Blog Posts by Claudine Zap

  • Why does so much weird news come from Florida

    Remember butterfly ballots and hanging chads? Not to mention a killer whale attack at SeaWorld.

    Florida, says a column in Slate, is home to the weird.

    Not that weird news doesn’t happen elsewhere. It certainly does. But, author Craig Pittman argues, it’s come to be expected in Florida:

    “When big news happens somewhere in the country, people in other states say, ‘Oh my goodness!’ or ‘What the —?’ But we Floridians will scan a story like that muttering, ‘OK, where's the Florida connection?’”

    Population is one explanation, Pittman writes. There are now 20 million people in the state. On top of that, 80 million tourists descend on the place each year, “from every group imaginable, crowded into that same narrow space, usually without a clue about how to act here.” (Spring break, anyone?) The author contends it’s a recipe for disaster. But population isn't the only ingredient.

    The history of the Sunshine State is shady — Slate points out that back when it was trying to bring in settlers, the

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  • Microfunding nonprofit fights global poverty one community at a time

    They might not be glamorous, but they sure are necessary: latrines. A rural village in northwestern Rwanda, Nyarutosho didn't have them. The village was poised to be given a microgrant in 2011 from Sasha Fisher’s organization, Spark MicroGrants.

    But before it got the funds, the village was required to go through five months of meetings so residents could decide together what was the most pressing need in their community — a school? A well? A health clinic? Then they would present a proposal to Spark.

    Fisher, a Do Something award finalist, founded and has led the organization full-time since graduating from the University of Vermont in 2010. She had moved to Rwanda to facilitate projects like this one in East Africa, funded by foundations and corporations. (Yahoo donated seed money to Spark in 2010.)

    Fisher makes clear that microgrants are not the more commonly known microloans. Whereas microfinancing focuses on seed money to start a business, the bottom line is profit. “But

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  • No takers for 'Schindler's List' up for auction

    An auction for one of “Schindler’s Lists” had no bids on eBay.

    The list was put up for sale on July 18, and ran for 10 days, until July 28. The auction, which started at an eye-popping $3 million for the piece of Holocaust history, was open only to approved bidders. 

    The winning bidder would be required to pay a $10,000 deposit. The remaining amount owed would be due within seven days. The winner also would need to pick up the document in Israel.

    The list is named for German businessman Oskar Schindler, who compiled the 801 names of workers he deemed essential for his enamel factory, thus sparing them from concentration camps.

    Only four original lists are known to exist, including the one up for auction dated April 18, 1945, which is described as 14 onionskin pages long.

    The date, say experts, could be part of the problem – along with the high price. Since the film focuses on the first two lists, not the one on the auction block, the subsequent lists are updates to the original – and

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  • Immigration reform activist dreams big

    Nothing could keep Lorella Praeli from going after her dream. Not an amputed right leg, which she lost in a car accident as a toddler. Not being an undocumented immigrant — or dreamer, as she prefers to call herself, from Peru, where she was born.

    The Do Something award finalist now works full time for United We Dream to help undocumented immigrants like herself.

    At the age of 10 or 11, Praeli says, she moved with her family to New Milford, Conn., to improve her chances for better medical care, a better education — in short, a better life.

    She first learned of her undocumented status when she was applying to Quinnipiac University. In filling out the federal financial aid form, she realized she didn’t have a Social Security number.

    She was offered admission and financial assistance, but she says her immigration status barred her from receiving it. She made her case to the dean of admissions.

    “I was very bold,” Praeli told Yahoo News, telling the dean: “I think you should invest in my

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  • NASA reaches a milestone

    From putting people on the moon in 1969 to weathering near disasters (“Houston, we have a problem”) and actual ones — the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy in 1986 — NASA has had our attention.

    This week, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, commonly known as NASA, celebrated a hefty milestone: The Space Act that created NASA was signed 55 years ago, in 1958.

    Now the Space Shuttle program is mothballed. Private citizens, like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, have stepped in to sponsor a salvage mission searching for NASA artifacts. Americans hitch rides on Soyuz and live with the Russians on the International Space Station.

    That’s a far cry from when NASA was first formed — to enter the space race, only nine months after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik.

    NASA is still part of popular culture, and still exploring. The Mars rover Curiosity captivated audiences far and wide with its live-stream landing on the red planet.

    "I think the most powerful of NASA’s

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  • Student group fights food waste and feeds the hungry

    Student Ben Simon saw a problem at his University of Maryland dining hall: lots of food going to waste.

