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.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Theater of the (Slightly) Absurd...

I did my time in high school theater, reaching my pinnacle as a whiny bride literally stuck in a conga line in our adaptation of "The Golden Goose" (No typecasting there. Nuh uh. None at all...). But between that and stage managing for "Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz," the magic of the theater crept into my life. I enjoy the odd Broadway show when I make it down to NYC, and I've seen plenty of traveling productions.

But my keenly observant - some may say tart - sense of humor also allows me to appreciate the theater of life. Recent years have taught me I'd rather laugh than cry when unpleasant or odd things crop up, so I've honed my overall awareness of the humor in everyday life. Because when you've been cut off no less than six times and then flipped off by a woman in her fifties - all in the span of four miles - really, all you can do is laugh.

Mark Sanchez, quarterback for the New York Jets, looked like the rookie he is when he consumed a hot dog in the middle of the second half of a 38-0 dismantling of the visiting LA Raiders. How he didn't think the cameras were not going to catch the quarterback of a team in one of the world's largest media markets having a snack is beyond me. However, in an effort to un-sully his name, he donated 1000 hot dogs and hamburgers and equivalent buns to a soup kitchen in Morristown, N.J., according to The Star-Ledger.

In a story that manages to fall squarely into both theater and absurd, The Huffington Post reported on the Salon du Chocolat, a fashion show in Paris to benefit a charity called The Voice of the Children. Famous French actresses and presenters modeled dresses with edible elements on them - chocolate necklaces, headpieces, etc. You can see individual photos here, and watch a YouTube video of each of the models here. The showpieces are pretty phenomenal.

In this YouTube video about the New York chocolate fashion show, you get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into putting it all together. Here the dresses themselves are actually made of chocolate. I personally would worry about my body heat melting my dress in the middle of the runway, but that's just me and my 10 percent more body fat than these girls...

(Photo courtesy of Huffington Post)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Natural wonders...

As I look out my window and see bare trees or, worse, nearly bare trees - kinda like that friend you have who refuses to admit he's bald and just shave the rest already - I thought I would take today to remind myself (and anyone else who needs the help) that even though winter is fast approaching, nature is not always so bleak.

There is no place better to start in triumphing over bleakness than Iraq. The New York Times posted an article last week on the elaborate gardens emerging in the war-torn state as peace creeps forward. Prior to the war, the citizens were fond of topiary gardens and beautiful plants and flowers. When war came, people were unable to expand those gardens but still took refuge there for some normalcy. Now they are venturing back out to the nurseries again to turn their brown and blasted neighborhoods green.

The Times' City Room blog had a post late last month on rooftop gardens and vertical farms in US cities. In places like Chicago and Detroit, there are plenty of vacant lots and spaces for urban farms and community gardens, but in New York City space is at a premium. Buildings like churches and schools are employing architecture and landscaping firms to develop these new green spaces. An environmental group is quoted in the article saying there has been a 35 percent increase of green roofs in the US, around six to 10 million square feet total.

Not to be outdone, the NYT political blog also has gotten into the sustainable act with a post on the homemade honey on the South Lawn of the White House. For the first time in the history of the United States (which I find hard to believe as there was a large amount of time people who inhabited the WH "ate local" because there wasn't a choice about it), a hive of bees is being kept at the Executive Mansion. The inaugural harvest amounted to 134 pounds of fresh honey - far outstripping the beekeeper's original estimate of 30 pounds. The honey even made it into the shortbread cookies that were part of the Halloween giveaways to the trick-or-treaters last weekend.

(Image courtesy of the New York Times)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Declaring bankruptcy...

Why not? All the fashionable companies are doing it...

A while back I had a conversation with a friend regarding the feelings of calmness and freedom that followed the initial panic over realizing you forgot your cell phone. As I mentioned yesterday, I hate smart phones and Blackberries, mainly because the email client means people can not only reach you anywhere you go, but they expect an immediate response too. For some reason, ignoring a phone call is more acceptable than ignoring an email.

Too many emails in my inbox gives me information overload. I don't know what to handle first, and I get overwhelmed. Being the uber-organized person I am, I long ago switched to folders, where I deposited the emails which did not require an immediate response or were for reference. Shortly thereafter, those folders came to be known as "the abyss." I have the best of intentions regarding looking at those filed emails, but somehow the mere act of moving the emails satisfies my guilt over having to "do something" with the email.

