Wednesday, December 31, 2008

News That Matters - December 31, 2008

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

Good Wednesday Morning,

An article in this morning's paper explains how Caroline Kennedy's "shine", as they call it, makes it difficult for anyone else to get face-time with the Governor. You know? In the article,  Michael Gormley writes:

"In the meantime, supporters of a half-dozen other contenders, including state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and several experienced members of Congress, are pushing their candidates' names and records but gaining little public attention - even as they argue they are more qualified and have earned a shot at being New York's junior senator."

You can see that my candidacy is in the same shape as Kirsten Gillbrand's or Andrew Cuomo's. Going into the New Year I'm still hopeful Governor Paterson will come to his senses, shake off the paparazzi, and makes the right choice. Yeah, I can beat Rudy in 2010. And if not him, then maybe Bondi.

What's in the News:
  1. 2009 to Arrive Not a Second Too Soon
  2. Coffee, tea available for drivers tonight
  3. Take a cab on New Year's Eve - it's free
  4. The Best Journalism of 2008

Beginning tomorrow you will no longer need an account at the NtM Weblog in order to post comments to stories there. You will need an email address and a real name however, just to maintain a modicum of respectability. However, In order to create new posts you'll still need an account and many of you have already created one. Stop on in, read the news and commentary, and get involved in the discussions!

If the weather clears in time this evening, an amazing sky show will be taking place. Venus and the slender crescent Moon will gather together high in the southwestern sky for a beautiful conjunction visible for hours after sunset. The two brightest objects in the night sky can be seen through city lights so everyone can enjoy the show. You got a taste of that last night and if it's any indication of what will be out there tonight you won't want to miss this.

If you're not like vast majority of people who will be staying close to the hearth tonight and you're still looking for something to do, the Carmel Fitness and Racquet club is holding an open house. (off Routes 6 and Old Route 6 in Carmel) Starting at 7PM this evening and running until 1AM, for ten bucks (non-members) you get full use of the facilities. Bring a pot luck dish and your choice of beverages. 845-225-0888

If you are going out tonight, Rockland, Orange and Sullivan counties are apparently the safer place to be in the region. Free cab rides, provided by a local business, run from  4PM today until 2AM tomorrow morning. Sweet, eh?

If you're looking for something to do tomorrow, you can kick off the Quadricentennial anniversary of Henrik Hudson's "discovery" of the river that flows both ways, with a hike along the Wappinger's Greenway Trail to the Hudson River. The hike starts from the Market Street industrial park and runs for about 2 miles along the creek to a point overlooking the Hudson in New Hamburg. Meet to depart 12:45 PM in the parking lot of Staples, between Rtes 9 & 9D (on the 9D side) or at 1 PM in the parking area of the Market St. Industrial Park. Call to confirm. Georgette Weir, 845-462-0142.  

Whatever you do, be safe!

And now, the News:

  1. 2009 to Arrive Not a Second Too Soon
  2. Coffee, tea available for drivers tonight
  3. Take a cab on New Year's Eve - it's free
  4. The Best Journalism of 2008

2009 to Arrive Not a Second Too Soon

By Joe Rao Skywatching Columnist
posted: 26 December 2008

Wait a second. The start of next year will be delayed by circumstances beyond everyone's control. Time will stand still for one second on New Year's Eve, as we ring in the New Year on that Wednesday night. As a result, you'll have an extra second to celebrate because a "Leap Second" will be added to 2008 to let a lagging Earth catch up to super-accurate clocks.

By international agreement, the world's timekeepers, in order to keep their official atomic clocks in step with the world's irregular but gradually slowing rotation, have decreed that a Leap Second be inserted between 2008 and 2009. 

The extra second, ordered by the world's nominal timekeeper, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, will be marked officially at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday in Greenwich, England, the home of what is popularly known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to the more technically inclined – the standard time for the planet.

Read More

Coffee, tea available for drivers tonight

Free coffee and tea will be available to New Year's revelers traveling on the New York State Thruway at all 27 travel plazas from 11 p.m. today to 7 a.m. New Year's Day, Thruway Authority officials said.

The free service to keep travelers warm and alert has been offered for 40 years.

"Holidays are always busy travel times and motorists are encouraged to take frequent breaks if they are feeling fatigued," said Thruway Authority Executive Director Michael R. Fleischer. "Remaining alert, driving with caution and being aware of your surroundings, especially on New Year's Eve, are essential for safe and enjoyable travel."

Fuel and food services from at least one restaurant will be available at each travel plaza. For a complete list of travel plazas along the system, go to the Authority's Web site (

The Thruway Authority warns that caffeine drinks impart only short-term alertness and that frequent breaks are more helpful.

Read Original

Take a cab on New Year's Eve - it's free

Khurram Saeed
The Journal News

Many people will welcome the new year at a local bar tomorrow, but Rockland residents who have had too much to drink can, once again, take a taxi home for free.

Those who risk driving drunk can expect to find police sobriety checkpoints all around the county, as well as stepped-up patrols.

Stony Point Police Chief Patrick Brophy said having more police officers driving the roads in the county's most rural town makes more sense than roadblocks.

"We can cover more ground, observe more traffic with roving patrols," Brophy said yesterday.

For those who prefer to let someone else do the driving, Dana Distributors, the wholesaler of Anheuser-Busch products in Rockland, Orange and Sullivan counties, will pay for a taxi to take you home from bars, taverns and restaurants in the three counties.

Read More

The Best Journalism of 2008

Lots of must reads all in one place.

By Conor Friedersdorf,  December 17, 2008

Every January I commit to an ambitious plan:

1) Read every major newspaper and even obscure magazines all year long.

2) Clip the exceptional stories.

3) Issue commendations at year's end in a gradual attempt to usurp the Pulitzer Prizes and National Magazine Awards.

