Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween!...

This has never really been my favorite holiday. As a kid, I loved the free candy, and for a while, the costumes. But now, 15 years after I last donned a costume without first having been bullied into it, I just don't see the point. My friends are all more than happy to tell me what they are being for Halloween (mind you, we are closer to 30 than 20 at this point), but I just don't get it.

I'm sure I will be inundated on Facebook with photos of my friends' children (or pets) all dressed up. That I'm totally fine with. I LOVE seeing what kids are each year. Their unbridled joy at the heaps of candy they're allowed to have one time a year is precious, and sometimes you even get really creative costumes. What I'm not such a fan of is the pedophiliac's-dream that most teenage girls' "costumes" are. I personally think teen girls are out of control in everyday wear, but for them "Halloween as excuse for obscene amounts of candy" seems to have morphed into "Halloween as excuse for dressing like a streetwalker." This is why I had to include the following story on Taylor Swift from In it, Swift gushes about her 2008 costume - Chewbacca. Hopefully someone with as much sway over teenage girls as Swift can start convincing them Halloween is about spooky, not skin.

While out patrolling for candy dressed as a French maid or Michael Jackson, Britain's children have been reminded to be polite about it. The Boston Globe reported yesterday Debrett's, the English authority on etiquette, has published a handbook on Halloween behavior best practices. The holiday is fairly new to the Continent, so Debrett's felt compelled to put out some rules.

Those kids are still one-up on the children of Puyallup School District in the state of Washington. This week a letter sent home to parents explained there will be no Halloween parties in school this year, giving three reasons. The first two make sense. It's the third that has some people shaking their heads. I suppose this isn't exactly good news, but the story from ABC News gave me a chuckle (perhaps not the reaction the school district was going for).

Joe Peyronnin's blog today on The Huffington Post sets the (Halloween) world to rights. His column on the celebrations and decorations in his neighborhood reads straight out of a city version of Norman Rockwell. Peyronnin even manages to work in some Halloween history and facts among the sweet description of the trick-or-treating activities in his Upper East Side 'hood.

After all the candy-begging is over, most parents' nightmares are just beginning. In addition to worrying about razor blades, the old standby "All that sugar will give you cavities," and the transmission of swine flu between all those little Tinker Bells and alien bikers roaming the streets, the New York Times article published on Oct. 27 might just send parents over the edge. Titled "Living for Candy, and Sugar-Coated Goblins" it profiles playwright Paul Rudnick and his new book "I Shudder." Rudnick, at 5-10 and 150 pounds, is living proof that is apparently possible to live off candy. For as long as anyone in his family can remember, he has had an aversion to healthy foods; allegedly the man has not had a square meal (or many vegetables) in nearly 50 years.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday round up...

Okay, so I've had a few stories in the pantry for a bit now, and they have not fallen into any themes, so I figured I'd just post 'em all today since I don't want them to go stale.

Back in the middle of October, the New York Times published a story on small town recession angels in Greenlawn, N.Y. Junior Silverio owned a Mom-and-Pop video store for 16 years, but the recession and resulting slowing of business forced him to consider closing down. However, the town rallied around him, his landlord eased up and Silverio decided to stay open. He seems to be the epitome of a small town business owner, knowing his customers' lives and connecting with the businesses in his area. He won't take outright donations, so his customers and neighbors were considering various financing options to help him and other area business owners who are suffering the same plight.

Workers who are not quite as down as Silverio often sit at their desks and dream about long weekends. I should know; I'm one of them. The state of Utah has made the four-day workweek happen, according to Yahoo! News, with state employees working 10-hour days. The state envisioned savings in energy costs, but what the officials did not see coming was a savings in overtime pay. As any minion will tell you, working long days does not encourage you to stay even longer. Not sure why that wasn't immediately apparent, but the Utah state government is quite pleased by the uptick in productivity during regular hours. Workers are pleased with the extra day it gives them to spend with family and get things accomplished.

Moving from state to national politics, the Boston Globe reported on former Massachusetts senator Edward W. Brooke (R) receiving the Congressional Gold Medal for his long and distinguished career known for bipartisanship. Brooke, the nation's first popularly elected African-American senator, was convivial during his ceremony but did admonish current Congress members on the need to get together on some of the nation's most pressing current issues.

