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The Wonders Of The Year 2014, As Told By Isaac Asimov

To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, we turn back to some predictions that The New York Times commissioned Isaac Asimov to make on the occasion. He got many things right.

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Online Sales Taxes Shift Consumer Behavior, Study Shows

Some states have enacted so-called Amazon taxes, forcing the giant online retailer to collect sales taxes the same way traditional stores do. In those states, Amazon’s sales fell about 10 percent.

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The Little Earth Charter

Children will enjoy the Little Earth Charter which lists eight principles for making a better world.

Kerry Kennedy: Faith in Action: Spending Holy Week at Zamni Beni Haitian Children’s Home

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Dear Cara and Mariah,

Happy Easter!!

It’s been pretty hectic the last few weeks, and I’m very happy that Easter is here, with daffodils and forsythia in bloom, lilacs on the way, and chocolate finally allowed after 40 days of abstinence (though I had enough truffles this morning to make up for all of Lent).

Along with your cousin Kyra, and RFK Center Leadership Council members, staff, and friends, Michaela and I were supposed to build a school in Mexico, but with all the violence there it seemed imprudent, so we headed instead to Haiti (the Mexican school is being built by more experienced hands and will be completed in a few weeks.) As it turned out, I can’t think of a more appropriate place to spend Holy Week, as the resurrection was on display everywhere we went.

I first went to Haiti in 1979. I’ve gone back every few years since. My most recent visit was three and a half years ago, on the six-month anniversary of the earthquake. Port au Prince was a sea of tents, rubble and frenzied activity. I remember thinking that none of these people have jobs, yet everywhere I went people were shoveling, building, hauling, selling, or walking somewhere with determination. When I asked Nancy Dornsinville how people who had lost everyone they loved and everything they had did not give in to despair, she said there was so much death and destruction, those who were spared believed God must have had a special purpose for their survival.

Port au Prince is the physical manifestation of that divine purpose. The city is bustling. The haunting remains of the Presidential Palace have given way to open green space, the rubble that engulfed the city is gone from the major byways, and though a housing shortage persists and too many remain in tents four years later, the capital appears to be lively, amazingly green, full of commotion, in short, a rebirth.

We went to Haiti to work at Zamni Beni, a home for children in need run by RFK Human Rights Award Laureate Loune Viaud as part of Partners in Health. Some people think ZB is an orphanage, because the parents of the 64 kids there will never be coming to fetch them. But the kids are not up for adoption. This is actually their home, they introduce themselves with the last name Beni (Bonjour, je m’apelle Peterson Beni, je m’apelle Samuel Beni, je m’apelle Marcus Beni, etc.) They care for, and fight with and for one another; when they come home after school, and eventually after college or for Christmas or weddings, this is where they will come.

I asked Loune how it started. On January 12, 2010, Loune attended a meeting of people involved in Haiti’s public health system, to devise a five-year plan to help her country recover from four hurricanes — Fay, Gustav, Hannah, and Ike — that had wiped away much of the infrastructure upon which the country depended. The impact of the storms on the countryside was overwhelming. Ninety-eight percent of Haiti’s tree cover had been deforested, setting the stage for widespread floods that displaced 8 percent of its population and leveled 70 percent of its crops. At the time, it was the costliest natural disaster in Haiti’s history, a crushing financial blow for the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

Seated at the head of the conference table, the prime minister addressed the group when, without warning, the earth cracked open and swallowed whole the entire wall behind him. When the rumbling stopped, Loune and her best friend, Nancy Dorsinville, crawled out from beneath the conference table and ran into the street to confront the Armageddon around them. Six months earlier, President Clinton had been named U. N. special envoy to Haiti. He, in turn, hired Nancy, a native of Haiti who graduated from Barnard College and held an MA from Harvard School of Public Health, a world renowned leader in women’s health who teaches at Harvard, to run the U.N. program. As co-leader of Partners in Health, the group Paul Farmer created which helps the government of Haiti runs its national health system, Loune’s first instinct was to head to the General Hospital, the largest hospital in all of Haiti.