Barbara Brotman from the Chicago Tribune appears to be in the same boat as me. She wrote an entire column on her secret relief when her newspaper's email server crashed, taking her entire inbox and archives with it. All those emails from months ago she intended to respond to were, poof, gone, and it wasn't her fault. I've never had over a thousand emails before, but I can imagine the immediate freedom she experienced was mind-blowing.

Elisa of Worker Bee blog offers the intriguing suggestion that inspired today's post title. The first of every month she declares "email bankruptcy" and moves all the items in her inbox to another folder. I'm not totally clear on her method, but the thought of having the phrase "you have no new items" appearing in my Gmail is very appealing. Just opening my email and seeing all those messages sitting there gets me down before I've even scanned the new ones.

Leo Babauta of ZenHabits has taken it one step further and declared his independence from email. His post, "Killing Email: How and Why I Ditched my Inbox," gleefully details his reasoning behind the momentous move and details the step-by-step method he took to shake free from the clutches of electronic mail.

A lot of things have been created to make our lives easier, but some of them have come back to bite us. These stories may not qualify as strictly "good news," but it is nice to know others are having the same thought and some of them have even managed to do something about it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Afraid of flying? There's an app for that...

If I only had an iPhone...It is unlikely I will ever get a smartphone, mainly because I consider then akin to Crackberries when it comes to depth of evil. I am, however, more than likely to get a panic attack while flying. Which means I probably would benefit from the fear iButton. MSNBC reports Virgin Atlantic has launched an iPhone app for its Flying Without Fear course, which possesses a 98 percent success rate... the course, not the iButton (yet). This app purports to help people overcome their fears of flying by explaining how a flight works, giving them mental exercises, and failing all that, a panic button.

Olivia Judson's opinion column in the New York Times was actually what gave me the idea to theme my post today around science and technology. She posed an interesting question in a column about facial expressions' impact on mood. Pleasantly titled, "The Language of Smiles," Judson probes lightly into how language sounds and expressions can influence whether you're happy or sad, including the intriguing point that it might also matter what language you're speaking.

And yes, both times I read that article, I spent a few minutes saying "eeeeee" and giggling.

Finally, an article in the UK's Daily Mail exploring "the virtue of smell" definitely caught my attention. As the article's title - "Cleanliness IS Next to Godliness..." - states, people have been found to be more fair and generous unconsciously when in clean environments. Subjects in lemony-fresh surroundings were more likely to divide an amount of money fairly as well as to contribute to charity.

(Image courtesy of Flickr)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Going global...

Today good news is taking over the world. Well, not really if the headlines on NPR radio this morning were any indication, but the stories I have for today are from all over the globe and every social strata. Here's to positivity growing like kudzu (shout out to my redneck roots. :) )

Representing the top of the social stratosphere, Bill and Melinda Gates sat down with ABC News' Charles Gibson and talked about the success of their global health initiative. Run through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Living Proof Project highlights all the good that has been done by the teamwork between the US Government and privately funded health initiatives. The Gates' cite the "huge difference" made by the millions of US dollars spent on vaccines, medicines and health worker training around the world.

In a bit of a role reversal, not-quite-Bill-and-Melinda-Gates-but-up-there-rich Germans have made a call for a tax increase for the wealthy in their country. They want a five percent tax for two years followed by a drop to one percent for those with over $750,000 incomes, according to Deutsche Welle. The proposal's supporters claim this could generate $150 billion. I don't think anyone actually thinks this will pass, but the awareness that the middle- and lower-class population could use a break in this financial crisis is welcoming.

On the other end of the demographic spectrum, we find a nice little "gotcha" story coming out of Mexico. The New York Times tells the story of a little extortion south of the border. When state senator Michelle L. Fischbach went to Cancun with family members for vacation, the last thing she expected was to be pulled over by the police on a trumped up charge and having to come up with a bribe to keep her husband out of jail. One letter to the Cancun mayor from a US state senator yielded the termination of the offices, a reimbursement check from the city government and the mayor's personal attention...

In Lebanon, the government is working on harnessing an excellent natural resource - the sun. Plagued by frequent and long power outages, parts of Lebanon are forced to grind to a halt. But this winter, several schools and hospitals are hoping the lights stay on after the repairs on and building of new solar power stations.