Finally, the Globe featured a Wisconsin farmer who has mingled with a former president and turned down an invitation from the current one. Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, Inc., received a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation several years ago and since then his company, which encourages urban farming in poor areas, has taken off. The 60 year-old former ABA basketball player is working to promote sustainability in urban farming as well as introduce more African-Americans to the movement.

(Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Baltimore, my Baltimore...

Six of the eight "Breaking News" stories flashing along the top of this morning's Baltimore Sun webpage were negative, bad or actually awful ("State police arrest Howard man on child porn charges").

A little digging, however, managed to produce some good news from the depths of the Sun's news sections. I was first directed to the site by the Boston Globe, which noted the movie "The Social Network," based on the creation of Facebook, is being filmed at Johns Hopkins next Monday and Tuesday. Based on the birth of the brainchild of Harvard student Matt Zuckerberg, the film uses JHU as a stand-in for those hallowed ivy walls and will employ local movie crews. This also explains why I was stuck in Harvard Square last week while big trucks moved lots of movie equipment around...

Once navigated onto the newspaper's homepage, I saw the word "Flamingogate" and had to investigate further. Having attended the Hon Fest three years ago, I had an inkling of what this story was about. Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting declared victory over the Baltimore City Council when the cost of the permit for her enormous flamingo statue outside her restaurant was halved. Originally estimated at $800 a year, the city dropped it to $400 and agreed to put up signs on the highway promoting the neighborhood of Hampden where Cafe Hon is located.

Finally, another symbol of the city of Baltimore received a boost with the announcement AirTran Airlines, which has a hub at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI), has painted one of its planes with a Baltimore Ravens motif. Feted by the Ravens cheerleaders, the band and either Edgar, Allan or Poe (the story was not specific), Ravens 1 is the second of three NFL-themed jets rolled out by the discount carrier. Already flying the somewhat-friendly skies is Falcons 1 (after AirTran's hometown team), and an Indianapolis Colts-themed plane will complete the set. A lot of companies do sports marketing that makes absolutely no sense for either side in the deal, but this is actually very smart. AirTran is strengthening an already good relationship with the NFL, and since the plane will fly to all 60 carrier destinations all over the US, the visibility of the Baltimore Ravens should rise nationally.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What is the one most important thing our society needs? ...

"That would be...harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan...and world peace!"

That line from "Miss Congeniality" gets me every time. It is such a pageant cliche. But I suppose every cliche has its root in truth. Peace in the world is definitely something worth aspiring to.

The United Nations has stated its goals are to facilitate cooperation on international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and the achieving of that oh-so-important world peace.

The second week of December (Dec. 7-18) marks the start of its Climate Change Conference 2009, held in Copenhagen, Denmark. In advance of this hopefully productive conference, I found a spate of stories recently on the UN.

This past Saturday was the UN's 64th birthday. Founded in 1945 to replace the League of Nations, the UN has spent the last six decades working toward its goals. On Saturday, peacekeepers and staff participated in events from Darfur, Sudan to Timor-Leste in Southeast Asia designed to celebrate the UN and commemorate its work.

The UN website was the source of another story for today. In the hope of promoting environmental awareness among children before the climate change conference, the UN has nominated Disney's Tinker Bell as an Honorary Ambassador of Green. I'm sorry, but I would have a hard time announcing that with a straight face.

This past weekend, coinciding with its birthday, the UN held the fourth-annual "Stand Up, Take Action, End Poverty Now" campaign. A record-breaking 173 million people from around the world - including the 50,000 who quite literally stood up during a U2 concert - joined forces with the UN to call on world leaders to meet their Millennium Development Goals by the deadline of 2015. Over 3000 events in 120 countries brought out 60 million more people than last year, demolishing a Guinness Book of World Records mark, according to Xinhua News.

(Image courtesy of

Monday, October 26, 2009

Best. weekend. ever...

So this past weekend (starting Friday) I was in Long Island for my college roommate's wedding. This is one I've been looking forward to since I heard they got engaged.

It obliterated expectations.

