TOWARD THE SUMMIT: Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson on their way to conquering El Capitan’s Dawn Wall

Kevin Jorgeson - Tommy Caldwell

Using only your hands and feet to climb the downright scary 3,000-foot granite wall in California’s Yosemite National Park, is it even humanly possible? If ever you could pick a time for someone to pull it off, you might want to pick this very moment. Vicious winds, bitter cold and split fingertips – not to mention the ever-present threat of low spirits – are just a few of the hurdles they’ve had to overcome so far and will certainly face in the days, if not weeks, ahead – but if Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson ever reach the summit, these brave men – right now halfway there – will set the bar so high that it may take generations before another climber can accomplish such an incredible feat.

FERRETS MAY COME OUT OF HIDING AND ONTO NEW YORK CITY STREETS

Ferret

Regarded by many as insane – thanks in part to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani – ferret owners in New York City may soon be able to step out of the shadows and, who knows, restore their reputation in the process. Seen as perfect pets by their proud owners, who say they’re playful, loving and independent, the furry creatures have been living in hiding since 1999, when they were added to the city’s banned-pet list. So depending on what happens at a public hearing to be held on January 21st, the next time you’re in the Big Apple and see a ferret’s head sticking out of a carrier bag, it may be perfectly legal.

LOPSIDED: Brazil tilts to the right

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No, no, no, no!! I’m not talking about politics – far from it. Right now, if you’re Brazilian and you’re not in hospital, in prison or on Mars, chances are you’re basking in the sun on a beach somewhere along the coast – hands down, Brazilians’ favorite place to ring in the New Year, and the fact that it’s scorching hot in this country and that kids are on vacation doesn’t hurt either. There they go, crowding roads and airports and leaving behind cities and towns, which, as the end of the year approaches, become almost empty, a striking contrast to those on the coast, where millions and millions of people donning brand new white clothes and holding glasses of bubbly watch firework displays and wish their loved ones a happy new year.

Ingredients of a poignant story: unconditional love, a sprinkle of broken protocol and sheer poverty

Homeless man has an epileptic seizure. Passerby calls an ambulance. Patient is taken to the hospital.  There’s nothing new there. As a matter of fact, it happens countless times on any given day in this country. This very story, however, stands out and reminds us once again why dogs play an outsize role in so many people’s lives: There he is, desperately chasing the ambulance carrying his friend. When faced with such a heart wrenching situation in the side mirror, the driver can’t help but hit the brakes. Panting profusely, the pooch then hops in without any hesitation and, alongside his ailing buddy, is taken to the emergency room. Already in the hospital, on a stretcher, the poor man waits for a doctor, and right there by his side, a faithful companion patiently stands guard.

Brazilians go all out on Christmas Eve: large family gatherings, bubbly, turkey, gifts—the whole shebang

Merry Christmas

Millions of Brazilians are gearing up for the most important day of the year in this gigantic South American country: December 24th. Well, that’s when most of the action takes place anyway, and if you’re not too hungover on the 25th, you can have the leftovers for lunch, which by the way, taste even better than the night before, when families get together to exchange gifts, drink lots of bubbly and feast on inordinate amounts of food – turkey being the main attraction. So if you’re ever in Brazil at this time of year, make sure not to miss the celebrations on Christmas Eve, and of course, don’t forget that Santa Claus comes to the Southern Hemisphere  in the summer, so that wool sweater can be left home. Merry Christmas, everyone!!

WELCOME TO THE NEW ERA OF PRO SURFING: BRAZILIAN PRODIGY GABRIEL MEDINA WINS 2014 ASP WORLD TITLE

Gabriel Medina - Champion

Braving one of the most challenging waves on the planet, far away from home at the legendary Pipeline, Gabriel Medina has made history by becoming the first Brazilian surfer to win the world title, which is quite an accomplishment for a boy who had a humble upbringing in a country where soccer is almost a religion, but with the help of a doting, persistent mother and a visionary step-father, who saw in a nine-year-old kid unequaled talent, Gabriel took up surfing and never looked back, and when news came that the 20-year-old had achieved glory, euphoric fans across Brazil and around the world took to the streets in celebration, waving Brazilian flags and chanting, “Surfing’s got a new king.”

