Friday, May 28, 2010

Doodle 4 Google: 9-year-old's drawing hung on the biggest fridge of them all

Just days after its wildly successful Pac-Man logo, Google has changed its banner once again. Today, the company turns to budding artist Makenzie Melton, the 9-year-old winner of this year's Doodle 4 Google contest.

The annual competition collects thousands of student submissions and millions of votes from Google users. Poll results crowned Makenzie, a third grader from El Dorado Springs, Mo. Along with the honor of ruling Google's homepage for a day, Makenzie will receive a $15,000 college scholarship, a new computer, and $25,000 for her school to build a new computer lab.

Makenzie says that her Doodle 4 Google drawing, called "Rainforest Habitat,” aims to raise awareness that "the rainforest is in danger and it is not fair to the plants and animals. I love everything except spiders and snakes, but I would still save them.”

While the contest is open to students in kindergarten through grade 12, elementary schoolers have dominated the competition. Both of the previous Doodle 4 Google winners were in sixth grade.

Today's special logo shows again that Google is committed to increasingly frequent novelty banners. Before Pac-Man (which you can still play for free, by the way), there was the Tchaikovsky dancers, the Thumbelina flipbook, the Topeka April Fools' joke, and several others – all within a month of each other.

Credits: Chris Gaylord, Christian Science Monitor

Man Uses Helium Balloons To Cross English Channel

In a goofy yet mesmerizing stunt, an American adventurer crossed the English Channel on Friday carried by a bundle of helium balloons, ending a quiet and serene flight by touching down in a French cabbage patch.

Jonathan Trappe, 36, of Raleigh, North Carolina, was strapped in a specially equipped chair below a bright cluster of balloons when he lifted off early Friday from Kent, in southeast England.

About five hours later, he lowered himself into a French field by cutting some of the balloons away.

"It was just an exceptional, quiet, peaceful experience," Trappe told Sky News television, which covered the adventure.

Asked why he went, Trappe replied: "Didn't you have this dream, grabbing on to a bunch of toy balloons and floating off? I think it's something that's shared across cultures and across borders — just this wonderful fantasy of grabbing on to toy balloons and floating into open space."

However, the channel crossing wasn't a matter of just grabbing a few balloons. Trappe says on his website that he made a scouting trip in March and gained clearance from French and British aviation authorities and from customs and immigration offices on both sides.

His equipment list didn't stop at balloons and a chair, but included an aircraft transponder, oxygen system, aircraft radios, emergency locator beacon, in-flight satellite tracking and a radio tracker.

"He had all the correct authorization and I believe he even gave something to the owner of the land where he came down by way of damages," said a spokesman for French police.

Last month, Trappe claimed the record for the longest free-floating balloon flight after spending 14 hours blowing in the wind over North Carolina and traveling 109 miles. On another flight, his website says he ascended to 17,930 feet, just below controlled airspace.

"There are risks and we work to methodically reduce the risk so we can have a safe and fun flight," said Trappe, who is certified for balloon flight by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. "Because really it's only about dreams and enjoying an adventure, and that's only enjoyable when it is safe."

His crossing was much less eventful than the first balloon crossing of the English Channel in 1785.

The pioneering French balloonist Jean-Pierre Francois Blanchard and John Jeffries, an American doctor who paid for the flight, set off in a hydrogen balloon which started leaking in flight. The pair dumped all their ballast and most of their clothes into the water and just managed to stay airborne and land in Calais.

Credits: NPR

Vice President Hillary Clinton?

Reading tea leaves is not science. And what I'm about to discuss is an epic tea-leaf read. But it could make for an interesting strategy for 2012. Suspend a little disbelief and read on.

Here's the background. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hasn't spoken much on domestic policy since she took the foreign affairs gig. For someone so vocal during the campaign, it's been clear she's purposely sticking to her charter and staying out of domestic affairs.

Yesterday, according to Ben Smith at, Hillary spoke to the Brookings Institution on national security strategy. That's exactly what you'd expect from SecState.

But then she took an interesting foray into domestic affairs by saying, "The rich are not paying their fair share in any nation that is facing the kind of employment issues..."

The comment itself is what got Politico's attention, but her rare move into domestic policy is what caught mine. Although Mrs. Clinton prefaced her statement by saying it was her personal opinion, that made it even more interesting.

Why would she say such a thing when she's been so disciplined about her messaging? Especially with China and Korea heating up, the Middle East still simmering, and all sorts of other threats and risks across the world - why would she move to the topic of wealth disparity?

Well, here's one idea. What if she's getting ready to go back on the domestic stage? How could it possibly make sense for her or for President Obama?

Here's how: Obama/Clinton 2012.

Think about it. For many true believers, it was the dream team to end all dream teams in 2008, but instead Barack chose Biden. There were many reasons, including Biden's clear foreign policy experience. But another was Obama really couldn't take a chance on being upstaged by Hillary before he'd proven he could be President. And then, of course, there was the Bill Factor.

But all that's changed now. Obama's been President and he's 99.9% likely to be the Democratic candidate in 2012.

Joe Biden hasn't distinguished himself - he hasn't hurt himself much, but he also hasn't been a standout either. As much respect and affection as I have for Joe, he doesn't add anything to a 2012 ticket - and you know 2012 is going to be the battle to end all battles.

Plus, Mr. Biden's recently had some pretty serious challenges with the failing health of his son.

Finally, Biden's not likely to be a serious candidate for the top office in 2016. He just doesn't have the brand power and so he’s unlikely to be the heir apparent.

Here, then, are three solid reasons why Joe probably shouldn't be on the 2012 ticket: 1) he doesn't add anything in an election where every advantage is needed, 2) he's got family health issues that are probably sapping his attention and energy, and 3) he's not going to be able to carry the torch in 2016.

But if Biden shouldn't be in the veep slot for 2012, who should be?

What about Hillary?

First, who (after Obama) has more star power in the Democratic party than Hillary? Not Nancy Pelosi. Not Harry Reid. Hillary.

Next, who can bring more juice, excitement, and support to a party that's kind of lost some of its juice and excitement? Not Pelosi. Not Reid. Not some governor from the sticks. Hillary.

What if Sarah Palin is nominated on the GOP side? She'd automatically grab a lot of the women's vote. Who can counter that, has comparable star power, and also show a tangible difference between "momma grizzly" and world-wide policy experience? Hillary.

And, finally, what if Obama's numbers go low enough that another Democrat tries to unseat him in the primaries? Is there any Democrat who stands even a tiny chance? Yep. Only one. Hillary.

Here we have some very compelling reasons for Hillary on the ticket. 1) she has star power, 2) she can bring excitement and loyalty back to the party, 3) she adds the women's vote element, 4) she has wide foreign policy experience, and 5) she could otherwise be a possible competitor.

Finally, which Democrat has the best chance to win in 2016, at least based on today's information? Hillary.

If Biden were out and Hillary were in, an Obama/Hillary ticket would make for a very interesting campaign season. Plus, there'd be Bill. Every election's tons more fun with Bill involved.

Like I said at the beginning of this piece, I'm only reading tea leaves.

Credits: David Gewirtz, AC360, CNN

What are the top 10 beaches in the US?

The Hamptons is atop this year's Top 10 Beaches list, with Coopers Beach on Long Island, N.Y., taking the No. 1 slot and Main Beach in East Hampton, N.Y., coming in fifth place.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Best Beaches list, put together by Stephen Leatherman, Director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research in Miami. He's also referred to as Dr. Beach.

The list was released today.

"The Hamptons are world-class beaches and are probably better known to Europeans than most Americans," Leatherman told LiveScience. "This is the first time that a NY beach has been the national winner." (Both Coopers and Main beaches did make the list last year, coming in at third and sixth, respectively.)

Leatherman nailed down his choices last week, and with the precarious Gulf oil spill creeping closer to shore, he had to knock the Florida Panhandle beaches off the list just in case the gunk made its way to these beaches along the northernmost stretch of the state just above the Gulf of Mexico.

Even so, Florida did get some love, with Siesta Beach in Sarasota and Cape Florida State Park in the Keys getting placement.

Here are the Top 10 Beaches for 2010:

1. Coopers Beach (Southampton, N.Y.)
2. Siesta Beach (Sarasota, Fla.)
3. Coronado Beach (San Diego, Calif.)
4. Cape Hatteras (Outer Banks, N.C.)
5. Main Beach (East Hampton, N.Y.)
6. Kahanamoku Beach (Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii)
7. Coast Guard Beach (Cape Cod, Mass.)
8. Beachwalker Park (Kiawah Island, S.C.)
9. Hamoa Beach (Maui, Hawaii)
10. Cape Florida State Park (Key Biscayne, Fla.)

Located on the east end of Long Island, Coopers Beach is the main stretch of sand in the Village of Southampton, which along with East Hampton make up the famous resorts called the Hamptons – where the rich and famous reside and frequent during the season. The turrets of clothing designer Calvin Klein's mansion are among the views visible from Coopers Beach.

Though officially only 500 feet (152 meters) long, Coopers' sandy shores extend for 7 miles (11 kilometers). And in addition to being far beyond the reach of the Gulf oil slick, the beach was also spared any damage from the storms this past winter that pummeled the U.S. Northeast coast.

In other words, the perfect spot to spend Memorial Day. "I will be traveling to Southampton on Sunday and will certainly be at Coopers Beach on Memorial Day with some friends," Leatherman said. "I will be incognito."

As with Coopers, all 10 beaches were chosen from Leatherman's survey of 650 public beaches along the U.S. coast of the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific. He uses 50 criteria for ranking beach quality, including sand softness, frequency of rip currents, size of waves, presence of shorebirds, water color, the presence of oil and tarballs, whether it's overcrowded, public safety, maintenance of grounds and other factors.

