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facts & arguments

How to sober up an owl

"Apparently, public intoxication is a reason for police to intervene with animals as well as humans," reports. "… A spokesman for the Pforzheim police reported to Spiegel Online that 'a woman walking her dog alerted the police after seeing the bird sitting by the side of the road oblivious to passing traffic.' When police found the brown owl, it was staggering around with drooping eyelids. As further evidence of the owl's drunkenness, two small bottles of schnapps were found near the bird. The police took the owl to a local expert who has treated 'alcoholized birds' in the past. This bird is being given plenty of water, and will be free to go when sober."

A grander piano

"Most pianos have 88 keys. And most great piano music comes from the middle of the keyboard - only rarely do the player's fingers venture onto the tinkly keys at the top of the keyboard, or the booming bass notes at the bottom. But a craftsman in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, thinks the instrument has room to grow," National Public Radio reports, "and he wants to nudge the piano out of complacent middle age. He has designed a grand with an unprecedented 102 keys. The Stuart and Sons grand piano has 14 more keys than most, which means its lowest and highest notes live very much on the edge. Its designer, Wayne Stuart, says a few other grands can play as low … but none can play as high."

Habits take time

"Established habits demand little conscious effort, but creating a new habit is hard work," Scientific American Mind reports. "Psychologist Phillippa Lally of University College London asked 96 undergraduates to form a habit in 12 weeks by repeating daily a healthy behaviour, such as drinking a bottle of water with lunch. Published in the October European Journal of Social Psychology, her results suggest that habits take much longer to form than researchers previously thought (an average of nine and a half weeks and potentially as long as several months), but missing one or two days of repetition will not impede the process."

Khasi males oppressed

"Kaith Pariat is sick of housekeeping and even more so of being bossed around by his mother-in-law," The Guardian reports. "He has put up with this situation since he married. 'Can you imagine the shock of leaving your family home and suddenly becoming a dogsbody in your mother-in-law's house?' he asks. 'She gives the orders and you become a good-for-nothing servant.' The Khasi, who number about one million in India's northeastern state of Meghalaya, carry on the matrilineal tradition. The youngest daughter inherits, children take their mother's surname and, once married, men live in their mother-in-law's home. 'Only mothers or mothers-in-law look after the children. Men are not even entitled to take part in family gatherings. The husband is up against a whole clan of people: his wife, his mother-in-law and his children. So all he can do is play the guitar, sing, take to drink and die young,' Pariat concludes gloomily."

Victorian ailment returns

"A girl aged 12 has been diagnosed with the early stages of rickets after her conscientious mother used high-factor sun cream to protect her skin, The Daily Telegraph reports. "Tyler Attrill developed severe leg pains and was found to lack vitamin D, the deficiency which leads to the Victorian slum disease. Despite living in one of the sunniest places in the country [Britain's Isle of Wight] she had too little direct exposure to sunlight, doctors said. Hers is one of a growing number of cases of a disease thought to have been eliminated more than 80 years ago, but now occurring in children of all backgrounds. Full-blown rickets causes deformities including bowed legs and curvature of the spine."

Let the road clear snow

"America's harsh winters cost the nation's economy billions of dollars each year in snow-removal equipment, weather damage to streets and vehicles, extra days of school and revenue lost to closed businesses," reports. "Scott Brusaw, a 53-year-old electrical engineer in tiny Sagle, Idaho, thinks he has a solution. So far, he's generated interest from the federal government and General Electric in his idea for a solar-powered roadway made from super-strong glass, instead of conventional asphalt or concrete. … Solar cells inside its glass surface would allow the roadway to act as a giant solar-power generator, fuelling embedded heating elements and making plows and other snow-removal equipment unnecessary."

Thought du jour

"People usually complain that music is so ambiguous, that it leaves them in such doubt about what to think, whereas words can be understood by everyone. But to me it seems exactly the opposite."

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Composer