This comprehensive list of inspiring news stories is usually updated once a week
. For an index to revealing excerpts of news stories on several dozen engaging topics, click here
Thriving Norway Provides an Economics Lesson
2009-05-14, New York Times
Posted: 2009-05-31 17:48:53
When capitalism seemed on the verge of collapse last fall, Kristin Halvorsen, Norway’s Socialist finance minister and a longtime free market skeptic, did more than crow. As investors the world over sold in a panic, she bucked the tide, authorizing Norway’s $300 billion sovereign wealth fund to ramp up its stock buying program by $60 billion — or about 23 percent of Norway's economic output. "The timing was not that bad," Ms. Halvorsen said, smiling with satisfaction over the broad worldwide market rally that began in early March. The global financial crisis has brought low the economies of just about every country on earth. But not Norway. With a quirky contrariness as deeply etched in the national character as the fjords carved into its rugged landscape, Norway has thrived by going its own way. When others splurged, it saved. When others sought to limit the role of government, Norway strengthened its cradle-to-grave welfare state. And in the midst of the worst global downturn since the Depression, Norway’s economy grew last year by just under 3 percent. The government enjoys a budget surplus of 11 percent. Norway is a relatively small country with a ... population of 4.6 million and the advantages of being a major oil exporter. Even though prices have sharply declined, the government is not particularly worried. That is because Norway avoided the usual trap that plagues many energy-rich countries. Instead of spending its riches lavishly, it passed legislation ensuring that oil revenue went straight into its sovereign wealth fund, state money that is used to make investments around the world. Now its sovereign wealth fund is close to being the largest in the world.
Note: For lots more on the global economic and financial crisis from reliable sources, click here.
Can Positive Thoughts Help Heal Another Person?
Posted: 2009-05-31 17:44:10
Ninety percent of Americans say they pray — for their health, or their love life or their final exams. But does prayer do any good? For decades, scientists have tried to test the power of prayer and positive thinking, with mixed results. Now some scientists are fording new — and controversial — territory. When I first meet Sheri Kaplan, she is perched on a plastic chair at a Miami clinic, holding out her arm as a researcher draws several vials of blood. "I'm quite excited about my blood work this time," she says. "I've got no stress and I'm proud of it." Kaplan is tanned and freckled, with wavy red hair and a cocky laugh. She is defiantly healthy for a person who has lived with HIV for the past 15 years. "God didn't want me to die or even get sick," she asserts. "I've never had any opportunistic infections, because I had no time to be down." Kaplan's faith is unorthodox, but it's central to her life. She was raised Jewish, and although she claims no formal religion now, she prays and meditates every day. She believes God is keeping the virus at bay and that her faith is the reason she's alive today. "Everything starts from a thought, and then the thought creates a reaction," she says. "And I have the power to control my mind, before it gets to a physical level or an emotional level." Kaplan has never taken medicine, yet the disease has not progressed to AIDS (and she is not part of the population that has a mutation in the CCR5 gene that prevents progression of HIV to AIDS).
Honest taxi driver reaps rewards
2009-05-07, BBC News
Posted: 2009-05-10 19:19:14
Hundreds of Argentines have been donating to a taxi driver who found a bag with $32,500 (£21,600) in cash in his taxi and returned it to its owners. The donations started after a website was set up in his honour calling for gestures of gratitude for what is seen as an extraordinary act of honesty. So far the equivalent of $14,580 has been donated, according to the site. Santiago Gori, a taxi driver in the coastal city of La Plata, found the money after driving an elderly couple. They only went a short distance but when he dropped them off, they left a bag in the back of his taxi. A few days later he managed to locate his passengers again and he returned the bag. For Argentines used to corruption at all levels of society, this was an extraordinary story. Two young advertising agency employees decided to set up a website to thank Mr Gori further for his exemplary behaviour. Now thousands of people have accessed the site and have left hundreds of rewards and messages for Mr Gori. One visitor offered to produce in his studio a song chosen by Mr Gori to kick-start a potential artistic career. Another offered a snow-boarding lesson in Argentina's ski resort of Bariloche, while an Argentine abroad promised to bring back a second-hand GPS satellite receiver for his taxi on his return. "Thank you", say many of the messages and one said it all: "I wish more people were like you." For his part, Mr Gori seems a bit bemused. He said he only did what had to be done - and that he does not quite know what to do with all the things he has been offered.
