Sunday, December 30, 2007

Why Giving Makes You Happy

Turns out compassion is good for your health. Who knew (other than saints, contemplatives and social workers)? But now it's being confirmed by science. Apparently, it is an established fact that 'givers are happier people than non-givers.' From the article:

A number of studies have researched exactly why charity leads to happiness. The surprising conclusion is that giving affects our brain chemistry...Charity also lowers the stress hormones that cause unhappiness...The bottom line from all the research on giving is that it is not just good for your favorite cause; it's good for you, too. For relief from stress and depression, it's probably more cost-effective than whatever your doctor might prescribe.

Now, if you're one of those cynical Scrooge types who doubt that you can ever clear away the mental black clouds you've made friends with all these years, consider the just-emerging discoveries in neural plasticity: among these, not only can you grow new brain cells, but how you think affects brain structure! It's fascinating stuff (I'm immersed in Train your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves).

Of course, if you're motivated purely by economics, consider that you still have time to make a tax-deductible charitable contribution for 2007. That way you can also reap the health benefits in 2008 (we all have at least one health related New Year's resolution each January 1st). So, write that check happier tomorrow!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve at The Bakers

All the presents are bought and wrapped and donations made (WWF, Doctors Without Borders, Second Harvest Food Bank, Embracing the Child); all the decorations are up and the tree (recycled from hemp) decorated, angel on top; food and spirits ready for tomorrow's feast; "A Christmas Carol" (Alastair Sim as Scrooge) in the DVD player; and candles, candles, candles everywhere. The most glorious night of the year is here - Christmas Eve! Tonight we'll each open one present (a brilliant tradition invented by some avid celebrant keen to 'get things started'). My Christmas wish is for all of you - and everyone, everywhere - to be blessed with the gift of kindness. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A No-Show on The Polar Express

For twenty-one Christmas seasons, Chris Van Allsburg's Caldecott Medal winning The Polar Express has been a favorite holiday gift to young readers and the nostalgic among us. It's been the perennial Christmas bestseller: 250,000+ copies per year.

Originally published in 1985 (with a complete makeover in 2005, re-mastering Allsburg's original oil-pastel paintings), the children's picture book even spawned an animated movie in 2004, boosting sales of the hardcover that year to over one million copies. But this year, The Polar Express was a no-show on the bestseller lists. For the first time in memory, there was no listing of the title on The New York Times Children's Bestseller List in the months and weeks leading up to Christmas.

Of course, hundreds of children's picture books celebrating Christmas (including this one) are in competition with each other; so it's no surprise when any single title falls off the list. But lament not. Consider: there are reportedly eight million copies of The Polar Express in print, making the title the best-selling Christmas themed children's picture book of all time (not including, of course, the many pictoral interpretations of Clement Moore's poem Twas the Night Before Christmas). A great legacy for Chris Van Allsburg.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Environment News Service

Knowledge is power: power to act. But with so much bewildering, and often contradictory, information and prescriptive advice about the environment out there, what's a bear to do?

I've discovered a fantastic source of accurate and timely environmental news that makes acting on information much easier. The Environment News Service (ENS) presents late-breaking environmental news "in a fair and balanced manner." I like the 'fair and balanced' part! Check it out for yourself.

One recent Press Release leads with "NEW BOOK TEACHES CHILDREN HOW TO POSITIVELY IMPACT THE ENVIRONMENT" and it sounds like an interesting read - perhaps even a last minute holiday present for the family.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Author as Philanthropist

Known to most Potterites are J.K. Rowling's generous charitable contributions to a variety of worthy causes around the planet. What's newsworthy today, however, is's open letter to Ms. Rowling thanking her for the opportunity to purchase The Tales of Beedle the Bard at a Sotheby’s auction in London. The book contains five wizarding tales that had been referenced in Harry Potter VII (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). According to, "The Tales of Beedle the Bard is extensively illustrated and handwritten by the bard herself--all 157 pages of it. It's bound in brown Moroccan leather and embellished with five hand-chased hallmarked sterling silver ornaments and mounted moonstones." Moreover, the Amazon acquisition is one of only seven handmade copies in existence. Amazon paid handsomely: £1,950,000 (US$2,800,000) BUT - and here's the great part - "Ms. Rowling is donating the proceeds to The Children's Voice campaign, a charity she co-founded to help improve the lives of institutionalized children across Europe."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

We live in exciting times.

Came across this very interesting take on what we know - or even can know - about the universe. It's all about what science has shown us over the past 2000 years; but it's not too deep for we layfolk. The questions posed are profound and great exercise for the grey matter.
Yes, indeed, it's wonderful to be alive!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Greetings from Basil Baker

Hello blogworld!

My name is Basil Baker. Although I've been online for over nine years now - and even 'blogged' a bit about one of my cases - this is the start of my blog (in earnest) for the tens of thousands of visitors to our "literate site for bear lovers" as well as all the new visitors we hope to reach. Take a quick surf over to and sample the broad diversity of our interests from art to music to literature to life on our beautiful planet. I hope to hear your comments.