Credits: Christian Science Monitor

First the oil spill and now this! What's next for BP?

“BP wants Twitter to shut down a fake BP account that is mocking the oil company. In response, Twitter wants BP to shut down the oil leak that’s ruining the ocean.”

- Jimmy Fallon, Late Night

A British scientist says he is the first man in the world to become infected with a computer virus.

Dr Mark Gasson from the University of Reading had a chip inserted in his hand which was then infected with a virus.

The device, which enables him to pass through security doors and activate his mobile phone, is a sophisticated version of ID chips used to tag pets.

In trials, Dr Gasson showed that the chip was able to pass on the computer virus to external control systems.

If other implanted chips had then connected to the system they too would have been corrupted, he said.

Medical alert

Dr Gasson admits that the test is a proof of principle but he thinks it has important implications for a future where medical devices such as pacemakers and cochlear implants become more sophisticated, and risk being contaminated by other human implants.

"With the benefits of this type of technology come risks. We may improve ourselves in some way but much like the improvements with other technologies, mobile phones for example, they become vulnerable to risks, such as security problems and computer viruses."

He also added: "Many people with medical implants also consider them to be integrated into their concept of their body, and so in this context it is appropriate to talk in terms of people themselves being infected by computer viruses."

However, Dr Gasson predicts that wider use will be made of implanted technology.

"This type of technology has been commercialised in the United States as a type of medical alert bracelet, so that if you're found unconscious you can be scanned and your medical history brought up."

Professor Rafael Capurro of the Steinbeis-Transfer-Institute of Information Ethics in Germany told BBC News that the research was "interesting".

"If someone can get online access to your implant, it could be serious," he said.

Cosmetic surgery

Professor Capurro contributed to a 2005 ethical study for the European Commission that looked at the development of digital implants and possible abuse of them.

"From an ethical point of view, the surveillance of implants can be both positive and negative," he said.

"Surveillance can be part of medical care, but if someone wants to do harm to you, it could be a problem."

In addition, he said, that there should be caution if implants with surveillance capabilities started to be used outside of a medical setting.

However, Dr Gasson believes that there will be a demand for these non-essential applications, much as people pay for cosmetic surgery.

"If we can find a way of enhancing someone's memory or their IQ then there's a real possibility that people will choose to have this kind of invasive procedure."

Dr Gasson works at the University of Reading's School of Systems Engineering and will present the results of his research at the International Symposium for Technology and Society in Australia next month. Professor Capurro will also talk at the event.

Credits: Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC News

Lost's 2.5 Hour Finale Had 45 Minutes of Commercials

This is getting ridiculous: Hollywood Insider reports that final 2.5 hour episode of Lost had 45 minutes of commercials (the running time on Hulu confirms it):

ABC packed roughly 107 spots — or more than 45 minutes of commercial and promotional time — into the two-and-a-half-hour Lost series finale, according to our (very unscientific but pretty reliable) count. Just when the finale would unveil a major plot point, a break would occur featuring anywhere from five to 11 ads and/or sneak peeks for fall shows on ABC. Granted, some of the spots were extremely clever (Target used images of the island’s smoke monster to peddle fire detectors) but numerous, nonetheless.
If you're wondering what the fuss was all about, you can watch Lost: Season 1 through Lost: Season 5 on Netflix streaming.

How to make a simple candle trick

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Art Linkletter dies at 97

Art Linkletter, the easygoing, smooth-voiced emcee famed for his long-running hosting gigs of the radio show “House Party” and the TV shows “People Are Funny” and “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” has died, CNN has confirmed. He was 97.

Linkletter rose to fame as a radio announcer in San Diego, later becoming a program director. In 1944, he launched “Art Linkletter’s House Party,” a daytime CBS radio show that moved to television in 1952 and ran until 1969.

His nighttime show, “People Are Funny,” started on radio in 1942 and ran on NBC television from 1954 to 1961. According to Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh’s “The Complete Directory to Primetime Network and Cable Shows, 1946-Present,” the show featured everyday guests who would be interviewed by Linkletter and then be asked to do a stunt. The result for those who failed at the stunt was often a pie in the face or a splash of water.

Linkletter also hosted a short-lived quiz show, “The Art Linkletter Show,” in 1963.

But he’s probably best remembered for “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” which began as a segment on “House Party.”

Linkletter would ask several children their thoughts on various topics; their responses were often hilariously absurd. A collection of the children’s sayings eventually became one of the best-selling books of the era.

At its height, Linkletter’s fame was notable enough to make him part of Milton Bradley’s “Game of Life,” which featured Linkletter’s endorsement and his photo on the game’s $100,000 bill. His 1960 biography was called “Confessions of a Happy Man.”

Credits: CNN

Everyone Wants Someone To Do Something About the Oil Spill

The Obama administration is very, very unhappy with British Petroleum. But since the oil spill, Obama and his team have behaved as though there wasn't much they could do about the oil gushing into the Gulf, or BP's seemingly slow response to the crisis. Now commentators are turning their ire from the oil company to the administration, pushing Obama to take control of the cleanup away from BP and do whatever has to be done to stop the flow of oil into the ocean. They say Obama has offered too little, too late. "What took so long?" Peter Scheer asks at TruthDig. "It isn't enough to simply blame BP for not getting the job done. Go out and find someone who can. Lead. Give orders." At the New York Times, Andrew Revkin strikes the same tone: "President Obama not only has the authority, but the obligation—however politically risky that might be—to take ownership of efforts to stanch the flow," he writes. "To my mind, if the 'top kill' procedure being prepared for midweek fails, Obama must step forward far more forcefully and publicly engage an oil-well SWAT team drawing on the country's leading lights in hydraulics, deep-ocean engineering and geology, from the Pentagon outward." The nation's biggest fan of offshore drilling has weighed in too, with Sarah Palin wondering on Fox whether Obama's campaign contributions are the reason the president has been, "taking so doggone long to get in there, to dive in there, and grasp the complexity and the potential tragedy that we are seeing here in the Gulf of Mexico." But at 24/7 Wall St., Dougles McIntyre says the demands for action may be fruitless. "The leak may be beyond the ability of technology to cure," he says, "and only the eventual exhaustion of the pressure from under the ocean's floor will stop the spill from expanding."

Credits: Slate Magazine

Why Mexico welcomes Obama's plan to send 1,200 US troops to border

The Mexican government all but praised President Barack Obama's decision to send 1,200 troops to the border, in a departure from the usual complaints about the US immigration enforcement policies.

Unlike President Felipe Calderon’s fiery opposition to Arizona’s immigration law or his calls for a new immigration policy, Mexico’s official reaction to the deployment of US National Guardsmen near the border has been measured, even as the public response has been mixed.

The troops will “strengthen efforts to combat transnational organized crime," the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement, which predicted the guardsmen will not be involved in immigration enforcement. The ministry also wrote of a “shared responsibility” in fighting drug traffickers and called for additional resources to prevent arms and cash smuggling into Mexico.

Some Mexicans said they respected the United States’ right to send armed forces to protect its citizens. Mexico, after all, is battling drug cartels on this side of the border. Others saw it as a ruse to target undocumented migrants:

“This is not just about catching drug traffickers. They are out to get illegal immigrants and the narcos are just an excuse,” said Carmen Rodriguez, 49, a translator from Mexico City who has family members in Boston. “There will be more violence at the border.”

Obama administration officials said the troops won’t conduct searches for illegal immigrants, but will gather intelligence, work on surveillance support and train local law enforcement. Obama will also ask Congress for $500 million for law-enforcement in the region.

Mexican worries

An editorial in the local newspaper La Cronica de Hoy, said the National Guard deployment coupled with recent news that legislation is moving forward in 14 US states to crack down on illegal immigrants is "more than worrying."

Mexican drug trafficking analyst Jorge Chabat said the new measure won’t hurt US-Mexico relations, but neither will they stop the flow of drugs and undocumented migrants, as smugglers will find new routes into the United States.

“The U.S. government has spent over a decade taking similar measures, placing the National Guard at the border and building a wall, but there is no significant impact on the flow of drugs or undocumented workers,” said Chabat, of Mexico City’s Center for Economic Research and Teaching.

The Obama administration said that illegal border crossings have slowed, but analysts say that is thanks to a weak economy, not increased security.

“This is long overdue,” said George W.Grayson, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary who studies Mexico-US relations. “Our current law enforcement agents at the border simply cannot handle the pressures that come from human smugglers, illegal immigrants and drug traffickers.”

Raul Calles, a 65-year-old public administration consultant in Mexico City said his country’s elected officials are to blame for not reining in drug violence and leaving Obama with no choice but to send in troops.

Calles said that a history of foreign invasions in Mexico leaves him uneasy with a militarized US border and that he doubts the National Guard will do anything to help his country -- by, say, stopping the flow of US weapons into Mexico.

“If Obama is doing this, it’s not because he cares about Mexico, but it’s for his own interests.”

Credits: Nacha Cattan, Christian Science Monitor

Americans Spent 4,000,000 Hours Playing Google Pac-Man

The good news is that the gods of Google have seen fit to enshrine Friday's tribute to Pac-Man on its own site. Change your home page and you can spend the rest of your life clicking "Insert Coin" before you click "Search." The bad news is that the data nerds at RescueTime have already quantified exactly how guilty you should feel about all that Pac-Man. Tony Wright examined data from thousands of Web users and determined that the average person spent 36 seconds longer than usual on Google on Friday, the day the special logo launched. That means Google's millions of users spent 4,819,352 hours playing Pac-Man. Assuming that most of them were playing at work (which surely is a safe assumption), and they all were worth $25 an hour (which may not be a safe assumption), then $120,483,800 worth of work evaporated into the Googlesphere Friday. Wright says the "damage" would have been even worse if it had been more obvious that the logo was a fully-functioning game. "I'd wager that 75% of the people who saw the logo had no idea that you could actually play it," he says. "Which the world should be thankful for." Kottke's Aaron Cohen begs to differ. "Holy crap," he said Friday. "I think this is why they made the Internet."

