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(WCBS) (NEW YORK) Mar 1, 2002 2:28 pm
CRACKING DOWN ON THE SALE OF HOLY RELICS

Technology is making it easier to buy all kinds of things, including holy relics.

"In the old days you had to creep around in the dark corners and the dirty streets to sell things. Now you just get on the Internet," says Tom Serafin, founder of the International Crusade for Holy Relics.

Catholics have venerated relics, including bone splinters and hairs from the saints for centuries. Serafin says, "A relic is mostly a keepsake, a memento of a person who is possibly an inspiration to you."

The sale of relics is forbidden by the Catholic Church he adds. "The sin of simony is a sin named after Simon Magnus. And it's the sin of selling a religious item. And that would incorporate selling relics."

But online auctions are creating a huge and lucrative market for them. "Here's a Website selling relics. And she starts out in her copy by explaining it's exosibus, so that's a bone of a saint. And she's starting her bid at $199," he says.

The 200 members of Serafin's group are upset with auction sites like e-Bay and have demanded they remove the relics.

E-Bay's Kevin Pursglove says they can't monitor every single thing for sale online. "There are 6 million items available on e-Bay on any given day. And they generate 25 million dollars a day in sales."

While federal law prohibits the sale of human bones, Pursglove says there's not much e-Bay can do about the auctioning of relics. "If e-Bay took the position that it had to determine what was offensive to any individual or organization then probably every single item on e-Bay could be challenged at some point."

Tom Serafin says, "I don't think we can just simply think of spirituality as a mere business. These are held in great veneration by the Church. And it's very offensive to people."

E-Bay's Pursglove says this is how the free market works. "E-Bay is a marketplace and it is up to the e-Bay users, as a buyer or a seller, to determine how the marketplace is going to be used."

If you find the Holy Grail on there. Let me know.


VOLUNTEER WEATHERPEOPLE

Everyone complains when the weatherman is wrong. But now you can help him improve his average.

Louise Halberg, a spry 84-year old from Sebastopol, California keeps a lush garden to attract butterflies. But that's not all she keeps.

"People ask if this is a butterfly house but I explain that it isn't, it's a federal weather station," she says.

Halberg's federal weather station is a white box in her garden that contains weather instruments. Every day for almost forty years, Halberg has been recording rainfall and temperature. She's one of 11-thousand volunteers scattered across the country who collect important statistics for the government.

"There's been about eight-hundredths since this morning; we haven't had much rain today," she says.

Having trained-volunteers such as Halberg collect local weather information helps meteorologists understand and predict the weather.

Andy Horvitz manages the Cooperative Observer Program for the National Weather Service, he says "That information is critical to provide special weather statements or update on warnings that the National Weather Service would then issue."

The Cooperative Observer Program dates back to 1890 and Horvitz says dedicated volunteers who take the readings no matter what the weather is, are what makes it work. "The one thing that just stands out is their passion and desire and their love of the environment and their wanting to help and knowing that their observations can make a difference."

With drought over much of the country but Louise Halberg's observations about rainfall are promising. "This year we don't have to worry about getting the hose out because we've had about 17 inches compared to 5 this time last year."

For her outstanding service, Halberg has been awarded the government's prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award. If you'd like to know more about the Cooperative Observer Program, contact the National Weather Service.


ENDANGERED FOODS

Believe it or not there are foods in danger of extinction.

"These foods are connections to our past. We are really at this crucial crossroads where we could really lose so much of the history and knowledge that go back centuries," says Patrick Martins, president of Slow Food, USA, a group dedicated to biodiversity in our food supply.

Should we save a species just so we can eat it?

People have gathered at New Jersey's Annual Har-fest to feast on Delaware Bay Oysters.

"Tastes like the sea. I can't explain it. I think it's something you have to try for yourself to really understand. It was just like really slimy. I think the shame would be on us as a human race to let something disappear from the earth that tastes so good," Martins says. He wants us to slow down and appreciate fine foods and keep them around for future generations to savor. And the lives and livelihood of some people too.

"When no one is buying the Delaware Bay oyster, you lose the ambiance of that part of the river, you lose the boats that used to go up and down the river fishing for the oysters, you lose the families that have spent generations connected to those waters, you lose a whole way of life."

The Delaware Bay Oyster is the first food inducted into Slow Food's North American Ark of Taste, named for Noah's Ark. They oyster made it into the ark because saving oyster beds purifies the water and because they just plain taste good.

Executive chef Jim Weaver made the winning nomination. "The Ark Project searches the world for products that are at threat of extinction from commercial markets. Supermarkets are looking for things that travel well, that look pretty and things like that. That doesn't necessarily mean they taste the best and so we are trying to preserve those flavors that are at risk of extinction," he says.

Other foods in the Ark include California's Blenheim Apricot, the Arkansas Black Apple and Vermont's Gilfeather Turnip.


RELIGIOUS BOARD GAMES

Is Monopoly too money grubbing for your tastes? Trivial Pursuit, a little too trivial? Perhaps you need something more substantial.

There's the Bible Man Game, the Redemption board game, Race to the Khaba and Steps to Paradise.

For Saira Sayeed her husband and their four children, a night out on the town can be expensive. A restaurant dinner and a movie can cost a small fortune.

So the Sayeeds spend a lot of time at home playing board games.

They play Steps to Paradise, Race to Khaba and a Muslim knowledge game called, Know Islam, Know Peace.

"It's like Bingo. You call out the word or the phrase and you can't put a chip on that word unless you explain what it is," she says.

Saira says the game teaches her children about their religion and imparts important lessons. "It's not just for winning and losing. It's more of how you've played the game. How you've cooperated with others. How you've learned from what you've played."

Suddenly, there's a board game for just about every religion. Kosherland is a Jewish takeoff on Candyland. In Kosherland, players race to their kosher home.

In Leela, Hindu families advance spiritually without landing on an envy or ignorance square.

Lou Herndon runs the Christian game company, Talicor. He says, "There's no blood and guts or anything like that. I also think that a lot of people were looking for more spirituality in their lives."



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