Birds can 'dance' to music, researchers say
2009-05-01, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Posted: 2009-05-03 22:51:27
After studying a cockatoo that grooves to the Backstreet Boys and about 1,000 YouTube videos, scientists say they've documented for the first time that some animals "dance" to a musical beat. The results support a theory for why the human brain is wired for dancing. In lab studies of two parrots and close review of the YouTube videos, scientists looked for signs that animals were actually feeling the beat of music they heard. The verdict: Some parrots did, and maybe an occasional elephant. But researchers found no evidence of that for dogs and cats, despite long exposure to people and music, nor for chimps, our closest living relatives. Why? The truly boppin' animals shared with people some ability to mimic sounds they hear, the researchers say. The brain circuitry for that ability lets people learn to talk, and evidently also to dance or tap their toes to music, suggests Aniruddh Patel of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego. He proposed the music connection in 2006.
He also led a study of Snowball that was published online Thursday by the journal Current Biology. A separate YouTube study, also published Thursday by the journal, was led by Adena Schachner, a graduate student in psychology at Harvard University. In sum, the new research "definitely gives us a bit of insight into why and how humans became able to dance," Schachner said. A video of Snowball bobbing his head and kicking like a little Rockette to music has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube since it was posted in 2007. Snowball's movements followed the beat of his favorite Backstreet Boys song ... even when researchers sped up the tune and slowed it down.
Note: To watch videos of Snowball dancing to the Backstreet Boys and Huey Lewis, click here.
As Manhattan Bus Rolls, Driver Polishes His Pavarotti
2009-04-24, New York Times
Posted: 2009-05-02 07:12:20
One famous aria after another: the operatic hit parade began as the bus pulled away from the depot, empty. “La donna è mobile” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” was followed, somewhere on the West Side Highway, by “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot.” The A’s and that high B at the end were thrilling. And then the bus turned onto Clarkson Street, on the way to the first stop on the M8 line. “This is difficult sitting down,” said the driver, Christopher G. Dolan, 51. “You got to be standing up.” Mr. Dolan ... has been a New York City driver for 27 years, starting in the Bronx and then transferring to Manhattan. You never know whom you will meet on a bus — he married one of his passengers. “That’s worth my $2,” said Elaine Smalls, who boarded at Eighth Street and Avenue C. He started as a baritone. On the job one day in 2002 — he was on the M10 then — he picked up a passenger on Eighth Avenue whom he recognized as Vincent La Selva, the artistic director of the New York Grand Opera. “I called him over, which surprised him, being recognized on the bus, and I said, ‘What does somebody have to do to get an audition with you?’ He handed me his card and said, ‘Give me a call.’ ” Mr. Dolan did, and soon he was in Mr. La Selva’s studio, plowing through aria after aria. He remembers what Mr. La Selva told him when he finished: “I love your voice, but you’re not a baritone. Go home and learn to be a tenor and come back.” Mr. Dolan did as he was told: he worked on getting his voice up to a higher tessitura.
Note: To watch a short video of Mr. Dolan singing while driving his bus, click here. For a video of a short recital off the bus, click here.
Live like a green heroine - and hold the stuff
2009-04-08, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Posted: 2009-04-25 08:19:09
Annie Leonard, named one of Time magazine's 2008 Environmental Heroes, knows better than most: It's not so easy living green. Leonard created and narrates the international Web documentary phenomenon "Story of Stuff," which summarizes her 20 years of global sleuthing: tracking the source of the stuff we buy and the fate of the stuff we throw away. This lively animated film makes the point that if everyone on Earth consumed at U.S. levels, we would need five planets. Leading by example, Leonard shows how simple steps and a little patience can help people create environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, stuff-free lives. In her cozy Berkeley home, the first clue sits in her driveway: A blue ZENN, or zero emission no noise, electric vehicle. The car is a NEV, or neighborhood electric vehicle, which is a U.S. Department of Transportation classification for speed-limited battery electric vehicles. The car quietly sucks sun power from solar panels on Leonard's roof and only goes 25 mph, which is just fine with her. "I am always racing around, and this forces me to move at a slower pace. I need any help I can get to do that." Leonard didn't go solar just to charge her car. She says she did it to save mountaintops in Appalachia. "ILoveMountains.org uses Google Earth technology to show coal mine destruction of mountains - the environmental and social devastation. It's really intense. You type in your ZIP code and see the lines of power plants supplying your house. There is mountaintop-removal coal going into my grid. I don't want any part of that."