Credits: Slate Magazine

"Today Show" Host Discusses Wrong College In Commencement Address

Today Show host Ann Curry received a standing ovation after delivering the commencement address at Wheaton College in Massachusetts last Saturday—despite the fact that she was talking about the wrong school. According to Talking Points Memo, Curry listed the alumni of another Wheaton College—an evangelical school in Illinois—rather than the graduates of the formerly all-women college in Massachusetts. "It is with a heavy heart that I ask you to forgive me for mistakenly naming graduates of the other Wheaton College in my address," Ann Curry wrote in an open letter on Wheaton's Web site, thanking students for their applause despite the gaffe. "I am mortified by my mistake, and can only hope the purity of my motive, to find a way to connect with the graduates and to encourage them to a life of service, will allow you to forgive me," Curry wrote.

Credits: Slate Magazine

5 books for kids of all ages

Is there any greater treat in life than a really good children's book? Here are five titles that will make you want to read over your children's shoulders.

1. When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. This mystery involving a 12-year-old New Yorker holds “tremendous appeal.”

2. Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis. A “warm and wise” narrative tells the story of freed slaves.

3. Raven Summer, by David Almond. The summer games of two teens take a frightening turn in this “truly original novel” set in rural England.

4. Al Capone Shines My Shoes, by Gennifer Choldenko. A 12-year-old is living on Depression-era Alcatraz Island in this “fast-paced adventure story.”

5. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, by Maryrose Wood. This tale “pairs the Gothic humor and arch narration of a Lemony Snicket with a more benevolent worldview.”

Credits: Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor

Adobe Photshop Beauty Cream

If it can make Madonna look human, just imagine what it could do for you. Apparently Adobe Photoshop Beauty Cream is also safe to rub in your eyes. Don’t mind the stinging. That’s totally normal. Temporary blindness might also occur. In fact, it probably will, but it’s so worth it. Beauty is pain! Unfortunately pain hurts.

Achieve that wrinkle-free Photoshop glow with Adobe Photoshop Beauty Cream. Coming to soon to the beauty section of your local Walmart. Or you can just make a Photoshop Mask.

Credits: GEARFUSE, Andrew Dobrow

Swagger Wagon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What? Michelle Obama isn't America's favorite first lady?

Someone may want to tell Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she globe-trots on behalf of President Obama’s foreign policy that Americans pick her as one of their favorite first ladies.

Secretary Clinton ties with Nancy Reagan in a new national poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion in New York that asks Americans to name their favorite first lady since 1974. Clinton and Mrs. Reagan finish tied for first place at 19 percent each, with current first lady Michelle Obama coming in second at 15 percent. Laura Bush follows with 12 percent.

“The irony of this is that Hillary and Nancy were the two first ladies of modern times to be a political liability for their husbands,” says Robert Watson, a scholar of US first ladies at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. “They are the only two first ladies who were not more popular than their husbands when they were in office.”

But first ladies Reagan and Clinton have both risen recently in the public’s estimation, he adds, first as their respective husbands have gained in public stature, but then in their own right.

She ought to be an advocate

The online survey of 1,016 Americans, conducted in early May, did not ask respondents to explain their choices. But an accompanying finding of the poll –that Americans want first ladies who are strong advocates for certain causes during their time in the White House – may help explain the poll’s results.

Nancy Reagan is remembered for the admonition to American kids to “Just say no” to drugs, while Clinton is associated with international women’s and girls’ issues (that is, once Americans get past the Clinton presidency’s health-care debacle).

The other first ladies since 1974 – Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, and Barbara Bush – all came in under 10 percent.

Despite taking the red second-place ribbon, Mrs. Obama clocks a favorable 60 percent approval rating among Americans over all.

Often in such ratings the current “office holder” takes top prize, aided by current events and name recognition. “In any poll of the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ presidents, for example, the recent ones always come in at the top of the list,” Professor Watson says.

Male voters shy away from Michelle

But the poll suggests that Obama may have been denied the blue first-place ribbon by American men, who give her considerably lower marks than women. While women overall give Obama the top prize at 20 percent, nearly a quarter (24 percent) of American men choose Nancy Reagan as their favorite first lady.

Obama, whose husband faced a deficit among male voters in the 2008 election, lags behind Reagan, Clinton, and Laura Bush with only 8 percent of the male vote.

“Part of the problem for Michelle Obama is that the folks who don’t like her husband really don’t like her husband, and so they are not about to like her, either,” he says. But Obama’s overall high marks reflect wide approval of how she has made herself “Mom in chief,” as Watson says.

“Michele Obama has found the balance that all first ladies struggle to find,” he says, noting that she makes clear she is a mother and her husband’s helpmeet first, even as she takes on popular issues like nutrition, child obesity, and improving services for military families.

Watson says that in the most recent poll he conducted among presidential scholars of first ladies, nearly a decade ago, Clinton did OK – coming in at number 10 – while Reagan was near the bottom (Mary Todd Lincoln came in dead last).

But both first ladies have risen in the public’s esteem since then, he says. Reagan – aka “Dragon Lady” during her White House years, Watson recalls – has a considerably different image now, fashioned by the way she stood by her ailing husband and protected him. “People now really see it as a love story,” Watson says.

And Clinton? Americans, who still associate first ladies with their husband’s presidencies, “are thinking the balanced budgets and years of relative peace during Bill Clinton look pretty good,” Watson says. “And then to many of them,” he adds, “Hillary has turned out to be a pretty solid secretary of State.”

Credits: Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor

Four great picture books for young readers

How do little readers learn to tangle with big ideas? It’s not always easy to make worthy content mesh with engaging art. But 2010 already offers several examples of picture books that neatly blend the two.

Even the most fervent admirers of Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai wouldn’t attempt to share her memoir with first graders. That’s why longtime children’s author Diane Muldrow gives us We Planted a Tree (Golden Books, 40 pp., $17.99). Muldrow’s simple poem – paired with winsome illustrations by New Yorker cover artist Bob Staake – takes its inspiration from Maathai’s vision of using trees to help heal the earth. “We Planted a Tree” tells a story that is as simple as it is profound. A young family in Brooklyn plants a tree in their yard, even as a family in Kenya does the same. The book then traverses the world – Tokyo, Paris, New England – and the seasons, demonstrating the many benefits – shade, clean air, fruit, and even sap – that we derive from trees.

But how about relationships between people? Can they be healed as well? Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah believes that they can and has written The Sandwich Swap (Hyperion, 32 pp., $16.99) to prove it. The queen, who lives in a famously troubled part of the world, explains in an author’s note that this book is inspired by an incident in her own girlhood. “The Sandwich Swap” tells the story of Lily and Salma – best friends forever who love to play, create, and eat together. (Their joy of their togetherness radiates throughout veteran illustrator Tricia Tusa’s sunny drawings.) At least, that is, until the day that Lily tells Salma that her hummus sandwich is yucky. And Salma responds that Lily’s peanut butter sandwich smells funny. It all escalates from there and the girls must – and do – find a way to bring peace not only to their friendship but to their entire lunchroom.

For young readers who are also eager to learn their numbers, Cats’ Night Out (Simon & Schuster, 32 pp., $15.99) by Caroline Stutson offers a charming opportunity to count a stylish group of urban felines as they cut the rug in a back alley. First there are two, then there are four, six, eight, and so on up to 20. “How many cats will dance tonight?” asks the refrain as more and more nattily attired tabbies appear in each frame. The very hip retro illustrations by artist/animator J. Klassen are a particular pleasure here, and you are bound to know at least one child – or adult – who will thrill to the sight of a very suave group of cats doing the fox trot by moonlight while clad in top hats and tails.

Of all the lessons to be learned, however, none is more important than the power of unconditional love as demonstrated by Maryann Cusimano Love’s You Are My Wish (Philomel, 32 pp., $16.99). Lovely watercolors by Satomi Ichikawa follow a tender grandma bear and her happy, snuggly grand-cub throughout the course of their day as they picnic, stroll, nap al fresco, and shower each other with love and sweet attention. The little bear’s four favorite stuffed animals go
everywhere with them as well, giving the youngest readers an additional and very charming focal point.

A 26-Page Brownie Recipe? Only At The Pentagon

Baking brownies is one of the easiest things you can do in the kitchen. Most recipes have fewer than 10 ingredients, and the instructions are simple — measure, mix, bake.

Well, not if you're baking for the Pentagon. The latest viral sensation to hit the Internet is a 26-page document laying out all the rules and regulations you need to follow to bake appropriate treats for our men and women in uniform.

Take Section 3.2.6 of the recipe, for example, which covers eggs. It reads, in part, "Whole eggs may be liquid or frozen and shall have been processed and labeled in accordance with the Regulations Governing the Inspection of Eggs and Egg Products (7 CFR Part 59)."

You get the picture.

Jeremy Whitsitt, with the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate, tells host Guy Raz that the extra care is needed because military bakers face unique challenges.

"One thing we like to say is, 'What would happen if you cooked a meal, stored it in a stifling hot warehouse, dropped it out of an airplane, dragged it through the mud, left it out with bugs and vermin, and ate it three years later?'" If it were a military meal, Whitsitt says, it would still be edible and maybe even tasty.