PLAYING WITH FIRE: BRAZILIAN TV HOST GETS BURNED ON LIVE SHOW

Luis Ricardo

CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO WATCH THE VIDEO (Luis Ricardo/Programa do Ratinho – SBT)

You may have seen it countless times on TV or maybe even live at a circus: A performer lights two torches, drinks a flammable liquid and, voilà, spits fire, which makes for a great show and people just love it. That’s where a circus performer-turned-TV show host making a guest appearance on another very popular TV show enters the story. Not having done it for over thirty years, looking dapper in a nice well-cut blazer and as if knowing what was about to happen, Luis Ricardo several times warns kids at home not to even think about doing what he was about to do, and just a few seconds later, there he was, in panic, with his face on fire before a shocked audience.

IN THE BUFF IN RIO: AFTER A 20-YEAR BATTLE, NUDISTS GET THEIR OWN BEACH – ABRICO

Nudist

It was not easy. It took them 20 long years to get the city of Rio de Janeiro to pass a law allowing nudists to have their own beach. Now, they’re part of a very exclusive club of only 8 official nudist beaches in a country that boasts a 4,600-mile coastline. The US, for example, has over 200 nude recreation areas, not to mention countless others in Europe. But wait a minute, isn’t it the country of Carnival and the string bikini? Yes, it is, and it’s also the country where going topless is against the law. So if you decide to fly to Rio for the 2016 Olympics and feel like going in the buff, head to the white sands of Abrico, about 25 miles from the famous Copacabana beach.

BOY WONDER FROM BRAZIL, SURFER GABRIEL MEDINA ON THE CUSP OF MAKING HISTORY

Gabriel Medina

From a beach town like many others along the huge Brazilian coast, where kids grow up riding waves big and small and dreaming of someday becoming professional surfers, comes a daring, courageous 20-year-old who’s on the verge of doing what no other surfer in this country has done before: winning the men’s world title. Gabriel Medina, however, knows pretty well that pulling it off in a sport dominated by Australians and Americans is no easy feat, especially now that his closest competitors are Mick Fanning, three-time tour winner, and surfing legend Kelly Slater, no less. So come December 8th in Hawaii, this young Brazilian will have to do even better than the very best if he wants to be crowned champion.

BROKEN GLASS AND DEPLOYED AIRBAGS: THE MOST COMMON SIDE EFFECTS OF MULTITASKING BEHIND THE WHEEL

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As more and more people pride themselves in being multitaskers, emergency room admissions do not seem to vouch for that, nor do scientists, who emphatically claim that the human brain performs far better when focused on a single task. Well, don’t we all know that? Most of us certainly do. So why do phone conversations and text messages keep getting interrupted by broken glass and deployed airbags? Though experts cannot give us a clear answer, they all agree that simply raising awareness about such dangerous behavior and punishing offending motorists are not enough. So most of them believe that the best approach would be to block cellphone signals in cars, which in turn would spare drivers the inconvenience of having their communications cut short, not to mention their lives.

ONCE DOWNRIGHT ILLEGAL, CAPOEIRA MAKES IT TO UNESCO’S ARTS PROTECTION LIST

Capoeira

The UN’s cultural arm, Unesco, has granted Capoeira protected status, which means giving a huge boost to this martial art form that dates back to slavery days here in Brazil. As the story goes, African slaves tricked their masters into thinking they were dancing when they were actually honing their deadly moves. Fast forward a few centuries, and those very same moves (once illegal) are now part of exercise routines at gyms all over the world where instructors keep alive this unique martial art form, and in the process, their followers, besides learning a great deal about Brazilian culture, enjoy ripped bodies – the result of countless jumps, kicks and spins to the sound of live music, played on percussion instruments.