Note: To watch the powerful 20-minute video "The Story of Stuff", click here.
Finding inspiration -- in reality TV
2009-04-16, USA Today
Posted: 2009-04-25 07:48:10
Religion and spirituality blogs today are buzzing about the "inspirational" performance of Susan Boyle, an ordinary-looking 47-year-old Scottish woman whose anything-but-ordinary voice stopped would-be snarky commenters in their tracks on the reality TV show Britain's Got Talent. In Beliefnet's religion and pop culture blog, Douglas Howe comments on the transformation of the skeptical audience the moment Boyle opened her mouth and began to sing: They loved her! They were touched by her raw talent, her beautiful voice. The part about each of us that is quick to judge is also quick to respond to excellence and beauty. We should be quicker to look for the beauty in people, and I'm not sure our media-driven culture trains us to do that. Rev. James Martin in America magazine's blog In All Things finds a homily here: The world generally looks askance at people like Susan Boyle, if it sees them at all. Without classic good looks, without work, without a spouse, living in a small town, people like Susan Boyle may not seem particularly "important." But God sees the real person, and understands the value of each individual's gifts: rich or poor, young or old, single or married, matron or movie star, lucky or unlucky in life. God knows us. And loves us.
Note: For an engaging article with the highly inspiring performance of Susan Boyle, click here.
Communities print their own currency to keep cash flowing
2009-04-05, USA Today
Posted: 2009-04-14 20:02:43
A small but growing number of cash-strapped communities are printing their own money. Borrowing from a Depression-era idea, they are aiming to help consumers make ends meet and support struggling local businesses. The systems generally work like this: Businesses and individuals form a network to print currency. Shoppers buy it at a discount — say, 95 cents for $1 value — and spend the full value at stores that accept the currency. Ed Collom, a University of Southern Maine sociologist who has studied local currencies, says they encourage people to buy locally. Merchants, hurting because customers have cut back on spending, benefit as consumers spend the local cash. "We wanted to make new options available," says Jackie Smith of South Bend, Ind., who is working to launch a local currency. "It reinforces the message that having more control of the economy in local hands can help you cushion yourself from the blows of the marketplace." About a dozen communities have local currencies, says Susan Witt, founder of BerkShares in the Berkshires region of western Massachusetts. She expects more to do it. Under the BerkShares system, a buyer goes to one of 12 banks and pays $95 for $100 worth of BerkShares, which can be spent in 370 local businesses. Since its start in 2006, the system, the largest of its kind in the country, has circulated $2.3 million worth of BerkShares. During the Depression, local governments, businesses and individuals issued currency, known as scrip, to keep commerce flowing when bank closings led to a cash shortage."
Cafe owner thrives with no-pricing policy
Posted: 2009-04-05 19:34:26
Cafe owner Sam Lippert has come up with an innovative way to cope with the recession: He's done away with pricing and simply asks customers to pay what they want. Lippert says sales and customer count has increased markedly since the change, and he's looking at adding more staff. John Roberts: So you run the Java Street Cafe. You actually own the Java Street Cafe there in Kettering, Ohio. And you've got a menu that's got no prices on it. People pay what they think the food is worth. How did you come up with that idea?
Sam Lippert: Well, actually, that was thanks to my girlfriend. She is from Bulgaria, and she says it's a common practice in certain cafes in Europe to allow the patrons to decide how much to pay for their meal. Roberts: So, in terms of paying for something, if somebody gets a sandwich or maybe a bowl of soup or something like that, typically how close to the old menu price would they get in what they pay?
Lippert: Well, sometimes people shoot a few dollars over, and sometimes it's a few dollars under. And, you know, at the end of the day, it works out for me. ... It works out even. Roberts: Yes, so, does anybody try to game the system? You know, they'll get a big meal that would be worth $10, $12 and then give you 50 cents for it? Lippert: Well, you know, they have to look me in the eye and say that that's what they think is fair. And, you know, that's a big incentive. When someone's at the counter and you say, you get to pay what you think is fair, very few people are going to take advantage of that situation.