From the rehearsal dinner to the hotel afterparty, you could not imagine a more perfect wedding. What everyone shoots for (or should) is a wedding that pleases both bride and guest(s). Ninety-nine point nine percent of people fail at that. The balance is so hard. This wedding fell into that 0.01 percent. Classiness, elegance and fun shone from every facet of the weekend.

I could make a joke about how Michelle and Chris have now been married longer than most celebrities, but I would rather just end with a heartfelt congratulations to my two favorite newlyweds, wish them all the best and thank them for letting me be a part of such a terrific event and special moment for them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Girl power...

Awhile back, during the throes of yet another 80-hour work week, I told my mother I would not mind being a step-side Escalade driving, Versacci sweatsuit wearing, book club hosting, 2.5 kid and purebred dog having trophy wife like all the women I drove past on the way to my job. I'm fairly certain Gloria Steinem suffered heart palpitations at that statement, and I am definitely certain my mom was speechless with indignation.

Here was this little upstart railing against all the advances the women of my mother's generation made; however, I would like to point out I wanted merely to relax. Now I have a 40-hour week and the freedom to choose how to spend those "extra" 40 hours, I fully appreciate all those steps away from the kitchen and the husband's thumb.

Which is why I liked seeing the following story on Yahoo! the other morning. While far less conservative than other emirates, Kuwait took another step forward in women's rights when its highest court granted women the right to a passport without their male guardian's approval. The law, buried in the 1962 constitution which was supposed to grant equality to the sexes, was declared unconstitutional. The court said the law "undermines [the plaintiff's] free will and compromises [the plaintiff's] humanity."

The Cleveland Plain Dealer's website highlighted another woman who pushed the boundaries of her time - Amelia Earhart. In advance of the Hilary Swank biopic "Amelia," the Plain Dealer connects the female aviator to the International Women's Air & Space Museum at the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio. The museum celebrates the contributions of all women pilots, including Earhart.

A program in Mexico is giving women a little more freedom in another form of transportation - taxis. A fleet of pink cabs driven by women and which only stop for women was recently launched in Puebla, Mexico, according to MSNBC. The taxis are kitted out with a beauty kit, a GPS system and an alarm button which is connected to local emergency services. The pink paint isn't doing much for the cause, but women passengers have reported feeling safer from leering male drivers, and the taxi service has opened up to women a previously male-dominated profession.

Finally, Nicole Kidman is doing her part for all the women in other countries who don't have the right to drive or travel alone or even leave the house. The actress was part of a delegation testifying in front of Congress on behalf of the United Nations Development Fund for Women. As reported in the New Zealand Herald, Congress is deciding whether to support the International Violence Against Women Act. It seems to me the name of the act is poorly worded, but the point of it is to work towards eliminating violence committed against women everywhere.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Well, would you look at that...

I seem to be on a kids kick this week...It's not really a plan; I'm just going with the flow of the Interwebs. : ) Today's angle is kids getting caught on tape doing fantastic things in sports. The Boston Globe first alerted me to Oliver Wahlstrom. The Globe calls his goal the most-talked about in Boston. Filmed during a promotion at the Garden called the TD Bank Mini 1-on-1, Wahlstrom's shot looks like it would stymie even the great Jacques Plante. The YouTube version of it is below.

While signing onto my Yahoo! account this morning, I spied the following article on Tiger Woods being out-driven by a 12 year-old. After firing two shots into the trees at an event commemorating his first-ever golf course design, Woods invited a member of the crowd to come up and take a shot. Mark Benevenuto Jr., son of the club's co-owner, stepped up and teed up. Benevenuto proceeded to hit not one but two 200-yard drives down the fairway. The video from NBC Philadelphia is pretty cute. And you have to hand it to Tiger, he held his temper in check and congratulated the boy.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A whole lotta learning going on...

Teaching someone something often enlightens the teacher as well. And the younger the learner, the more the (usually older) teacher can learn. Kids' minds are elastic things; they can make connections between two seemingly disparate things and, in the process, open adults' minds to new possibilities.

The New York Times had an article today on students from the Harlem Success Academy who went on a field trip to a farm. On the face of it, that does not seem all that extraordinary.