Alas, I've neglected to execute steps one and two in 2008, so the following awards are neither exhaustive nor definitive, but rather a starting point. I'll defend any of my selections as top notch journalism that's well worth your time. But I'm also eager to add to the list -- e-mail nominees to, so long as they appeared in 2008 and are available online, and I'll append additions to the end of this story and/or post them to The Confabulum. (I spent part of 2008 working at The Atlantic, and Graeme Wood and Chris Beam are friends.)

Best Storytelling

Trouble in Paradise
by William Prochnau and Laura Parker
Perhaps you've seen Mutiny on the Bounty. Did you know it was a true story? Or that the rogue sailors kidnapped Polynesian women, sailed away to escape the British Navy, and wound up on a remote island where they proceeded to develop a society whose social mores were a bi-cultural mix of Polynesian and rogue sailor? That's just the beginning of the most fascinating story I read all year.
Best Personal Essay

The writer, an octogenarian, looks back "at a lifetime of parenting sons and being parented by them." His essay brims with all the wisdom of a life well lived, rendered with dramatic tension and ringing as true as Leo Tolstoy at his best. The personal essay form is so often the province of the young these days. We cannot compete with the best our elders can muster.

The writer, musing on "Katie Couric's long day's journey into the evening,"manages to capture a ubiquitous but little remarked upon fact of modern life -- the way in which television and its characters insert themselves into our lives, age as we do, provide us with succor, and come to feel as though we know them. It's the rare magazine piece on a celebrity that's worth reading.
Best Court Reporting

Dispatches from the R. Kelly Trial
by Josh Levin

The writer captures the absurdity of the rapper's... well, the absurdity of everything about him.

Best Profile

A Boy's Life

by Hanna Rosin

"Since he could speak, Brandon, now 8, has insisted that he was meant to be a girl," says the subhead. "This summer, his parents decided to let him grow up as one." The story,exhaustively reported and scrupulously balanced, delves into the scientific debate about the nature of gender, and asks "whether the limits of child indulgence have stretched too far."

Best Review

Big Kills

by Anthony Lane

The writer cinches this award with the first paragraph alone:

What is it like being Timur Bekmambetov? No artist should be confused too closely with his creations, but anybody who sits through “Wanted,” Bekmambetov’s new movie, will be tempted to wonder if the life style of the characters might not reflect or rub off on that of the director. How, for example, does he make a cup of coffee? My best guess, based on the evidence of the film, is that he tosses a handful of beans toward the ceiling, shoots them individually into a fine powder, leaves it hanging in the air, runs downstairs, breaks open a fire hydrant with his head, carefully directs the jet of water through the window of his apartment, sets fire to the building, then stands patiently with his mug amid the blazing ruins to collect the precious percolated drops. Don’t even think about a cappuccino.
Read the rest here.

Covering the Economic Disaster

The single best piece of financial journalism ever produced. You'll even understand it!

"The era that defined Wall Street is finally, officially over. The writer, who chronicled its excess in Liar’s Poker, returns to his old haunt to figure out what went wrong."

Foreign Affairs

In Afghanistanan ethnic minority group that traces its lineage to Genghis Khan is proving to be an excellent source of recruits as Allied forces try to professionalize the police force. Why are they so professional in comparison to other Afghan policemen? Is using a minority group to police the majority setting the stage for horrific reprisals once Western forces leave the country? The writer answers these questions in an elegantly written, exceptionally contextualized piece reported while running through grape fields, avoiding Taliban ambushes and IEDs.

This dispatch from "the deadliest pieces of terrain in the world for U.S. forces" chronicles Army outposts where "men spend their days in a surreal combination of backbreaking labor—building outposts on rocky ridges—and deadly firefights, while they try to avoid the mistakes the Russians made." This piece made me appreciate, more than anything else I've read, the dangerous conditions braved by Americans on the front lines.

Best Campaign Coverage

  • The Magazine Industry!

Whether measured by scoops, quality of analysis or enjoyability of the read, newspapers were handily outshone by magazine writers covering election 2008 -- notable mentions go to John Heilemann at New York, John Dickerson and Chris Beam at Slate, Marc Ambinder and Josh Green at The Atlantic, and Camille Paglia at Salon.

The writer tours Ohio, capturing the disaffection of working class voters.
Story I'd Most Want Every Mayor in America to Read

The NYPD Diaspora
by Heather MacDonald

Want to reduce the murder rate in your city? The writer argues that crime-fighting techniques pioneered by the NYPD are doing just that all over America as former New York cops become police chiefs elsewhere.

Excellent Articles to Read Together

The writer argues that renewing the culinary culture should be a conservative cause.

The writer pens a letter to our next president about our blinkered agricultural policies.

Best Article on a Topic You Don't Actually Need to Know Anything About

Every interesting fact related to elevators, and the story of one man trapped inside one. Will he live? Will he die?

The writer demonstrates his genius by penning a whole story about the comments section of a Brooklyn Web site -- and it's somehow gripping from start to finish!

Best Piece of Meta Criticism

How Wood Works: The Riches and Limits of James Wood
By William Deresiewicz

If you like great literature, critics, and getting deep into the weeds about the ways in which they intersect, this piece is for you.

Best Legal Story

Too Weird for the Wire by Kevin Carey

"How black Baltimore drug dealers are using white supremacist legal theories to confound the Feds."

Best Non-Fiction Book

The Dark Side
by Jane Mayer

This exhaustively reported look at the Bush Administration's use of torture and other illegal methods in the War on Terror has an ideological edge to it. No matter, for the facts presented are too powerful to be ignored, though that is just what segments of the right-leaning press is doing.
Best Story About an Absurd Topic

Hot for Creature
by Eric Wills

"Thirteen years ago, William Dranginis saw Bigfoot. Fifty grand, a van, and a camera in a log later, the quest continues."

Conor Friedersdorf is the assistant managing editor for Culture11.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

News That Matters - December 30, 2008

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

Good Tuesday Morning,

Well, it's been almost two weeks since I announced my candidacy for the US Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton and the Governor has still not called to give me the good news. I wonder what he's waiting for.

