Blog Posts by Vera H-C Chan

  • Y! Big Story: Mega Millions long odds and unreasoned dreams

    One in 176 million. Let me spell that out: 1 in 176,000,000.

    But it's another number$640,000,000that's creating a feeding frenzy among ticket buyers hoping for a shot at that historic Mega Millions jackpot. (Heck, even a gorilla is playing.) The bounty crushes the previous record of $390 million. Then again, that 2007 number came when only a dozen states got to play. Now 42 states plus Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands are participating, which makes the bounty huge but the 1-in-176-million odds inconceivably long.

    [Related: $25,000 donated to child in wheelchair]

    A teachable math moment. Eight out of 10 conversations this week: "Did you know that you have more of a chance of X than of winning the lottery?" Yes, the glee surrounding the impossible odds has been as heady as the fantasy of winning itself. And people tend to put these odds in mighty grim terms, tallied by Dakota Wesleyan University (Mitchell, S.D.) mathematics department chair Mike Catalano:

    "You are about 50

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  • Y! Big Story: Supreme Court and health care reform

    Everything you need to know to get up to speed on the big story of the day

    Defending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act"Obamacare" to detractorsmay rank as the most high-profile case on the Supreme Court docket this year.

    The hearing lasted just three days, long enough to combust a solicitor general's reputation, reintroduce  "individual mandate" to the vernacular, and get people wondering about the link between interstate commerce and broccoli. A judicial decision could come in as little as 48 hours, but wouldn't be announced until late June, which stokes another debate: whether this will or will not affect the 2012 presidential race.

    Supreme Court justices under scrutiny: Pundits thought the opinions would fall along the usually party lines, with Justice Antonin Scalia leading the offense and Ruth Ginsburg taking the defense. That didn't mean there wouldn't be drama: Many wondered if Elena Kagan (a former solicitor general) or Clarence Thomas (whose wife has been

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  • Encyclopaedia Britannica ends its print run

    The end of serendipity, as we know it.

    Leafing through the world's knowledge, alphabetically, will become am obsolete tradition. The oldest English-language general encyclopedia -- according to, of course, the Encyclopædia Britannica -- will abandon foolscap once and for all.

    "For 244 years, the thick volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica have stood on the shelves of homes, libraries, and businesses everywhere, a source of enlightenment as well as comfort to their owners and users around the world," reports its blog. "Today we've announced that we will discontinue the 32-volume printed edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica when our current inventory is gone." That inventory includes 4,000 in its warehouse -- about 8,000 sets have been sold at $1,395 a pop. (Seven million sets have been published in its storied history.)

    Digital afterlife

    While the move is acknowledged as "momentous," the blog also points out that the Britannica already has a digital presence. Also, those weighty

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  • Dick Cheney avoids “dangerous” Canada

    After what happened in Vancouver when the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup, who can blame Dick Cheney for canceling on his northern neighbors?

    The former vice president had planned to speak April 24 in Toronto. However, recovered memories of September protests convinced Cheney that "personal safety" was at stake in Canada, and both he and daughter Elizabeth will stay on the safer side of the border.

    "On the advice of security, they were worried that quite simply Canada is just not a friendly country to them," said Ryan Ruppert, the president of the promotions company that booked Cheney for the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. "God forbid there was ever an emergency" he added, referring to Cheney's heart problems. Cheney, a former heavy smoker, relies on a battery-powered heart pump and has no pulse.

    Cheney's turnabout should satisfy the StopWar Coalition, which led the 2011 protests. "We hope to set an example that Cheney doesn't see Canada as a safe haven," co-chair Derrick O'Keefe

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  • Chelsea Clinton shares onstage moment with father

    When former President Bill Clinton came onstage to give his thanks during his foundation's anniversary concert, it wasn't a celebrity or even his wife, Hillary Clinton, who introduced him, but daughter Chelsea.

    As introductions went, hers was short. "Every day, my father truly wakes up and thinks about how he can make a difference in the world, how he can make other Gagas live the American Dream," she said at one point, provoking laughter from her parents. "And, as he frequently says, he can help kids around the world have a story, because he got to have a heck of a story."

    What was more telling than her words was the fact that Chelsea was up on stage. As much as Bill and Hillary Clinton embraced the public life, they fiercely sheltered their only daughter as much as possible from its glare. Now it seems Chelsea's ready to follow their path -- not necessarily into politics but into the public eye. So far, she seems ready for the role, thanks to both her father and mother.