The City that Ended Hunger
2009-03-20, Yes! Magazine
Posted: 2009-03-28 08:39:19
A city in Brazil recruited local farmers to help do something U.S. cities have yet to do: end hunger. More than 10 years ago, Brazil’s fourth-largest city, Belo Horizonte, declared that food was a right of citizenship and started working to make good food available to all. One of its programs puts local farm produce into school meals. This and other projects cost the city less than 2 percent of its budget. Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000. The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers.
Note: Why not take this movement to each of our states and provinces? Are you willing to make a difference? To contact your local and national media and political representatives, click here.
A restaurant with no checks
2007-10-25, Christian Science Monitor
Posted: 2009-02-15 09:39:42
Patrons of Karma Kitchen don't need to fight for the check at the end of a meal. There isn't one. Instead, the "guests" of this restaurant are handed a gold envelope with a handwritten note on the outside that says, "Have a lovely evening." Inside a bookmark-sized card states: "In the spirit of generosity, someone who came before you made a gift of this meal. We hope you will continue the circle of giving in your own way!" The sound bite for this restaurant is that meals cost whatever you want to pay, starting at zero. But the real idea beneath it runs deeper than the cost of a dinner. "This is about creating a shift in perspective," says Mehta. "It's a very simple shift but the shift is fundamental. It is a shift from transaction to trust. From a contract to a compact. From being separate to creating community." While too puny to regard as any serious challenge to Western economics, this restaurant fits loosely into a smattering of activities across the country and abroad that operate under the principles of the "gift economy." The common principles are volunteerism, no pleas for funds, and a view that these activities are not about changing the world. The ethos behind "gift economy" activities is to offer goods in the spirit of service with the conviction that the act, if genuine and without strings, will be self-sustaining. Put simply, a service or product is offered with the assumption that the act of giving is its own reward, and that it is likely to generate more giving in an ever-enriching circle.
Of Two Minds
2005-05-08, New York Times
Posted: 2009-02-06 09:07:02
Scientists are able to get some idea of what's going on in the mind by using brain scanners. Now it is possible to infer what tiny groups of neurons are up to, not just larger areas of the brain. A technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging can reveal which part of your brain is most active when you're solving a mathematical puzzle, say, or memorizing a list of words. A couple of weeks ago, two scientists revealed that they had found a way to peer directly into your brain and tell what you are looking at, even when you yourself are not yet aware of what you have seen. Last year, Tibetan Buddhist monks ... submitted to functional magnetic resonance imaging as they practiced "compassion meditation," which is aimed at achieving a mental state of pure loving kindness toward all beings. The brain scans showed only a slight effect in novice meditators. But for monks who had spent more than 10,000 hours in meditation, the differences in brain function were striking. Activity in the left prefrontal cortex, the locus of joy, overwhelmed activity in the right prefrontal cortex, the locus of anxiety. Activity was also heightened in the areas of the brain that direct planned motion, as if the monks' brains were itching to go to the aid of those in distress. All of which suggests, say the scientists who carried out the scans, that "the resting state of the brain may be altered by long-term meditative practice."
Join my gang
2008-06-01, Ode magazine
Posted: 2009-01-30 09:49:35
With a population nearing 3 million, Guayaquil [Ecuador] is home to more than 200 gangs and 60,000 gang youth. But in recent months, this neighbourhood has become a Barrio de Paz (“peace town”) under the guidance of Ser Paz, an organization committed to fostering peace in Guayaquil’s violent neighbourhoods. Support comes from Nelsa Curbelo, a 66-year-old woman who looks more like a friendly grandmother passing time with neighbourhood children than a pioneer of social reform working in the most dangerous city in Ecuador. Curbelo has been playing against type for years. When she founded Ser Paz (“being peace”) in 1999, she began her work by not working at all. Instead of establishing programs, she spent almost two years listening to the young people she’d later serve: walking the neighbourhoods of Guayaquil alone, sometimes after dark, talking with those who’d talk to her, learning about gangs and impressing the youth with her fearless willingness to be present on their streets. It’s these qualities of presence and acceptance that distinguish Curbelo from others who work with gangs. Instead of dismissing gang culture, she validates the positive elements it inspires: teamwork, commitment, a sense of belonging and quick communication. She refuses to label gang members “delinquents,” and suggests the instinct to come together in “teams” is a positive response by area youth to “a very unfair and unequal society.”
