Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!!!...

New Year's Eve has always seemed to me (at least once I was old enough to really go out) to be a night when everyone tries desperately to have fun because they're supposed to, but in the end, it isn't really all that great.

Nevertheless, I will be out celebrating with friends in the hope that this is the year NYE is all it's cracked up to be. I wish everyone a happy and safe 2010, and may this be the year you accomplish all your resolutions.

The Wall Street Journal published an article today with six tips to help you keep your resolutions. As is the norm with the WSJ, the suggestions are common sense and illustrated by three examples of real, live resolution-keepers.

As I said above, I will be celebrating the end of 2009 with friends tonight. However, I am old enough to know better than to stay out all night and smart enough to heed my own advice. However, for those who still want to party like they are still 18, the French government has decreed all French nightclubs are now allowed to stay open until 7 a.m.

Prior to this surprise new law, local officials held sway over the clubs' business hours, which meant confusion and a lot of drunk driving as revelers traveled from one club to another in the wee hours of the morning. According to the Boston Globe, this new law is supposed to curb all of that. Bon chance!

A friend of mine is choosing to ring in the new year in Times Square with several million of his newest close friends. Being extremely enoclophobic myself - ie: really hate crowds - that sounds like a level of hell that Dante missed. But I guess there is a certain allure to being in New York City and seeing the ball drop. The New York Times published an article on a tour one of its reporters took through the "vault" - the storage facility 50 feet underground which holds New Years balls from years past. The story is a bit confusing in the middle when it talks about how many balls there actually have been, but it is enlightening in terms of NYE trivia.

I used to be all nostalgic, sitting and remembering all the things that happened to me over the year. But the past two years have not been necessarily something I care to remember, so I think for 2010 my resolution is going to keep going forward (see, Stef, I did make one!). Sucky things are undoubtedly going to happen to me, but I'm going to charge through them.

What about you? What are your resolutions?

Have a happy and hangover-free New Year's Day! I'll be back with a new post on Monday, Jan. 4.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Exponentially cool...

This man to the left is Stephen Wiltshire. Diagnosed with autism at an early age, his teachers at school noticed he communicated to the world through art. One eventually taught their formerly mute pupil to speak - at age nine - by withholding his art supplies to get him to ask for them.

He progressed from animals to motor vehicles to buildings. Wiltshire has been featured in several documentaries on the BBC, including "Fragments of Genius" in which the BBC filmed him flying over London then creating a meticulous, to-scale drawing of the city within three hours.

He has created similar aerial illustrations, including one of Tokyo on a 10-meter long sheet of paper.

Entirely from memory. Again, ENTIRELY FROM MEMORY.

His artwork has been shown all over the world, and he has his own personal gallery in London in addition to multiple published books. The third, "Floating Cities" (1991) made the London Sunday Times Bestseller List.

PS - His birds-eye panorama of Rome may just be my favorite of his aerial skylines. The store section of his website is one that keeps you clicking through. Some pieces appear in color, some are oil paintings and some are simple black and white sketches. But all are amazing. I'm not much for art made after 1750, but I'm now Wiltshire's newest fan.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hand touching hand, reaching out...

Sweet Caroline is my karaoke song. I only sing it, in a group, in Boston since the entire bar jumps in and sings both the words and the bah, bah, bahs. But the line from the chorus which graces my post title really encapsulates my theme for today: people connecting.

The Daily Record in the UK is based out of Scotland and had a story on the power of photographs. It seems there is a cancer center there which aims to connect its patients with reminders of the joy of living. The center has established a scrapbooking program in which participants choose photographs that mark the highlights of their lives. The story features three women - Freda Wilshaw, Elaine Doran and Christine Hague - who share their photos and the stories behind them.

Several of those women's photos are of them men they loved. One San Francisco couple got a second chance at first love, as recently reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. After a separation of 30 years, Darrell Holdaway and Nevin Valentine reunited just before their 30th high school reunion. Holdaway and Valentine each married and had children after breaking up in high school but found themselves single as the reunion approached. They met for coffee, and the rest, as they say, was history.

CNN reported on another reunion, one that has caught the nation's attention and held international trade implications. David Goldman was granted custody of his son after his former wife took the boy to her native Brazil for a two-week vacation that never ended. The little boy has been living with his extended Brazilian family after his mother died in childbirth. Goldman and his nine year-old son were reunited on Christmas Eve and planned to spend Christmast together in Disney World after flying home from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

(Photo courtesy of Stroller Derby)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cheerio, pip, pip...

I'm a little rusty after my week-long holiday break. I'm not sure if it's due to getting in late last night or just the typical holiday hangover, but I'm going to apologize in advance for any choppiness or lack of coherence in today's post. I promise to do better tomorrow. : )

I know I did a post recently on weird, wild and wonderful sea creatures, and this next story from Yahoo! is along the same lines. Australian scientists have recorded an octopus collecting coconut shells for shelter. The little leggy creature emptied out the shells and then carried them up to 65 feet before reassembling them for a hiding spot. The scientists believe this is the first recorded instance of an invertebrate using a tool.

Staying in the British Empire (and Yahoo!) for a moment, the search engine giant's news arm reported Great Britain has started to phase out checks as a monetary conveyance. The British governmental body in charge of such things has chosen 2018 as the target date by which they hope to no longer use checks. While this is not great news for the elderly - some of whom have never used an ATM - I'm a huge fan of this spreading to the US.

A lot of children's stories have spread the world over - including Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Wind in the Willows. All of those stories and several others had their birth in and around the English city of Oxford. An anonymous benefactor has donated 2.5 million British pounds for the building of the real-life home for the Museum of Storytelling. Previously housed online only, this donation allows the collection to find a permanent, brick-and-mortar home. The new museum will allow children to hear stories and to walk through exhibits of their favorite tales, according to the Guardian.

(Photo courtesy of Yahoo!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Is your house on fire, Clark?...

That is one of my favorite lines from the holiday classic "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Aunt Bethany utters it after Clark Griswold finally gets his 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights going and blazes the neighborhood.

One of my favorite things to do every Christmas is check out the lights and displays along Hampden, Maryland's 34th Street. Every Christmas the whole street gets into the act with traditional and artsy holiday displays. It's not a neighborhood association thing, people just participate because they get into the spirit. The photo on the left is from someone's Flickr account and shows the (in)famous street.