What is different is the point of the field trip - to help the children get better test scores. Teachers at the Harlem charter school looked at the state exams and realized their students weren't doing well on some questions that involved rural life. So they decided to take the children, starting at age 3, to a farm so they could learn about cornstalks and where eggs come from.

Those children will no doubt turn out to be more well-rounded than if they did not make that visit. They may even inspire adults the way Rachel Scott did.

Scott was one of the students killed during the Columbine tragedy in 1999. Six weeks before she died, Scott wrote an essay on how one act of kindness can make an impact in someone's life, according to the News-Gazette. After her death, that essay prompted her father to start Rachel's Challenge, a program for area schools that invites the students to create a more positive environment by doing things like talking to students outside their "group" or helping a new student adjust to the school.

And finally, adults can learn something from students simply by studying them. MIT's Sloan School of Management published a news release, picked up by the Boston Globe, on a study of courtship habits. Assistant Professor Joshua Ackerman concluded a "tag team" approach to dating can improve success. He demonstrated partnerships of both the same sex and the opposite sex have a similar success rate. If you click through to the actual release, Ackerman's findings are both illustrative and amusing. : )

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday morning round up...

So the little darling to the left (who refuses to look even remotely happy in pictures) is my first foster, Boogie. Yes, I know that is a horrible name for a cat (not my choice), so I've started calling her Boo or Bug, as in love-bug, since all she wants in life is to be in my lap, snoring.

I have a bunch of good stories which in no way connect to each other (much like my intro paragraph does not transition to this one), so I'm going to post an unthemed round up for today.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. made the news yet again (he of the arrested for breaking into his own home/grabbing a beer at the White House with the president). His research for a documentary led to two South Carolina men being posthumously pardoned for a murder they were convicted of 94 years ago. posted both the above and the following story on a Utah high school marching band that overcame personal grief to sweep the awards at the Rocky Mountain Marching Band Tournament. American Fork High School band lost its woodwinds instructor in a fatal bus crash just days before taking top honors. Heather Christensen grabbed the bus wheel when she noticed the driver had passed out; the bus crashed, killing Christensen, but all the students were unhurt.

Last week MSNBC reported on the potential discovery of a Leonardo da Vinci painting. Bought for $19,000 at an auction in 2007, what was thought to be a sketch by a 19th century German artist has been called the first da Vinci discovered in over 100 years. Da Vinci used his hands liberally when working, and analysis done by a Canadian forensic firm has proven there is a da Vinci fingerprint on this piece of art.

And finally, a blog on TIME's website reported on the first US reunion of the (living members of the) Monty Python comedy group in 40 years. Apparently, the show started a little slowly, with the actors a little uncomfortable with direct contact with the audience, but it picked up steam and the jokes started flying. I wish I had seen the program; I started watching Monty Python movies and sketches in middle school. It may have been my first taste of British humor, and it definitely left an impression. To this day, single lines from sketches like "The Spanish Inquisition" and "The Cheese Shop," not to mention from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Life of Brian" make me smile.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Examining the soul of a warrior...

Dressed in fatigues or full combat gear, armed with anything from a sidearm to a sniper rifle and participating in activities ranging from daily patrols to black ops, members of US Armed Services can present a tough and even scary image to civilians. That image makes it hard for those not serving to remember those who do (nearly always) have a softer, human side to them.

Working in behavioral health, I've become much more aware of the psychological issues that face soldiers who return home damaged in ways surgeons cannot fix. So I was really pleased to find the following story on about Operation Proper Exit. The story focuses on Ret. 1st Lt. Edwin Salau, who lost part of his left leg in a rocket propelled grenade attack in 2004. He returned to Iraq on Oct. 13 as part of Operation Proper Exit and met with some of the soldiers stationed at Forward Operating Base Falcon. Founded by Laurel, Md.-based Troops First, the program is designed to bring wounded service members back to Iraq in hopes of gaining some psychological closure. Salau embodies the program's hopes best: "The North Carolina National Guard is like a big family, and I hated that I was not able to return to Iraq with my brothers this time. I also hated that I left them in Iraq in 2004. So, I felt a very selfish need to show them that I could walk off the battlefield on my terms. This time when I left them, the enemy did not have a vote."