Brownies made from the Pentagon’s recipe will probably last about three years if they're packaged properly. But the important question is, how do they taste? We asked Penny Karas, the founder of Hello Cupcake bakery in Washington, D.C., to whip up us a batch. And to be honest, they weren't too good: dry, crumbly and dense. But they did taste as if they might last quite a while if boxed up and shipped to a war zone.

The Pentagon actually updated its official brownie specifications recently. The new document has been streamlined and expanded to cover things like lemon poppy seed cake and chocolate banana nut muffin tops. The length? 31 pages.

Credits: National Public Radio

Why you should leave your kids at the park on Saturday -- without supervision

Mark your calendars, get out the sunscreen, and for goodness sake turn off Nancy Grace! This Saturday, May 29, is “take our children to the park … and leave them there day.”

Yes, OK, so I declared it myself. Somebody had to, otherwise a whole lot of kids – including my own – would probably be spending yet another spring day in front of a screen, or at a baseball/soccer/lacrosse clinic with a grown-up telling them what to do and how to do it and now it’s snack time and don’t forget: next week is team photos, bring a check.

Instead, Saturday will be a day devoted to the quaint notion that children age 7 or 8 and up can actually play outside, with one another, period. Without their parents and maybe even (I can dream, can’t I?) without a squeeze bottle of Purell. They’ll be fine!

Except that a lot of folks are saying, “No they won’t.”

“What about food, water and restrooms?” someone commented on one of the blogs (not mine) discussing the idea. “What happens when a fight breaks out? What happens when an accident takes place?”

Well, let’s see. Food is something kids can live without for an hour or two. In fact, they probably should. Kids used to play so hard they’d forget to eat. Now it’s the opposite.

Water? Maybe they could use a drinking fountain or bring a bottle. Restrooms? Let’s not obsess. Most of us managed to play outside without bathrooms being our primary focus. Our progeny could, too. Especially since the idea is for the kids to stay at the park just a short amount of time, if this is their first solo flight – an hour, or even half an hour – heck, 10 minutes! – simply to get them acclimated to free time free of us.

So what happens if a child gets hurt? Here’s what Diane Levin, a professor of education at Boston’s Wheelock College, noticed when she took a group of grad students to Ireland earlier this year. They visited a school where about a hundred first and second graders were running around at recess, on the asphalt, “And my students are looking around and saying, ‘I can’t believe this!’ ” recalls Levin. “I say, ‘What do you mean?’ They say, ‘There’s not one teacher dealing with one problem!’ Then two kids bump into each other and fall down and before the teacher can even get there, there’s another kid helping and then they go back to playing. My students were blown away.”

If a kid falls on the playground and no adult hears it – or kisses it, or calls a lawyer – did it really happen? Maybe it just gets shrugged off.

And if it’s a serious accident? Well, those are extremely rare. From 1990 to 2000 the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 147 deaths of children on playgrounds, or roughly 15 a year. About 70 percent of these were on home playground equipment. So kids are actually safer at the park.

Still, about four children a year do die on public playgrounds. That is tragic. It is also tragic that about 2,000 children die each year as passengers in cars. If we are too scared to let our kids play on the playground, we should be absolutely terrified to drive them anywhere, ever.

OK, so what about the biggest fear of all: Predators circling Saturday on their Hello Kitty calendars.

The good news is that we are in the midst of a historic 20-year drop in crime. Crime is lower now than in the 1970s and ’80s, when most of us parents were playing outside without our parents plotzing. Of course it doesn’t feel as safe, because that was before the onslaught of gruesome, in-your-face media, from CNN to CSI: to Law & Order (RIP).

On TV, kids are being snatched 24/7, making it feel as if they’re being snatched 24/7 in the real world, too. But are they? Warwick Cairns, author of “How to Live Dangerously,” crunched the numbers and puts it this way: If, for some strange reason, you actually wanted your child to be kidnapped and held overnight by a stranger, how long would you have to keep him outside, alone, for this to be statistically likely to happen?

About 750,000 years.

That’s a lot of take our children to the park … and leave them there days.

Not that there is no risk to this idea at all. Of course there is. There is always risk in life. That’s why trying to minimize it makes sense (think: bike helmets), but trying to eliminate it does not (think: never riding a bike at all). And let’s not forget it is risky when we don’t let our kids do some things on their own. There’s the risk they’ll sit on the couch and get diabetes and start worshiping the Sham-Wow.

Free play turns out to be crucial to child development. (And, oh yeah, fun.) When a kid says, “The tree is jail!” she’s developing communication skills, and creativity and even compromise, if she wanted the jail to be the swings and got voted down.

The idea of our children doing this on their own may seem radical in our hyper-vigilant age.

But with a little practice, starting Saturday, our kids could get so used to playing with their friends that they’ll run outside after school and come home for dinner sweaty, hungry, happy, developmentally on target and maybe a little sunburnt.

How radical is that?

Credits: Lenore Skenazy, Christian Science Monitor

Church Removes Nun for Allowing Abortion

When faced with the decision to let a pregnant woman either have an abortion or likely die, a nun at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix opted to allow the abortion. The nun, Sister Margaret McBride, was then excommunicated. The incident took place last fall at the St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, and the decision to get rid of McBride—a former hospital administrator and diocese liaison—has drawn battle lines within the church and raised larger questions about the organization's ethics. After doctors determined that the woman's "risk of mortality was 'close to 100 percent' " if she were to have the baby, McBride decided to allow the abortion under a special church ethics exception that "allows, in some circumstance, procedures that could kill the fetus to save the mother." After hearing of the news, the Phoenix Diocese ruled that it had no choice but to excommunicate her, explaining that McBride, who was acting as the "moral conscience of the hospital," "gave her consent that the abortion was a morally good and allowable act according to Church teaching." Some canon lawyers disagree, arguing that the church should be lenient in extreme situations and that a double standard is at work in cases of abuse and abortion. Defending the decision to the Catholic News Agency, National Catholic Bioethics Center President John Haas referenced a Gilbert and Sullivan musical in which a character "applies the death penalty for increasingly trivial offenses." "It's a parody," Haas said "but it just points out that you can't breach the moral law."

Credits: Slate Magazine

Friday, May 21, 2010

Really? Headline: Paul says Obama being too tough on BP

Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul is taking aim at President Barack Obama's handling of the oil crisis off the Gulf Coast.

The president, Paul told ABC, is being too tough on BP - the oil giant that controls the well that has been leaking thousands of barrels of oil a day in the Gulf since late last month.

"What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'" said Paul who overwhelmingly won Tuesday's GOP Senate primary in Kentucky and is a favorite of Tea Party activists. "I think that sounds really un-American in his criticisms of businesses."

"I've heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill," Paul continued. "I think it's part of this blame game society in the sense that it's always got to be someone's fault, instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen."

Since capturing the Senate nomination, Paul has faced a barrage of questions over his past criticisms of several federal regulations that intrude on the private sector, including provisions of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the national minimum wage.

"When does my honeymoon period start?" said Paul when he was again asked about his past statements Friday. "I had a big victory. I thought I got a honeymoon period from you guys in the media."

Chomp! Pac-Man, the arcade classic, turns 30

A rotund, voracious figure follows a trail through a maze. As he rounds a corner, he is confronted by ghostlike monsters attempting to wipe him out. He turns and flees, but soon discovers an additional source of power that briefly turns him from hunted into hunter.

This simple premise gave birth to Pac-Man, the most successful coin-operated video game in history.

The pop-culture sensation, released in Japan 30 years ago this week, created millions of glazed-eye addicts and spawned more than 400 products, including a cartoon, a breakfast cereal and a hit song.

Many credit Pac-Man, an iconic symbol of the '80s, with expanding video gaming to a wider audience.

"Pac-Man's debut represents one of the earliest attempts to introduce casual gaming to a field that was already dominated by shooters and high-energy arcade experiences," said Scott Steinberg, head of video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global.

"The original arcade cabinet was able to strike the perfect balance between challenge and fun without sacrificing depth or scope."

The original arcade classic was imagined by Namco developer Toru Iwatani in 1979, although it didn't reach the U.S until the fall of 1980. As the legend goes, Iwatani was inspired by his partially eaten pizza pie and turned it into a gaming character: a big yellow dot that gobbled up smaller dots, and avoided four deadly ghosts, as it careened through a maze.

"During the early stages of the arcade industry, where most games skewed towards a male audience, we saw the need to expand our appeal," explained Kenji Hisatsune, president, CEO and COO of Namco Networks America Inc. "In order to fill this void, Pac-Man was created as a 'cute' game with both good and bad characters that were colorful and endearing."

It took eight people 15 months to complete the orginal Japanese game, which was slightly different than the versions people would later play overseas. The ghosts were initially called monsters, and Pac-Man ate cookies instead of the familiar dots. Even his name was changed once he crossed the Pacific Ocean.

"The original Japanese name was Puckman, which evolved from the Japanese word paku, meaning 'chomp,' " Hisatsune said. "Given the closeness to a certain explicit four-letter word, a lot of arcade operators were worried that vandals would alter the letter P. Eventually, 'Pac' was suggested as an alternate name."

Developers also created the four colorful ghosts, Pinky, Blinky, Inky and Clyde, with distinct personalities. For example, Blinky likes to chase while Pinky lurks in ambush. It was a novel concept in gaming that wasn't being developed at that time.

Pac-Man was licensed for distribution in the U.S. by Midway, a division of Bally, and it reached American shores in October 1980, at a time when shooter games such as Space Invaders ruled the arcades.

