Thursday, April 29, 2010

Child's play...

Something is called "child's play" if it requires minimal effort for adults. It's almost dismissive. Learning Spanish is child's play; try Croat. Now that was hard. Or Oh, you made roast duck with endive. That's child's play. I made spherical egg of white asparagus with false truffle.

It seems to me that children seem to have an easier time of things that are harder for adults. Like altruism. Take, for instance, a study published in the April issue of Psychological Science.

According to MSNBC, children as young as 21 months are more inclined to help people who also seem helpful. Kristen Dunfield and Valerie Kuhlmeier conducted experiments where children interacted with two women who varied in their ability and/or willingness to give the children a toy. The studies showed the children were much more likely to help the adult who shared their toys with the children.

Students in Salem, Mass., also seem ready and willing to help people they've never met. The Salem News reports children in Bates Elementary School have been donating their change to "Pennies for Peace," a program started by author Greg Mortenson. His non-profit has built over 130 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and has a special focus on girls' education in that region. The children were inspired by Mortenson's children's book "Listen to the Wind," which chronicled his experiences.

Long Beach Middle School in New York is another school in the news a bit recently. A few weeks ago teen singer Justin Bieber performed live there as a reward for students who collected donations for a food bank. More recently, as reported on MSNBC, seventh-grader Miriam Starobin performed the Heimlich maneuver on her friend and classmate Allyson Golden after she choked on a piece of gum. The kicker is, Starobin was spurred into action by remembering a similar scene from SpongeBob Squarepants.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Take only photographs, leave only footprints"...

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Begun in the '70s when environmental dangers were practically smacking us in the face (Ohio's Cuyahoga River catching on fire, anyone?), it is perhaps even more important today when the challenges are less apparent, and thus seemingly less urgent.

So with the invisibility of these dangers masking the importance of constant vigilance against them, I think today is an excellent opportunity for everyone to step back (even if it is for just a day) and remember exactly how important the Earth really is to us.

The Christian Science Monitor has an ode to the planet which somehow manages to be both cuddly and slightly thought-provoking. CSM editor John Yemma points out, even in this advanced age, how the Earth is vastly superior to any technology and that if it weren't for the Earth we wouldn't have the technology...

Eyjafjallajokull, the Icelandic volcano which erupted last week and has disrupted international air travel all over the world to the tune of $1.7 billion, is another example of the power of Nature over man. As British television host Laurence Llewelyn Bowen points out in a Daily Telegraph article, people are so used to being in control and being able to go anywhere at the drop of a hat. The enormous cloud of ash which grounded planes and stranded people is a real reminder that we are at Nature's mercy, so we should probably be nice to her. The Boston Globe has 35 photos of the effects of Eyjafjallajokull, which are just absolutely stunning. Particularly the first one.

NASA has come up with some eye-catching images of its own thanks to the new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The spacecraft has sent back images of activity on the sun's surface and close-ups of solar flares among other things scientists have never been able to see before. Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, it began a five-year mission to examine the sun's magnetic field and the effects it has on Earth's atmospheric chemistry and climate.

(Photo credit: NASA/Reuters)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Death and taxes...

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin believed those two things to be the only certainties in life. To those I would like to add "The person you are badmouthing is standing behind you." It may lack pith but is still true. Not that I've had any experience with it. None at all...

Anyway, today I will be focusing on the latter of Franklin's two certainties since today is Tax Day. Standing in line this morning at the post office, I noticed one twenty-something guy was furiously scribbling on an envelope. I couldn't imagine what inspired such intense focus until I caught a glimpse of the address - State Tax Bureau.

Good luck with that one, buddy.

In a self-generated stimulus package, some businesses across the US are taking advantage of the populace's general frustration by offering tax day freebies. CNN notes Cinnabun is giving away two mini-cupcakes, Starbucks is offering gratis brewed coffee to those who bring their own mug, and McCormick & Schmick's is offering dinner and a drink at the bar for $10.40.

Some people may feel like the only way to pay what they owe on their taxes is to rob a bank. While no one is disclosing what drove Victor Anthony Fernandes to make just such an attempt, Pulitzer-prizing winning photographer Kim Komenich is being called a hero for foiling Fernandes this past Monday. When he heard the suspect ask for the teller's money, Komenich sprung into action, bear-hugging Fernandes and pinning his arms in his pockets, according to USAToday.

In an update to one of the stories I posted last week, the Today Show has tracked down the mysterious Frenchman who helped pull two year-old Bridget Sheridan out of the Hudson River. Julien Duret, a 29 year-old tourist from Lyon, France, told the New York Daily News he doesn't think he's a hero and anyone else would have done the same thing. While little Bridget will someday succumb to taxes, it appears we finally know who helped her cheat the other of Franklin's certainties.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nice save...

Welcome to My Happy Thought 2.0. After a nice refreshing break, I'm going starting up again, only this time as a weekly thing. Check back every Thursday or just wait for the alert. :)

My current personal happy thought is New England has decided to have a spring this year. We've had our share of April showers already but yesterday was 90 degrees, and today is sunny and in the 60s. The fact that it's almost time for gorgeous weather has been a saving grace for me.

Today's stories are about saves of a more momentous nature. Not so much the "Sweet! I don't have to wear a coat today" and more of the "Thank you for saving my life" variety.

My friend Michelle reminded me of a story I originally found on the Chicago Tribune's site. Her version comes from AOL. On March 26 long-time Jewel Osco Supermarket customer Dan Coyne successfully donated a kidney to cashier Myra de la Vega after learning de la Vega suffered from kidney disease and had been on dialysis. Neither feels any after-effects of the surgery beyond de la Vega feeling miles better than before.

Yahoo! News had one of the first stories I saw about the miraculous rescue of 115 Chinese miners eight days after they had been trapped when workers digging a new mine accidentally dug into an old one which had filled with water. Miners survived by eating tree bark and drinking the water, but according to Xinhua, China's official news organization, none are intensive care after the rescue.

And finally, Huffington Post put something up on a rescue that wasn't much publicized as far as I can tell. David Anderson was doing the tourist thing in New York and only turned away from his two year-old daughter Bridget for a moment when he realized she had fallen 20 feet into the icy Hudson River. He immediately jumped in to get her only to find an unknown French man was already in the water saving his daughter. After getting the little girl out and making sure she was okay, the mysterious hero disappeared into the crowd.