An Eagle Scout project on the Twin Hills Preserve in Patterson ran into some trouble when boards used for a boardwalk across and near sensitive wetlands were stolen. The project is back on track thanks to a donation of supplies from Home Depot. The story is below.

Jeff Hyatt, who rebuilds old trucks and tractors, some of which are on display at the Tilly Foster Farm, has besieged me with photographs, some of which will become part of the regular rotation of Highlands images at the News That Matters weblog.

According to news reports, the CD which contained the now infamous, "Magic Negro" song sent to fellow party members by Republican National Committee chair candidate Chip Saltsman, may have actually helped his bid for that party's top job.

At the top of yesterday's column I quoted former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She had once said, "We will have peace when Arabs love their children more then they hate us." A friend, whom I dearly love, called shortly after to give me an earful, so much so that Richie, the dog and the cat, split for places unknown until the smoke settled over PlanPutnam Central and the phone line dimmed from the phosphorus white heat.

My buddy and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this issue. While I don't like the fighting going on, it has not taken place in a vacuum nor was it unprovoked. Whether the Israeli response is too much or not, neither he nor I can genuinely say because we do not live there in the midst of the fray. Sure, killing anywhere is not right, but then that sense must be equally applied.

From 2000 through 2004, Hamas killed 400 Israeli civilians and wounded 2000 more in 425 individual attacks. From 2000 through 2008 Hamas fired more than 3000 Qassam rockets and 2500 mortar shells into Israel. The greatest number of these attacks occurred after Israel pulled her settlers and troops out of Gaza, leaving the territory to internal control. Since 2006, Hamas has smuggled some 30,000 rifles and 6 million rounds of ammunition into Gaza, mostly from Iran. Yet, their people are starving and the infrastructure is a mess but there's ample money for guns, bullets and rockets? Hamas runs Gaza as a totalitarian state. Question their authority and you are arrested as a "collaborator". More than two-dozen "collaborators" have been killed by Hamas security forces since Monday.

Too many in the pro-Palestinian camp in the American Left seem to believe - without directly saying so - that it's terrible, sure, but that one bad turn somehow deserves another. That if a suicide bomber takes out a Passover Seder in Haifa or a pizza place in Tel Aviv or a bus stop filled with commuters in Jerusalem that it's kinda, sorta okay. They'll explain it away by saying that personal frustration built up so much that something had to give and that 'give' was the life of a young man so that others would die who kinda, sorta, deserved it - in some form of twisted logic. My friends tell me Hamas wants only peaceful coexistence and the right to self determination, laudable goals to be sure. But the facts do not hold up. In Hamas' own words:

  • Article Seven of the Hamas Charter states: "The time [for an Islamic state on all Israeli lands] will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!"
  • The Charter claims that the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs and Lions clubs are nothing but organizations set up to spy for Israel. (Article 28).
  • In relation to Israel, the charter says, "Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present conduct is the best proof of what is said there." (Article 32)
  • From a Hamas video released in late 2006: "My message to the loathed Jews is that there is no god but Allah, we will chase you everywhere! We are a nation that drinks blood, and we know that there is no blood better than the blood of Jews. We will not leave you alone until we have quenched our thirst with your blood, and our children's thirst with your blood. We will not leave until you leave the Muslim countries."

This is not the talk of peace. How can you negotiate with someone who believes The Protocols are genuine or who have pledged to their deaths to see the middle east free of Jews? Who wants to negotiate their own death?

When Hamas or Hizbollah are lobbing shells into Israeli towns, do you hear an outcry from my friends? Do they rally in the streets? Do they send emails by the thousands demanding an immediate cessation to that humanitarian crisis? 400 innocent Israeli's died and I didn't hear a single word of condemnation. Not a rally. Not an email. Nothing.

In the meantime, Israel prepares for a ground invasion which will surely result in more deaths, more destruction and more broken families. All I can do is plead with my friends to be as ardent in their condemnation of Hamas as they are with their vocal condemnation of Israel. I can only plead with them to tell  Hamas to stop the violence and hatred and to join the rest of the world community, a community which has accepted Israel's permanent existence in the middle east. Egypt, Jordan, even the Palestinian Fatah faction which runs the West Bank has agreed that Israel does and will continue to exist.

The day Hamas accepts the that there is always going to be an Israeli state on its borders and decides to spend more time loving its own children than hating the children of the Jews - that's the day when peace will come.

"If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." ~Thomas Paine

Hamas Charter source: The Palestine Center

Just so my readers don't think I'm leaning too hard on the Left, here's a tasty tidbit for you from the Right:

"Kwanzaa itself is a nutty blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism. Indeed, the seven "principles" of Kwanzaa praise collectivism in every possible arena of life -- economics, work, personality, even litter removal. ("Kuumba: Everyone should strive to improve the community and make it more beautiful.") It takes a village to raise a police snitch....

Guess who!? (answer at the bottom)

FYI: Here is a chart of the incoming Obama administration, all in one place: I figure we should know who will be leading this nation for the next four years.

Vice President Joe Biden
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
President pro tempore of the Senate Robert Byrd
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
Attorney General Eric Holder
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Commerce Bill Richardson
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Daschle
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano

And now, the News:

  1. Missing planks don't stop boys' project
  2. Southeast officials spar over videographer bidding process
  3. They'll see green: Youth garden program ducks budget ax
  4. Coalition sues over mining ruling
  5. Tenn. Sludge Spill Challenges 'Clean Coal' Future
  6. EPA: Rivers high in arsenic, heavy metals after sludge spill
  7. Canada's vast oil cache hides dirty environmental secret
  8. Modified Plants May Yield More Biofuel
  9. Excessive Police Violence Evident In Emergency Care Cases, Say US Doctors

Missing planks don't stop boys' project

Michael Risinit
The Journal News

PATTERSON - Just as the Grinch was unsuccessful in preventing Christmas from coming, whoever may have pilfered Steven Maddock's planks was similarly ineffectual in halting his Eagle Scout project.

