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
Saudi Arabia’s King Allows Women to Join National Advisory Council
2013-01-11, New York Times
Posted: 2013-01-22 09:44:38
Women are not allowed to drive and cannot yet vote in Saudi Arabia, but on [January 11] they were given a voice in an advisory council that debates the kingdom’s legislation. The Saudi king, Abdullah, issued a decree that for the first time gave women seats on the Shura council, an assembly whose members are appointed to discuss laws and other issues and advise the king, but that has no legislative power. The decree ... gave women 30 of the 150 seats on the council with all the duties of their male counterparts. The decision was met with a mixture of optimism that the country was inching forward with reforms and skepticism from activists who are pushing for greater freedom for women in the conservative kingdom, one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchies. In a decree in 2011, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections scheduled for 2015, the biggest change in a decade for women in the puritanical kingdom. He also promised to name women to the Shura council at that time. But Saudi women still cannot make ordinary decisions, like marrying or traveling abroad, without written permission from a legal male guardian, “effectively treating her as a minor all her life,” [a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia, Manal al-Sharif,] wrote in a separate statement on the Web site of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. Women also continued to be arrested for driving. In one case in 2011, a woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for violating the ban. The king later revoked the sentence.
Note: Why is there so little national or international pressure on Saudi Arabia to promote gender equality, or democracy for that matter? Could it be that their huge wealth buys sways the political will of nations around the world? How sad.
Global Campaign ONE BILLION RISING To Stop Violence Against Women and Girls
2013-01-07, 11alive.com (Atlanta's NBC affiliate)
Posted: 2013-01-15 09:57:08
On February 14, 2013 ... activists around the world [will join] ONE BILLION RISING, the largest day of action in the history of V-Day, the global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. Valentine's Day 2013 will be an official ONE BILLION RISING DAY OF ACTION for the City of Atlanta, declaring Atlanta a Rape and Violence Free Zone. ONE BILLION RISING began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than one billion women and girls. V-Day Atlanta will bring together a coalition of organizations, businesses, schools, entertainers, and elected representatives to work to end violence and empower women. At 12:00 noon, thousands of Atlantans will dance down Peachtree Street in a flash mob choreographed by the legendary Debbie Allen to the One Billion Rising anthem "Break the Chain." V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Playwright/Founder Eve Ensler's award winning play The Vagina Monologues and other artistic works. To date, the V-Day movement has raised over $90 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the efforts to end it, crafted international educational, media and PSA campaigns, reopened shelters, and funded over 14,000 community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses in Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq.
Note: For a powerful three-minute video on women breaking free, click here. To join the "One Billion Rising" movement, see their inspiring website here. Another article on this in the UK's Guardian is available here.
Malala Fund launched to help girls go to school
2012-12-10, KGO-TV Channel 7 (San Francisco ABC affiliate)
Posted: 2013-01-15 09:52:14
A plan to motivate girls around the world to enroll in school was launched ... by the United Nations and Pakistan. The fund is named for Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani activist who was shot by the Taliban. One of Malala's quotes is, "Education is our basic right." The Pakistani Government donated $10 million to the Malala Fund for girls' right to education. That will help the UN with its goal, to ensure that all girls have access to schools by the end of 2015. "The idea that a girl, simply for going to school or wanting to go to school, was shot by the Taliban is just so unspeakable," said Gordon Brown, the UN special envoy for global education. Her cause to educate all girls got the attention of Washington-based Vital Voices, which promotes extraordinary women and girls around the world. An estimated 32 million girls around the world don't have access to an education. Malala has certainly inspired many young people. "I have a right to sing, I have the right to talk, I have the right to go to market, I have the right to speak," said Malala. The song "Richochet" was written by 12-year-old Lafayette resident Samantha Martin in honor of Malala. Two days ago Malala's father emailed Samantha saying, "I and Malala watched the song and I could not control my tears."
Note: Samantha Martin emailed WantToKnow.info with her truly amazing song, which you can listen to at this link. To sign the petition supporting Malala, click here. For more on the Malala fund, click here. For an inspiring 30-minute New York Times documentary on Malala, click here.
Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?
2013-01-06, New York Times
Posted: 2013-01-15 09:50:46
Most modern justice systems focus on a crime, a lawbreaker and a punishment. But a concept called “restorative justice” considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned — the victims, the offender and the community — on making amends. And it allows victims, who often feel shut out of the prosecutorial process, a way to be heard and participate. In this country, restorative justice takes a number of forms, but perhaps the most prominent is restorative-justice diversion. There are not many of these programs — a few exist on the margins of the justice system in communities like Baltimore, Minneapolis and Oakland, Calif. — but, according to a University of Pennsylvania study in 2007, they have been effective at reducing recidivism. Typically, a facilitator meets separately with the accused and the victim, and if both are willing to meet face to face without animosity and the offender is deemed willing and able to complete restitution, then the case shifts out of the adversarial legal system and into a parallel restorative-justice process. All parties — the offender, victim, facilitator and law enforcement — come together in a forum sometimes called a restorative-community conference. Each person speaks, one at a time and without interruption, about the crime and its effects, and the participants come to a consensus about how to repair the harm done. The methods are mostly applied in less serious crimes, like property offenses in which the wrong can be clearly righted. The processes are designed to be flexible enough to handle violent crime like assault, but they are rarely used in those situations.
Note: This deeply moving and highly educational piece from the New York Times Magazine about the power of restorative justice is well worth reading in its entirety at the link above.
Lessons from the 'World's Ugliest Woman': 'Stop Staring and Start Learning'
Posted: 2013-01-15 09:17:26
When she was in high school, Lizzie Velasquez was dubbed "The World's Ugliest Woman" in an 8-second-long YouTube video. Born with a medical condition so rare that just two other people in the world are thought to have it, Velasquez has no adipose tissue and cannot create muscle, store energy, or gain weight. She has zero percent body fat and weighs just 60 pounds. In the comments on YouTube, viewers called her "it" and "monster" and encouraged her to kill herself. Instead, Velasquez set four goals: To become a motivational speaker, to publish a book, to graduate college, and to build a family and a career for herself. Now 23 years old, she's been a motivational speaker for seven years and has given more than 200 workshops on embracing uniqueness, dealing with bullies, and overcoming obstacles. She's a senior majoring in Communications at Texas State University in San Marcos, where she lives with her best friend. Her first book, Lizzie Beautiful, came out in 2010 and her second, Be Beautiful, Be You, was published earlier this month. She's even reclaimed YouTube, video blogging about everything from bullying to hair-styling tips to staying positive. Of course, the horrible comments left on that old YouTube video stung. "I'm human, and of course these things are going to hurt," she said. "Their judgments of me isn't who I am, and I'm not going to let these things define me. I didn't sink down to their level," she said in a follow-up video on YouTube last year. "Instead, I got my revenge through my accomplishments and determination. In the battle between the 'World's Ugliest Woman' video vs. me, I think I won."
Note: Though looking at this woman can be disturbing for some, consider that you can see beneath the surface to the beauty within. Watch Lizzie share some of her wisdom in a three-minute video at this link.
DIY Africa: Empowering a new Sierra Leone
2012-11-14, CNN blog
Posted: 2013-01-15 09:15:16
When Kelvin Doe, a then-13-year-old from Sierra Leone, saw that off-the-shelf batteries were too expensive for the inventions he was working on, he made his own at home. Kelvin did not have the privilege to do his project in a school environment. Rather, he was compelled to act by necessity and for the joy of solving practical problems. Kelvin combined acid, soda, and metal, dumped those ingredients in a tin cup, waited for the mixture to dry and wrapped tape around the cup to make his first battery. He hasn’t purchased a battery since. Next up: A generator. Kelvin made one of those by hacking an old rusty voltage stabilizer he found in a dustbin. In addition to providing electricity to his home, where neighbors come to charge their mobile phone batteries, the generator powers Kelvin’s homemade FM radio station, fully equipped with a custom music mixer, recycled CD player and antenna that allow his whole neighborhood to tune in. Now 16, Kelvin has expanded operations: he employs his friends as reporters and station managers, tasking them to interview spectators at local soccer games and keep the calendar of requests for his DJ services at parties and events. The average age of his crew is 12. Kelvin ... was at the 2012 World Maker Faire held in New York at the end of September. He was invited to participate in a “Meet the Young Makers” panel with four other amazing young makers from America. He is the youngest person in history to be invited to the “Visiting Practitioner’s Program” at MIT, and he presented his inventions to undergraduate students at Harvard College and MIT.