For the past couple of years, people have posted videos online of lighting displays timed to Manheim Steamroller. But this year, as my friend Michelle forwarded to me, someone has timed his lights to Guitar Hero. Featured on Holidash, Ric Turner, a former Disney special effects engineer, found a way to plug his Wii into his Christmas lights. Visitors can try their hand at playing "Cliffs of Dover" by pushing the doorbell. God love this guy's wife...

Visual displays are a common way to spread Christmas cheer. As written about in the New York Times yesterday, a lot of people have turned to picture cards created on any number of online photo-sharing sites. However, a few photographers banded together to share Christmas tidings the old-fashioned way (and do some good in the process). PBS posted a story on the PhotoImaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association - hundreds of photographers - which has volunteered to take free portraits of military families. Deployed soldiers keep photos of their loved ones close to their hearts - often literally - while on missions, so these will be particularly welcome gifts this season. The network will show an actual new story sometime near Christmas.

And finally, Xerox has a promotion online where individuals can send holiday greetings to our fighting men and women overseas. Xerox is taking designs created by children and printing them on postcards. All you have to do is pick a card and then a greeting (or write your own), and Xerox will print the card and mail it for free. It only takes a few minutes and will brighten a soldier's day. If you only click on one link today, I hope it's this one.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas kindness...

So today I'm going to metaphorically kill you with kindness. As if 10 months of good news weren't enough, today I'm piling on the Christmas cheer. I am perhaps using the warm fuzzies from these stories to help me ward off the outside temperatures here. When I turned on my car, the little man in the radio said it was 16 degrees out, on the way to a high of 24F.

So here goes...

Last Friday, Clinique held a Happy Day according to MediaPost Publications. The brand responsible for the perfume "Happy" named Dec. 11 "Happy Day" in order to raise awareness for their partner charity Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Participants in the organization designed holiday cards which were given away free with Happy-to-Go fragrance pencils at Clinique counters all over the country.

As part of its series "Giving in Focus: The 12 Days of Goodness," CNN featured the "Baby Buddies" program in Georgia. Trained volunteers provide the TLC needed for babies in neonatal intensive care units. Nurses rush around taking blood and doing tests, but the volunteers keep the baby company - rocking in a chair, holding, stroking a cheek - when the baby's parents are unable to be at the hospital. The story goes on to profile Cami Walker, who has stemmed the on-rush of her multiple sclerosis (MS) by being generous.

Wrapping up (hee hee) today, I have snippet from Google News about a UPS driver who played Good Samaritan and Santa all in one fell swoop. John Piontkowski saw a bank deposit bag in the middle of the street, which turned out to contain $5200. The deposit slip showed the money belonged to a liquor store. Piontkowski promptly returned the money to the bank.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Tis better to give than to receive...

There are a lot of platitudes that get trotted out each year around this time. The one often used in conjunction with the one in the blog title is "it's the thought that counts." I imagine the person who came up with that one received his or her fair share of wildly inappropriate presents.

But the point is it's better to do something for others than yourself. I'm one of those nerdy people who gets a high off people's reactions to presents. I love seeing the utter delight and pleasure pass over someone's face when s/he open a gift that is exactly what s/he wants or suits him/her to a T.

This holiday season charity has become widespread. Whether it is through fear of looking gauche for spending too much in a recession or actual altruism, I don't know. But I'm a fan. posted a story on the growing trend of companies swapping lavish holiday parties with participating in a charity instead. The story talks about companies who forewent snazzy get-togethers for donating to needy families and children and volunteering their time to help those who are out of work.

Even though Facebook apps and the movie "The House Bunny" still come to mind when I think of Greek life, sororities and fraternities were founded on the principle of good work in the community. CFNews 13 reported on an alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta who returned to those Pan-Hellenic roots when its members rented out a movie theater for a screening of the new Disney movie "The Princess and the Frog." Four hundred and fifty members of the chapter and their family, friends and supporters came out for a free movie and movie-themed activities this past Sunday.

Free passes are also available for residents of the city of Boston to skate at Fenway Park, according to the Boston Globe. Yes, that is a baseball stadium. But this year's NHL Winter Classic will be held in the 97 year-old institution, with a college game pitting Boston University against Boston College a week later, and over 3000 tickets are available gratis for public skating on Jan. 3 and 10 as part of the city's New Year's festivities.

(Image courtesy of Disney)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All I want for Christmas...

A lot gets made every year about the secularization of Christmas and how children these days are getting too many presents to realize the real meaning of the holiday. Members of religious orders are helping bring back "the reason for the season" in many ways. One of the cutest I've been party to is singing "Happy Birthday" during Christmas Eve Mass. It felt a little silly at first, but looking around and seeing lit-up children's faces, delighted to wish baby Jesus happy birthday, I couldn't help but smile.

I'm sure the Santa Claus/Jesus debate will rage on for years to come, but one thing people all over (mostly) agree on is it is nice to come downstairs on Christmas morning and find you were still on Santa's Nice list. WAFF 48 News reported Operation Grateful Heart and the Hoover Fire Department teamed up once again to collect toys for the children of deployed military personnel who will be gone for Christmas this year. That's 5,000 little boys and girls in the state of Alabama alone. Since the start of the drive in 2004, 19,000 toys have been donated.

A little bit further down the Grinch scale from missing a parent (or two) over the holidays is having your Christmas stolen from you. WESH Channel 2 out of Orlando, Fla., told the story of Anne Bright, who lost the presents she'd bought for her daughter when her brother's girlfriend's car (which she'd borrowed to go shopping) was repossessed. The repo company is not allowed to keep personal property found in the vehicle at time of repossession, but the Jack Frost-ian organization claimed there weren't any presents in the car when they towed it. Bright worked two jobs to be able to give her daughter a good Christmas, so she was delighted when Good Samaritan and local business owner Jeff Emery heard about Bright's situation and offered to purchase new presents for her daughter.