In the spring, Maddock, a Mahopac High School senior, will be inducted as an Eagle Scout and the Putnam County Land Trust will hold a grand opening for its newest section of trail.

Maddock built the 1,500 feet of trail, which twists through rocky outcroppings in the trust's Laurel Ledges Natural Area in Patterson, as his service project over the summer to attain the Boy Scouts' highest level of achievement.

Along with the necessary organizing, fundraising and labor, Maddock had a chance to play "Encyclopedia Brown," the main character in a series of children's detective novels. That was because someone or several someones may have stolen eight 16-foot planks from the trail's site earlier this year.

Read More

Southeast officials spar over videographer bidding process

Marcela Rojas
The Journal News

SOUTHEAST - A contract awarded to the second-highest bidder for rights to videotape Town Board meetings has touched off a bitter firestorm among officials over the town's bidding process.

The board recently voted 3-2 to allow Euro Video Productions of Carmel to tape its meetings starting in January, with Supervisor Michael Rights and Councilman Dwight Yee dissenting. Euro Video owner Carl Holman is charging the town $275 for the first two hours of taping and $40 for each hour after, officials said.

Another bidder, Advicom, a media company run by Jack Miller that has been recording Town Board meetings since January, proposed a flat fee of $100 per meeting, officials said.

Read More

They'll see green: Youth garden program ducks budget ax

By Jenny Lee-Adrian
Poughkeepsie Journal

The Green Teen Community Gardening Program is one of several programs that survived budget battles between the county executive and Legislature with its funding intact.

Although Dutchess County Executive William Steinhaus made cuts in contract agency funding, the Legislature restored money for Cornell University Cooperative Extension programs, including Green Teen, in the 2009 budget.

Participants in the program, youth ages 7 to 19, learn about food, farming, entrepreneurship and leadership by working in community gardens in Beacon and Poughkeepsie. One goal of the program is to prevent risky and criminal behavior.

The Green Teen program will receive about $96,000 from the county, Cornell Cooperative Extension Executive Director Linda Keech said.

County money this year was used to match additional funds, and the program received about $243,000 from grants, foundations and other sources, Keech said.

Read More

Coalition sues over mining ruling

Revisions allow waste into streams

By James Bruggers

A coalition of environmental groups including Kentucky Waterways Alliance has sued the Interior Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking to overturn a new rule that will make it easier for mining companies to dump waste rock into streams.

The revisions, made final Dec. 12, will let mining companies disregard a 100-foot stream buffer zone if they are able to convince regulators that no other option was available and that they had taken steps to minimize harm to the environment.

Attorneys with Earthjustice, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance filed the legal challenge yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The suit was filed on behalf of the Kentucky environmental group as well as the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Read More

Tenn. Sludge Spill Challenges 'Clean Coal' Future

Michael Reilly, Discovery News
(Image from: The
Dec. 25, 2008 -- When an earthen wall holding back 525 million gallons of ash slurry gave way at the coal-fired Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee in the wee hours of Monday morning, the resultant flood ruined a picturesque rural landscape, inundated more than a dozen houses, and blanketed as much as 400 acres of land with potentially toxic muck.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. And initial tests by officials at the Tennessee Valley Authority suggest the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers, major sources of drinking water for the denizens of Knoxville, Tenn., escaped major contamination.

But the mud has done much more than just sully a countryside. Americans' energy consumption habits are a top-tier political issue, and as we look for new ways to curtail global warming, wean ourselves from oil, and find sources of clean energy, coal's role is still unclear.

So the accident raises a serious question: Is there such a thing as "clean coal"?

America's thirst for energy generates leaves between 122 and 129 million tons of waste from spent coal each year. Most of that is fly ash, a fine, talcum-like powder. Bottom ash, boiler slag, and sulfur-rich solids left over from scrubbers in the plants' smoke stacks all have to be disposed of, too.

Read More

EPA: Rivers high in arsenic, heavy metals after sludge spill

    * Story Highlights
    * "Several heavy metals" found in levels above safe drinking-water standards
    * TVA pledges cleanup; officials say treatment facility tests show water is potable
    * Breach at retention site has released more than a billion gallons of coal waste
    * 15 homes damaged, at least 300 acres covered; area residents evacuated

KINGSTON, Tennessee (CNN) -- The Environmental Protection Agency has found high levels of arsenic and heavy metals in two rivers in central Tennessee that are near the site of a spill that unleashed more than a billion gallons of coal waste.

The agency said it found "several heavy metals" in the water in levels that are slightly above safe drinking-water standards but "below concentrations" known to be harmful to humans.

"The one exception may be arsenic," the agency said in a letter to an affected community. "One sample of river water out of many taken indicated concentrations that are very high and further investigations are in progress."

However, arsenic was not detected in a water intake facility near Kingston, Tennessee, where the spill happened, said EPA spokeswoman Laura Niles.

The metals were found in the Emory and Clinch rivers, near the site of a major spill last week that unleashed enough sludge to fill 1,660 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Read More

Canada's vast oil cache hides dirty environmental secret

FT. MCMURRAY, Canada - From here in the far north of Canada through a web of transcontinental pipelines down to a network of refineries ringing the Chicago area, a new supply of precious oil has begun flowing into the gas tanks of more Americans, tapped from a source so vast it could one day furnish close to half of U.S. oil needs for 50 years or more.

This Canadian oil is stable and reliable. It promises to substantially reduce America's future dependence on volatile Middle Eastern sources of oil. And much of it is profitable to produce even with oil prices hovering around $50 per barrel, which explains why some of the world's largest oil conglomerates have invested tens of billions of dollars here despite wild short-term swings in international oil prices.

But what few American consumers know as they routinely fill up their tanks is that this new petroleum bonanza, drawn from dense, tarry deposits known as oil sands, ranks as what environmentalists call the dirtiest oil on the planet. Extracting it causes widespread ecological damage - and could accelerate global warming.