Note: For a popular video on this amazing, young genius from Africa, click here.
414 Homicides in ’12 Is a Record Low for New York City
2012-12-29, New York Times
Posted: 2013-01-01 08:47:03
Murders in New York have dropped to their lowest level in over 40 years, city officials announced on [December 28]. There were 414 recorded homicides so far in 2012, compared with 515 for the same period in 2011, city officials said. That is a striking decline from murder totals in the low-2,000s that were common in the early 1990s, and is also below the record low: 471, set in 2009. Shootings are also down for the year so far. The number of murders is the lowest since 1963, when improvements in the recording of data were made. In the last two decades, trumpeting declines in crime trends has become an annual end-of-the-year event, even when the numbers inched up. There were also several anomalies in the 2012 homicide tally, including a serial killer who murdered three shopkeepers in Brooklyn. But overall killings have dropped to such a low level that more New Yorkers now commit suicide than are the victims of homicides. About 475 New Yorkers kill themselves each year, according to the city’s health department. Nearly 70 percent of the victims had prior criminal arrests, the police said. Domestic-related homicides dropped to 68, from 94 in 2011. The likelihood of being killed by a stranger was slight. The vast majority of the homicides ... grew out of “disputes” between a victim and killer who knew each other.
Note: Though most American believe murder and violent crime rates are increasing, these rates in fact have decreased dramatically in the last 20 years, by over 2/3 in many cases. For more great information on this trend, click here. For other inspiring reasons for hope and optimism in the new year, click here.
Finding healing for the healers
2012-07-17, Boston Globe
Posted: 2013-01-01 08:25:44
Seventeen years ago today, in the Boston Globe Magazine, a dying man issued a plea for greater compassion in medicine. He worried that medical professionals faced increasing work demands that prioritized efficiency over empathy. Kenneth Schwartz died of lung cancer two months later, but not before founding an organization that would bring increased attention to the importance of human interactions in medicine. Research suggests that without intervention, physicians may risk becoming less empathetic over time. A recent survey of 18 studies found that medical students and residents tended to report declining feelings of empathy over the course of their training. Another study found that self-perceived empathy dropped sharply after the third year of medical school, when students start working with patients in the hospital. The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare’s flagship program, which started at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1997, encourages doctors, nurses, and other health professionals to share the complex and often distressing feelings that arise from patient care. In recent years, the Schwartz Center Rounds have expanded rapidly, spreading to more than 260 institutions in the country and 14 hospitals in the United Kingdom. The program’s growth reflects an increasing recognition that traditional ideals of the stoic, superhuman medical professional may not be healthy — for either the patient or the caregiver. Schwartz Center Rounds highlight feelings — guilt, fear, anger, or sadness — that might lead caregivers to withdraw emotionally from their work.
Berkeley center funds gratitude research
2012-12-04, San Francisco Chronicle (SF's leading newspaper)
Posted: 2013-01-01 08:23:52
At UC Berkeley ... a group of researchers thinks about gratitude year-round. Formed in 2001, the Greater Good Science Center is dedicated to unpacking the neuroscience and sociology behind traits such as altruism, compassion and empathy. The goal is not only to understand how gratitude works, but also to build a healthier, kinder society, said Dacher Keltner, the center's faculty director and a UC Berkeley psychology professor. "The U.S. underperforms in terms of the well-being of children, the well-being of adults and the physical health of children and adults," he said. "We also have one of the most individualistic, self-focused societies in human history. And I put those two facts together." Thanks to a $3.1 million grant recently awarded by the center, 14 researchers nationwide are studying various aspects of gratitude, from its role in initiating friendships to its effects on children's socializing. The grant is part of a three-year project, Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude, in collaboration with UC Davis. And last month, the center launched Thnx4.org, an online journal where visitors explain what they're thankful for and researchers analyze their responses to understand gratitude's influence.