    So two years ago he started the volunteer-driven Food Recovery Network to take uneaten food from the college cafeteria and deliver it nightly to local charities that feed the hungry.

    “An amazing amount of food gets thrown into a trash can,” Simon told Yahoo News. “It evokes a very innate response to jump into action.”

    Simon, who is a Do Something award finalist, has seen his organization grow from 10 volunteers to over 400 volunteers on 23 college campuses.

    “I personally have a background of always being involved in soup kitchens, food drives,” said the 23-year-old, who is now the full-time executive director of FRN. “I’ve always cared about hungry people in America and in the D.C. area. I knew there was a tremendous need of good people who need this food.”

    Since September 2011, over 166,000 pounds of food have gone to the hungry and not to landfills. This was accomplished through a

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  • It can happen: Real life animal tornadoes

    Sharks sucked into a terrifying tornado is the fictional plot of the SyFy made-for-TV movie “Sharknado.”

    But real-life animal tornadoes also have been documented. As MNN points out, fish, frogs and even alligators have been reported falling from the sky.

    Lucky for us, no sharknado has been seen beyond the SyFy flick, which will appear at midnight showings across the country on Friday, Aug. 2.

    Fish fall from sky. In 2010, residents in the Australian outback town of Lajamanu were rained upon by hundreds of falling spangled perch.

    “These fish fell in the hundreds and hundreds all over the place. The locals were running around everywhere picking them up,” Christine Balmer told the Daily Mail. She experienced the odd weather while walking home.

    Meteorologists told the newspaper at the time that the cause of the flying fish was probably a tornado that sucked up river water and fish and then dumped them hundreds of miles away.

    Similar incidents were reported in Folsom, Calif., on New Year’s

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  • Video goes viral of JFK enjoying a summer weekend only months before his death

    Footage of President John F. Kennedy on vacation only four months before he was assassinated has been getting attention recently on the Web. 

    Although the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum released the 15-minute silent video on its website in 2011, the sweet summer footage is only now getting popular online. Some outlets have called it never-seen footage, but the spokesperson for the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation confirmed the footage has been open in the foundation's collection "for years."

    The video shows Kennedy with his young family on a carefree summer weekend 50 years ago on July 27-29, 1963, in Hyannis Port, Mass.

    The 46-year-old president is seen teeing off for a round of golf and riding a golf cart to the presidential yacht Honey Fitz, where his daughter, Caroline, jumps off to join the president for a swim. Later she is seen in her pink bathing suit on her father’s lap.

    Jacquelyn Kennedy appears in the video in her trademark sunglasses with her daughter on

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  • Oldest free African-American community possibly uncovered

    A historic neighborhood known as the Hill in Easton, Maryland, might be the site of the oldest free African-American community.

    According to researchers from Morgan State University and the University of Maryland who are wrapping up a three-week dig, preliminary evidence seems to show that the neighborhood predates the earliest known free black community, Treme in New Orleans, by two decades.

    The U.S. Census counts 410 freed slaves settling in the downtown Easton site between 1789 and 1801. A census record from 1800 shows three free African-Americans lived on the property.

    “The census evidence shows they were here,” University of Maryland archaeologist Mark Leone, who is leading the excavation and directs the Archaeology in Annapolis program, told Yahoo News from the site. “We’re trying to find what’s connected to them in the ground," he said. “We’ll get there, but we just started.”

    Slaves who had bought their own freedom or were freed by Methodists and Quakers for religious reasons

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  • After 75 years of marriage, couple die one day apart at age 94

    High school sweethearts Les and Helen Brown, who were born on the same day on Dec. 31, 1918, died at age 94, within one day of each other.

    "My mom often said she didn't want to see my father die, and he didn't want to live without her," Daniel, the couple’s youngest son, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

    Helen died on July 16, and Les died on July 17. The Southern California couple celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in September.

    "It was a real love match, wasn't it?" their oldest son, Les Jr., told the newspaper. "They were together every day for 75 years."

    According to the sons, the pair met at Huntington Park High School and eloped on Sept. 19, 1937, at the age of 18 against their parents’ wishes. They thought a match between a wealthy man and a working-class woman would never work out.

    The couple moved to Long Beach in 1963. He was a photographer for the Navy. She sold real estate. They had seven grandchildren.

    The two, who were friends with many of their neighbors, were

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