Perhaps the best present an adult can get is a visit from the stork. And when said stork works in conjunction with Santa, it's even better. A story in the Boston Globe today centers on the birth of a rare tapir born in captivity at the Franklin Park Zoo recently. Named Tupelo, after the delicious honey made from tupelo tree flowers, the sweet-hearted female Baird's tapir is one of the few captive females of her species. Tapirs are related to horse and rhinos, but this little girl is actually pretty darn cute.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Santa Claus is coming to town...

Yes, I know there are still 11 days until Christmas (and yes, I am counting), but I'm taking a hiatus from the blog for the week up to Christmas, so I decided to do my holiday-themed posts this week. : )

"Operation Santa" has been in effect since 1912, when businesses, charities and individuals volunteered to answer letters to Santa and sometimes send gifts to the letter writers. Temporarily suspended to set up new rules to block registered sex offenders from participating (they always ruin things for everyone else), the organization is up and running again all over the country. The LA Times has a brief article on "Operation Santa" and how people in southern California are participating.

In a slightly different "Operation Santa," employees of Shaw Enterprises and Infrastructure banded together again this year to play Santa to local children. Plucking 25 children's names off the Angel Tree, the seven-member committee pooled $4000 to buy presents for those little ones, according to the Enterprise News. Employees at the firm get gift cards from Wal-Mart as safety incentives, and the SEI "elves" donated their cards to provide the funding, along with cash donations from managers and gift card donations from other individuals, for the shopping spree.

WTOC 11 out of Savannah, Ga., posted a story on one of Santa's special skills - American Sign Language. Signing St. Nick has been making stops all over the US, including this one to the students of Key and Dimon elementary schools. The hearing impaired children were thrilled with the visit from Santa and the chance to tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Remembering the less fortunate...

It seems that every year at this time, charities and agencies implore people to remember the needy. This year, more and more individuals are joining those ranks through foreclosure, job loss or myriad other reasons. Luckily, people are still stepping into the void to keep helping those less fortunate than themselves - regardless of the economic climate.

CBS 5 in the East Bay highlighted a woman who has become known as the Lemon Lady for her efforts to distribute excess citrus to poor families in the San Francisco Bay Area. Anna Chan used to drive her colicky baby through her neighborhood to help put the little girl to sleep. Anna noticed all the lemons falling off neighbors' trees and going to waste. So, with permission, she began collecting the fruit and giving it to food banks and pantries in two counties. Later she expanded her reach into farmers' markets, accepting donations of unsold produce.

When cities go through a budget deficit, building infrastructure and making improvements falls by the wayside. Whole city blocks can fall into decay - boarded and broken windows, shadowy figures making "business" transactions on the corner, walls tagged with graffiti. But, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, the denizens of Gordon Street in Philadelphia's Fishtown decided enough was enough. On a shoestring budget (and with a lot of chutzpah), a small band of individuals chased out the drug dealers and prostitutes, painted, wired and improved the empty row homes on the block and turned their street into a place they were proud to live. For their efforts they won the 2009 City's Most Beautiful Block. Going down the street now passersby are unable to tell the empty homes from lived-in ones.

The Coloradoan posted a story on its website about the goodwill of Alpine Cabinet Company in Timnath, Colorado. The company has been affected by the downturn in residential building and had to lay off a quarter of its staff and cut hours. But the Chinn family which owns the company is trying to help the remaining 40-odd employees get through the holiday season by making doll houses for needy children. The employees are sewing curtains and quilts and making furniture for the little homes. An employee's wife is providing the dolls. Suppliers donated lumber and the paint which will cover the outside of the homes. When finished, the 50-70 doll houses will be distributed to local groups to then be passed out to area children.

(Photo courtesy of The Coloradoan)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A home for the holidays...

Today I returned my foster cat Salem to the MSPCA. He lived with me for a month, recuperating from conjunctivitis and limited use of his back legs as well as a possible sore front leg. Yeah, I didn't know cats could get pink eye either...

Personally I think my wily little former stray concocted all those maladies just to get a vacation from the shelter. Once home, he was our little dustbuster, zooming around the room, exposing me for the pathetic housekeeper I am. I adored having the little guy, and I was a little sad giving him back.

So you'll have to indulge me for today's spate of stories on adopted animals. ABC News ran several connected stories on dogs found in Iraq and turned into soldiers' pets as well as working military dogs who've retired to the good life. They tugged at my already soft heart.

In the first story, Major Brian Dennis socialized a former alpha from a pack of desert dogs during daily missions out and about looking for insurgents. After a few months of coddling and reaching out, Dennis' unit was moved away from the area. Nubs, earning the moniker for his cropped ears, wandered 70 miles in below-freezing conditions to find his way to Dennis' new area of operations. That journey spurred the 36 year-old Marine to contact friends and family to raise the money needed to send Nubs to the States. His family stepped up, and once Dennis finishes his current tour, he will return home to his best friend.

The 101st Airborne, 159th Aviation Brigade found a newborn puppy in the midst of an Afghan battlefield, and despite military rules, brought her home to the base with them. Ally did physical training and stood in formation with them. Army Cpl. Michael Lemmons emailed his mom, who brought her home to the US two weeks before Lemmons and his comrades came home.

ABC News' story about retired bomb-sniffing dogs caught my attention because my uncle, a retired state trooper, adopted a former police dog after the dog retired. I hadn't realized the military used dogs in the same way police officers do. Compared to Navy SEALs, "war dogs" sniff for bombs and tackle militants in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the first line of attack when clearing out houses suspected of harboring terrorists. These are high stress jobs, even for animals, and in the past, war dogs were euthanized after retiring. Now, a new program helps adopt out the dogs which have been tested to be able to fit into civilian life.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A long winter's nap...

As I type, the weather outside my window is disgusting. There is no other word for it. The somewhat-delightful snow of this morning has morphed into a cold, pelting sleety rain that pings off the AC unit which still droops from my office window. The sneaky wind has found it's way through the outer walls to breach my office and leave me with cold feet and fingertips.

Which is why I chose today's stories to bring a (very) brief glimpse of the light at the end of the winter tunnel - spring. It seems in this unforgiving season, scientists around the world have been discovering members of the animal kingdom which were long thought to be extinct. Most are still considered very endangered, but the fact they still exist at all is a point of celebration. seems to have collected a few of these stories. The site has a distinct article on the discovery of a rare giant turtle in Vietnam which narrowly avoided becoming soup. Long prized as an ingredient, Swinhoe's soft-shell is on the brink of extinction in the wild. However, one was spotted in a lake in northern Vietnam. A fisherman had caught it, but researchers convinced the man to eschew the large prices dangled by restaurateurs and instead, return the animal to his home.