Note: For deeply inspiring reports from major media sources, click here.
America on the cusp of social change
Posted: 2013-01-01 08:21:50
As the final days of 2012 trickle away, an uncommon emotional intensity hangs in the air in America. The country stands on the cusp of major change. Today, a majority of Americans support stricter gun laws, a majority support a more progressive tax system and most favor same-sex marriage. A majority of voters even support the idea of legalizing marijuana. The laws have not caught up with this dramatic change in attitudes, and entrenched interests will fight what amounts to a quiet but pivotal social revolution. The coming year will see continuing battles in the courts, in the media and in legislatures, as the forces of change -- now representing the majority -- seek to upset the status quo. Attitudes are changing [in] ways that seemed unthinkable not long ago. Who would have thought Americans would favor legalizing drugs? Two-thirds of voters under age 30 support legalizing pot, bringing the overall total to 51%. Truly radical transformation has come in the area of gay rights. For the first time, Gallup Polls show a majority of Americans support full marriage equality for gay couples. That's an astonishing change. But it's not as astonishing as the wholesale acceptance of gay people that has suffused American society in the last few years. Once again, the people are leading their leaders. Public views, especially among the young, hold that discrimination is not only wrong, it's silly. Something is happening in America.
Note: For other rich and inspiring articles from major media sources, click here.
'Solar sisters' spreading light in Africa
Posted: 2012-12-24 08:35:32
Eva Walusimbi knows well how it is to live in darkness. As a community leader in the small town of Mityana, central Uganda, she's been witnessing the health hazards and financial strains that a shortage of electricity can bring to people living in energy poor, rural areas. In Uganda, some 90% of the population lives without access to electricity, according to World Bank figures. Apart from the health risks, Walusimbi, 50, says that lack of electricity is also preventing people from escaping poverty. "People that are living without electricity, their day ends up so quickly -- they can do less work compared to the people with full light," she says. But for Walusimbi, there is light at the end of the tunnel. She has joined Solar Sister, a group aiming to eradicate energy poverty while creating economic opportunities for women. Solar Sister trains, recruits and supports female entrepreneurs in East Africa to sell affordable solar lighting and other green products such as solar lamps and mobile phone chargers. The women use their community networks of family and neighbors to build their own businesses, earning a commission on each sale. Solar Sister founder Katherine Lucey, a former investment banker with expertise in the energy sector, says this model is creating access to safe, affordable and clean energy while helping women to earn a steady income to support their families.
Note: For deeply inspiring reports from major media sources, click here.
Folks Who Are Fighting Hunger at Home
2012-12-02, Parade Magazine
Posted: 2012-12-24 08:33:49
When Joshua Williams was 5 years old, his grandmother gave him $20 to spend on whatever he wanted. "My mom and I were in the car on the way to church, and I was thinking about all the fun things I could buy," he says. But then, while waiting at a red light, he looked out the window and saw a homeless man begging for money. Joshua leaned forward and said he wanted to give the man the $20 so he could get a meal. "I suggested that we go buy the man some food," says his mom, Claudia McLean. "But Joshua pointed out, 'What if he doesn't like what we get him?' From that moment on, he was pestering me about how we could help more people." Soon, the family began cooking meals every Saturday to distribute to the homeless. Still, says Joshua, 11, "we only had so much food, and I knew people were still hungry." In 2007, Joshua and his mom established Joshua's Heart Foundation, which has since given away 400,000 pounds of food through a variety of initiatives. But the foundation's backpack program, which discreetly issues food-filled packs to needy schoolchildren before weekends, is closest to the seventh grader's heart. "When kids don't have to worry whether they'll have dinner that night, they can concentrate better, do better in school," he says. The program benefits 50 kids in two Miami-area schools, but Joshua hopes to expand it via corporate donations (Walmart has given $20,000). The foundation now has 700 volunteers, plus a Junior Advisory Board over which he presides. "When I look at the faces of the people we're helping and see how happy they are, that's my favorite moment," he says.