This past Tuesday, Oct. 13, the USS New York set sail for its namesake city from its Northrop Grumman shipyard in Louisiana. Although the ship was already on the drawing board before the Sept. 11 attacks that sparked the war which changed Ret. 1st Lt. Salau's life, the US Defense Department decided to honor the city and its citizens with the ship's name in September 2002. In addition, the DoD decreed 7.5 tons of steel from the World Trade Center should compose the bow of the USS New York. The ship, which cost $1 billion, is 684 feet long and can carry up to 800 Marines. Its flight deck can handle helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey.

The helicopters and Ospreys on the deck of the USS New York are leaps and bounds ahead of the aircraft featured in today's story from the Daily Mail. Joy Lofthouse, 86, and Yvonne MacDonald, 88, the only two sisters to fly Spitfires in World War II, reunited this past Tuesday at a memorial air show. Part of the Air Transport Auxiliary, the two women were an intregal part of the Battle of Britain - flying 18 different types of aircraft to the front lines. Often the Attagirls, as that unit became known, had only a half hour to read a manual before flying off in an unfamiliar plane. Lofthouse and MacDonald joined the ATA in 1943 after reading an advertisement in a magazine; they were two of only 164 women allowed in the unit.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

World's best kids...

Yesterday I committed a positivity blog post FAIL. I completely forgot to mention the 99th birthday of a man who has done a tremendous amount to change people's behavior to the positive. Former UCLA men's basketball coach and all-time great person John Wooden celebrated his birthday yesterday. He grew up in the Midwest and used the values and morals of his upbringing to mold his players into men. The LA Times Sports blog has a brief post about the man, the myth and the legend.

Okay, now I can get onto today's post. The children I want to highlight today are definitely following in Mr. Wooden's enormous footsteps. I pulled a story from the BBC online on a 16 year-old Indian boy is making a difference in 800 of his neighbors' lives. Babar Ali has been called the youngest headmaster in the world. He is the first person in his family to get an education, and he is not about to waste a bit of it. Called a model student in the article, Babarreturns home and runs a school of his own in the afternoon. His pupils are 800 of the children in his village who are too poor to go to even the government-subsidized schools. He began teaching some of his friends when he was nine, and now his school has 10 fellow teachers and is sanctioned by local authorities who have given Babar awards for his work in raising literacy rates in the area.

Great Britain runs at least two contests which reward its children for making a positive impact in the community. Harry Moseley, from Sheldon, Birmingham, won the title of Britain's Kindest Kid yesterday. The nine year-old was one of five finalists in the competition hosted by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and Five News, according the the CAF website. Moseley, who lives with an inoperable brain tumor, makes and sells beaded bracelets to fund raise for Brain Tumor UK. He decided to do his part after a hospital stay which parked him next to a 55 year-old man with the same affliction. Moseley has even launched an initiative that seeds bracelet-making clubs in area schools. Fifteen pence of each sale goes to the schools' funds while the rest goes to Brain Tumor UK. He received 1000 pounds in pocket money and 1000 pounds to donate to his charity. Ever the kind one, Harry plans on giving 200 pounds each to his brother and sister and using another 200 pounds for a wooden playhouse where he can make more bracelets.

Cambridge News reported on the Cambridgehire Young People of the Year award ceremony, which honored ten young people in their area for their selfless efforts. Sixteen year-old Sarah Bannister was named Young Person of the Year for her fundraising efforts for Crohn's disease despite her battle with it. Bannister is giving half of her 1000 pound prize to a Crohn's disease foundation. Cambridge News' article also gives snapshots of the other winners and what they've been doing to make the world a better place.

(Image courtesy of CAF)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Celebrating National Share Your Positivity Week...

This week, from Sunday, Oct. 11 to Saturday, Oct. 17, is National Share Your Positivity Week. Alexa's Angels, a jewelry manufacturer in Windsor, Colo. began the movement, which includes a postivity-sharing website where individuals can post positive experiences and inspirational quotes. In a month, the visitor count to the virtual positivity bank jumped from 2000 to near 27,000, and I hope it keeps rising. The site also provides a positivity contract where companies can pledge to do good things for their employees and communities during this week. Ideas provided include a positivity pizza party, volunteering and practicing random acts of kindness.