MSNBC's John Roach also did a slideshow on eight other species which were considered extinct until recently - the Rabb's fringe-limbed tree frog, the Banggai crow, the Pyant Cheezar turtle, pygmy tarsiers, Beck's petrel, Armoured Mistfrogs, the long-billed reed warbler, and the ivory-billed woodpecker. Some of them have not been seen since the turn of the 20th century, and their reappearance has caused all sorts of excitement in the scientific and environmental communities.

(Image courtesy of

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Alternative medicine...

There's so much debate swirling on the national and state levels about health care. Should it be universal or is that one step down the slippery slope of socialism? What programs are "valuable enough" to survive massive budget cuts?

Since starting in my current field, I've become aware of so many programs available to patients beyond the usual check ups and eye exams. Medicine's pendulum has swung from superstition to hard science, but now it seems to have settled or is approaching settling somewhere in the middle. Not that I want to go back to leeches and animal sacrifice, but I do see the value in treating the spirit as well as the body.

The New York Times profiled an art therapy program called Project Moving On, run by the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Service, for mentally ill patients. People with chronic mental illness are either referred by the Brooklyn Mental Health Court or by physicians and hospitals gather daily to draw, paint, sew, and crochet. The skills needed for these tasks - beyond talent - help people focus and deal with the issues that come with their illnesses.

In my hospital system we use both art therapy and animal-assisted therapy in our treatment programs. In our case, the animals help people with emotional issues, but Frankie Two-Paws has made an impact on people with physical challenges. The disabled cavalier spaniel has limited usage of his back legs after being rescued from a puppy mill, according to The Beacon News. He now races around in his doggie wheelchair at the Rush-Copley Medical Center, inspiring the physical therapy patients there.

The New Haven Register reported on a local artist who volunteers at Yale-New Haven Hospital painting watercolors on demand for patients in the outpatient oncology unit. Dennis Gentle, an 80-something Renaissance man, visits with the patients as they receive treatment and paints scenes as per their requests. He does have a list of things he won't paint, but patients and their families treasure these little works of art. Some people use the scenes he creates as their own happy places, places to go to during the draining treatment.

(Photo courtesy of The Beacon News)

Monday, December 7, 2009

A solemn anniversary...

Today is the 68th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor - Dec. 7, 1941. In itself that is certainly not good news. And none of my articles for today are strictly good news. But I think it's important to remember the day and all the good that came from it. Hundreds of thousands of men and women banded together to fight an evil threatening the world. And they did it.

Kinda gives you hope, no?

I found the excerpted part of this on the Boston Globe website, but MSNBC had the full story on Ed Johann, an 86 year-old Pearl Harbor survivor who is returning to the base for the first time since the attacks. Johann enlisted as a teenager to ease the burden on his family and found himself in the middle of the firefight when the Japanese attacked. The sailor ferried injured men from the burning and sinking ships without regard to his own safety. Later he returned for the dead. After the war, he returned to the mainland and became a firefighter because he "wanted to help people."

I imagine few of the men Ed Johann steered to safety came from the USS Arizona. Two direct hits by the Japanese sank the ship and entombed 1100 men. Those men may be gone, but they are not forgotten. The US government allocated $58 million to build a memorial to them and all the rest of the heroes that day. USAToday posted a story today on the vivid memories World War II veterans still carry from that Hawaiian morning. The story also details what the new memorial will look like.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution had a story on a local Marine's memory of Pearl Harbor. Mack Abbott was supposed to learn how to fly that morning, but instead, he spent it shooting at the enemies' planes. Some flew so low over the base, Abbott could see directly into the cockpits. The AJC's story goes on to tell about Abbott's post-war life and family.

A lot of "The Greatest Generation" have refused to talk about their efforts in the war, preferring to forget the horrors or were uncomfortable "promoting" themselves. Unfortunately that has led to members of several generations not having a connection to an important piece of history. I'm one of them. My grandfather fought in the South Pacific, but I know next to nothing about it because he never spoke of it. Even when directly questioned, he gave as little information as possible and changed the subject. That's why I feel it is important to put these stories on my blog; you don't ever want to forget.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Going (red) and green...

Most of the green you will see this month belongs to wreaths, fir trees and the money spent in pursuit of this year's It gift. The trees are bare, grass soon will be covered by snow, and the flowers are asleep until April. But on Monday, all environmental eyes will be on Copenhagen, Denmark, as world leaders gather to debate what to do about our depletion of the planet.

Previous protocols and decrees have not worked, so once again presidents, prime ministers and other leader-type people will show up in Denmark to try again. ABC News in Australia posted an article on a new Google app that might help save the world instead of just shrinking it. Google Innovationist (cool job title, guy) Justin Baird has developed an international ballot box to let the people of the world have a say in the actions taken at the climate summit. Everyday people will be able to see maps of who is doing what in what country, and the votes will be aggregated to show the strength of public support for the initiatives.

If you can ignore the slightly militant tone to the following website, you can get a top 10 list meant to whet your appetite for learning more about those behind the move to stop climate change. It has been said that well-behaved women rarely change the world; whether any of the 10 women on the Pacific Free Press website are/were well-behaved is not for me to say, but they have done their share (and more) to save the planet.

A lot of focus these days in the media is on how everyone can do their part to be kind to the earth. The Christian Science Monitor "green" blog is giving an option for holiday decorating beyond the usual brightly lit reindeer and roof-top Santas. Apparently there are such things as solar-powered LED Christmas lights, which save electricity and the fossil fuels burned to produce it as well as money on your bill. If I had my own house, I'd look into it.

(Photo courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A helping hand...

Walking an elderly person across the street. Picking up a classmate's dropped books. Walking a neighbor's dog when she's on vacation. These are simple kindnesses repeated daily the world over.

I suppose you could argue that kindness is a "nature vs. nurture" thing. Kind begets kind but then how do you explain a person who has been through hell and is still willing to stick out his or her neck for someone else?