Note: For an inspiring article on how Howard Buffett (son of billionaire Warren Buffett) is doing incredible work to end hunger worldwide, click here. For deeply inspiring reports from major media sources, click here
Child Abuse Drops for Fifth Straight Year
2012-12-12, ABC News/Associated Press
Posted: 2012-12-18 10:25:09
Reports of child abuse and neglect have dropped nationwide for the fifth consecutive year, and abuse-related child fatalities also are at a five-year low. The latest annual report from the Department of Health and Human Services, released [on December 12], estimates that there were 681,000 cases of child abuse or neglect across the nation in the 2011 fiscal year. That's down from 695,000 in 2010 and from 723,000 in 2007. The number of abuse-related fatalities was estimated at 1,570 — down from 1,580 in 2010 and from 1,720 in 2007. About four fifths of those killed were younger than 4, and parents were deemed responsible for nearly four fifths of the deaths. Regarding types of maltreatment, 78.5 percent of the victims suffered neglect, nearly 18 percent were physically abused and 9.1 percent were sexually abused. The report tallied 61,472 children who were sexually abused in 2011 — down dramatically from the peak of about 150,000 in 1992. The report, formally known as the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, is based on input from child protection agencies in every state. Sociologist David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, says he finds the annual reports frustrating because of the lack of analysis of the trends. "But at the same time, it does appear remarkable that overall child maltreatment has declined given that unemployment has been so high, the housing and mortgage crisis has continued, and state and local budgets for family and child services have been cut," he wrote.
Note: For more details on this inspiring news, see a government article at this link. Just 50 years ago, child sexual abuse was virtually a taboo topic. There was nowhere to report such things. Now that there is a protective net and awareness has skyrocketed, far fewer children are being abused. This has powerful, positive implications as more children grow up healthy and knowing that they are protected. For many other great reasons for hope and optimism in these uncertain times, click here.
From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model
2011-12-12, New York Times
Posted: 2012-12-11 08:39:00
Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator and author, [said that in] his country, ... teachers typically spend about four hours a day in the classroom, and are paid to spend two hours a week on professional development. At the University of Helsinki, where he teaches, 2,400 people competed last year for 120 slots in the (fully subsidized) master’s program for schoolteachers. “It’s more difficult getting into teacher education than law or medicine,” he said. Dr. Sahlberg puts high-quality teachers at the heart of Finland’s education success story. Ever since Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million that does not start formal education until age 7 and scorns homework and testing until well into the teenage years, scored at the top of a well-respected international test in 2001 in math, science and reading, it has been an object of fascination among American educators and policy makers. Finlandophilia only picked up when the nation placed close to the top again in 2009, while the United States ranked 15th in reading, 19th in math and 27th in science. In Helsinki, the Education Ministry has had 100 official delegations from 40 to 45 countries visit each year since 2005. Dr. Sahlberg said a turning point was a government decision in the 1970s to require all teachers to have master’s degrees — and to pay for their acquisition. Finland scorns almost all standardized testing before age 16 and discourages homework, and it is seen as a violation of children’s right to be children for them to start school any sooner than 7, Dr. Sahlberg said.
Note: The US continues to push for more testing, while Finland shows that less testing and homework gives better results. For an excellent article on this in the Washington Post, click here. For more astounding facts on Finland's education success, click here.
NYPD Officer's Kindness Sparks Online Sensation
2012-11-29, ABC News/Associated Press
Posted: 2012-12-11 08:35:40
A tourist's snapshot of a New York City police officer giving new boots to a barefoot homeless man in Times Square has created an online sensation. Jennifer Foster, of Florence, Ariz., was visiting New York with her boyfriend on Nov. 14, when she came across the shoeless man asking for change in Times Square. As she was about to approach him, she said the officer — identified as Larry DePrimo — came up to the man with a pair of all-weather boots and thermal socks on the frigid night. She recorded his generosity on her cellphone. DePrimo ... remembered the night clearly, that even with two pairs of socks on, his feet were freezing. The homeless man "didn't even have a pair of socks on and I could only imagine how cold that pavement was," the 25-year-old said. The photo shows the officer kneeling beside the man with the boots at his feet. "I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let's put them on and take care of you," Foster quoted DePrimo as saying to the man. She wrote: "The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man. The officer expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching." DePrimo said buying the boots "was something I had to do." He tried to persuade the man to get something to eat, but he declined and left. "When I brought out the shoes, it was just a smile from ear to ear," he said. "It was a great moment for both of us."