SO MUCH FOR THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: NO MONEY, NO PHOTO, HONEY!!

Bad Santa

MEET THE BRAZILIAN CHRISTMAS GRINCH

Malls all over Brazil are teeming with eager shoppers desperate to buy their loved ones that very special gift, and of course, those with little kids don’t miss the opportunity to have them talk to Santa. After all, children love exchanging a few words with the old man while their parents take photos of such a special moment, and in most places, mom and dad can also have a professional take the pictures. But at a mall in Curitiba, in the southern part of this country, a little girl learned at a tender age how hard life can be when her parents turned down a paid photo, and to their utter surprise, Santa Claus covered their daughter’s face, and by doing so, not only did he spoil a picture but also broke a young, innocent heart.

PREFERABLY FOR AND DRIVEN BY WOMEN: New taxi service in New York getting the thumbs-up from the ladies – but not without controversy

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More often than not, female taxi drivers prefer customers of the same gender, pointing out that they talk about all subjects (not only sports), don’t tell them to drive faster, and are great tippers. As for female passengers, having ladies behind the wheel, most of them say, makes for a safer, more pleasant ride, since women tend to drive more carefully and are much better listeners than their male counterparts, usually impatient and not as understanding. So with that in mind, a cab company in New York City has been offering a phone app that allows their customers to have women pick them up. Though successful so far, this new service has ruffled some feathers among civil rights lawyers, who say they’ll be closely monitoring it so that men are not discriminated against.

DRAMA IN BRAZIL: It’s college entrance exam season

Vestibular-Enem

Every year at this time, millions of college-age students take entrance exams in Brazil, which, in most cases, is the only way to attend universities in this country, especially the public ones, tuition-free and usually far better than their expensive private counterparts. Moreover, since the number of slots available is way smaller than the massive number of applicants badly seeking higher degrees, getting into college is awfully difficult, mainly for those coming from the public school system, which — oddly enough – is terribly inefficient. So now it is much easier to understand the sheer desperation of those that for some reason arrive late at test centers and can do nothing but anxiously wait one more year to take another exam.

SPAIN: SYMBOLIC REFERENDUM IN CATALONIA. POWERFUL MESSAGE, NONETHELESS

Cata 222

Though unofficial, contested and downright controversial, today’s vote in Catalonia sends a clear message: We mean business, and we want to decide our future. And then you might be asking yourself, “Why not?” After all, it’s been recently successfully done in the United Kingdom, where the majority of the Scottish population voted no for independence, showing the world what democracy really looks like. And make no mistake, London was against the separation and yet played by the rules, allowing Scots to freely express their opinions. Conversely, Madrid fiercely opposes any kind of vote, official or otherwise, but millions of Catalans disagree with the central government and believe that no matter the outcome, it has to be decided at the ballot box.

As Germany celebrates the 25th anniversary of the momentous fall of the Berlin Wall – the North, South Korea border is still there

The North, South Korea Border

… and a little over two years after President Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, the Berlin Wall was eventually torn down, ending almost three decades of separation and pain that left many dead and countless families destroyed, which makes one wonder whether yet another world leader will ever go to the North, South Korea border and urge leaders there to reunite a country separated since 1948. Mr. Kim Jong-un, tear down this wall!!

APPARENTLY NOT AS GREEN AS CLAIMED: HYUNDAI AND KIA TO PAY $300 MILLION IN THE US

Green 666

Hyundai and Kia make fantastic automobiles, but apparently, they’re not as good when it comes to figuring gas mileage. According to the US Department of Justice and the US Environmental Protection Agency, the automakers overstated their cars’ average fuel economy. Although denying the government allegations, the Korean car makers, owned by Hyundai Motor Group, have agreed to settle the claims once and for all, which means paying a record $100 million in penalties and returning around $200 million in greenhouse gas emission credits. Double-check those numbers on window stickers — that’s the compelling message US authorities seem to be sending to the rest of the car industry, and judging by the amount of damage, chances are it will be heard.