In this argument, the New York Times has given the "nature" side a leg up. The Times reported on some studies produced recently which conclude people are "born to help." By studying children young enough to not yet be socialized to how you're "supposed to act," the biologists found babies are innately sociable and willing to help. Children will pick up dropped things and point to things adults pretend to have lost without the stimulation of a reward.

NBC San Diego posted a story illustrating that some adults have not lost that willingness to help a stranger. Virginia Saenz received a desperate voicemail after another woman dialed Saenz's number by mistake. Lucy Crutchfield left the message, telling her daughter she'd send grocery money but would have to miss a mortgage payment to do it. So Saenz called Crutchfield back and told her to pay the mortgage - Saenz would buy the groceries. She took her son along with her and bought a Thanksgiving dinner and enough groceries to last the daughter's family until the end of the month, which was the daughter's next payday. Special thanks to my friend Blair, who helped me find that story. : )

Doing the right thing on a person-to-person level sometimes gets less attention than helping out in the face of larger peril. Daily kindness is no less important, but stories of those who put themselves at risk to aid someone else can loom larger. This morning I got an email my from my old roommate Michelle, a forward telling a story about a woman named Irena Sendler. Being a bit of a cynic still - I'm working on it! - I went to to check on the story. The verdict there was: TRUE.

Called "the female Oskar Schindler," Sendler passed herself off as a nurse and went in and out of the ghetto, sneaking out nearly 2500 Polish Jews, mostly children. She smuggled them out in a tool box and burlap sacks. Sendler recruited 25 others - mostly women - to help her. Before joining an organized resistance, she saved around 500 people on her own. Sendler survived brutal beatings by the Nazis and prison when she was finally caught to help reunite the children she saved with any family left after the Holocaust.

This email reminded me of a story I saw a week or two ago about a British soldier who smuggled himself INTO Auschwitz. The BBC interviewed "Ginger," Denis Avey, who spoke of his actions over 55 years ago for the first time. Avey served in the British army during World War II and was captured by the Germans. His prison camp was attached to the death camp, and he arranged with Ernst Lobethall, a prisoner, to switch places twice. Avey wanted to witness the atrocities first-hand. Now 91 and living in Derbyshire, Avey didn't know Lobethall survived until the BBC recently reunited Avey and Lobethall's sister, Susana.

(Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The final frontier(s)...

If I had my way, I would be a professional student. Regular careers do not much interest me, but finding out things I did not know before absolutely fascinates me. I'm talking "newborn first figuring out she has a hand" or "seven year-old at her first magic show" kind of hooked.

For most of history, people have had the same type of fascination with outer space. To this day, the idea there might be real little green men out there or that we could colonize the moon still holds people in thrall. But for astronaut Randolph Bresnik it was what was on earth that held his attention. On his first-ever space mission, Bresnik floated 220 miles above the earth as his daughter, Abigail Mae, made her first appearance on it. It is just the second time in NASA history an astronaut in space has welcomed a child to his family while in orbit, according to the Boston Globe.

After humans "conquered" space, we have turned our attention to the oceans. Now being called the "real" final frontier, divers/researchers/treasure-hunters/James Cameron have only just begun to plumb the depths of the sea. Just last night I was watching the tail end of a show on the History Channel about ancient cities found on the bottom of the ocean floor, complete with building remnants and cobblestones. MSNBC reported on the over 5500 new species found in the ocean recently. Long thought to be barren, the deep sea (depths of 3,280 feet) now appears to be teeming with creatures straight out of a Salvador Dali painting.

The United Nations women who have reached new frontiers through their own hard work. India has deployed an all-female police unit to serve with the UN security force in Liberia. There they teach the local women self-defense and computer skills. India is the first country to send such a unit to a UN peacekeeping mission.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The kid stays in the picture...

Happy December everyone! I'm excited because (for me) it's the official start to the "most wonderful time of the year." : ) I started my Advent calendar this morning, a common event except mine is filled with chocolate. Yum! Nothing like starting a cold day with a little square of milk chocolate embossed with a fun holiday image. Today was a train, in case anyone was wondering.

This is also the time of the year when a lot of photos are taken - holiday cards, the first snow, opening presents, and all other good kinds of things. I'm a big shutterbug; I love me some photos. For me, it's the feeling I get when I look at a picture and am transported back to how I felt in that moment.

Photos have been around since before the Civil War, but the kinds of images we have these days has changed. The YouTube video above is from a mid-1970s episode of "Sesame Street." Ernie was always my favorite, but Grover was a close second. Here he sings an "echo" song with the late, great Madeline Kahn.

The following photo essay from The New York Times isn't strictly "good news," but it allows locals and non-New Yorkers alike to connect with at least "One in 8 Million." The photos and the accompanying audio recorded by the photos' subject(s) examine a slice of a complete stranger's life, and there is something about the absolute honesty involved that's refreshing to me.

Finally, the Times published a story last week on the virtual opening of the Iraqi National Museum. Opened three times since the 2003 invasion, members of the public are still not allowed inside because of the security situation (or lack thereof). Google has partnered with the museum's directors to photograph the collections, and make the photos available for free, so the antiquities and treasures of one of the world's most ancient civilizations - considered to be the start of modern civilization - can be viewed and enjoyed by anyone with access to the Internet.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Week 4...

Happy Black Friday everyone! I hope you are all relaxing after wonderful Thanksgivings with family and/or friends. I'm going to round out this week with one last thankful thought and Thanksgiving-themed story.

Today I am grateful for all the little things. So many times they can be the ones that bog us down, so we don't really have a great impression of them. But the flip side of that is, sometimes the little things are the best. For example, today there was no traffic getting to work AND it's raining so I don't regret not taking the day off. : )

In that spirit of gentle irony, I'll move onto my story for this morning from MSNBC. Earlier this week the news giant reported that employees from Goldman Sachs - one of the Wall Street nasties - performed community service over the holiday. The Salvation Army served over 10,000 meals in New York City yesterday, and employees from the investment firm were on take out the trash.

(Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Week 3...

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone!!! I hope today is your "Friday" for the week, and you can kick back tomorrow with family, friends and football then get up really, really, insanely early on Friday and prop up the economy.