When Loune and Nancy arrived, the hospital grounds were littered with bodies, many dead, others writhing in agony. Amid the chaos they found 38 kids, newborns to teenagers, abandoned at the Central Hospital upon birth or when resources disintegrated, all physically and mentally challenged, emaciated, and near death, mostly four to a crib.

“The hospital’s director asked me to take the children and I said ‘Yes.’” Loune didn’t ask how she could do it or where they would live or who would pay for it all. When I asked her how she thought she could do it, she just looked to Heaven and said, “I thought ‘He will find a way.’”

That is faith in action.

Since then, Loune has added 26 more to her brood. The latest is Micah, dropped at the Hospital on Easter Sunday a few years ago, blind, starved, and on death’s door. Today she is thriving — impish, fun, and lively, Micah recites the entirety of the 23rd psalm at daily chapel — a gift of resurrection.

Loune’s is an active household, on a small farm on the outskirts of Port au Prince. We ate breakfast with the kids each morning at 5 a.m. (sometimes I admit to being late), then read books, did calisthenics, went to the prayer service at the chapel, played wheelchair keep-away, danced, solved puzzles, ate lunch, played soccer, watched a Bible film, drew pictures, jumped in the blow-up pools, took a walk past the income-generating tilapia farm, hen house, and restaurant, ate dinner, played Uno or checkers with the teenagers, and finally collapsed into bed.

One day Matt Linder came to show Loune our Health eVillages app, which brings up to date medical information to clinicians in developing countries. Actress, comedienne, and RFK Leadership Council member Diane Neal used the app to remove stitches from my hand, declaring on camera, “If I can do it, a nurse can do it.” I may be scarred for life…

Our days were pretty hectic. But the kids were delightful, funny, and a total inspiration.

Every member of TiJoe’s family perished in the rubble of his home during the earthquake. He spent four days beneath the wreckage, crying for help. When he arrived at Loune’s door, he didn’t speak. Then, for days, he only repeated “I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead.” Today, TiJoe is 11. He loves soccer and is a fierce competitor. Michaela spent hours showing him games on her laptop and practicing English with him — his third language after Creole and French.

When the Bureau of Social Services discovered that a contingent of U.N. soldiers, deployed to Haiti to keep the peace, had kidnapped Roudy and were raping him nightly as a sex slave, they brought the boy to Loune. At 15, Roudy’s shaved head makes his egg-shaped skull distinct atop his fireplug build. He is always at the side of sweet and pretty Nephtalie, whose wheelchair he glides across the stone yard and up and down the steps. He has an easy smile and is quietly helpful, distributing books when it’s time to read and sitting with Patrick, deaf and mute, at every meal.

At eight years old, Wendy, olive skinned with piercing green eyes, watched his father take a stick and beat his mother to death. A few years later, his best friend died of gunshot wounds. Orphaned, despondent, homeless, lost, and defiant, he came to Loune’s door. Wendy Beni is now 18, in 9th grade, goes to school every day, helps his brothers and sisters eat meals and play sports, and is determined to finish high school and become a master carpenter.

Carl is four. With two club feet, he cannot walk, but that does not slow him down. While other kids saunter, he glides across the ground on his hands, dragging his legs. With massive upper body strength he climbs onto the benches, and nothing makes him happier than twirling around on one of several tire swings. He will not be denied on the soccer field, and whacks the ball with his entire lower body, sending the orb spinning towards the goal. Next month, he will travel to Toronto, where volunteer doctors will perform a series of operations they believe will allow him to walk for the first time.

Every day at Zamni Beni we went to the chapel. The kids sang and I prayed beneath the images of the Haitian Jesus and the Haitian Mary, no blond hair and blue eyes here, but reflections instead of the saintly people around me. Children, women and a scattering of men, who have endured unspeakable violence and anguish, loss and horror, agony — biblical in force and nature — and have responded with unbounded love.

Redemption. Resurrection. Faith.

I leave Haiti with these gifts in abundance.

All holy days, no matter the religion with which they are associated, contain lessons for all humanity. Easter is rebirth. Haiti, and specifically Zamni Beni, is the embodiment of that. The lessons of resurrection transcend chocolate bunnies or labels of denomination.