One can only hope things like National Share Your Positivity Week influences people's behavior for the better. Volkswagen takes it one step further and uses something it calls "Fun Theory" to catalyze that change in behavior. Since I'm a YouTube neophyte, up until today I was not among the 2 million people who have viewed the VW commercials that have gone viral. The Detroit Free Press alerted me to the ads, which were created by DDB Stockholm. The Piano Stairs commercial is below and the Freep's site has both that and the "Largest Trash Bin in the World." VW hopes viewers will associate the positive feelings they get from choosing responsible behaviors to buying/driving an eco-friendly Volkswagen. Therein lies my problem with my previously chosen profession, but at any rate the ads are memorable, funny and positive.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A little more sweetness in my life...

So my trip to Germany was not solely to meet up with friends and commence revelry. I had a very important mission to undertake while in foreign lands - report back on their baked goods.

While in Munich I had the very, ahem, tough job of sampling all sorts of cakes, pastries, cookies, and chocolate with the intention of writing about it for the very wonderful Jessie Oleson of and her "Cakewalks" feature.

Here is the link to my very first guest post on a blog. : ) Sweet, indeed!

(Image from

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bizarro world...

So I'm at work on Columbus Day. Judging by my commute this a.m., I am one of the few poor saps in my fair city who made the trek. Everything is so quiet, and remarkably, I am able to get things done without wanting to bang my head on my desk. But it is still a bit weird...

In that vein, I found a couple stories via today's Yahoo! Travel regarding strange sites and theme parks from all over the world. I have a long list of places I want to see, but (Lauren, if you are reading this, please pay strict attention to the rest of this sentence when planning our trip for next summer) none of these places make it onto that list.

The first story highlights some very odd monuments sprinkled over the globe. I do want to go to Prague, but not to see Good King Wenceslas riding a dead horse. Same goes for the Calder Mercury fountain in Barcelona, Spain. Why on earth would I visit an attraction which spouts something that could kill me?

The second story starts with a profile of Stalin World and really just goes down hill from there. There are several religion-based theme parks that I wouldn't visit for fear of being struck by lightning as well as a ghost city, Epcot Center times 1000, a place to play with heavy machinery, sensory overload in Dubai and, strangely enough, Coney Island. : )

So I guess none of this is strictly "good" news, but quirky can be good, right???

Friday, October 9, 2009

Irony on the intergalactic scale...

I had intended today's post to be entirely about advances in science, but as my radio station host this morning put it best - "It's a bit ironic the day that the President of the United States wins the Nobel Peace prize, we attack the moon."

When I first heard about the award, I immediately thought it must be for former President Carter, forgetting he won in 2002. I am still a bit floored that Pres. Obama won for showing promise (and essentially not being George W. Bush), but I like to think this is a harbinger of all the change he will be able to make in the years to come. Yahoo! News has a surprisingly expansive article on the reasons for Obama's win as well as the world's reaction, which has been (thankfully) mostly positive.

Now, onto attacking the moon, which has also gotten surprisingly positive reaction around the (scientific) world. NASA crashed a spacecraft and it's trusty sidekick into the moon at 7:31 EST this morning in hopes of finding evidence of water ice. Personally I could send them to a pretty good Rita's in Philly and save them the $79 million they wasted going splat in a lunar crater... But this exploration of the lunar south pole - where the sun never shines so we have no idea what's down there - could prove vital if the collisions do kick up some frozen water along with lots and lots of moon dirt. has a similar story to the one from Yahoo! News linked above, which is far less technical and has videos and subtitles like "Smackdown!"

On a very prescient this-past-Wednesday, Pres. Obama combined medals, science and astronomy. He handed out the National Medals of Science and of Technology in a ceremony at the White House. Obama honored scientists who mapped the human genome, made GPS systems possible and invented batteries for implanted defibrillators among others. Later that night he hosted over 150 school children in what may be the White House's first skywatching party, held in honor of the 400th anniversary of Galileo's observations of Jupiter and its moons. The first American woman in space, Sally Ride, answered questions from the children and from Internet users. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Hubble repairman John Grunsfeld were in attendance.

(Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What's your anniversary?...

In my life recently there has been a spate of friends' birthdays and anniversaries, which is funny because a lot of the stories I've been seeing in the past few days and weeks have to do with anniversaries of this or that. I guess it's not that much of a coincidence when you think about it; every day is most likely an anniversary of something for someone somewhere in the world...

In Sweden it is the 30th anniversary of that country's ban on spanking children. The Swedes were the first of 24 countries to introduce the ban in 1979, according to Yahoo! News. The statistics are staggering - before the ban 90 percent of children were smacked compared to with 10 percent nowadays. Critics of the ban then and now claim it leads to unruly children and a rise in crime, citing the fear parents have of disciplining children in case they are reported. However, Mali Nilsson of the international charity Save the Children notes there is no actual legal punishment if "caught." Social workers are simply brought in to help the family. To swat or not to swat, what do you think?

For the both the young and young-at-heart, this year is the 70th anniversary of the movie "The Wizard of Oz." The Huffington Post has a Newsweek video interview with several of the people hired to be Munchkins in the Judy Garland classic. You learn a few fun tidbits about the movie, and seeing the spirited octa- and nonagenarians gives you a smile. Personally, the Munchkins were my favorite part of "The Wizard of Oz." I could have done without the flying monkeys.

This is a fun one ... This next February will be the 30th anniversary of the 1980 Miracle on Ice - the US men's ice hockey team beating the Soviets at Lake Placid, N.Y. Several of the key figures in that movie played for my alma mater, and shortly after the 2004 movie "Miracle" came out, you would not believe the crackpots calling my office there asking to speak with our athletic director, Patrick O'Brien Demsey. Fun fact #1: Demsey is the actor who played Mike Eruzione. Fact fact #2: Mike Eruzione is not the athletic director. Seriously people? But anyway, back to the video. Four year-old Josh Sacco has become an internet sensation, as reported on, for his version of Herb Brooks' motivational speech just before the iconic game. The little guy has it bang on, down to the gestures.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Putting the student back into student-athlete...

Despite being in and around college athletics for the last 11 years, I have no idea when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) put an emphasis on calling college sports participants student-athletes, as opposed to simply calling them athletes. I know the NCAA has faced a lot of flack for being an athlete mill, churning out trained bodies for various professional leagues instead of individuals prepared for life.

But for all the pressure on the schools to up their graduation success rate (GSR) and all the NCAA commercials touting the tagline "I'm going pro in something other than sports," I can tell you from four solid years on the front lines, for the most part, the concept of student being equal to athlete has not sunk in.

Luckily for the future of civilization, there are a few exceptions. The New York Times recently posted an article on the rise in NBA players going back to school in the off-season to earn the degrees they abandoned when they declared for the draft. This year 45 players - 10 percent of the league - went back to school. The Times cites the disturbing facts presented in a March issue of Sports Illustrated that 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of retirement, and 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or under financial stress because of being unemployed or divorced within two years. Baseball players sometimes fare about as well. So it's a good thing athletes are now realizing those boring classes and homework left in the dust of a signing bonus could really lead to something.

ESPN's College Football Nation blogged yesterday about Dave Shinskie, Boston College's 25 year-old freshman quarterback. Shinskie, a minor league pitcher for the past six years, was released and made the decision to go to school to get his degree. He has not yet declared a major but plans on sticking around all four years and maybe going for an elementary education degree so he can teach third grade and possibly coach. Shinskie has suffered the usual freshman growing pains - confusion with the playbook, lack of experience and handling classes and football - but his coach and teammates (who call him Uncle Dave) are standing behind him and have high hopes.

Finally, I'm going to take a little space to plug a site one of my former rowers has set up on his own, jumping into the fray that is the Middle East peace process. The Middle East Alliance is, as stated on its website, "a not-for-profit project founded in July 2009 to provide a one-stop location for all Middle Eastern news and blogs for Western audiences ... The ultimate goal of the Middle East Alliance is to provide a source that enables the English speaking world to truly understand life on the ground in the Middle East, as told from the people who live there and experience it first hand."

