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Last Writes
Want to make sure you get the last word, even from the grave? Websites such as MyLastEmail.com and PostExpression.com will send a final message to e-mail contacts after you depart for the hereafter. Foreign Policy (Jan./Feb. 2007) reports that in addition to serving as the modern equivalent of death letters, postmortem e-mails also can help put online estates in order. By including the passwords to various online accounts, the departed can provide friends and relatives the key to tying up loose ends. For an even creepier touch, you could join the throngs requesting burial with cell phones. TCSDaily.com (June 1, 2006) explains that people around the world are taking their phones to the beyond for myriad reasons, including the fear of being buried alive and the wish to have totems of affluence for all eternity. Whatever your motivation: Just don't forget to have the ringer turned off during the funeral.

A Wiser Wiki
Wikipedia has been a boon for trivia hounds, and now the same technology could transform how sustainability-minded shoppers do their homework. This fall, the Sausalito, California-based research organization Natural Capital Institute will launch WiserBusiness.org, a database of ethical policies and track records for hundreds of companies, reports East Bay Monthly (Dec. 2006). Eventually, the site's founders hope the content will be mostly user-generated, thus allowing the website to become a veritable green clearinghouse where people can research thousands of companies and search out everything from the greenest mechanic shop in Toledo to the most enlightened real estate agent in Denver.

A Map of the Toxic World
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is getting tech-savvy, and that could translate into an unprecedented resource for regulators, scientists, real estate agents, and anyone who's interested in living far away from toxic waste sites. According to CNET News (Jan. 17, 2007), the agency posted a file early this year with data on some 1,600 places on its Superfund National Priorities List. Software 'mashup' artists took the bait and added the information to maps available at Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth, plotting clusters of landfills, chemical plants, and radiation sites. The EPA has promised to release more files by the end of the year.

Canada's Line in the Ice
Canada is ditching the jolly Mountie act and getting tough about sovereignty over the Arctic Archipelago, with its 19,000 islands and surrounding territorial seas. According to a report in Canadian Geographic (Jan./Feb. 2007), Canada's territorial ambitions are heating up just as the ice caps are melting down, and that's no coincidence; global warming is opening 'Panama Canal North,' a shortcut passage from Europe to East Asia that's being eyed by world powers. Canadian Forces has changed the name of the Northwest Passage to Canadian Internal Waters. And to bolster its territorial claims, Canada has put on some formidable ice capades, including expeditions around the area in the country's flagship Coast Guard vessel and a series of grueling Arctic military exercises last year called Operation Nunalivut I (Inuktitut for 'land that is ours') -- missions captured in a photo essay in Up Here (Oct. 2006). According to Prospect (Jan. 2007), Canada owes much of its recent tough-guy gusto to conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has publicly rebuked the United States' contention that the passage is an 'international strait.' Now Harper wants to buy three icebreaker vessels for an estimated Canadian $450 million (about $384 million U.S.) each, and he has approved plans for a new Arctic-specific military training center.

Luxury Vending
Pocket change won't get you much from the vending machines in malls these days. The latest wares on offer for instant consumption cater to high-rolling consumers. According to the Times of London (July 15, 2006) and the Christian Science Monitor (Jan. 18, 2007), several hundred vending machines are currently selling luxury items such as iPods and Reebok trainers. There's also tyke-friendly vending, with fare such as fruit snacks and diapers, and risquĊ½ machines from the sex-toy company Tabooboo. Holding up the low-cost (but highbrow) front, the Zine Machine at the University of Iowa is selling zines and minicomics at affordable prices. It's a literary spin-off of the ingenious Art-o-mats found in several states that dispense original artworks from vintage cigarette machines.

India's Dream McJobs
Many middle-class Anglophones in India enjoy lives of relative luxury, with drivers, maids, and cushy desk jobs. But an emerging class of young idealists are signing up in droves for low-paying fast food jobs. And guess what? They're lovin' it. As reported in Tank (Vol. 4 #8), these rebellious Indians view McJobs as hip, safe, even glamorous. Drawn by the working-class cachet, they log long hours working side by side with 'vernies' (shorthand for 'vernacular,' people from remote villages) and other young singles. The trend has led some to speculate that fast food could help chip away at India's caste and arranged marriage systems.

Preapproved by Allah
A religious awakening is spreading among bankers and mortgage lenders hoping to woo a largely untapped market: American Muslims. Though the country's millions of Muslims tend to be well educated (62 percent have bachelor's degrees) and prosperous (43 percent earn more than $50,000 a year), their home ownership rates lag behind those of most other groups. That's because the Quran prohibits charging or paying interest. According to Azizah (Vol. 4 #2), novel financial products called Islamic mortgages are gaining popularity with six big lenders and are now available through the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation in more than a dozen states.

The mortgages vary but always involve some kind of noninterest mechanism, such as a rent-to-own arrangement or a partnership plan that transfers a small percentage of ownership from seller to buyer with each monthly payment. Banks also consult with Shariah boards and Islamic financiers to make sure everything's halal.

Protection in Prison
The fact that sex takes place in prisons is fodder for countless bad jokes, gritty prison dramas, and tirades aimed at scaring young men straight. But federal and a majority of local governments continue to turn a blind eye to the reality by refusing to allow inmates condoms. In its January issue, POZ reports on efforts to pass federal legislation that would break the condom barrier in American penitentiaries. As the numbers show, the bill is particularly crucial for African Americans.

In the United States, one-third of African American men pass through the penal system, where 40 to 60 percent of inmates report engaging in sexual activity and the HIV virus is eight times more prevalent than among the general population. Black men are incarcerated at such high rates that they are still 3.5 times more likely to die from AIDS in prison than their white counterparts. More than 90 percent of all inmates are eventually released, many of them unknowingly infected with HIV, which almost certainly contributes to the fact that AIDS is the number one killer of black women ages 24 to 35.

Waterlogged Women
Water is an essential element for health and sanitation, and in the developing world it's usually women who bear the burden of providing this crucial resource. According to Peace Review (Oct./Dec. 2006), a 2004 study by Consumers International found that poor rural women in developing nations spend eight hours a day collecting and carrying more than 40 pounds of water (a load that can damage women's spines and cause various health problems). Manual flush latrines or caring for a patient with AIDS can quadruple what a woman has to carry. The study also found that 10 percent of girls do not attend school when they're menstruating and many drop out altogether once they hit puberty, because of lack of sanitation at school. The situation takes a financial toll on women as well. In India, for example, women spend 150 million workdays each year fetching water. If this were paid labor, it would add as much as 10 billion rupees ($227 million) to women's income.

Jail Bait for Gay Bashers
Police in Dublin, Ireland, have launched a program to arrest gay bashers in city parks, and they're doing it by going undercover in gay cruising areas in the guise of 'Muscle Marys' (as they're apparently called in Ireland). Dubbed the 'Pink Patrol,' the muscly men wear skin-tight jeans and T-shirts and use 'the walk' to signal their intentions, and wait to be attacked by thugs. Gay.com (Oct. 11, 2006) reports that the patrol made 14 arrests in just three months. Whether the program could work in the United States is an intriguing question; it certainly gives new meaning to the concept of 'entrapment.' One can imagine a defendant's line in court: 'But look how they were dressed, judge; they were just asking to get beat up!'

By Richard Schneider Jr., reprinted from the Gay & Lesbian Review (Jan./Feb. 2007); www.glreview.com.