I will be saving my Black Friday shopping for a more normal hour on Sunday, but what I'm thankful for today does not involve money. I'm grateful for my opportunity to volunteer at my local MSPCA. Since last December I have been a volunteer dog-walker, reaching Volunteer All-Access status - level 3 - last month. I am also a foster mom to whatever cat or kitten(s) need a little extra loving. I love learning about the different types of dogs and their temperaments. Teaching them good behaviors has taught me a lot about patience and perseverance, and I love the thrill I get when the dogs finally get the behavior down cold. And my temporary furry family has reminded me of the joy and responsibility in being in charge of another individual.

Today's story is from a blog on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website. Sam Osborne is the director of the Rainier Valley Food Bank. What he is grateful for this year is the generous hearts of his community. Recently $2000 worth of food was stolen from the food bank - seriously, people?? - but area citizens and businesses have responded with remarkable alacrity. Everyone from Wal-Mart to children with piggy banks have combined to contribute over $25,000 worth of donations. In addition to in-kind gifts, a local food storage business has offered free storage to the food bank for all the new food, and a local alarm system company has installed a new alarm system free of charge.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Week 2...

Today's gratitude belongs to my parents. They field crazy phone calls from me, well, at all hours really, and they have always put me first even when I didn't realize it and/or was a total brat about it. I've gotten better at realizing when they do it at the expense of themselves, but I'm still working on the brat part, so thanks for putting up with that too. : ) They've been okay with me traipsing around the world alone and with people they don't know without uttering a peep; so thanks for giving me roots and wings (along with the occasional infusion of cash). You're the best!

The story featured today comes from the Trenton Times. It highlights 17 year-old Lindsey Curewitz's efforts to single-handedly restock the Trenton Free Library. She began culling 100 books off her own shelves to clear some space but that sparked the idea to start a book drive among family and friends. Helped along by her brother, she canvassed the neighborhood and beyond to collect 25,000 books and DVDs, ranging from children's stories to books on tape and adult non-fiction. Curewitz far outstripped the largest prior donation to the Free Library, a total of 300 books.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Week...

Seeing how Thanksgiving is this Thursday (and I'm actually getting to take off for the holiday!), I thought I'd celebrate Turkey Day all week long.

Each day I'm going to write one thing I'm grateful for and then post a link to a Thanksgiving- or gratitude-themed story.

So here goes for today...

I'm grateful for the ability to immediately talk to faraway friends. Both living far from my childhood friends and having college and post-collegiate friends flung all over the world, I'm grateful for the means to catch up with them in real-time without having to pay an arm and a leg. Catch up with and, in one case, check on - Matt In Iraq, I'm talking to you here. So yes, I guess I am grateful for Facebook and AIM and GChat.

Today's story spotlight is shined on Tammy the Turnpike Turkey. My friends from New Jersey hate it when other people find out they live in the Garden State and then proceed to ask: "Which exit?" Well Tammy can actually answer that question; well, she could if she could speak. NBC New York reported on our gal, who had made her home on exit 14B. Having parked at the Jersey City exit, Tammy eluded Turnpike authorities for quite some time before being captured by NJ state officials. Tammy had learned to negotiate traffic but was causing some trouble for motorists who had to hit the brakes when she fancied crossing the street. She is going to live in the Popcorn Park Zoo with a male companion named Gobbler to keep her company.

(Photo courtesy of NBC News New York)

Friday, November 20, 2009

We're in the money...

While I'm not a gambler, at least with money, and I do not see the point of the lottery, I have more than once wished to come into some money without committing a crime or losing a relative. The following stories are all about the wildly good fortune of some people who are/were really down on their luck.

USAToday reports on the Covenant Life Worship Center in Michigan. The 25-member church won the $70 million second prize in the Lucky 7s raffle from the Michigan state lotto. The $10 ticket will net the entire prize money since the church is a tax-exempt group. The pastor told USAToday she will put the money toward the church building fund, setting up a missionary fund, and supporting community service projects.

In the story on CBS News, a member of the clergy is the one giving away the cash. The Rev. Guy Blair, a priest in Wisconsin, donated 14 pieces of his mother's silver to raise money for a homeless shelter. He is hoping for $50,000. His mother, who passed away in July, agreed the collection should be auctioned to raise money for charity. Some of the pieces date back to the 1790s.

Lastly, 19 year-old Bjorn Halvard received a couple pieces of luck on his way to winning the 2009 World Championships of Monopoly. The cash prize was $20,580, or the total of the money in the game's "bank," according to MSNBC. But Halvard's winnings were real. He won when his opponent landed on two of his properties consecutively and couldn't afford the rent. Halvard plans to take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and the Vegas skyline before finishing off his first-ever trip to the US by visiting friends in Los Angeles.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday roundup...

Today's post is vaguely science-y...I'm not normally a science/math/logic person and do usually confound those who are with my thought processes, but that's another topic for another day. These science stories were easy enough for me to understand and fun to boot.

MSNBC reported on a new strain of super bees. Perhaps not good news for those who are afraid of bees, but this strain should take over the world any time soon. In an effort to root out the parasite suspected of causing the current, massive bee die-off, scientists have bred bees who showed an ability to sniff out the parasite in their hives.

On the non-agricultural side of the discipline, ABC News posted a story on a recent collaboration between American and Cuban scientists. President Barack Obama is trying to improve relations with the nation state to our south, and this delegation - the first in 12 years - is a step toward fostering goodwill.

You can file this last story in the "Duh" category. Today's Idea blog on the New York Times site highlights a story about silly scientific research. For every break-through on cancer treatment, there is a study published on what happens when you give monkeys typewriters. Denise Winterman's article creates two new categories for science journals - "Duh" (for things that should have been obvious in the first place) and "Huh?" (see monkey-typewriter example).

CNN published a story on the benefits of yoga for children who have been diagnosed, perhaps wrongly, with ADHD or depression. An unofficial study has noted these children are more focused and less crazily energetic since starting to practice yoga. Personally when I was little, I think I would have enjoyed a class called "Charlie and the Chakra Factory" too...

(Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You don't need to be Michael Phelps to have a world record...