Its light-hearted originality and simplicity -- players needed only to move a joystick -- made it an immediate hit. Some speculated that Pac-Man became popular in bars in part because gamers needed only one hand to play and could hold a drink in the other.

In the first 15 months after its release in the U.S., Namco sold more than 100,000 arcade units, while fans spent more than $1 billion in quarters to fuel what would become known as "Pac-Man fever."

Lisa Sharp, a 36-year-old finance director at Georgia Tech, remembers cashing her $10 weekly allowance into quarters to play Pac-Man for as long as the coins lasted. Her first taste of the game came from an unlikely place: her dentist's office.

"I hated going to the dentist, but he had Pac-Man and Centipede in his office where you could play for free," Sharp said. "It was the only thing that calmed me down, and I loved it."

As a child, Sharp would sneak away to her corner 7-Eleven with her pockets full of coins to pump into the arcade machine. She wasn't a gaming geek at the time, but Pac-Man gave her a sense of accomplishment.

"You keep going [throughout the levels of the game]. It gets harder, but it was a feeling of progress," she explained. "Plus, as a kid, I didn't want to get eaten by a ghost."

Pac-Man's appeal to kids was reinforced by a Saturday-morning animated TV series and a breakfast cereal with marshmallow ghosts. In all, Pac-Man has been licensed to more than 250 companies for products ranging from air fresheners to bed sheets to costumes.

An unlicensed sequel, Ms. Pac-Man, followed in 1981. Namco soon embraced the game and adopted it as an official title. In all, more than 30 official spin-offs, plus numerous clones, were inspired by Pac-Man's success.

"Pac-Man Fever," a novelty song by Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia, reached No. 9 on the Billboard pop chart in early 1982.

Sharp said she tried sequels such as Ms. Pac-Man but always preferred the original game.

"I would play every chance I got," she said, although the game disappeared from many arcades by the 1990s. "It became harder to find Pac-Man [as I got older]."

Although the game is far removed from its 1980s heyday, Pac-Man's appeal continues to endure.

In 1999, Billy Mitchell of Florida became the first player to achieve a perfect Pac-Man score -- 3,333,360. And versions of the game remain popular on the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Google's logo, which often changes to reflect events of the day, became a playable Pac-Man game on Friday, spelling out the company's name. A Google spokeswoman said the game will be available over the weekend and gameplay reaches 256 levels.

Namco's Hisatsune believes Pac-Man's combination of cute characters and cat-and-mouse gameplay are at the core of its popularity. He also thinks Pac-Man's biggest legacy will be its pioneering status as the first game to appeal broadly to men and women.

Some even attribute today's wide variety of video games to Pac-Man's acceptance in the culture.

"I don't think that it's an understatement to say that today we would have no Mario, Master Chief or Lara Croft if it wasn't for the pioneering efforts of the grinning, little, yellow dot-gobbler," said Steinberg. "It remains as engaging, fresh and relevant as the day it first shipped."

Hisatsune has a message for today's game designers.

"Pac-Man has taught game makers to not be afraid, to take risks and strive to create games that bring the world closer together," he said.

Credits: Larry Frum, CNN

Thursday, May 20, 2010

10 Things We Can't Live Without

Nearly everything had to go. A few months after losing her administrative job in the summer of 2008, 23-year-old Brianna Karp got rid of her furniture, a beloved piano, and most of her books so she could move back in with her parents. When that didn’t work out, she moved into an old trailer a relative had left her, settling into an informal homeless community in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Brea, Calif. By the summer of 2009, she was living without electricity, regular showers, home-cooked food, and most basic conveniences.

Karp held tight to one appurtenance, however: her laptop computer. She spent hours at a nearby Starbucks, using the wireless network to surf for jobs. A friend suggested she start a blog about her life on the edge, which she called the Girl’s Guide to Homelessness. It generated attention that helped land a part-time magazine internship. Then came an offer to write a book about her ordeal, which is due out in 2011—and might get turned into a movie. With some money from a book advance, Karp has upgraded to a better trailer, on a friend’s property, and she’s eyeing a Victorian fixer-upper she’d like to make her permanent home. Yet she craves few of the material things she’s given up, while cherishing the friends and opportunities she’s discovered online. “When you’re in survival mode, you slash everything,” Karp says. “That makes the online community that much more important. Online, somebody will always be there for me.”

The grueling recession that began in 2007 has upended American priorities, with frugality now considered a virtue for the first time in decades. Despite recent upticks in spending, retail sales remain lower than they were three years ago. Sales of homes, cars, and appliances have plunged. Shoppers have cut back on toilet paper and cigarettes, once thought recession-proof. Even porn sales are down. Thrift, it seems, has no boundaries.

Yet Americans have clung dearly to a few surprising necessities, reflecting changes in American society that go far beyond penny-pinching. Food, clothing and shelter have long been the most obvious staples. But data that’s finally rolling in as the recession winds down shows that we also require a bit of entertainment and a tasty beverage or two. Companionship is as important as ever—even if it’s not human. And you can’t even look for a job these days if you don’t have Internet access. As we redefine what’s really important, here are 10 new American essentials:

Portable computers. The iPad might be the latest must-have gizmo, but the power of computers transcends trendiness. Brianna Karp, for instance, discovered lots of homeless people online, many logging in through their own laptops, like her. Shipments of notebooks have skyrocketed over the last three years, with sales in 2010 likely to be double what they were in 2007, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Part of the jump comes from cheap netbooks, but portable computers of all sizes are becoming ubiquitous as we socialize, communicate, shop, get our news and increasingly live our lives online. Desktop sales, meanwhile, have been on a steady decline, as mobility trumps stability.

High-speed Internet access. Lots of people have cut back on cable TV, telephone service, and even gas and electricity usage. But once you’ve got high-speed Internet access, you don’t go back. In a Pew Research Center survey from last year, high-speed Internet was one of only three things people said was more of a necessity in 2009 than in 2006. Appliances like microwaves, clothes dryers and dishwashers, by contrast, were considered less essential in 2009 than they used to be. And data from the Telecommunications Industry Association shows that the rapid increase in broadband Internet subscribers barely slowed in 2008 or 2009. By 2013, more than 90 percent of all Internet connections in the United States will be high-speed.

Smart phones. Overall sales of cell phones dipped for the first time ever in 2009. But sales of smart phones—which can handle email, browse the Internet and do a variety of other things—rose by 7 percent, according to TIA. And sales could surge by 25 percent this year, as people who have been putting off mobile upgrades finally nab the iPhone or Blackberry of their dreams. Like portable computers, smart phones have become a lifeline for the harried multitaskers we pretend we’re not.

Education. As Kevin and Deanna Daum were spiraling toward bankruptcy in 2009, they decided they could live without their two cars, their two residences, and most niceties. But they insisted on keeping up tuition payments for their son, then a senior at a private high school. Many Americans seems to feel likewise. While data doesn’t readily show how much families spend on schooling, many families say they’ve given up other things in order to protect their kids’ education, whether it’s private school or college, tutoring, enrichment programs or school-related activities. Private school enrollments fell by less than one percent from 2008 to 2010, and college enrollments have gone up over the last couple of years. That’s partly because jobs are scarce, but also because Americans simply value education. “This is an investment that pays off very well,” says Sandy Baum, an economist at the College Board. “People are willing to borrow for it and they know that it’s shortsighted to forego it.”

Movies. Ticket sales dipped in 2008 but bounced back in 2009, hitting a five-year high. One big reason was Avatar and other 3-D films, which accounted for 11 percent of the box office take in 2009, up from 2 percent the year before. Any box-office increase is a victory for movie theaters, which until last year had been losing viewers to home theater systems and an expanding lineup of movies on cable and the Internet.

Amercians are spending less on entertainment—but watching more TV. A recent survey by consulting firm Deloitte found that they typical American watches nearly 18 hours’ worth of shows on a home TV each week, two hours more than a year earlier. One reason might be that more unemployed people are killing time at home. But TV might also seem like a cheap alternative to sports events, concerts and DVD purchases. And hard-core TV watchers can’t be all that strapped, since sales of high-definition TV sets have risen steadily right through the recession.

Music downloads. The need for mobility applies to music, too. CD sales fell by 21 percent in 2009, but downloads of singles and entire albums rose by nearly as much. The Pew Survey comparing luxuries and necessities helps explain why: More people considered an iPod a necessity in 2009 than in 2006, despite the recession.

Pets. Fido sits at the table these days. Maybe even at the head of the table. While Americans have cut spending on themselves, spending on pet food, supplies, grooming, vet care and clothing (clothing?) has been rising uninterrupted by about 5 percent per year. Industry officials attribute this to the “humanization” of pets, which in turn has led many pet owners to close the “quality of life gap” between their animals and themselves. The iWoof can’t be far behind.

Booze. Smoking less doesn’t make us entirely virtuous. Americans have backed off the high-end booze, but we’re drinking enough cheap stuff to make up for it, which is the usual trend during recessions. Beer and wine sales have inched up as well over the last few years. With bar and restaurant sales down, that suggests more people are drinking at home—while they watch TV, probably.

Coffee. Americans have actually followed that penny-pinching advice, and cut back on the $5 daily lattes. But they’re compensating by brewing more of their own coffee. About 56 percent of American adults drink coffee, a proportion that hasn’t changed over the last few years. But a recent survey by the National Coffee Association found that 86 percent of coffee drinkers make their own at home, up from 82 percent a year earlier. And those drinking coffee made someplace else (think Starbucks) fell from 31 percent in 2009 to 26 percent in 2010. Of course, if people are drinking more booze at home, then it makes sense that they’d be dosing themselves with more coffee, too. If the economy improves, maybe we'll need less of each.