Read More

Modified Plants May Yield More Biofuel

ScienceDaily (Dec. 26, 2008) — Plants, genetically modified to ease the breaking down of their woody material, could be the key to a cheaper and greener way of making ethanol, according to researchers who add that the approach could also help turn agricultural waste into food for livestock.

Lignin, a major component of woody plant material,, is woven in with cellulose and provides plants with the strength to withstand strong gusts of wind and microbial attack. However, this protective barrier or "plastic wall" also makes it harder to gain access to the cellulose.

"There is lots of energy-rich cellulose locked away in wood," said John Carlson, professor of molecular genetics, Penn State. "But separating this energy from the wood to make ethanol is a costly process requiring high amounts of heat and caustic chemicals. Moreover, fungal enzymes that attack lignin are not yet widely available, still in the development stage, and not very efficient in breaking up lignin."

Researchers have previously tried to get around the problem by genetically decreasing the lignin content in plants. However, this can lead to a variety of problems -- limp plants unable to stay upright, and plants more susceptible to pests.

Read More

Excessive Police Violence Evident In Emergency Care Cases, Say US Doctors

ScienceDaily (Dec. 24, 2008) — Excessive police violence is evident in the types of injury and trauma emergency care doctors are treating in the US, indicates research published in Emergency Medicine Journal.

The findings are based on 315 responses to a representative survey of 393 academic emergency care doctors across the USA.

There are around 800,000 police (law enforcement) officers in the USA, and figures for 2002 show that just short of the 45 million people who had a face to face encounter with one, did so at the behest of the officer.

Almost all (99.8%) of respondents believed that the police use excessive force to arrest and detain suspects.

And a similar number (98%) confirmed that they had treated patients who they suspected had sustained injuries/bruising inflicted by police officers.

Read More

[Answer: Ann Coulter]

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Monday, December 29, 2008

News That Matters - December 29, 2008

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

"We will have peace when Arabs love their children more then they hate us." - Golda Meir

Good Monday Morning,

Breaking News This Morning: According to sources, Jeff Green has called for the closing of the Community Action Program's Food Bank, he eats rare, endangered farm animals, dislikes  George Whipple personally, and supports Greg Ball.

Yessiree! That's the news from over the weekend. I have no idea where one of those stories came from but that's the back-chatter across the county as related to me during various conversations spread from Christmas day through this weekend.

We need to find out who this Jeff Green fella is! Any leads will be much appreciated.

There is vindication of sorts as the Journal News editorial reposted below shows. Even their editorial board is questioning the contract and lease agreement for Tilly Foster Farm. As well, judging by comments left on that blog and others, and from conversations I've had over the past several weeks, public opinion is overwhelmingly against the contract in its current form. Everyone agrees The Farm should succeed but they also agree that government accountability it pretty important. It's funny though, the most vocal proponents for the current contract are the very same people who take government to task for the even smallest slight. Go figure.

Barack the Magic Negro: Old news makes the rounds on a holiday weekend when there's nothing going on other than a Santa shooting or two. This satirical parody by Paul Shanklin and first played on Rush Limbaugh's radio show shortly before the election, takes a look at the ascendancy of Mr. Obama through the eyes of a jealous Al Sharpton. Like it or not, it's an entirely plausible scenario. The audio track has transmuted into dozens of video versions which were posted to video sites throughout the world which have - suddenly - disappeared in a wave of political correctness. It took a while, but I found one version here.

(A much abbreviated lecture on the dangers to the vibrancy of democracy from being politically correct follows...)

To You-Tube and Google Video and the other public gatherers of information: I really hate political correctness. It smacks of elitism and rewrites history to such a point that we cannot learn from our mistakes because, well, we've erased them and make believe they never happened. Worse, it pushes the most egregious thoughts and values underground where they boil and bubble only to escape from that pressure cooker in periodic explosions rather than simmering under a loose cover where they can be dealt with effectively, learned from and discussed. But then, we don't really believe in a vibrant democracy anyway. Instead, we prefer the neat, tidy package where no one's feelings are ever hurt, where no one has to think, where perspective has no place and where historical accuracies are set aside for political expediency and then we call that a Democracy.

This past Saturday night saw the fourth in an informal series of rock concerts featuring local bands at the Cultural Center on Lake Carmel hosted by Arts on the Lake. The show featured 5 bands for 6 bucks and was produced by Andrew Vlad. The Center held a capacity crowd - including many adults - and proved to be the largest event of its type so far. I ran sound and lights on Saturday as I usually do for events at the Center and I'm looking forward to more of these shows. There are not too many places where our youth can congregate on a Saturday night in a safe, drug and alcohol free environment and listen to their own music in a quality setting. Kudos to Arts on the Lake, to Andy, the bands and their fans.

Before you go off feeding the poor Poitou steaks here's the News:

  1. Videos by Kent explain storm-water threats
  2. Protecting taxpayers
  3. Putnam Valley Planning Board & Wordsmiths
  4. 'Incredible year' for public-access laws in N.Y.
  5. Supporters trying to raise money for drilling bids
  6. Efficient Organic LEDs A Step Toward Better Lights
  7. Open Space in the Poconos Protected
  8. Senate committee endorses Badlands Wilderness bill
  9. TVA ash pond breach: Resident says area has 'changed forever'

Videos by Kent explain storm-water threats

By Michael Risinit
The Journal News • December 29, 2008

KENT - The town's official Web site touts Kent's "many beautiful lakes, ponds, reservoirs." There's no mention of those water bodies making the town an Eden, but they do, according to the town's recent effort to curtail pollution.

"This place is paradise ... and clean water is key," explains the talking head in the first of four, public-service announcements that try to enlist Kent residents' help with cleaning up storm-water pollution.

The series of announcements, each about two minutes long, will soon appear on Kent's Web site and on local cable television. Commissioned by the Town of Kent Stormwater Committee and produced by committee member Jeff Green, the spots explain what storm water is and why residents should be concerned about it. The committee unveiled the short videos at a recent community meeting.

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Protecting taxpayers

There is no question that philanthropist George Whipple's plan to create a museum and education center with heirloom farm animals at Tilly Foster Farm in Southeast is an inspired idea. It is the first clear, and potentially achievable, vision set forth for the nearly 200-acre property that Putnam County bought six years ago, using $3.9 million in watershed-protection funds provided by New York City.

There are, however, plenty of legitimate and necessary questions about the 40-year lease for Tilly Foster Farm that the county is considering giving to Preserve Putnam, Whipple's not-for-profit organization. Now is the time for lawmakers and the public to speak up and ask those questions to be sure that the taxpayers' interests are protected in the venture.

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Putnam Valley Planning Board & Wordsmiths

December 27th, 2008 Posted in News

Putnam Valley Planning Board
Year End Meeting, December 22, 2008
And Wordsmiths

It’s a Chanukah/Christmas miracle. The Oregon Corners clock no longer says noon/midnight. I was beginning to think that we needed the Putnam County Savings Bank clock tower.

Christmas, Putnam Valley style. There was a Monday night Planning Board meeting. A lot went on. It is worth watching.

There almost wasn’t an illegal meeting. By nine minutes of 6PM, there were only two planning board members, the engineer, and the planner. It was congenial and informal. But in the end, they did have their illegal meeting, and discussed 2 PHR, Adorno and Kisslinger, all litigations.

First up was a long executive session. It would have been nice if they had waited until later in the meeting. Applicants and engineers and attorneys were waiting.

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'Incredible year' for public-access laws in N.Y.

Cara Matthews
Albany Bureau

ALBANY - By all accounts, 2008 was a banner year for advocates of expanding access to public records and meetings.

Amendments to state law require that agencies provide records in the medium requested, such as compact disc, and mandatory awards of attorney's fees for violations of the Open Meetings Law.

"We had an incredible year. We've seen positive amendments to FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) or the Open Meetings Law (in) the last three sessions," said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government.

"We've seen amendments that are now law that I never dreamed would pass," he said.

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Supporters trying to raise money for drilling bids

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Supporters of an environmental activist who infiltrated a government auction for oil and gas parcels in Utah are trying to raise money to help cover his bids.

Tim DeChristopher snapped up 22,500 acres of parcels between Arches and Canyonlands national parks - with no plans to develop or even pay for the properties.

Friends say DeChristopher has six days to raise $45,000 to cover the first payment on the properties that cost $1.7 million overall. He opposed the government's sale of land near some of Utah's most scenic areas.

DeCristopher's unofficial spokeswoman, Julianne Fitzgerald, says supporters are trying to raise the money to help keep him out of legal trouble.

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Efficient Organic LEDs A Step Toward Better Lights

ScienceDaily (Dec. 25, 2008) — For those who love “green” compact fluorescent bulbs but hate their cold light, here’s some good news: Researchers are closer to flipping the switch on cheaper, richer LED-type room lighting.

University of Florida materials science and engineers have achieved a new record in efficiency of blue organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs. Because blue is essential to white light, the advance helps overcome a hurdle to lighting that is much more efficient than compact fluorescents — but can produce high-quality light similar to standard incandescent bulbs.

“The quality of the light is really the advantage,” said Franky So, a UF associate professor of materials science and engineering and the lead investigator on the project.

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Open Space in the Poconos Protected

Posted: Dec 23, 2008 05:54 PM EST
By Trish Hartman

It's official a huge open space in the Poconos is now part of a national wildlife refuge.

The project involving local environmentalists and wildlife experts in Monroe County has been ongoing for several years.

Some 20,000 acres in southern Monroe County known as the Cherry Valley is also known as a place to enjoy nature's beauty.

With Tuesday's announcement, many people who live there hope it will stay that way for years to come.

Debra Schuler and her family live in the Cherry  alley near Stroudsburg.

"We have a wonderful, wonderful view of the Kittatinny Ridge and there's so much wildlife.  I love where I live," Schuler said. She's also the president of a group called Friends of Cherry Valley, a group dedicated to preserving the open space around the Cherry Creek and the Kittatinny Ridge.

Schuler said Tuesday's announcement is like an early Christmas present.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 20,000 acres of the Cherry Valley, most of it in Monroe County, as a national wildlife refuge.

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Senate committee endorses Badlands Wilderness bill

by Charles Pope, The Oregonian
Thursday September 11, 2008, 2:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- A bill to permanently protect 30,000 acres of Oregon's Badlands moved easily through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is now headed to the Senate floor.

The Oregon Badlands Wilderness Act of 2008 was one of 53 lands bill approved by the committee on Thursday by voice vote.

Sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the bill would extend the highest level of protection to land east of Bend that is both austere and unique.

"The Senate Energy Committee has shown it can work on a bipartisan basis to pass worthy legislation like this bill protecting the Badlands," Wyden said.

But he also noted that the hardest work lies ahead. Dozens of wilderness bills have moved from the Energy Committee over the last few years only to stall on the Senate floor.

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TVA ash pond breach: Resident says area has 'changed forever'

By Chloe White
Originally published 11:52 a.m., December 23, 2008
Updated 11:52 a.m., December 23, 2008

Correction: TVA's initial estimate for Monday's pond spill has been changed to 3.1 million cubic feet of fly ash and water. The earlier figure given was 2.6 million cubic yards.

HARRIMAN - Chris Copeland awakened in the dark Monday morning to the sounds of popping and crashing on Swan Pond Circle Road.

When he looked outside, he said he saw a surge of water.

"It looked like ocean waves coming through," Copeland said today.

He said his first thought was that Melton Hill Dam had failed. Then he saw piles of ash, and it dawned on him that TVA's Kingston steam plant ash pond had failed.

At least 3.1 million cubic feet of fly ash were dumped across hundreds of acres in Roane County after the retention pond breached just before 1 a.m.

Officials say up to 400 acres of land adjacent to the plant are under 4 to 6 feet of material.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

News That Matters - December 26, 2008

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

Stan: I thought you were going to kill yourself.
Cartman: I tried. Went to sleep in my mom’s car in the garage, with the engine on.
Stan: And you didn’t die?
Cartman: Freakin’ hybrids. They just don’t do the trick any more.

- South Park, Elementary School Musical

Good Friday Morning,

Today is Boxing Day.

Yesterday was a beautiful winter day - sunny skies, relatively warm temps and for me at least, busy, busy, busy! I'm hoping it was the same for all of you who celebrate that holiday.

As we go into the weekend I do not have many events to post (I've been lazy and you've been remiss in sending me things) but there is one event, at least, worth your attention.

Tomorrow (Saturday) evening there's the 4th in a series of Rock Concerts at the Cultural Center on Lake Carmel hosted by Arts on the Lake. The show starts at 5PM and will run until about 10PM. Bands schedule are:
Horror Hotel
Kid Jerusalem
The Parthenon
Ken Connolly and the Southeast Connection
Adam and the Animals
Tickets are $6 ($5 for AotL members). There's more information at the AotL website, at Facebook and at Myspace. The image here is from the last show - which sold out, as have all the previous shows. It's a fun, safe, drug and alcohol free environment and something to do on a Saturday night. See you there!

And now, the News:

  1. Six to Eight Black Men
  2. The Christmas Day Lade
  3. 186 acres protected on Overlook Mountain
  4. Dutchess legislator calls for better trash management
  5. Giant snowman rises again in Alaska — mysteriously
  6. Christmas On The Margins
  7. Wal-Mart Elves Get Back $640 Million in "Stolen" Benefits

Six to Eight Black Men


In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, kick you, or stuff you into a sack, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it's not much different from hanging your stockings from the mantel. Now that so few people have a working fireplace, Dutch children are instructed to leave their shoes beside the radiator, furnace, or space heater. Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men arrive on horses, which jump from the yard onto the roof. At this point, I guess, they either jump back down and use the door, or they stay put and vaporize through the pipes and electrical wires. Oscar wasn't too clear about the particulars, but, really, who can blame him? We have the same problem with our Santa. He's supposed to use the chimney, but if you don't have one, he still manages to come through. It's best not to think about it too hard.

While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and live in America, he'll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."

This is the reward for living in Holland. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution--so what's not to love about being Dutch?

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The Christmas Day Lade

By Marty Collins

The old barn stood wearily back by the woods. It was a pleasantly misshapen little structure, constructed, more than likely, in random sections over a period of years. Each addition stood slightly askew like a last-minute thought slapped together with wood and nails.

Both the old yellow farmhouse and the odd little L-shaped barn had been empty for quite some time before we bought them. And, while no domestic creature had inhabited the barn for several years, the musky scent of horse, hay and leather still lingered in every cobwebbed corner of each box stall and was ingrained in the thick, sturdy, wide-planked floorboards.

It didn't take us long to stock the barn with our own assortment of farm animals. Within weeks of our late summer arrival, the sides of the small structure seemed to heave with the weight of several hefty ewes and a pretty little white goat, named Daisy. They were joined by Gypsy, the charming gray and white tabby who adopted us one night and became the first of our many barn cats.

But, of all the creatures who ever lived in the barn, there was one special resident whose arrival was destined as if by magic and whose appearance in the barn one very rainy Christmas morning was the answer to the Christmas Eve dreams of two young boys.

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186 acres protected on Overlook Mountain

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 3:06 AM EST

WOODSTOCK — The Open Space Institute has announced the protection of 186 acres of the California Quarry property on Overlook Mountain.

The property is expected to provide expanded recreational opportunities and views of the Catskills, the Hudson River Valley and parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The acquisition of the property from the town of Woodstock is the institute’s fifth on Overlook Mountain in the last five years, with a total of 569 acres preserved to date.

The California Quarry property sits on the southeastern slope of Overlook Mountain, in an area the state has targeted for conservation because its alpine ecosystem is considered susceptible to inappropriate residential development. There is an active quarry on the parcel to which the town of Woodstock will retain access for local use.

The parcel adjoins previously protected state land on three sides and will be conveyed to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for management as part of the Catskill Forest Preserve.

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Dutchess legislator calls for better trash management

By Mid-Hudson News Network

POUGHKEEPSIE — Dutchess County Legislator Joel Tyner has called for creation of a Zero Waste Task Force.

Tyner, which chairs the Legislature’s Environmental Committee, said the task force would research and implement best practices in waste management and increase recycling and composting using job-creating examples proven successful in Massachusetts, California and Nova Scotia.

Tyner, D-Clinton, said Dutchess County should stop spending “millions of our county tax dollars annually on our county incinerator.” He said the county can create jobs and save money by shifting to zero waste.

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Giant snowman rises again in Alaska — mysteriously

By MARY PEMBERTON, Associated Press
Wed Dec 24, 7:29 pm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A giant snowman named Snowzilla has mysteriously appeared again this year — despite the city's cease-and-desist order.

Someone again built the giant snowman in Billy Powers' front yard in an east Anchorage neighborhood. Snowzilla reappeared before dawn Tuesday.

Powers is not taking credit. When questioned Tuesday afternoon, he insisted Snowzilla just somehow happened, again.

For the last three years, Snowzilla — to the delight of some and the chagrin of others — has been a very large feature in Powers' yard. In 2005, Snowzilla rose 16 feet. He had a corncob pipe and a carrot nose and two eyes made out of beer bottles.

This year, Snowzilla is estimated to be 25 feet tall. He's wearing a black stovepipe hat and scarf.

"Have you seen him?" Powers asked when reached by telephone at his home, the sound of excited children in the background. "He's handsome."

Snowzilla has consistently risen outside Powers' modest home. His children — he is the father of seven — collected snow from neighbors' yards to make the snowman big enough. Each year, Snowzilla got a bit bigger.

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Christmas On The Margins

According to government data, as of September, 31.5 million Americans were using the food stamp programme, up 17% from the previous year. That's 10% of the US population. These are staggering figures.

They bring to mind another staggering figure I recently came across that I have been unable to remove from my subconscious. It is $163,987,000 – the salary that Henry Paulson, now secretary of the US Treasury, took home in 2006 for his services as CEO of Goldman Sachs.

Two years later, Goldman Sachs required a massive bail-out from taxpayers. Many of these taxpayers may soon be applying for food stamps.

When Paulson sits down to his sumptuous Christmas feast, paid for with some of the spoils from that nine-figure salary, I hope he will he spare a thought for the 10% of Americans who have barely enough to eat.

I'm sure that if he ever witnessed first hand the humiliation of a person unable to pay for their food at a supermarket checkout, he would feel compelled to redistribute his millions among the 31.5 million food stamp recipients.

Maybe then they could afford a decent Christmas dinner next year.

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Wal-Mart Elves Get Back $640 Million in "Stolen" Benefits

By Al Norman

'Twas the settlement before Christmas.

On the eve of the holidays, Wal-Mart's Santa is stuffing millions of dollars into the stockings of his little helpers. After years of litigation, its payback time for millions of Wal-Mart workers who had their time "stolen" from them by the world's largest retailer. No rest breaks, no meal breaks, unpaid hours---it's all coming due in a whopping Christmas "bonus" courtesy of Wal-Mart's legal team.

While America is distracted by the holiday recession, Wal-Mart has decided to settle some old scores and begin the New Year by clearing the decks of 63 lawsuits filed against it by its current and former workers.

Together with lawyers representing the plaintiffs, Wal-Mart issued a press release announcing legal agreements that will cost the company and its shareholders between $352 million and $640 million. Wal-Mart has been battling these class action lawsuits for years. How much Wal-Mart will end up stuffing into stockings will depend on how many of its employees file claims.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

News That Matters - December 24, 2008

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

Good Wednesday Morning,

Tomorrow is Christmas (as I'm sure most know) and next week is the New Year. Don't assume that everyone you know has a place to go and someone to be with, no matter how 'popular' they may seem to you. Extend an invitation. Make room at the table.

Forty years ago today, we were given our first opportunity to gaze into the cosmic mirror and look upon ourselves. What we saw was this:

We'd never really seen ourselves before and the moment this image was beamed to millions of television viewers around the world the modern environmental movement was born. We have an obligation to keep that dream alive.

These two responses came regarding yesterday's News That Matters:

"I don't care what they say about you. You're the greatest when it comes to this kind of stuff. You done us proud boy."


"On behalf of Putnam taxpayers, thank you for your efforts to bring some sanity to this issue at the farm."

That's enough of a Christmas present for me. But for those who missed my birthday, there's always this.

'Net Yule Log:
For people intelligent enough not to have broadcast television in their homes and who do not have a fireplace, there's this. It won't keep you warm but it might entertain the cat.

And then, there's this... let's not forget:

And now, the News:

  1. Giving, not receiving, is the real meaning of Christmas
  2. Baby Born in Back of Cab
  3. Return of missing wallet reason to celebrate hope
  4. Mistletoe Meds Fight Cancer, Studies Show

Giving, not receiving, is the real meaning of Christmas

By: Eric Gross , Staff Reporter

PUTNAM LAKE-Sacred Heart Church in Putnam Lake might be one of Putnam's smaller parishes yet when it comes to heart, the church is a giant.

For the 20th consecutive year, the church family has worked in conjunction with the Brewster School District by collecting gifts for needy families. Last Wednesday, dealing with a combination of sleet, rain and snow falling from the heavens, a team of five social workers picked up 28 large packages and delivered them to the families in need.

Meg Cairney, Sacred Heart's Coordinator of Religious Education, explained that "Christmas should be special to everyone regardless of their finances. Many people are experiencing difficulty at no fault of their own."

Cairney expressed great pride with the Sacred Heart Church family for digging deep and donating money and presents for those in need.

Not only did parishioners assist but Cairney said due to the larger than usual number of families needing help, the Holy Name Society and Catholic Daughters of America also aided with the purchase of holiday gifts along with the parish priest.

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Baby Born in Back of Cab

NEW YORK (AP)  -- A Christmas gift has come early to a mom whose newborn was delivered in the back seat of a taxi cab with the help of four of New York's Finest.

It all started Tuesday when a cab driver speeding the expectant mom to Brooklyn Hospital flagged down two patrol officers.

The officers - Kerryann Douglass and Joved Serrano - helped catch the baby, who was born not breathing. Officer Douglas, a mother of three, cleared the baby's airway.
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Return of missing wallet reason to celebrate hope

To the Editor:

Recently, our daughter traveled to Washington, D.C. with a small group of students from her high school Latin class here in Charleston, W.V. The group traveled via Amtrak.
Upon returning home, she realized she had lost her wallet somewhere on the return trip. She suspected that she had misplaced it on the train. Contacting the local Amtrak office, she found that nothing had been turned in as lost.

Today, a small package arrived for her from Louie Rodrigues, Carmel, N.Y. In the package was her wallet with all the contents intact, including her money.

Louie even replaced her change with dollar bills to make the wallet lighter for shipping. With the wallet was a short note of apology for taking so long in returning the wallet; it has been only two weeks. He apologized that with the holidays and all he had been very busy.
Returning the wallet was such a gracious act, certainly no apology was necessary. This simple act of "doing the right thing" is a sign that all is not "bad" in our society and that there is good in people's hearts.

Thank you Louie! What a perfect time to witness this "just" act from a righteous and caring person during this special season of thanksgiving and hope.
Merry Christmas!

Gary Lane
Charleston, W.V.

Read Original

Mistletoe Meds Fight Cancer, Studies Show

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Good Medicine | Discovery News Video  Dec. 24, 2008 -- Another reason to celebrate under the mistletoe this holiday season is that researchers have just determined a medicine made out of fermented mistletoe may prolong the lives of cancer patients.

The plant is Viscum album, the most common holiday mistletoe of Europe, and the species that first inspired the tradition of couples sharing a kiss under its evergreen leaves and waxy berries.

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