It's a Small, Small World
2007-08-06, ABC News
Posted: 2009-01-30 09:48:27
Willard Wigan's artwork is so tiny a microscope is needed to view it. The Birmingham, England, native is known as the creator of the world's smallest sculptures. He makes small worlds of their own that are almost invisible to the naked eye -- such as a $300,000 sculpture that sits on a pinhead. Under a microscope, you see an elephant carved from a fragment of a single grain of sand. "The tail is made from a floating particle of dust out of the air that you see floating," Wigan explained. How does he do it? Wigan uses tiny, homemade tools to carve his sculptures out of grains of rice or sugar, and paints them with a hair plucked from a housefly's back. He said he's able to slow his heart down to work between the beats to avoid hand tremors. "Underneath a microscope, those tremors become an earthquake," he said. According to Wigan, his obsession with tiny objects began when he was a lonely 5-year-old. "I have learning difficulties. You know, I can't read or write. But I had to find a way of expressing myself. The teachers at school made me feel small, so they made me feel like nothing. So I had to show them something." He started by making houses for ants as a child, and now he creates entire, tiny worlds. Wigan has something to prove, which makes the misery worthwhile. "I'm trying to prove to the world that nothing doesn't exist. It doesn't matter how big a building is, it's made up of molecules. We ignore the world that we can't see."
Note: Don't miss the amazing three-minute video clip of this work available here.
Last survivor of 'Christmas truce' tells of his sorrow
2004-12-19, The Guardian (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
Posted: 2009-01-30 09:46:58
The words drifted across the frozen battlefield: 'Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht'. To the ears of the British troops peering over their trench, the lyrics may have been unfamiliar but the haunting tune was unmistakable. After the last note a lone German infantryman appeared holding a small tree glowing with light. 'Merry Christmas. We not shoot, you not shoot.' It was just after dawn on a bitingly cold Christmas Day in 1914, ... and one of the most extraordinary incidents of the Great War was about to unfold. Weary men climbed hesitantly at first out of trenches and stumbled into no man's land. They shook hands, sang carols, lit each other's cigarettes, swapped tunic buttons and addresses and, most famously, played football. The unauthorised Christmas truce spread across much of the 500-mile Western Front where more than a million men were encamped. There is only one man in the world still alive who spent 25 December 1914 serving in a conflict that left 31 million people dead, wounded or missing. Alfred Anderson was 18 at the time. 'I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence,' he said. 'Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted "Merry Christmas", even though nobody felt merry.' In some parts of the front, the ceasefire lasted several weeks. 'I'll give Christmas Day 1914 a brief thought, as I do every year. And I'll think about all my friends who never made it home. But it's too sad to think too much about it. Far too sad,' he said, his head bowed and his eyes filled with tears.
Note: For more on this amazing moment in history, including a powerfully moving song, click here.
On Elephant Sanctuary, Unlikely Friends
2009-01-02, CBS News
Posted: 2009-01-16 08:45:25
When elephants retire, many head for the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn. They arrive one by one, but they tend to live out their lives two-by-two. "Every elephant that comes here searches out someone that she then spends most all of her time with," says sanctuary co-founder Carol Buckley. It's like having a best girlfriend, Buckley says - "Somebody they can relate to, they have something in common with."
Debbie has Ronnie. Misty can't live without Dulary. Those are pachyderm-pachyderm pairs. But perhaps the closest friends of all are Tarra and Bella. That would be Tarra the 8,700 pound Asian elephant. And Bella. The dog. "This is her friend," Buckley says. "Her friend just happens to be a dog and not an elephant. Bella knows she's not an elephant. Tarra knows she's not a dog. But that's not a problem for them." Bella is one of more than a dozen stray dogs that have found a home at the sanctuary. Most want nothing to do with the elephants and vice versa. But not this odd couple. "When it's time to eat they both eat together. They drink together. They sleep together. They play together," Buckley says. Bella even lets Tarra pet her tummy - with the bottom of her enormous foot. They harbor no fears, no secrets, no prejudices. Just two living creatures who somehow managed to look past their immense differences. Take good look at this couple, America. Take a good look world. If they can do it - what's our excuse?
Note: Don't miss the inspiring, four-minute video of these two available here.