When asked how she endured so much loss, Great Grandma Rose used to say, “After the storm, the birds sing. Why shouldn’t we?”

The birds are singing in Zamni Beni.

With Easter love,
Momma

Wendy Abrams, Jayni Chase, Gail Evertz, Annabel Lee Hogg, Dick Iannuzzi, Matt Linder, and Diane Neal joined Kyra Kennedy, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo, and me on the delegation.

Awkward Moment Seal Wants to Help You Express Your Profound Shame

Meet Awkward Moment Seal—your new favorite meme for sharing your shame on the internet.

Kevin Lankes: Godzilla’s Secret History

Godzilla is a multicultural icon. If there was a Coca-Cola commercial featuring monsters that sung the national anthem, he’d be singing his part in a mixture of English and Japanese. He’s been terrorizing Tokyo for longer than Disneyland has been around. Over the span of 60 years, he’s battled Earthlings, space monsters and robots, spawned offspring and chased Matthew Broderick, all while belting out the most iconic roar in film history. He’s appeared in 28 Japanese films, a 1998 American film and an upcoming 2014 reboot, countless comic books, novels, video games and TV. That’s an astounding feat of sustainability. The daikaiju has nestled in our hearts (and nightmares) carving out a permanent place in the annals of entertainment lore. But even more astounding is Godzilla’s secret past. Where did Godzilla come from, and why? In anticipation of Godzilla 2014 hitting theaters May 16 (directed by Gareth Edwards, and starring Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe), here’s a brief guide to the monster’s origin story. The truth may actually blow your mind.

Godzilla is the original radioactive superhero — or antihero, in this case. The reptilian giant was born out of a genre of Japanese film called Hibakusha Cinema, developed in the unique cultural climate of post-war Japan. At the time, there were several prominent factors at the forefront of popular thought, a brief examination of which makes it easy to see what exactly led to the monster’s development. The first, and most influential, was the fear of radiation and the potential long-term effects of the atomic bombings. Godzilla first appeared in the 1954 film, Gojira, directed by Honda Ishiro. Charlotte Eubanks, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Japanese at The Pennsylvania State University, elaborated on the widespread cultural anxiety at the time of the film’s release:

During the U.S.-led occupation, which lasted until 1952, there was a moratorium on any press coverage dealing with the atomic aftermath in any in-depth way. The thinking was that too much attention to the atomic bombings would derail democratization efforts and would undermine U.S. authority, particularly since the U.S. had already begun using Japanese territory as a base from which to launch bombing raids on Vietnam. With the end of the occupation, some activists and journalists started to deal directly with the atomic bombings, but they were not getting much traction. People were more interested in trying to rebuild. But then there was a real game-changer. The U.S. conducted a nuclear test over the Bikini atoll and a Japanese fishing ship, the Lucky Dragon, its crew, and all their fish were exposed to the fallout radiation. When this hit the newspapers, it ignited an enormous scare, as people throughout the country feared that they had been exposed to nuclear radiation through consuming tainted fish. That was in March 1954, shortly before the release of Gojira, the opening scene of which features a fishing crew exposed to an unexplained, destructive flash of light. So, when that hit the big screens, it touched a real nerve with the Japanese public.

The short-term effects of radiation were already clearly visible in the individuals who had survived the blasts but had not been spared from the effects of radiation poisoning. This unfortunate group would become known as Hibakusha, which translates colloquially to “bomb-affected person.” Hibakusha expressed a range of symptoms relative to their exposure. Some of them died shortly after the bombings from severe radiation sickness. Others of them developed radiation burn scars, along with a host of other symptoms that went undiagnosed and unexplored due to social prejudices. They would live ostracised lives, shunned by mainstream society. Even now, Hibakusha remain a taboo, and avoidance is the unofficial national policy. The fact that Godzilla is a giant Hibakusha should not go unnoticed. He’s a reminder of the destructive power of radiation, and the transformative properties of the atomic bomb’s devastation.