Credits: Rick Newman, US News

Texas textbook war: 'Slavery' or 'Atlantic triangular trade'?

While the proposed changes to Texas social studies standards aren’t quite so simple (and contrary to some reports, Thomas Jefferson would still be part of the curriculum), the debate over the standards pushed by a conservative majority of the Texas Board of Education – which will be voted on this week – has resulted in a partisan uproar and generated interest far beyond the Lone Star State.

Conservatives say that the changes are a long-overdue correction to a curriculum that too often deemphasizes religion and caters to liberal views. Critics are dismayed at what they see as an attempt to push conservative ideology – even if it flies in the face of scholarship – into textbooks. And with a textbook industry that is often influenced by the standards in the largest states, there is a chance that the changes have influence beyond Texas.

“Decisions that are made in Texas have a ripple effect across the country,” says Phillip VanFossen, head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and a professor of social studies education at Purdue University.

Still, he notes, as the pendulum swings toward national standards – which have yet to be developed for social studies – that influence might wane. Just in case, California this week passed a bill out of a Senate committee that would ensure no California textbooks contain any Texas-driven changes.

Conservatives dominate Texas Board of Education

The root of the uproar is a regular process in which the Texas Board of Education revises the state’s standards. Far more than in most states, the elected board is entrusted to write standards itself, rather than merely approve them. With a 10-5 Republican majority, including a coalition of seven social conservatives, the board has pushed what some see as a particularly partisan agenda.

Among the changes: Students would be required to learn about the “unintended consequences” of Title IX, affirmative action, and the Great Society, and would need to study conservative icons like Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation, and the Moral Majority.

The slave trade would be renamed the “Atlantic triangular trade,” American “imperialism” changed to “expansionism,” and all references to “capitalism” have been replaced with “free enterprise.”

The role of Thomas Jefferson – who argued for the separation of church and state – is minimized in several places, and the standards would emphasize the degree to which the Founding Fathers were driven by Christian principles.

“In the 18 months that the state board has worked on these standards, they’ve struck a balance that our members feel will give public school students a fuller and stronger appreciation of the religious and cultural roots of American history,” says Brent Connett, a policy analyst with the Texas Conservative Coalition, which released a letter this week calling on the board to approve the standards and to ignore calls for delay.

But others say they are dismayed at the degree to which the standards seem to have been written without regard for scholarship.

Professor VanFossen, for instance, was bothered by a new requirement that students analyze the decline in value of the US dollar and abandonment of the gold standard, without input from economists, and by amendments that would try to cast a more positive spin on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s communist witch hunt.

“It’s ideologically driven,” he says, adding that he’s also bothered that many of the most important skills students need to learn – debate and discussion, constructing arguments, reconciling different perspectives – are being lost amid the highly proscriptive and detailed content.

Others say that whether or not national textbooks are ultimately influenced by Texas (the textbook industry has sought to downplay that fear), the furor that this has caused will be detrimental to future attempts to create standards.

'No one wants to touch social studies'

“No one wants to touch social studies,” says Peggy Altoff, past president of the National Council for the Social Studies and co-chair of the committee that set social studies standards in Colorado.

Ms. Altoff says it doesn’t have to be such a political, partisan process, and cites Colorado’s experience as an example. Since often what stokes peoples’ anger the most is who is included for study – Cesar Chavez or Newt Gingrich; Thurgood Marshall or Thomas Aquinas – she suggests standards that offer examples, but don’t limit curricula to those figures.

“It doesn’t have to be the Texas debacle,” she says.

Whatever the vote is this week, the conservative influence on the board may be waning.

Don McLeroy, the author of many of the most contentious amendments and a leader of the conservative coalition, was defeated in March in a primary by an opponent who was critical of his approach. Another key social conservative, Cynthia Dunbar, is not seeking reelection, and a more moderate candidate won the GOP primary in her district.

Credits: Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor

At Beijing Zoo, don’t feed the animals (but feel free to eat one)

Hey kids, wanna go to the zoo today and look at the crocodiles? And then maybe eat one?

The meat might be pungent, but the concept seems somewhat tasteless. The Beijing Zoo puts the same animals on its restaurant menu as it keeps behind bars. Crocodile, kangaroo, antelope, and hippopotamus are among the species that visitors can go the zoo to admire on the hoof, and then savor at lunch – steamed, braised, or roasted – at the Bin Feng Tang restaurant.

This has been going on for years, according to the restaurant’s manager, who seemed surprised that a newspaper article this week about her establishment should cause a stir on the Chinese Internet.

The news has not gone down well. “How would you feel, watching animals imprisoned in a limited space while eating their siblings?” asked Zheng Yuanjie, a well-known author, on his blog.

The zoo restaurant apparently has the requisite license from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry (which would presumably prefer to see crocodiles and hippos in a soup than in their landscapes) and is quite legal because none of the species on the menu is endangered.

Nor, the restaurant insists, do any of the animals come from the zoo’s own enclosures.

Still, the restaurant’s menu makes some people wonder. “The zoo is where we teach children to be nice to animals,” Qin Xiaona, head of the Capital Animal Welfare Association told the daily “Global Times.” “How can we do this after eating them?”

Credits: Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alabama Teacher Uses Obama Assassination for Geometry Lesson

An Alabama math teacher has been questioned by the Secret Service after taking the Grassy Knoll approach to geometry and using the assassination of President Obama as a way to teach his students about parallel lines and angles. "He was talking about angles and said, 'If you're in this building, you would need to take this angle to shoot the president,' " a senior at Corner High School told the Birmingham News. After meeting with federal officials, authorities determined that the teacher was not a security threat and shuttered the investigation. So far, the teacher has not been disciplined by the school. "We are going to have a long conversation with him about what's appropriate," the district superintendent told the Birmingham News. "It was extremely poor judgment on his part, and a poor choice of words."

Credits: Slate Magazine, The Birmingham News

Malcolm and Martin, closer than we ever thought

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was leaving a news conference one afternoon when a tall man with a coppery complexion stepped out of the crowd and blocked his path.

Malcolm X, the African-American Muslim leader who once called King "Rev. Dr. Chicken-wing," extended his hand and smiled.

"Well, Malcolm, good to see you," King said after taking Malcolm X's hand.

"Good to see you," Malcolm X replied as both men broke into huge grins while a gaggle of photographers snapped pictures of their only meeting.

That encounter on March 26, 1964, lasted only a minute. But a photo of that meeting has tantalized scholars and supporters of both men for more than 45 years.

As the 85th birthday of Malcolm X is marked on Wednesday, history has freeze-framed him as the angry black separatist who saw whites as blue-eyed devils.

Yet near the end of his life, Malcolm X was becoming more like King -- and King was becoming more like him.

"In the last years of their lives, they were starting to move toward one another," says David Howard-Pitney, who recounted the Capitol Hill meeting in his book "Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1950s and 1960s."

"While Malcolm is moderating from his earlier position, King is becoming more militant," Pitney says.

Malcolm X was reaching out to King even before he broke away from the Nation of Islam and embraced Sunni Islam after a pilgrimage to Mecca, says Andrew Young, a member of King's inner circle at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group King headed.

"Even before his trip to Mecca, Malcolm used to come by the SCLC's office," Young says. "Unfortunately, Dr. King was never there when he came."

How Malcolm became a 'cultural revolutionary'

Though the men met only once, they had been portrayed as foes in the minds of the American public for years.

Malcolm X burst onto the national scene in 1959 when he and the Nation of Islam were featured in a documentary, "The Hate That Hate Produced."

He became the Nation of Islam's most visible spokesman from his base in New York. While King preached about his dream, Malcolm X said blacks were trapped in a nightmare.

"It was his critique of America from the bottom up that was so shocking," says Young. "He was a young man with a Ph.D mind, but he was put out of school. He educated himself in jail by reading the dictionary."

Malcolm X's harsh rhetoric helped "decolonize" black people's minds by teaching them to be proud of their African heritage, says James Cone, author of "Martin & Malcolm & America."

"King was a political revolutionary. Malcolm was a cultural revolutionary," Cone says. "Malcolm changed how black people thought about themselves. Before Malcolm came along, we were all Negroes. After Malcolm, he helped us become black."

Despite their differences, both King and Malcolm X's political activism flowed from the same source, says Pitney, the civil rights scholar.

"They were fundamentally spiritual men," Pitney says. "While we remember them for their social and political activism, they were religious and spiritual at their core."

Malcolm moves toward Martin

Malcolm X, though, wanted to be more than a cultural revolutionary. He broke with the Nation of Islam in March 1964 and announced plans to start a black political organization.

He reached out to King and other civil rights leaders. In 1965, Malcolm X traveled to Selma, Alabama, where King was leading a campaign, to offer support.

"Brother Malcolm was definitely making an outreach to some civil rights leaders," says A. Peter Bailey, an original member of the group Malcolm X founded, The Organization of Afro-American Unity, and a friend of Malcolm X. "He believed that the one who would be most responsive would be Dr. King."

The Muslim leader had developed an appreciation for King, Bailey says.

"He had come to believe that King believed in what he was doing," Bailey says. "He believed in nonviolence; it just wasn't a show. He developed respect for him. I heard him say you have to give respect to men who put their lives on the line."

Malcolm X may have been willing to join the civil rights cause. But he never subscribed to nonviolence or abandoned his Muslim faith, Bailey says.

"The whole idea that he had become a token integrationist at the end of his life -- that's a bunch of jive," Bailey says.

Martin moves toward Malcolm

King's movement toward Malcolm began as he shifted the civil rights movement to the North, friends and scholars say.