Note: You can see the inspiring photo at the link above. For lots of deeply inspiring stories from major media sources, click here.
A worldwide mission of kids helping kids
2012-11-25, CBS News 60 Minutes
Posted: 2012-12-04 09:18:25
Craig Kielburger ... was in seventh grade when the death of a boy changed his life. It was a change so profound that, through Kielburger, it has now saved and transformed lives around the globe. He read about the murder of a boy his age in Pakistan. Iqbal Masih was a slave in a carpet factory. Masih escaped to lead a campaign against servitude. But within two years he was silenced. Kielburger ... made Iqbal Masih's fight his own. He talked to classmates, to Congress, to Parliament. Kielburger wanted to free children from slavery. So he went to Asia recruiting activists and government authorities to bust child sweatshops and sex traffickers. There were early successes, [but] kids he freed were being pulled back into servitude, years later, by centuries old culture and traditions shaped by poverty and illiteracy. Today, Free The Children is in 45 countries. A $30 million a year charity building schools, providing clean water, and connecting local craftsmen to world markets where their traditions bring in good money. There are two million volunteers nearly all of them under the age of 18. Free the Children today is the world's largest network of children helping children. "What that means in practice is we inspire kids. Then we give them all the tools they need to learn about these issues: speaking tours, summer leadership camps, curriculum every week. Our bet that we're making is if you give kids the inspiration and the tools to change the world, it'll change their own lives also in the process," [Kielburger said].
Note: This is a powerful example of how the younger generation is making a big difference in our world. Kielburger's charity is now in 45 countries and takes in $30 million per year. It's the largest organization of children helping children in the world. For the highly inspiring, 12-minute video of this segment, click here.
The Science of Heaven
2012-11-18, The Daily Beast/Newsweek
Posted: 2012-11-27 09:38:13
On the morning of Nov. 10, 2008, I awoke with the early symptoms of what proved to be an extremely severe case of bacterial meningitis. As I wrote here three weeks ago, and as I narrate in my book Proof of Heaven, over the next several hours my entire cerebral cortex shut down. Yet in spite of the complete absence of neural activity in all but the deepest, most primitive portions of my brain, my identity—my sense of self—did not go dark. Instead, I underwent the most staggering experience of my life, my consciousness traveling to another level, or dimension, or world. Brain activity and consciousness are indeed profoundly tied up with one another. But that does not mean that those bonds can’t be loosened, or even cut completely. Modern physics is pushing us [to believe] that it is consciousness that is primary and matter secondary. Totally objective observation remains a simple impossibility. And while in our ordinary earthly life we miss this fact completely, it becomes much more apparent in near-death experiences, when the body and brain cease to mediate our encounter with the larger reality and we encounter it directly. Make no mistake: consciousness is a total mystery. We simply do not know what it is. My seven-day odyssey beyond my physical body and brain convinced me that when the filter of the brain is removed, we see the universe clearly for the first time. And the multidimensional universe revealed by this trans-physical vision is not a cold, dead one, but alive with the force that, as the poet Dante wrote some 600 years ago, “moves the sun and other stars.”
Note: The author of this article, Dr. Eben Alexander, has been a neurosurgeon for the past 25 years. His engaging, best-selling book on this life-changing experience is Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife. For video interviews and other information on Dr. Alexander, click here. For other highly inspiring resources and stories related to near-death experiences, click here.
