February 28, 2008

Golden Lama

Today I would like to send out a very special Travis Hellstrom Inner Peace Award to the Dalai Lama of Tibet for being of my favorite people ever and for being an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world. Truth be told the Dalai Lama is my inspiration for the Inner Peace Award and every time I have given it, I have thought of him.

What has inspired me to give him the award on my birthday this year is that I just found out the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation's highest civilian honor. It was commissioned by the Congress in late 2006, then designed and struck by the U.S. Mint in early 2007 and awarded to the Dalai Lama in late 2007.

I am very excited for the Dalai Lama and proud that our nation has publicly recognized and shown appreciation for his continuing efforts for world peace. In fact, I think I might just have to order some bronze copies of this medal myself. Let me know if you want one too!

February 27, 2008

Free to Worship

After a late night philosophical discussion with Jonathan about The Mist and its religious themes earlier this week, Chase conveniently shared a recent study with me by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. I found it so fascinating that I wanted to share it with everyone here as well. If it's too dorky for you, don't worry, you don't have to click it. The survey, called the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, draws on results from over 35,000 American citizens and was conducted between May and August of last year. It highlights the religious composition of our country, as well as the size, demographics and geography of all those major religious groups. For instance, I found that 78.4% of America is Christian, 16% are Unaffiliated (Atheist, Agnostic, Nothing in Particular) and 4.7% are Other Religions (Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim). Interesting huh?

Also the Pew Forum has a very interesting analysis of the 2008 Presidential candidates and their religious views on such issues as Abortion, Gay Marriage or Stem-Cell Research. Be sure to check that out too.

February 26, 2008

On The Summit

Here is the video and some pictures of when we made it to the top of Stone Mountain. I can only post one video per journal entry, so I made the Operation Thickburger into two journal entries. I know the wind is pretty strong in the video, but that happens when you reach high elevations with sheer muscle and determination. Oh, and yes, that is Michael curled up under the tree. He said, "It is warm down here." So there you go.


video

February 25, 2008

Stone Mountain

Michael, Jonathan and I were able to enjoy the elevated scenery of Stone Mountain this past Thursday and it was incredible! We hiked atop the 600 foot mountain at an elevation of 2,305 feet and gazed out over the tops of almost a dozen Blue Ridge mountains. Completely alone the entire trip, we hiked for hours and then drove back home after a stop by a KFC Buffet. I didn't even know such things existed, but thanks to Michael and Jonathan I became enlightened and stuffed with chicken that night. Then, to top it all off, we went back to Michael's house and watched a live episode of Lost. It doesn't get much better than that. Thanks guys, I told you we would make it.

video

February 24, 2008

Google for Your Phone

I am trying out a new, highly acclaimed service offered by Google called Grand Central and I think it is really awesome. I'm in the unique situation of knowing when I am going to be changing cellphones next (hint: I'm leaving the country for two years) and so this is helpful to me in more ways than the normal person, but I think it can be a very cool thing for just about anybody.

Grand Central is a basically program which gives you a new forward-able phone number with advanced visual voicemail. For instance, I picked out 828-330-#### and now have that number forward to my current cellphone. When someone calls, I get the call on any phone I want (or all my phones at the same time) and then pick it up if I want to. If I don't pick it up, it goes to voicemail and I can check it on my phone, on the internet, on someone else's phone or on my PDA. Also, I have recorded individual greetings for my friends and family so they get special personalized greetings made just for them. I can change them anytime, based on our latest joke or whatever, and I think that's pretty cool. Other cool features include special Ringback tones (so you don't just hear the normal ring when you call), listening in on voicemails as people are leaving them, being notified by e-mail when someone leaves you a voicemail message and automatic spam protection and call blocking.

Although I am just starting out my testing of this new program by Google, I have a feeling it is really going to take off just like Gmail, GOOG-411 and Google Video did. Try it out for yourself or at least give me a call on my new number by pressing the button below. If your name is Jonathan, Michael, Amy, Michelle, Jessica, Elias, Leighanna, Mom, Dad, Big Nanny, Josh, Chris, Zoe, Wee, Chase, Shaw, Jimi or David you might even notice a special welcome.


February 19, 2008

Not Done Drag Out

I have been checking the Democratic primary results since the beginning of the race and must say this is turning into a knock-down drag-out. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, says he hopes we can pick a candidate by April but if that doesn't happen we will be looking to a brokered Democratic National Convention in late August to make that decision for us. Keep in mind that after convention there will only be about two months and one week for the Democratic nominee to run against the Republican nominee in the general election. Yeah, I know.

So, what can you do? You can (1) vote, (2) voice your opinion and (3) write to your representatives:

  1. Most importantly vote - if you are a North Carolina resident our Democratic primary will be held on May 6th (and absentee ballots will be available as early as April 22nd).
  2. Voice your opinion by putting bumper stickers on your car, sharing your opinion in places where you have influence, and most of all telling other people to get out and vote.
  3. Lastly, write to your representatives. Over half of the superdelegates haven't decided whether they are going to vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. These superdelegates are elected Democratic officials who will listen to you because you voted them into office and may or may not do it again. Write to them, whether you support Obama or Clinton, and let them know how you want them to vote. They represent you.

Other than that, I would suggest praying or meditating on this process. I am proud that, as a country, we are fielding three high quality individuals as our presidential hopefuls (McCain, Clinton and Obama). I hope that we can all vote together to choose the very best one and then enjoy four years of incredible leadership - our country needs that.

February 18, 2008

Leprosy

Did you know leprosy still exists? After watching The Fog with my family and being reminded of the disease, I researched it further and found out that it is still estimated to cause the disability of between two to three million people on this planet. Leprosy (or Hansen's disease) is the result of a bacterial infection that, if left untreated, can lead to lesions and deterioration of the skin. The good news is that the World Health Organization (the medical branch of the United Nations) has very effective multi-drug therapies which are currently curing tens of thousands of patients in highly affected countries like India, Brazil and Burma. The disease being taboo, as it happens, poses more of a problem than it being infectious. It is normal for healthcare providers and those in close contact with infected individuals to contract the disease. In fact, varying studies indicate that only 5 to 55 people who come in contact with infected persons contract the disease in every 1000 cases. Like many unsightly things in life, however, most people would rather just avoid the disease and those infected than to seek to understand them and help them. Hopefully by reading this and thinking about it a little more on your own, you too will seek to understand the disease and those infected rather than just be fearful. Gandhi said, after looking at the bacteria itself in the picture above, "Leprosy work is not merely medical relief; it is transforming frustration of life into joy of dedication, personal ambition into selfless service."

February 9, 2008

Mongolia in Pictures

Mongolia, Mongolia, Mongolia. I've been doing a lot of thinking, reading and talking about Mongolia lately. I've also been doing a lot of searching as well. I've found articles, books, blogs, Peace Corps Volunteers and pictures, all of which I have really enjoyed. Here are two of my favorite pictures as of late. First, this picture to the right is from Wikipedia's article on Mongolia which has tons of wonderful information. Click on the picture here to the right and zoom in, do you see the truck driving across the steppe? Crazy huh? Man, I could look at that picture all day. I guess that's good, cause I'll probably be looking at for two years or so.

This second picture is from Robin's blog. She is volunteering over in Mongolia right now and this picture is from back in August right at the end of her three months of training. I think this is what placement is like, when I find out where I will be and what I'll be doing for two years. Cool huh?


February 7, 2008

Techno-edgy

I thought it would be good to write today about obsessive multi-tasking and resulting multi-tasking withdrawal, but then I was sold on it when I read this quote by Hobbes the Tiger (from Calvin and Hobbes fame), "All this modern technology just makes people try to do everything at once." Well said Hobbes.

I think maybe we love technology too much. What used to be silent car rides are now punctuated with intermittent text messages and phone calls. What used to be quiet reflective moments in the living room now have commercial breaks and sitcoms running through them. What about nice hikes in the woods? What about long conversations with friends without cellphones? What about when we took our phones off the hook and that meant no one could get to us?

I like turning the radio off in my car, not answering my cellphone when it rings and talking with my friends and not apologizing every ten minutes because "I had to take that call." I like watching a movie, or reading a book, or taking a hike and not stopping to attend to something. I like long, meaningful conversations that I planned on and made time for. I like using technology and not feeling like technology is using me.

Maybe it's moderation that counts. I listen to the radio, and I definitely call people back. I sometimes take a phone call if I think it's really important, and I will pause a movie if I need to. I also don't freak out if a meaningful conversation is punctuated with text messages and phone calls. But I try to think about things and be responsible with the technology that I have. The computer is not more important than my little brother, and most phone calls are not more important than a good conversation with Jonathan. The song on the radio isn't better than a beautiful drive with the windows down and a walk on the side of a mountain is usually better than a television show. Instead of just being on the receiving end of a thousand electronic signals, I would rather be on the giving end of a few meaningful words.

So if I don't answer your phone call, or respond quickly to your text message, or if I haven't seen that television show, or made that upgrade to my whatever-I-have, it might be because I was doing something more important. I would expect the same from you and I think we're both the better for it. Plus, when I do talk to you on the phone, or respond to your message, or watch that show or make that upgrade, you will know that I'm there one-hundred percent. I think that's saying something.

February 5, 2008

From Hickory to Mongolia

This past week I had an interview with Andrew Mackie, who is a staff writer for the Hickory Daily Record. Interestingly enough, he is also the writer who interviewed me about my Eagle Scout project almost five years ago. Pretty cool huh?

Anyhow, here is the article on Hickory Daily Record's website and an easier to read one as well. Like the Observer News Enterprise, they thought this article was fitting enough to go the front page which I thought was pretty exciting. Below are some pictures of the actual newspaper which printed yesterday.