During the last three years of his life, King became more radical. He talked about eliminating poverty and providing a guaranteed annual income for all U.S. citizens. He came out against the Vietnam War, and said American society would have to be restructured.

He also veered into Malcolm X's rhetorical territory when he started preaching black self-pride, says Pitney.

"King is photographed a number of times in 1967 and '68 wearing a 'Black is Beautiful' button,' " Pitney says.

A year before King died, the journalist David Halberstam even told him he "sounded like a nonviolent Malcolm X," Pitney says.

In the epic PBS civil rights series, Coretta Scott King, the civil rights leader's widow, said King never took Malcolm X's biting criticisms of his nonviolence stance personally.

"I know Martin had the greatest respect for Malcolm ...," she said. "I think that if Malcolm had lived, at some point the two would have come closer together and would have been a very strong force."

Young, King's close aide, says King had become more militant near the end of his life.

"It was more radical to deal with poverty than to deal with segregation so, in that sense, it's true," Young says. "But Dr. King never wavered in his commitment to nonviolence. In fact, he was getting stronger in his commitment to nonviolence. It was a more militant nonviolence."

Why they endure

Malcolm X and King never had the chance, though, to explore an alliance.

Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem in 1965. King was murdered three years later.

Both were 39 at the time of their death. Both had been abandoned by former supporters. And both left virtually no money to their wives and young children because they refused to profit from their activism.

The photo of their meeting endures. It was taken because both men happened to be in the Capitol building that day to listen to politicians debate the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which would later pass.

Author Cone says the picture endures because both men embody the " 'yin and yang' deep in the soul of black America."

Even as King was changing America, he also realized that Malcolm X was changing him.

Cone says with a chuckle:

"Martin Luther King once said that when he listened to Malcolm speak, even he got angry."

Credits: John Blake, CNN

Blacks must drop victimhood and reclaim dignity

Martin Luther King had a dream that some day his children would "live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

He wanted his children to become strong, beautiful people. But what we see today in poor African American neighborhoods is a nightmare.

We know there are forces that make the ability to escape poverty seem bleak: overburdened single-parent homes, a high dropout rate, joblessness, gangs, drugs, crime, incarceration, deaths at an early age from guns fired by angry black men. We know that systemic racism and governmental neglect still exist.

Yet we in the black community must look at ourselves and understand our own responsibility. We sometimes inflict ourselves with a victim mentality, feel hopeless, and do self-destructive things that make our lives even worse. Many people who are trying to make it find themselves struggling against fellow African Americans so lost in self-destructive behaviors that they bring down other people as well as themselves.

These forces are decimating our communities. And they are not what Reverend King and other leaders took those whuppings for. This is not the future for which our ancestors escaped slavery or resisted it. None of our forebears sacrificed their lives so that their children's children could call each other "nigger."

Time to overcome

We cannot accept this current state of affairs. We must realize – and believe – that, for all the external hassles we face, we are not helpless. We can overcome the odds and succeed in spite of the obstacles. And we must try. Despite the fact that racial discrimination has not been eliminated, black strength lies in the resolve to keep on keeping on, never quit, never give up, never yield to the role of cooperative victim.

Since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to end school segregation, black people have achieved extraordinary accomplishments on all fronts that seemed unthinkable 50 years ago.

As black people face the future, we must remember our successes in American society.

One way slaves survived brutal conditions was to turn the Christianity they had learned into a liberation theology. The stories of the Hebrew slaves became their own. Even as slave owners used the Bible to justify slavery, black people used the Bible as God intended – to give people hope for a time when there would be true justice.

For black people to hold their heads high even today means getting rid of internal feelings of inferiority.

A history of obstacles

This can be difficult given that white supremacists had real clout in this nation for nearly 250 years.

Take, for example, the very definition of a "black" person in America. Historically, a person with any known black ancestry was defined as black, making African ancestry a taint on white purity.

The way race is defined in the United States makes no biological or genetic sense. It's been used primarily as a tool for political and psychological oppression – providing economic gain for many white people.

The Emancipation Proclamation, written in 1863 during the Civil War, finally freed slaves in the South from bondage. After slavery, there was a short-lived period of "Reconstruction" in the South when black people started businesses, bought property, voted, and even served in Congress.

But old habits die hard, especially racist ones. When Northerners wearied of Reconstruction, the old South reared its head and imposed "Jim Crow" segregation.

Buying into victimhood

Although few acknowledge it, the doctrine of white supremacy has sunk deeply into the minds of too many Americans, black people included. It has slithered its way into the psyches of poor black youth with low self-esteem, who equate academic success with "acting white." If success is "white," then are they saying that to "act black" is to fail?

We wonder how these embedded stereotypes affect black people today. Are we too dependent? Do we rely too much on white people or "the system" to rescue us? Do we lack faith in our own ability to run things? Has the legacy of slavery affected even our current mental state?

Too many people, including some black people, believe many poor black youth – particularly males – cannot be educated. This position harkens back to the notion of poor genes determining poor performance rather than poor environment, poor schools, or a music scene that imparts destructive, degrading values. The good must be separated from the bad while treating black people with respect and not demeaning an entire culture.

Victors through community, family

When restaurants, laundries, hotels, theaters, groceries, and clothing stores were legally segregated, black people opened and ran their own.

Such successes provided jobs and strength to black economic well-being. They also gave black people that gratifying sense of an interdependent community with people working to help each other.

During legal segregation, white racists destroyed some of these economically independent communities. To their credit, our ancestors did not accept victimhood. They fought back as individuals and as a people. Most refused to become passive victims of the system.

Black neighborhoods today must adopt that same can-do attitude and take action. They must be enterprising and work hard to improve their own economic situation – and by so doing, help improve the community.

This tenacious drive to be victorious is a quality that will help us meet the current challenges in our neighborhoods.

We can pass this sense of strength on to our children by strengthening black families, whatever their structure, and nurturing our youth with love and guidance. We must put children first and sharpen our parenting skills in both single-parent and two-parent homes. Fathers must play a bigger role. They cannot be absent. Children do better when fathers are actively involved in their lives.

With the help of supportive social policies, we can shoulder the remaining challenges and overcome the barriers to black success.

The driving force for change has been the activism of African Americans and others who take up our cause. The key word is activism, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We must be actively involved in empowering our schools and participating in the political process by exercising our right to vote. Being passive takes us nowhere. Activism is what gets us where we want to go.

It is time to think positively and act positively. A people armed with the will to want to get better, armed with the will to win, and armed with knowledge of the past and present, can move forward and take action, succeed, and reclaim their dignity.

Credits: Bill Cosby, Alvin F. Poussaint, Christian Science Monitor

Giant meteor found to have struck Appalachia

The eastern Kentucky town of Middlesboro, as planetary scientists now tell us, is a geological 4-mile wide crater resulting from an asteroid impact some 200-to-300 million years ago with the impact center on the country club site in the heart of the Appalachian mountain community in the Cumberland Gap where Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky come together.

Greater knowledge of the meteor impact has only come to light in recent years through the efforts of Kentucky geologists and planetary scientists from around the world. Just this past spring, the British Broadcasting Corporation featured renowned particle physicist Brian Cox telling English TV-watchers of "the Middlesboro Crater" and the many global dangers associated with thousands of similar asteroids now roaming space.

The Middlesboro Crater is a result of an asteroid-turned-meteor colliding with Earth's upper atmosphere on a trajectory into the Central Appalachian Mountains from a location somewhere near the planet Jupiter. It all happened millions of years before man arrived on Earth with satellite and aerial imagery now confirming the massive crater.

The meteor would have been more than 1,500 feet in diameter and upon impact, it would have created a ground impact crater zone nearly four miles in diameter and exactly where the town of Middlesboro is today.

From these theoretical mathematical impact measurements, the immediate environmental impacts may be calculated as understanding of the event grows from geologic and cosmic evidence while adding a cosmic dimension to Central Appalachian Mountain natural history.

Credits: Christian Science Monitor

Panera Won't Make People Pay

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but if you're a conscienceless tightwad in St. Louis, there just might be. Panera Bread Co. has opened its first nonprofit location, where customers can get the same food served at a capitalist Panera, but no one is going to make them pay for it. A sign informs diners that they can "donate whatever they want for a meal, whether it's the full suggested price, a penny or $100." The Associated Press says customers "seem alternately puzzled and pleased by the concept." On opening day, most of them paid full price for their meals, but some knocked a few dollars off their totals. Panera execs say that if the St. Louis nonprofit store manages to support itself, they will expand the concept to other cities. "It all depends," the AP says, "on whether customers will abide by the motto that hangs above the deli counter: 'Take what you need, leave your fair share.' "

Credits: Slate Magazine

Kentucky leads nation in attendance again

The Kentucky Wildcats didn't win the NCAA tournament, but they are champions at the turnstiles this season thanks to Ashley Judd, Drake and the rest of the Big Blue Nation. According to a press release from the NCAA, the school led the nation once again in attendance.

"For 14 of the last 15 seasons and the fifth straight year, Kentucky led the nation in home attendance average at 24,111 fans per game. Syracuse was second at 22,152. One of those two schools has led the nation in each of the past 34 seasons. Kentucky’s total home attendance of 433,989 was the best for a school since 1993.

For all-game attendance – including home, road and neutral-site games – Kentucky was tops as 724,145 fans watched the Wildcats over 38 games. Ten teams played in front more than a half million fans this season."
Credits: Diamond Leung, ESPN

Back online and alot To-Do

After twelve days and $85, we are finally back online here at the Casa Sharp. Our previous laptop cord had a short in it that finally won the battle and we have been computer/internet-less since last Friday. Much has gone on since then that I want to blog and/or post comments about and I will try but there is also so much happening now in the news not to mention here at Casa Sharp as well.