Going Green Goes Mainstream
2006-10-15, CBS News
Posted: 2009-01-16 08:44:03
Father Charles Morris spends many afternoons on the roof of the rectory where he sounds more like an electrical engineer than a man of the cloth. He has taken his rectory in Wyandotte, Mich. off the power grid and installed high-efficiency light-bulbs and special sun-blocking screens over the windows of his church. "What we have right here are eight 80 watt Kyocera solar panels. And a 400 watt Southwest air wind turbine," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Russ Mitchell. "We estimate that we are saving about $20,000 a year in terms of utility bills." Whether it's because of high fuel prices, or worries about global warming, environmentalism seems to be going mainstream. Wyandotte is a Detroit suburb of 28,000 – not the most likely place for a green revolution. But Wyandotte, like a lot of places, is beginning to change. It's long-term thinking that motivates Father Morris. "We, as 5 percent of the world's population, use up 28 percent of the world's resources," Father Morris said. "That's not, there's something really out of kilter here. Is that what Jesus would have us do?" Father Morris isn't putting in solar and wind power just to save money. It's spiritual for him too. His church has joined 2000 congregations of all faiths across the country in an organization called "Interfaith Power and Light," dedicated to the environment. "We are part of creation not apart from creation," he said. "And as a consequence everything else follows. And we forget that at our own peril."
Land-auction meddler has a new plan
2009-01-02, Salt Lake Tribune
Posted: 2009-01-09 08:29:56
The University of Utah student who foiled a federal oil and gas lease auction the Friday before Christmas hopes he can buy time for Utah's scenic redrock desert - and himself - until the Bush administration is out the door. Tim DeChristopher announced Wednesday afternoon that he would pay the U.S. Bureau of Land Management $45,000 to hold the 13 lease parcels he won in a Dec. 19 sale. The 27-year-old economics major faces possible federal felony charges after winning bids totaling about $1.8 million on 13 lease parcels that he admitted he had neither the intention nor the money to pay for. But since committing what he called an act of civil disobedience, DeChristopher has heard from hundreds of individuals around the country willing to chip in to keep drill rigs off the land and DeChristopher out of prison. So far, would-be benefactors have pledged $14,000, he said. The amount is based on a percentage of the $1.8 million; the agency requires such payments of all bidders to hold their parcels. Three Web sites have been set up to take pledges: www.wateradvocacy.org, www.oneutah.org, [and] www.bidder70.org. The 13 bids [DeChristopher] won by raising his auction paddle were on 22,000 acres of land near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. [He] admitted he ran up other bids by about $500,000 and said he would be willing to go to jail to defend his generation's prospects in light of global climate disruption and other environmental threats.
The Novel That Predicted Portland
2008-12-14, New York Times
Posted: 2009-01-02 09:07:19
Sometimes a book, or an idea, can be obscure and widely influential at the same time. That’s the case with Ecotopia, a 1970s cult novel, originally self-published by its author, Ernest Callenbach, that has seeped into the American groundwater without becoming well known. The novel, now being rediscovered, speaks to our ecological present: in the flush of a financial crisis, the Pacific Northwest secedes from the United States, and its citizens establish a sustainable economy, a cross between Scandinavian socialism and Northern California back-to-the-landism, with the custom ... to eat local. In the ’70s, the book, with a blurb from Ralph Nader, was a hit, selling 400,000 or so copies in the United States, and more worldwide. Today, Ecotopia is increasingly assigned in college courses on the environment, sociology and urban planning, and its cult following has begun to reach an unlikely readership: Mr. Callenbach, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., and calls himself a “fringe, ’60s person,” has been finding himself invited to speak at many small religious colleges. This month, the book’s publisher, Bantam, is reissuing it. “For a while it seemed sort of antique to people,” said Mr. Callenbach, a balding and eerily fit man of 79. But now that you go out into America and young society, it apparently doesn’t seem that weird to them at all. "It is so hard to imagine anything fundamentally different from what we have now,” he said. “But without these alternate visions, we get stuck on dead center. And we’d better get ready,” he added. “We need to know where we’d like to go.”
Heaven for the Godless?
2008-12-27, New York Times
Posted: 2009-01-02 09:05:43
In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life. This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that. The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they? So in August, Pew asked the question again. Sixty-five percent of respondents said — again — that other religions could lead to eternal life. But this time, to clear up any confusion, Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them. And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go. What on earth does this mean? One very plausible explanation is that Americans just want good things to come to good people, regardless of their faith. We meet so many good people of different faiths that it’s hard for us to imagine God letting them go to hell. In fact, in the most recent survey, Pew asked people what they thought determined whether a person would achieve eternal life. Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus.