I am going on vacation next week, when I typically undergo a complete news fast. It is an annual tradition of mine that is very good for the heart, mind and soul. As if to underscore the point, my pre-vacation week in the office has been a really awful time to be a newshound.
The civil disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., are an ugly reminder of just how much farther we have to go in this country before we can claim to have gotten a handle on our own racial tensions. But that does not hold a candle to some of the real horrors in the world.
Fighting has renewed in Israel and Gaza, after a ceasfire expired and Gaza went ahead and fired rockets into Israel. This, after finally claiming credit for the kidnap and murder of the three Israeli teenagers that kicked off the latest round of warfare.
Meanwhile, ISIS militants – currently on parade as the most evil people in the world – beheaded photojournalist James Foley after failing to secure a nearly $132.5 million ransom for him.
And Ebola continues to spread unchecked in West Africa, with some 1,350 dead. Police in Liberia have clashed with protestors while setting up quarantine zones. Elsewhere, Ebola clinics have been destroyed by mobs shortly after opening. And all this, amid the CDC saying it will get experts there to help within 30 days. They need them in 30 minutes.
It all makes you want to find good news. And thankfully, there is that, too. There is a viral video going around of a beluga whale playing “peek-a-boo” with kids at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn., that shows that yes, whales do have a sense of humor. And that they tend to have a soft spot for kids. I have looked a humpback whale in the eye at close range one time. There is something going on in there with these animals, so I do not doubt this beluga is actually playing with these children. And it is wonderful.
But my favorite bit of news is a story of how Russian officials are pressuring Bulgarian officials to do something about graffiti artists who are spraypainting the sculpted figures in Soviet-era war monuments to look like American superheroes. I mean, look at this. Just look at it! When I saw this, I told my Facebook feed that the world’s journalists could go home for the day, for there would not be a better news story that day. On a related note, I have to wonder what bad guy these people are all facing. Anyone who can unite Ronald McDonald, Superman, Santa Claus and the Joker in common cause must be pretty bad. Go get ‘em, boys!
But there have been feelgood stories of more meaningful consequence. The ALS ice bucket challenge totally took over the Internet this week, as everybody, and I do mean everybody either took this challenge, knows somebody who did, or saw a video of the challenge. The rules are simple: you call out somebody to either dunk a bucket of ice water on their head, or give a donation to ALS research. My wife and I got called out, did the video, and in turn, called out our entire martial arts school to do the same. We’re making a donation for every single student who takes the challenge. Currently 10 have done so. This campaign has raised awareness about ALS across the country, and has generated more than $53 million in donations at the time of this writing. Now THAT is people power.
On a much more local note, however, there was a story in St. Petersberg Florida where a pay-it-forward chain has reached truly epic proportions. A pay-it-forward chain pretty much does what it says on the tin: you roll up to a drive-thru (sometimes this happens at the counter, but it seems more prevalent at drive-thrus) and you order your drink, and you leave behind enough money to pay for the drink that the next person in line is going to order. The idea is that when you receive this act of random kindness, you are inspired to do the same, and on and on it goes. In this particular incident, the PIF chain had reached a mind-boggling 378 people. Isn’t that great?