Here's my to-do list for today:
  1. Feed Lauryn and Ben breakfast, lunch, and a snack.
  2. Get Lauryn and Ben down for a nap.
  3. Wash dishes
  4. Straighten living, dining, and bedrooms
  5. Blog
  6. Start dinner
  7. Call or send Grace a Facebook or text message about Lauryn's birthday cake delivery
  8. Order platter from Kroger for Lauryn's birthday
  9. Double and triple check with the office to make sure that we have the clubhouse for Lauryn's birthday party on Saturday at 6.
  10. Mapquest directions for Ray, Leslie, and Ms. Stella
Lot's to do! Thank GOD I do not have to work tonight. More later!

Friday, May 7, 2010

A short rant and plenty "to-do"

Yesterday was such and insanely busy, run around day. Thank goodness I had my mom's car to get the errands done. However, having their car was part of the reason that yesterday was such a frantic day. But, oh well. Yesterday is over and today is another beautiful day. Thank you LORD for seeing fit to open my eyes and get me on my way this morning.  Thank you for giving me another day with my soul mate and partner, Angenette. Thank you for two beautiful and healthy children. Thank you for the gift of family and friends. To GOD be the glory.

Today, I need to finish up the to-do list that I have leftover from Wednesday. Here is what it looks like with a few additions.
  1. Feed L&B breakfast
  2. Feed L&B lunch
  3. Get L&B down for a nap
  4. Give L&B a snack
  5. Clean the master bathroom
  6. Catch up on Google Reader
  7. Wash and dry bedclothes
  8. Put above mentioned bedclothes back on bed
  9. Finish folding and put away the white clothes and towels from Wednesday
  10. Clean out fridge
  11. Wash dishes
  12. Straighten living room and dining room
  13. Clean the stroller
  14. Sweep entryway
  15. Work on planning Lauryn's birthday party
  16. Call office about new lease, wood floors, blind (AGAIN)
Have a great day! More later!

- b

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

UK's grades slip in Calipari's first year

Kentucky had a fantastic season in John Calipari's first year. The Wildcats energized the faithful. They re-established UK as one of the nation's elite programs. And they showed off Calipari's unique ability to not only recruit the best talent in the country but to mesh that talent in ways that produce results on the basketball court.

The only problem? The stuff that happened off the court.

More specifically, the problem here is what happened when those talented Cats got into the classroom. According to an open records request by the Lexington Herald-Leader, Kentucky hoops posted a GPA of 2.025 in the fall semester of Calipari's first year. For those of you who can't remember what the GPA scale is, that's barely better than a C average. If the Kentucky men's basketball team were your average student, that student would be fighting hard to graduate, his parents would be wondering if their son needs a "change of scenery," and that son would probably start thinking about changing his major to one of the few professions whose prospective employers don't care about your GPA. (Hello, journalism!) In other words, it's not very good.

The GPA was the lowest of any of Kentucky's 20 athletics teams and the worst among the nine SEC teams that released their average GPAs to the Herald-Leader. Two UK players (only their scores, and not the individual names, were released) had GPAs lower than the 1.8 needed to be eligible for the spring semester. That penalty doesn't take effect until the second year, meaning two of the lowest GPAs -- D+ averages -- belonged to freshmen. The highest GPA was 3.59, which totally screwed up the curve for everyone else. Way to go, anonymous smartypants.

Before we get to the fallout here, it's important to note that Kentucky's administration and athletics department are already making their disappointment clear:

"I was disappointed," UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. said recently.

"It's not something we're happy with, I'll tell you that," said Sandy Bell, UK's senior associate athletic director and the person in charge of student services. "And we'll be working on it to get it up. We certainly anticipate that going up in the spring" semester.
That's all well and good, but here's the rub: Did anyone particularly expect John Calipari to field a team of SEC-leading academic minds? Throw out all the stuff about Calipari's recruiting issues in the past, wherein he has been in close proximity to -- but never implicated in -- vacated seasons and academically ineligible players. Simply looking at Calipari's preferred recruiting strategy works. The man likes one-and-done players. He signed them at Memphis. He won with them at Memphis. The same happened in his first year in Lexington. And a one-and-done player has little, if any, reason to care about his grades. He's going to be playing in the NBA in eight months; why on Earth would he study extra hard to get that B?

There's no incentive here. It stands to reason that the more one-and-done players your program has, the less serious your program is going to be about academics. (Of course, not only the one-and-dones had bad grades here; the entire team is responsible. But the correlation seems fair.)

With that in mind, it's a little difficult to criticize Kentucky, because the truth of the matter is that this is 2010's college basketball system. The NBA doesn't care about grades. The NCAA does. And the longer the NCAA goes along with the NBA's rule, the more often we'll see teams like Calipari's -- brilliant on the court, apathetic off -- post GPAs low enough to make their university president squirm.

In the meantime, it's safe to say most Kentucky fans won't much care about this sort of thing. They want to win. College basketball fans might be idealistic at heart, but they get it. It's the NCAA that does its best to maintain the illusion that these are student-athletes, and not just athletes, even if the reality has long proved otherwise. If Calipari keeps churning out 35-3 seasons, 2.025 GPAs will be met with little more than lip service and a collective shrug.

None of this excuses Kentucky, of course -- there were plenty of other programs with one-and-done players this season, and none of them appears to have performed this poorly in the classroom. A 2.0 would be embarrassing for that average college student. It's even more embarrassing when it's an average culled from a team of players with limitless academic resources focused on ensuring that embarrassing GPAs don't happen in the first place.

Throughout 2009-10, Calipari consistently touted Wall's 3.0 average as a measure of accomplishment. Turns out, Wall's excellent leadership on the floor didn't extend to the classroom. Neither, apparently, did Calipari's. Cynicism aside, that's a bad sign for any coach, especially for one as high-profile as Kentucky's. But don't say you didn't see it coming.

Credits: Eamonn Brennan, ESPN

4th-Grader Calls Disney Out On Signage Error

A fourth-grader with a keen eye for English spotted an error in Disney signage.

The girl vacationing in Orlando from Texas spotted a grammatical mistake on a sign at the theme park.

The Estes family was standing in line for the Primeval Whirl at the Animal Kingdom when Hannah spotted a sign that counted down to the ride.

Her mom said Hannah Estes started laughing when she read "one seconds."

"Because I learned in Ms. Bennett's class that a singular number can't be with a plural word, and so that's what it was, and it wasn't right," Hannah said.

"Immediately it clicked. You're right. So she had her little pink princess camera and she took a picture of it," mother Teri Estes said.

Hannah mailed her picture to Disney, and they wrote back saying it was a mistake that will be corrected soon.

Hannah said the best part of her discovery is being on TV.

Credits: WESH-TV, Orlando

Bah humbug, say Mexicans about Cinco de Mayo

Susana Osneya woke up today and, like any other day, she took her dog Sabrina for a walk in the park in Mexico City. She is not attending any parades, not cooking any special meals, and not attending any holiday activities with her grandchildren.

And she's certainly not drinking any margaritas.

But wait a second. It is Cinco de Mayo, the day that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans go out in droves in the US to celebrate, with American cities commemorating the day and Mexican restaurants offering special margarita deals. Isn't May 5 the biggest day on Mexico's national holiday calendar?

“Really, it is just like any other day here,” Ms. Osneya says, walking off with her dog.

Despite popular misconception in the US, today is not Mexico's Independence Day. May 5 instead marks the anniversary of the 1862 Battle of Puebla when the Mexican Army defeated the French. Compared to Sept. 16, the day Mexico commemorates its independence, or Easter week, or even upcoming Mother's Day, Cinco de Mayo is practically a non-event.

Turning nothing into something

“It has been vastly commercialized on the [US] side of the border,” says Oscar Casares, who authored the novel “Amigoland” and teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin. “They created this mythology of what it means to Mexicans when it is really a minor [holiday]. It is acknowledged but it certainly is not celebrated.”

Mr. Casares says the holiday found its way to the US in the 1950s and 60s, during the civil rights movement when Hispanic activists were attempting to foster goodwill between both nations and cultures. It was in the 1980s that marketers saw the holiday as a way to make a buck.

In Mexico, meanwhile, work goes on as normal, banks operate, and stores are open.

Not that the holiday is entirely ignored. Mexican President Felipe Calderon is in the state of Puebla today, the site of the battle, to commemorate the event. Puebla is also planning a military parade and a recreation of the battle. But it's not an event that most Mexicans would travel far to see.

Bah humbug, say Mexicans

“It is part of the history of our country,” says taxi driver Noel Perez in Mexico City, “but it is not relevant. The truth is we do not even know what it is we are celebrating. I do not even know why the French invaded Mexico.”

After saying this, Mr. Perez and fellow taxi driver Luis Castaneda launch into a debate on the details of history of the day, but they come to no agreement.

What they can agree on is that a holiday barely noticed in Mexico City has morphed into essentially “Mexican pride” day in the US, the same way that St. Patrick´s Day is celebrated. Like drinking Guinness on March 17, Americans today with no ties to Mexico will find a reason to eat tortilla chips and guacamole, many without being able to locate Puebla on a map.

Mr. Castaneda says he welcomes his compatriots in 'El Norte' s celebrating Mexican culture and history today.

But he says he's not feeling very patriotic, with Mexico's economy struggling and violence wracking the country.

“There is little to celebrate about Mexico today,” he says. “Now Mother´s Day, that is a different story. That is celebrating our family.”

Credits: Sara Miller Llana, Christian Science Monitor