Stephen D. Sullivan, author of Daikaiju Attack (a giant monster novel) and numerous other books and comics, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, has this to say about the creature’s origin:

Godzilla, both the character and the film, are a reflection on the Japanese experience at the end of World War II: destruction beyond imagining, and a lurking sense that “We brought this on ourselves” somehow, even without meaning to. In the film we see both the guilt, the feeling that the punishment perhaps outweighs the sin, and the striving for redemption, all of which are typical for such stories. In some ways, there’s a similar arc in the origin of Spider-Man: radioactive accidental origin, great power used without regard for consequence (personal profit for Spidey), punishment out of proportion (the death of Uncle Ben), and eventual redemption as a hero.

Humanity has long had a twisted fascination spawning from deep-seated fears of a destructive monster, one so great as to annihilate whole societies indiscriminately. The Hindu religion expressed this idea in the form of the god Shiva, who is the destroyer of the self, of negative aspects of an individual, and ultimately of the Universe. In popular literature, the concept is commonly associated with the fiction of Lovecraft and his Cthulu mythos. Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, famously recited a line from the Bhagavad Gita uttered by Krishna, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu (himself a creator and destroyer). Upon witnessing the destructive power of the bomb, Oppenheimer paraphrased the deity: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The religious climate of Japan owes a great deal to its forerunners in Buddhism — India and China — who, in turn, owe a great deal to Hindu teachings. In some cases, Hindu pantheons have been completely adopted by Buddhist sects, ensuring the propagation of certain concepts into future generations of practitioners. Godzilla could very well represent one such concept, in the form of a destructive and indiscriminate deity born of Hindu philosophy and adopted into Buddhist thought.

The final piece of the creature’s origin story is an all-too familiar tale in the modern age. It’s the story of human progress. Nature vs. Technology. What happens when man, through its incessant meddling, makes that long-awaited mistake that ultimately brings the Earth to its knees? Bringing our own species to the brink of extinction has long been a favorite subject of science fiction stories, and Godzilla is a prime example. Technology either awoke the monster from its slumbers deep beneath the ocean or outright created it. We know that, at the very least, Godzilla’s exposure to radiation increased his destructive power; the blue flame he spews is known as his “atomic blast.” And the creature rejuvenates his powers by sopping up the electromagnetic fields harnessed by crashing through electrical lines and power stations.

Says Eubanks:

The basic premise of Gojira, the original 1954 version, is that nuclear testing in the Pacific has awakened a terrible dinosaur which, in its wrath, is bent on destroying Tokyo. But, as Barak Kushner and others have noted, the film isn’t so much about destruction as it is about fear. Look at any screen shot of the movie, and pretty much every single person wears an expression of utter terror. This is true whether you’re talking about the scene where the radio reporter is declaiming into his microphone right up to the moment when the monster crushes him, or you’re talking about quieter scenes with the scientist in his lab.

Godzilla is many things, a product of the environment that created him. In our haste to make action-adventure blockbusters, we shouldn’t forget the tangible sorrow that follows in the creature’s wake. He is a symbol of destruction, prejudice and arrogance. In post-war Japan, Godzilla was a symbol of the side-effects of international conflict. A punishment brought on by the senseless brutality demonstrated through an abuse of technological progress. In the decades since his creature, Godzilla has become invariably changed.

Says Sullivan:

It almost seems inevitable, though, that bad guys we love become good guys. I think that maybe, as fans, we tire of rooting for ‘bad,’ and, sensing that, the storytellers tend to drift toward making their creations more likable. So, eventually, Godzilla no longer stomps cities (except when under control by evil aliens), and, instead, fights the enemies of mankind in wide open spaces in the mountains of Japan, or even on another planet. I guess turning from anti-hero to hero is the price of popularity. And don’t we all love a good redemption story?

Godzilla 2014 releases May 16. It isn’t entirely clear how the upcoming movie will portray the scaly lizard, but from the marketing materials, it looks like they’re gunning for a return to Godzilla’s atomic origins. I only hope that the movie also showcases the gritty and unavoidable truths that led to the real-life formation of the monster.

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