Wheels will be spinning fast over the weekend in Brazil as Formula One rolls into the land of Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. Brazilian fans, however, won’t have much to celebrate

Formula One

As it does every year, Formula One is returning to Brazil. But among the many drivers on the track this coming weekend, no Brazilians will be vying for the coveted title with only two more rounds to go, which is somewhat disturbing for many here in this country, especially for those who were around to watch their countrymen come first in race after race, creating the false impression that it would never end, but it did. And since 1991, when Ayrton Senna became a three-time champion, no Brazilian driver has been good enough to join such exclusive club. So on Sunday, one more time, home fans will have to find solace in the memories of a once victorious past and look forward to a better future.

Terminally ill writer Clive James keeps writing books and inspiring others

Clive James

At 75, Clive James has just released a book and hopes to do so again next year, but he’s not sure. After all, leukemia may get the better of him before that, which does not stop him from doing his job as if he still had the stamina of that naughty, stubborn boy brought up by a widowed mother. No, he’s not in denial. Quite the opposite, actually. He’s fully aware of the seriousness of the situation, and yet creativity more often than not prevails over pain, so he keeps doing what he’s done most of his life – writing – first in Australia, the country of his birth, and then in the United kingdom, where he gained fame and respect for his remarkable talent.

APPLE CEO TIM COOK BEATS THE RUMOR MILL TO THE PUNCH BY COMING OUT AS GAY: “I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me”

Tim Cook 222

In an opinion piece published by Bloomberg Businessweek, Tim Cook, Apple CEO, confirmed he is gay, writing that doing something important trumps his desire for privacy. And when the head of one of the most successful companies on the planet comes out, the whole world pays attention, which does not mean he’ll only be getting messages of support and encouragement. As he pointed out in his essay, even in his home country, there are places where one can legally be fired from a job or evicted by a landlord just for being gay. That’s precisely why such powerful, bold statement goes far beyond its more obvious purpose by also being a great source of inspiration for those who fight for a fairer, more equal global society where all kinds of minorities are protected by laws, not victimized by them.

GOOD, BUT NOT IN MODERATION: A new study finds that chocolate – and lots of it – is beneficial for the memory

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If you’re not a kid anymore and your memory is not as good as it used to be, then, according to a new study, you might want to give chocolate a try. And when researchers behind this project say chocolate, they actually mean the dark kind, which, though not as popular as its milk counterpart, is rich in a compound believed to reverse memory loss in older people. But before rushing to have this powerful treat, be warned that there’s a catch: To reap the full benefits of this antioxidant, you have to eat about seven average-sized bars a day. Oh, I almost forgot. The study was partially sponsored by Mars – a chocolate company.

Once living in a landfill, Rwandan orphan makes it to Harvard

Justus UwayesuJustus Uwayesu

Life is certainly full of incredible stories of people who, against all odds, survive the iron grip of absolute poverty. This one, however, stands out and makes one wonder how an orphan who once lived in a landfill on the outskirts of Rwanda could even make it to adulthood, let alone Harvard. At nine years of age, through the help of a charity worker, he was given the opportunity to attend school for the first time in his life, life that, up to that point, had only been made possible by eating trash and taking shelter in an abandoned car. But from then on, he only excelled, and now, at 22, on a full-scholarship, he’s studying math, economics and human rights at one of the most prestigious universities on the planet.

Sistine Chapel: No more than 6 million visitors a year, says Vatican

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On any given summer day, the sheer number of visitors to the Sistine Chapel in Rome is nothing short of impressive – 20,000 – prompting Vatican officials to limit it to 6 million a year in hopes of avoiding damage to Michelangelo’s delicate frescoes. And despite a state-of-the-art climate control system that filters the air and a brand-new high-tech lighting setup, historians and restorers have welcomed the decision, which they firmly believe is the proper way to make sure that future generations won’t be kept from gazing at the magnificent work of art by the Italian architect, painter, sculptor, poet and engineer who had an impact like no other on the development of Western art.

