scott comments: “We think Mandarin speakers interpret intonation and melody in the right temporal lobe to give correct meaning to the spoken words.”

Race Resumes for World’s Tallest Building

“Urban planners around the globe are racing once again to build the world’s tallest building,” states The Wall Street Journal. Already under construction in Taipei, Taiwan, is a skyscraper that is expected to reach 1,667 feet [508 m]​—about 300 feet [90 m] taller than the Twin Towers were in New York City. Meanwhile, Shanghai, China, is going ahead with its plans to build a 1,614-foot-tall [492 m] World Financial Center. Shanghai officials claim that this building will actually be taller than the one in Taiwan, which depends partly on a 164-foot [50 m] television antenna for its height. Reaching even higher, Seoul, South Korea, wants to build an international business center that is 1,772 feet [540 m] tall. And not to be outdone, some have proposed building the world’s tallest building to replace what was lost in the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City. “Few people in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks would have predicted such a quick return to the tallest-building race,” says the Journal.

Angry Youths Risk Their Hearts

“Researchers have discovered that children and teenagers with high hostility levels are up to three times more likely to develop metabolic syndrome​—a dangerous precursor to heart disease—​than their more mellow peers,” reports The Gazette of Montreal. American and Finnish researchers who tested the hostility level of 134 teenagers and children found that angry youths were 22 percent more likely to develop risk factors for heart disease than youths with lower anger scores. “People don’t just wake up one morning when they’re 50 and have heart disease,” states Dr. Kristen Salomon, coauthor of the study. “Cardiovascular disease starts early in life.”

Britain’s Oldest Bird?

“Britain’s oldest known bird is still flying high after five million miles [8,000,000 km] and 52 years,” reports London’s newspaper The Times. The bird, a small black-and-white Manx shearwater, “was first ringed in May 1957, when it was about six years old.” It was trapped again in 1961, 1978, and 2002, after which ornithologists did not expect to see it again. But early in 2003, it reappeared off the coast of North Wales. The British Trust for Ornithology reckons that the bird has flown at least 500,000 miles [800,000 km] when migrating to and from South America. Adding its regular feeding flights of 600 miles [1,000 km], scientists conclude that it has flown more than five million miles. Graham Appleton of the Bardsey Bird Observatory in North Wales says: “The old bird was given its fourth ring; again, something of a record. The others had all worn out.”

Children’s TV Disappearing in Spain

“Afternoon television programs for children have disappeared,” reports the Spanish daily newspaper El País. Manuel Cereijo, a spokesman for Spanish State Television, explains that “children are not a sufficiently reliable audience to justify broadcasting special programs for them during the afternoon.” But this situation worries experts such as Lola Abelló, a director of Spain’s Association of Pupil’s Parents, who notes: “Children watch whatever is put in front of them.” One out of every 3 children in Spain has a television in his bedroom, states the report, and as a result youngsters between 4 and 12 years of age no longer talk about cartoon characters but, instead, talk about pop stars and gossip programs. “It is sad,” says Abelló, “because their childhood has been stolen. From a tender age, they take in information for adults.”