You apparently just need to be able to pull a double-decker bus with your hair...Yeah, I don't know either. But folks around the world tried for their 15 minutes of fame on Nov. 12, the fifth annual Guinness World Records Day.

Children from the Carrs Glen Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland went for gold in a category they created - largest gathering of storybook characters. The Belfast Telegraph reported pupils from the school dressed up as everyone from Hansel and Gretel to the Gingerbread Man. The children were joined by an official Guinness judge and enjoyed a story-telling session before receiving their certificates.

Speaking of gingerbread men, this next story is a double dose of record-setting. Eight-foot, one-inch Sultan Koesen of Turkey was on hand at a Norwegian IKEA of all places to unveil the world's largest gingerbread man. The cookie weighed a whopping 1,435 pounds and beat the previous record-holder by about 100 pounds. Shockingly MSNBC filed this story under "weird news."

The London Times posted a little snippet of what could be called weird if you are at all familiar with stereotypes of the British. Known for their collective stiff upper lip, Brits broke tradition when they set the Guinness world record for longest group hug. One hundred and 12 people - a lot of them strangers - hugged for one minute at St. Pancras train station.

(Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reverting back to childhood...

My parents have a picture of me when I'm really little, three or four, and my little twin bed is covered in a ruffly spread and weighed down by at least 34 stuffed animals. I'm on the bed too, lost in the crowd of bears and dogs and cats and other breed-indeterminate fuzzies. Clearly, stuffed toys were my childhood crack.

My favorite on was a faded, balding Care Bear. In an incident I remember with startling clarity, one day I thought Wishbear needed to feel the wind in his four strands of hair, so I held him out the car window while on a family trip to Grandma's house. Inexplicably I let go and lost him as my dad zoomed down Middletown Road. My squawking alerted my parents to Wishie's impending doom, and he was quickly retrieved with more than one exhortation to tell Mom and Dad what I was thinking doing that.

So I can completely related to five year-old Jessica Martin. She accidentally left her furry friend, Beary, on a park bench during a pit stop on her way to Grandma's house. Unfortunately it was not until an hour and a half later, Jessica realized her little companion was gone, according to the Pittsburg Morning Sun. She was heartbroken, so her parents decided to try contacting park services to see if Beary could be located. It was a long shot, but Ranger Dave Stark went on a search-and-rescue mission and "captured" Beary. Stark made the stuffed toy part of the park's "Bear Relocation" program and shipped him home to Jessica.

Teddy bears are pretty iconic childhood possessions. While toy icons are just generally accepted as such in daily life, I recently found out via The Boston Globe there is, in fact, a national toy hall of fame. Located in Rochester, N.Y., toys up for induction into the 11 year-old museum must be "widely recognized; foster learning, creativity or discovery through play; and endure in popularity over generations. The ball, along with the Big Wheel and Nintendo GameBoy, recently joined the pantheon of 41 classic toys. Personally, I can't believe it took this long to recognize the ball as an all-star, but maybe that's just me...

Another kind of ball is entertaining the young at heart. The Boston Globe did a feature on the Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Northbridge, Mass. The elderly residents have picked up a passion normally dominated by the nerd in the corner cubicle - fantasy football (sorry Joel). Due to H1N1 concerns, the seniors' usual visits with the children in a nearby day care had to be curtailed, so a young recreation director had to get creative in livening up Sunday afternoons. This is my kind of fantasy league - no keeping track of individual players scattered all over the NFL. Residents win whole teams through a lottery and then root for them all season long.

(Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Your morning adorable...

Okay, so I'm totally stealing this blog title from the Unleashed blog at the LA Times. I already had a couple of stories involving dogs in the reserve, but when I saw this adorable video of a snowball/bichon frise on the Unleashed blog, I had to include it. Cutest. thing. you'll. see. today.

MSNBC provided the next two stories, and aside from being cute, they will warm your heart. Rev. Tom Eggebeen took over the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles and wanted to build a younger parishioner base. So he decided to do something priests and pastors have long been reluctant to do - embrace four-legged community members. Eggebeen now holds a weekly 30-minute doggie service - humans more than welcome - with canine prayers and doggie treats as offerings. While this does go against traditional church teaching, which says animals do not have redeemable souls, Rev. Eggebeen has acknowledged the love shared between pet and owner should be recognized by church leaders.

The following link leads to a video interview with the dog handler for the Broadway production of "101 Dalmatians." While most of the doggie "stars" of the show are cardboard cut-outs, fifteen former shelter dogs take center stage in the production. Rescued from all around the country, the dogs have been trained to perform simple tasks and follow cues. They now travel around the US in a tour bus better kitted out than some musicians'. The show is responsible, warning theatergoers that Dalmatians are not for everyone or as trained as those on stage.

Another well-trained dog is getting a hero's welcome this week. Sabi, an Australian bomb-sniffing dog, returned to her unit after spending the last 14 months lost in Afghanistan. The black Labrador disappeared during a firefight between Australian-Afghan troops and militants in Uruzgan Province. Sabi turned up on an isolated patrol base elswhere in the province, found by a U.S. soldier. She appears in good condition, so military officials speculate someone has been looking after her.

(Photo courtesy of Yahoo! News)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"[But] he was no enemy, because music had soothed the savage beast"...

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations..."

Former President Woodrow Wilson spoke these words in November 1919 at the first commemoration of Armistice Day when he proclaimed November 11 as a day to honor veterans for their patriotism willingness to sacrifice for their country. Signed into law on June 1, 1954 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, November 11 became the official holiday to celebrate the efforts of all veterans to make the world a safer place. He inserted the word "Veterans" in place of "Armistice" since by then we'd fought in two more wars.

The blog title is a quote from Ret. Colonel Jack Tueller, a fighter pilot with the gift of music. Two weeks after D-Day, a day in which he played a significant role in helping the Allies land on the beaches, Tueller risked inciting a lone German sniper and played "Lilly Marlene" on the trumpet to calm his own nerves. The military police caught the sniper the next day; the German had not fired on Tueller because he was caught up in the thoughts of his family and sweetheart the song elicited. The CNN article goes on to profile Tueller, from his days at college where he met the love of his life (and wife of 68 years) to his enlistment and post-war career as a journalist.