Don’t forget to set your clocks and watches ahead one hour. Daylight Saving Time has begun in Brazil

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Yes, it’s that time of the year when 60 precious minutes of people’s lives are unapologetically yanked away from them, only to be returned a few months later. Why bother? By then, they’ll be worthless anyway. Needless to say, I dislike daylight savings, and despite not being alone, I do acknowledge that many of my fellow Brazilians love it. And I don’t blame them, there’s no better opportunity to take advantage of the sun after work, drinking a cold beer outdoors or going to the park. But if you’re going to be too tired to enjoy it all because you have to wake up before sunrise, like me, there’s no need to worry. It won’t last forever. After all, February 22 will be around in no time.

Brazil: One of the world’s biggest and most populated megalopolises — São Paulo faces its worst drought in recent history

Dry

In a country crisscrossed by rivers, some of which so wide that not even the sharpest pair of eyes would be able to see the other side, water is plentiful and thus taken for granted as if it were some kind of a divine, never-ending resource, and yet somehow Brazil’s industrial powerhouse, home to 30 million people, is on the verge of collapsing into chaos. Located in the southeastern part of the country, São Paulo and its metropolitan area haven’t received enough rain for several months, so reservoirs are running dry. Though there seems to be no agreement on whether climate change or mismanagement – or both – is to blame, everyone is on the same page regarding the seriousness of the situation, which can very soon make water far pricier than gold and send a powerful message to the rest of the nation.

Recipe for a happy great-excuse-to-buy-gifts Day

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Its generic name is great-excuse-to-buy-gifts Day, and the following is the recipe for creating this very special occasion: First, give it different names and dates so that instead of rejoicing only one single day, many can be celebrated – and that’s done by attaching historic events, traditions, cherished values, and loved ones to them. Then, evenly spread them out along the year so that malls are not empty in May and overcrowded in June, for example. And finally, to make all those efforts worthwhile, through careful, persistent marketing, convince people that the best way to enjoy these dates is by getting presents, lots of them – it really works. Today, October 12th, millions of Brazilians happen to be observing one of these incredibly popular times of the year. Happy Children’s Day!!

Norwegian study: For a better reading performance, favor the printed page over screens

Reading

Listen up, fellow readers. This may very well be your I-told-you-so moment. Dry, burning eyes may not be the only drawback of inordinate amounts of time spent reading on computer screens. Now, a study from Norway finds that when people read from the printed page, they get more details than when they do so from their highly technological devices. Though still not known specifically why, it seems that by holding a book, turning its pages and knowing how much of it is left, readers absorb more information and then more accurately relay it. I, however, have to warn you to take my words with a grain of salt because I’ve read about the Norwegian research on my iPad, oops!!

 

SENATOR ROMÁRIO: FROM THE NOTORIOUS HILLSIDE SLUMS OF RIO TO THE SUMMIT OF VICTORY

Romario/Senator

He was born poor, very poor, in the squalor of Rio de Janeiro slums, where violence and drugs are the norm and proper education is something unheard of. Despite all that, or maybe because of it, Romário went on to become a soccer player, but not your average striker — the best of his time — which made him a star both on European pitches and on the Brazilian national team, where he led his teammates to World Cup glory. After hanging up his cleats, he was elected a member of the lower house of Brazil’s Congress, but unlike many athlete-turned-politicians in this country, he gained the respect of his peers and the entire nation by being a staunch advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, especially those with Down syndrome. Now as a newly elected senator, Romário may once again excel, and if his life journey is any indication, he very likely will.

