Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Fat Facts

This week's WorldQuiz question was: What country has the highest number of deaths PER CAPITA due to obesity?
The one person who posted an answer on this blog guessed what you might expect: the US. You may be surprised to know that per capita, the US is number five on that list -- with Austria in first place. Numbers two, three and four, respectively, are: Cayman Islands, Denmark and New Zealand.
In total numbers, however, more people do die of obesity in the US than any other nation, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Spain and Austria.

Shock for the Dutch

April 30 is Queen's Day in the Netherlands. My wife and I have wonderful memories, from our five years in Amsterdam, of the festive atmosphere which not only honors the past and current queen (Queen Beatrix is pictured here), but also coincides with a general relief that spring has arrived. People also take advantage of the occasion to set out on the curb any household items or furniture they've been wanting to get rid of -- a nationwide flea market.

Today the only relief was that none of the royal family were injured when an unknown Dutchman drove his car through the parade barricades as the royal family passed by in an open bus. Four people were killed, however, and several more injured.

Monday, April 27, 2009

WorldQuiz: Obesity

In what country do the most people PER CAPITA die of obesity?

Post your answer!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Memory to Stop Traffic

Imagine the hustle and bustle of morning rush hour and the accompanying noise -- like any other day -- being suddenly interrupted by the wail of a siren. The overpowering sound of the siren then gives way to complete silence, as drivers get out of their cars, pedestrians stop in their tracks, and all that is heard is the wind as everyone stands stone still for two long minutes of silent remembrance.

That's exactly what happened today as Israelis, joined by other Jews around the world, stopped to remember when the unthinkable happened. Thousands -- Holocaust survivors, teenagers, Jews and a few Gentiles, joined in the March of the Living at Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland, where 1.1 million people, 90% of whom were Jews, were exterminated by the Nazi regime.

Any Jewish parent wants his or her children to know about and remember the Holocaust.

How about you, my Gentile friend?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The "Singing Nation"

This week's WorldQuiz:

What European country is nicknamed the "singing nation"?

In this country, it is unusual to find a single person who has not sung in a choir or some other kind of vocal ensemble. Every few years, all of this country's choirs gather together for the Song Festival with thousands of singers present.

The daina, or folk song, has defined this nation's identity for hundreds of years. Dating back well over a millenium, over 1.2 million texts and over 30,000 melodies have been identified.

What country is it?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Happy Birthday Spongebob

Who knew ten years ago that a yellow sponge who lives in a place called Bikini Bottom would become a staple of American pop culture? One week last month, nine of the top twenty top TV cable spots were occupied by the bipolar Bob and his friends Patrick, Squidward, Sandy Cheeks and others.

I was drawn in a couple of years ago when my son, now 17, was becoming a fan. Part of the genius of this creation by former marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg is its multi-layered humor that appeals to every age group. According to Nickelodeon, 45 million people over the age of 18 are regular watchers. SpongeBob is the second longest running Nicktoon ever, after The Rugrats.

Click here to see a great video on the actors behind the voices of Spongebob Squarepants, or if you're reading this on facebook, go to

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bring on the Bocce!

It's a game that has been played in one form or another for thousands of years, yet its popularity in North America has only recently begun to grow. The French are surely not particularly pleased that America has adopted the Italian name ('bocce' is the plural of 'boccia', meaning 'bowl'), rather than the French pétanque, mais c'est la vie.
There are several theories about bocce's origins, but most sports historians agree that Roman soldiers began playing a primitive form of the game over two thousand years ago. A small stone called a "leader" would be thrown first, then larger stones were thrown at the leader, and the closest to the leader would score.
Until recently, most North American proponents of the game were descendants of Italian immigrants, who still cling to it as a nostalgic vestige of the old country. Slowly but surely, however, it is beginning to gain popularity among those who simply appreciate the sport's relaxing and community-building qualities, and bocce alleys are cropping up in not-so-Italian areas (including Chattanooga, TN, where this photo was taken).
Here is one American who says, "Bring on the bocce!"