Kim Peek, Inspiration for ‘Rain Man,’ Dies at 58
2009-12-27, New York Times
Posted: 2012-11-27 09:23:22
In 1988, the film “Rain Man,” about an autistic savant played by Dustin Hoffman, shed a humane light on the travails of autism while revealing the extraordinary powers of memory that a small number of otherwise mentally disabled people possess, ostensibly as a side effect of their disability. It never would have been made if [Barry] Morrow had not had a chance meeting with Kim Peek, who inspired him to write the film. Mr. Peek, who was dismissed as mentally retarded as a child and later misdiagnosed as autistic, led a sheltered life, with few people outside his family aware of his remarkable gifts. Mr. Peek was not autistic — not all savants are autistic and not all autistics are savants — but he was born with severe brain abnormalities that impaired his physical coordination and made ordinary reasoning difficult. He could not dress himself or brush his teeth without help. He found metaphoric language incomprehensible and conceptualization baffling. But with an astonishing skill that allowed him to read facing pages of a book at once — one with each eye — he read as many as 12,000 volumes. Even more remarkable, he could remember what he had read. Almost all documented savants — people with an extraordinary depth of knowledge and the ability to recall it — have been restricted in their expertise to specific fields like mathematics, chess, art or music. But Mr. Peek had a wide range of interests and could instantly answer the most arcane questions on subjects as diverse as history, sports, music, geography and movies.
Note: For a fascinating 10-minute film on Kim Peek, click here. For a wealth of others with mind-boggling capabilities, click here.
Like a Skyline Is Etched in His Head
2009-10-28, New York Times
Posted: 2012-11-27 09:21:37
In a helicopter above [New York City], Stephen Wiltshire of London looked down at the streets and sprawl. He flew for 20 minutes. Since then, working only from the memory of that sight, he has been sketching and drawing a mighty panorama of the city, rendering the city’s 305 square miles along an arc of paper that is 19 feet long. He is working publicly in a gallery at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. “I always memorize by helicopter,” he said, pausing from detailing the corners of a street on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Mr. Wiltshire sees and draws. It is how he connects. Until age 5, he had never uttered a word. One day, his kindergarten class at a school for autistic children in London went on a field trip. When they came back, he spoke. “He said, ‘Paper,’ ” his sister, Annette Wiltshire, said. “The teacher asked him to say it again. He said it. Then they asked him to say something else, and he said, ‘Pen.’ ” With pen and paper in hand, he drew what he had seen that day. In time, a clever teacher taught him the alphabet by associating each letter with a place he had drawn — “a” for Albert Hall, “b” for Buckingham Palace, and so on. Now 35, he has already drawn eight major cities after flyovers. He has his own Web site and gallery. By unpacking in exquisite detail the riches that he absorbs in a glimpse, Mr. Wiltshire has built a bridge to the world that had once been cut off to him.
Note: For an intriguing five-minute film on Stephen Wiltshire, click here. For a wealth of information about other people with mind-boggling capabilities, click here.
Uruguay's President Mujica Shuns Wealth for Small Farm and VW Beetle
2012-11-15, Fox News
Posted: 2012-11-19 14:18:29
Uruguay’s [president] José Mujica ... has shunned the country’s Residencia de Suárez for the cozy but modest quarters of his small home on the outskirts of the capital, Montevideo. Dubbed by many media organizations as the world’s “poorest” president, Mujica and his wife keep house on a small farm surrounded by other tiny homes and guarded by only two police officers and his three-legged dog, Manuela. "I've lived like this most of my life," Mujica told the BBC. "I can live well with what I have." Unlike his forebears and counterparts around the world who live in comfort and are chauffeured around in limousines, Mujica donates 90 percent of his $12,000 monthly salary to charity organizations benefiting the poor and small businesses, and his means of transport is a beat-up 1987 Volkswagon Beetle worth about $1,800 – or the equivalent of his annual personal wealth declaration. This year he bumped his wealth declaration up to $215,000 – only after declaring his wife’s assets of land, tractors and a house – which still pales in comparison to Vice-President Danilo Astori's declared wealth and former President Tabare Vasquez’s bank account. “I'm called 'the poorest president,' but I don't feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more," Mujica said. "This is a matter of freedom. If you don't have many possessions then you don't need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself."
Note: For more on this unusual and inspiring president, click here.