    [ Video:

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  • Bill Clinton’s emotional birthday celebration

    Former President Bill Clinton was a little worried about his ticker during Lady Gaga's number — and it wasn't because the blonde-bewigged singer tossed out the occasional curse word during a live-streaming concert celebrating his foundation's 10th anniversary.

    The former president said he'd received advance warning that Lady Gaga was planning what she called her "Marilyn moment," and he was worried about what she had up her sleeve. He shared his panic with the crowd packed in the Hollywood Bowl, telling the audience his big fear: "I wondered, you know, she always kind of goes up to the edge, she said she was going to have a Marilyn moment," he told a packed Hollywood Bowl. "I thought, 'my God, I get Lady Gaga and I will have a heart attack celebrating my 65th birthday.'"

    [ Video: Watch the concert in its entirety ]

    Emotional moments

    His onstage moment came two-thirds of the way through A Decade of Difference, the celebrity-studded concert honoring Clinton's 65th birthday and his

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  • 9/11 ceremony: Obama turns to comfort of Psalm 46

    A steady online stream of searches have accompanied the 9/11 memorial events — "George W. Bush," "Twin Towers," "conspiracy theories," "terror threat," "silence," "fdny 343 firefighters," "pledge of allegiance," "god bless America."

    Among these queries, many focused on Psalm 46 ("president obama reading psalm 46," "obama psalm 46 ten anniversary"). The passage has been described as "a sure defense in desperate times." President Obama has quoted from this passage before, during the memorial service of victims from the fatal Tucson mass shooting.

    Church history scholar Scott Manetsch, speaking to an Alabama divinity school in 2010, described its "emotive power" as deriving from "blunt honesty and its sturdy confidence in the Lord." The song has been favored among leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. An inspired nine-year-old Wolfgang Mozart composed "God is Our Refuge," based on the psalm, in 1765. Its origins are still unknown

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  • 9/11 observances across the U.S., around the world

    An American flag is unfurled during a commemoration at the Trocadero plaza in Paris, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)Americans honored the places where terrorism struck 10 years ago with  memorials and commemoration ceremonies Sunday. But beyond Manhattan, Shanksville, Pa., and Washington D.C., people in communities across the country and around the world also held anniversary observances.

    Here are a few examples:

    • Firefighters across the United States climbed the length of 110 flight of stairs — the height of the Twin Towers — to honor the 343 New York firefighters who died in the line of duty. Colorado firefighters first undertook this event for the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and it spread to other fire stations. This year, Alaska participants climbed the Juneau Federal Building, Californians the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco, South Carolinians at the Yachtsman Resort in Myrtle Beach, Texans at the Renaissance Tower in Dallas.
    • In Boston Public Garden, 3,000 American flags sprouted at the Garden of Rememberance, a 9/11 monument erected in 2004. Volunteers with Boston Cares gathered at dawn,
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  • In the aftermath of 9/11, the Web has amplified efforts to unite and divide, to inform and misinform, to commemorate and distract.

    There is so much excellent thinking out there about how the 9/11 attacks have changed American lives, from how we travel, our views on separation of church and state, to our sense of security. By September 11, 2001, the United States was on its way to pursuing its status as — in the words of candidate George W. Bush — a more "humble nation," focusing more on its immediate borders than developing its global powers. (More words on his pre-presidential perspective about nation-building can be found here.) Our relationship with Russia had (somewhat) improved, Cuba had diminished in importance, and the government's greatest concern was China, which had shot down a U.S. spy plane in April 2001. Five months later, the attacks of 9/11 -- even as they destroyed American families and a symbol of our wealth -- united us as a people and changed our global presence, for

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  • What the world wanted to know on September 11, 2001

    Media coverage on the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks have been intense. While behind-the-scenes planning to observe that day and understand how it changed America, has been going on for months, some people on the streets have preferred to go about their normal lives — the new normal, of course — and some have avoided delving into the subject too soon.

    Yes, despite the ubiquitous coverage, some have been researching 9/11 online in the months leading to the anniversary, often trying to find ways to explain its significance to a younger generation who grew up in its permanent shadow. As the anniversary now comes upon us, more are ready to honor those who have passed on, appreciate those who have survived, and think about how that day shaped our last decade.

    Many have sought out to remember the actual day. Here is a partial snapshot on September 11, 2001 searches, when the Web was still in its relative infancy.

    Searches from September 11 2001, Yahoo!

    This article also appeared in Shine's Fast Talking Dame.

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