Having lived in a foreign country at the start of the second Iraq war I know how important it is to get a glimpse, on a more personal level, of how people in other countries view events, particularly when those events are so volatile and touch so many other parts of the globe. My former student-athlete is working in Kurdistan for an American university and has already recruited bloggers from Iraq and Iran as well as feeds blogs from Syria onto his site. It's worth a look when you're feeling open-minded or perhaps especially when you are not...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Signs of the seasons...

Without me realizing it, Boston has abruptly down-shifted into autumn. We've had some very weird weather over the year, so I'm not sure why suddenly tripping into fall (sorry, I had to) has me surprised. Yesterday after work I found myself scuffing my feet through the leaves, and apple and pumpkin picking trips are just around the corner.

All of these are pleasant for me as fall is my favorite season (and coincidentally the only time of year I actually like living in New England). What was unpleasant for me was listening to some guy repeatedly revving his engine just now. All that did was give me painful flashbacks to last winter when day after day I heard co-workers trying to get out of parking spaces buried in snow.

However, Dominic Skinner's delightful new mug may just change my mind about the dark days ahead. Living in Ireland turned me onto the idea of dunking chocolate cookies in tea, so I guess it's no surprise a man from the UK came up with the idea to put little slots in mugs so one can drink one's tea/coffee and hold his/her cookies at the same time. On sale at, it comes in both right- and left-handed versions, so you never toss your cookies. : )

Technology continues to advance in other more, er, widely relevant areas as well. The New York Times reported on how the introduction of the touchscreen phone, most notably the iPhone, has helped computer engineers move forward in their research on creating a touchscreen computer. The "tablet" computer has not made much progress in the last 20 years since the first one was lampooned in Doonesbury for its incompetence. Gizmo gurus expect the major players - Apple, Microsoft, etc. - to produce the next evolution of touch and tap devices in the next year.

All these high-tech magic tricks are perhaps having the other-than-intended effect of making me long for Lite-Brite and Etch-a-Sketch. I actually kind of miss the days of crappy animation and VHS tapes. My little apparently Luddite self takes comfort in my third gadget today, which I found on Despite the slightly sketchy fact this children's toy comes from a company called "Uncle Milton's," I love the idea of a projected rainbow in my room any time I want it (no rain necessary). All I need now is the pot of gold...

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'm baaaaaaaacccccckkkkkkkkkkk...

After a very long break from this blog (and a much-needed vacation from my life), I am back posting again. Germany was an absolute blast; I enjoyed every single second. It was good to see old friends and meet new ones, and Wiesn (Oktoberfest) was a great deal of fun.

I'm still a little scattered in that "I just got back from a great vacation and don't really want to focus on reality" way, so I figured I'd kick off the week with a round up. I'm also very hopped up on cold medicine; a lovely co-passenger on my Lufthansa flight home gave me a cold. :-P

Below is a 20-second clip from YouTube of the only existing film of Anne Frank. In the clip she is 13 years old and peeking out her window to see a neighboring couple who just got married. The film was taken about one year before the Occupation.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on the citizens' reaction to Rio de Janeiro's winning Olympic bid. The Brazilians were overjoyed, many reduced to tears and singing. A tens-of-thousands strong samba quickly broke out after the announcement, and as the CS Monitor stringer reported, I imagine the city's reaction to winning is a microcosm of how the 2016 Olympics will go - chaotic, fun and a bit disorganized.

In another piece of typically front-page news, it was announced this morning by CNN that three Americans have won the 100th Nobel prize for medicine for their work in chromosome research. Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak will share the $1.4 million prize after looking into how chromosomes are protected against degradation.

Finally, AP (via Google News) posted a story on a sequel of Winnie-the-Pooh 81 years in the making. A.A. Milne published his last Pooh book - The House at Pooh Corner - in 1928, but the Trustees of Pooh Properties (can you imagine saying you work for them??) authorized David Benedictus to pick up where Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard left off. Benedictus' book, "Return to the Hundred Acre Wood" is released today. There is a new friend among the bunch - Lottie the Otter, a stickler for etiquette and fierce cricket fan - but everyone else seems pretty much the same. Pooh scholars, yes there are quite a few, are split on the appropriateness of this new book, but I may just scoot over to Borders after work...