TO VOTE, OR NOT TO VOTE, THAT IS NOT THE QUESTION: The 4th biggest democracy on the planet where one has no choice but to vote – Brazil

vote

Today, October 5th, close to 143 million Brazilians are expected to go to the polls to choose who the next President of the 4th biggest democracy on the planet will be, and chances are the overwhelming majority of them will show up, or at least, they should. After all, voting is mandatory in this country, and not doing so means fines, no passport, no government job, no salary (if you’re a civil servant), and other minor problems like being looked down by your neighbor as if you were some kind of anti-democracy villain. But wait a minute: shouldn’t democracy be the freedom to choose, or not to choose? Yes, it apparently should, but not here, where politicians firmly believe that a high turnout is paramount for the consolidation of a democratic society.

THE TRAGIC DEATH OF THE MAN ON STILTS

The Tragic Death Of The Man On Stilts

Every day thousands of Brazilians make their living at traffic lights across this huge South American country. Some are beggars; others are squeegee men; and many are street performers like Mike, who dressed in a clown costume, entertains busy drivers on his stilts, moving up and down the stage/crosswalk, and then just before the light turns green again, zigzags, hat in hand, between idling cars. Making ends meet is not an easy task for this courageous man. After all, Mike has four kids, a wife and a dog, but towering over his audience, he often ends the day with enough cash to make him want to come back the next morning. And it was on a foggy winter morning that Mike lost his balance, fell to the ground, got hit by a speeding driver, and stilts by his side, perished. Though this is a fictional story, the plight of those who brave the streets in search of whatever amount of money they can make is very, very real.

The dawn of the drone revolution: Still little-known, these highly versatile unmanned flying machines are here to stay — look up!

drones

On the verge of becoming more ubiquitous than any other flying machine, drones have the potential to revolutionize all sorts of industries, some of which are already hard at work trying to make this unmanned aircraft part of their businesses. Hollywood, for example, wants to dazzle moviegoers with scenes that, not too long ago, could only be imagined; Amazon sees a future where most packages will be flown straight into the hands of customers; Disney will very soon be flying huge screens at its parks; and Cirque du Soleil is busy training its performers to interact with airborne objects. As appealing as it all may seem, no one, not even the brightest minds, would be able to foresee the consequences of a world crowded with drones, hovering over people’s heads and forever altering their lives.

Painful end to a beautiful story: Ary Borges has seven tigers seized from his property in Brazil

Tiger

After losing a long battle in court, Ary Borges knew it was just a matter of time before authorities showed up at his doorstep to get the tigers he carefully raised surrounded by his children and grandchildren, and time has come. The man that for years kept seven felines on his property has had them taken away from his home/animal sanctuary by Brazilian wildlife enforcement agents. Tears rolling down his face, Ary stood motionless as the huge cats were, one by one, put in single cages barely big enough for their sheer size, and with the truck still in his sight, he went down on his knees, and as if not believing his eyes, shouted, “You’re family! I’ll never give up on you!”

The cattle-fication of airline passengers: Long gone are the glorious days when air travelers’ number one gripe was airline food

airplane seats

 Over the years, slowly, but relentlessly, airline passengers have had their dignity squeezed out of them to the point that otherwise law-abiding citizens are now labeled as “unruly passengers,” who more often than not get unceremoniously escorted off planes at the nearest airport. And to add insult to injury, fliers have to navigate through all sorts of distractions: Are you for or against cell phones during flights? What about the “knee defender,” would you resort to this gadget? Though such questions always bring about heated arguments, they only take people’s attention away from what really matters: space. But then again, who knows, people may someday look back on the way fliers travel today, and in sheer amazement, say, “Look at how lucky they were! There used to be seats on airplanes.”

Brazilian teacher forbids transgender student from wearing a skirt to school

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 When a high school teacher in Brazil forbade a transgender student from wearing a skirt to school, she never imagined that the next day, to her utter surprise, more than a dozen teenage boys would show up in class in skirts, prompting school administrators to change the rules and thus allowing all students to wear skirts, which, by the way, have been at the center of controversy before, when a male civil servant in Rio de Janeiro went to work in a skirt to protest against the unbearable heat at the office. This time, though, the issue is far more serious, and by fighting back, a bunch of school kids wound up setting a powerful example against discrimination.