Still celebrated as Armistice Day in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared together in Paris - the first time since World War I the leaders of the two countries have celebrated Armistice Day together. The pair laid a wreath of flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and symbolically re-lit the perpetual flame to commemorate the 91st anniversary of the end of "the war to end all wars." The MSNBC story also highlighted celebrations in Belgium and in Ypres, France.

Many Americans have made their way to one of our own war memorials, particularly this week. Built in 1982 to honor the fallen of the Vietnam War, soldiers' families and other veterans began leaving mementos even before the wall was finished. Park rangers collected them, thinking the families would come back for them someday. But those early dog tags, combat boots, poems, letters and all other manner of ephemera became the basis of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection, a private museum of personal items and notes stored at the Museum and Archaeological Storage facility in Maryland. The article on notes the curator of the collection and his staff often have no context for the items and cites the poignant example of the meaning behind packages of M&Ms.

The historic and rightly famed Navajo Code Talkers are in New York today for the nation's largest Veterans Day parade. The Boston Globe notes about 50 of the 400 Code Talkers are still alive, but those men are frail, and their supporters are worried their legacy will die with them. Thirteen of the Navajo former soldiers will march and hope their presence will raise awareness of their efforts and help fund a museum slated to open in 2012. Navajo Marines developed an ultra-secret code transmitted verbally over radios, which helped the US to victories at Iwo Jima and other battles in the Pacific. The Japanese, who had no trouble breaking US codes with the help of expert English translators, were never able to break the Navajo codes.

Celebrating Veterans Day can seem like an oxymoron - remembering those who died in service to the country doesn't lend itself to a rollicking good time. Restaurants and stores nationwide are offering discounts to veterans and active duty personnel (and their families), which is a beautiful thought, especially in this economy. However, one effort on Huffington Post caught my eye. First, I was surprised to find an article on there by Kim Cattrall, aka Samantha from Sex and the City. I was doubly surprised to see it centered around veterans. Cattrall is promoting the Eleven-Eleven Campaign, a bipartisan collaboration between charities and bloggers from both sides of the aisle. Eleven veterans' charities are banding together to get 11 million Americans to donate $11 to the campaign by November 11, 2011 - 11/11/11.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This blog post is brought to you by the letter S...

Happy 40th anniversary, Sesame Street!!

The adorable cake pops to the left are the creation of Bakerella. You can see a demonstration of how she made them here. This woman is very talented and has even been on The Martha Stewart Show, showing the domestic goddess herself how to make the bite-size morsels of deliciousness known as cake pops.

Even First Lady Michelle Obama - and special guest for today's episode of Sesame Street - might allow these treats today. Newsday reports Mrs. Obama will be on today's show to help the Muppets plant seeds and learn about healthy eating habits. The Newsday provides a peek into the magical world of Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Snuffleupagus and their Muppeteers.

It shows what a cultural icon Sesame Street is when all the heavy-hitters weigh in on its anniversary. The New York Times has a two-page article on the evolution of Sesame Street from its first episode back in 1969 to its current, slightly-more-yuppified incarnation. While the set itself has modified from the urban skyline with a light coating of grunge, the mission of the show hasn't changed - serve the underserved and have loads of fun doing it.

This last article, on, serves as both a stroll down memory lane and a review of the new DVD boxed set of Sesame Street. The story describes world of Sesame Street - graffiti-covered brownstones, kids riding bikes without helmets and a Cookie Monster who smoked a pipe - with which I am familiar and loved so long ago (Santa, are you listening?). I grew up in an age where some legitimate dangers were unknown (hello, second-hand smoke), but for the most part, even though I didn't have any of what kids today had in terms of toys or safety, I turned out fairly normal. Thank you, Sesame Street.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!"

Today is the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A lot of people remember where they were when the most visible sign of Communism finally fell. I am not one of them as I was under the age of 10 and blissfully politically ignorant. But my roommate, who grew up in Munich in the 1980s, remembers East Germans flooding into the West and heading straight for the supermarket to buy bananas.

This past weekend, as reported in the Times magazine, two gourmands brought their guests back to that time of feast and famine when they hosted a dinner pitting East and West German cuisines against each other in an apartment just 50 yards from where part of the wall used to stand. The evening, set amid vintage memorabilia, started with guests enjoying wine together. But as dinner started, a wall went up and half the guests were served dishes reflecting either the East or West. The diners reunited for dessert served under "caramel barbed wire."

NPR Radio reported this morning a model car company in Germany is trying to revive interest in full-size Trabants. Once the go-to car in the Soviet bloc - described in the interview as part of the family, like a cat or dog - it fell out of favor once East Germans had the freedom to purchase whatever wheels they wanted. The good news is rather than belching smoke, the new Trabbis will be electric. Interest in the retro car is another example of the "ostalgia" reported on in USA Today. Those same Trabis conduct tourists on a sightseeing tour, visiting spots all over East Berlin. In the USA Today story, several locations in formerly Soviet Berlin are highlighted as tourist attractions today, including Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery and Potsdamer Platz.

A slightly more objective (if self-aggrandizing) look-back of the fall of the wall can be found on MSNBC's website. Written by Bill Wheatley, who produced MSNBC's live scoop on the wall being opened, it is detailed and very informative for those who may be too young to remember it or were living under a rock.

The New York Times posted a video interview with the border guard who effectively ended Communism around the world. Harald Jaeger was stationed at Bornholmer Strasse bridge and had a decision to make. Getting no clear communication from his leaders, Jaeger decided to open the gates peacefully rather than fire on the ever-increasing crowd gathering at the wall demanding the right to free travel they had been granted earlier that day. Underneath the video is a link to a story called "The Hinge of History," which neatly ties Europe's 11/9, as author Roger Cohen calls it, to the current situation in Iran.

Earlier today German Chancellor Angela Merkel - herself a former East German - joined former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev to retrace the steps of those East Germans who flooded into West Berlin around midnight on Nov. 9, 1989. The New York Times reported thousands of people surrounded Merkel and Gorbachev, and all cheered when Chancellor Merkel thanked Gorbachev for the reforms he brought to the Communist party. Polish civil rights leader Lech Walesa joined in celebrations this afternoon, pushing over the first of 1000 oversized dominoes - a ceremonial nod to the Poles being the first to overthrow the Communists.