Monday, May 4, 2009

News That Matters - May 4, 2009

News That Matters
Brought to you (Almost Daily) by PlanPutnam.Org

"If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other cause for prejudice by noon." - George Aiken

Good Monday Morning,

Another stellar weekend is behind us now and I'm hoping everyone had a good a time as I did. For those who missed the bonfire on Friday night all I can say is that you missed out on a really sweet time. Live music, drumming, good people and a beautiful evening all came together to create a magical experience. Then there was Chris Blossy's "Cinderella, The Green Musical" which played the Cultural Center on Lake Carmel for two packed houses of adults and very happy children and a rainy hike to Hawk Rock led by the Kent CAC. All in all, there was a lot of fun and interesting things to do in Putnam County and I'm hoping you all did more than sit around and watch TV! Got that garden in yet?

Patterson Crossing will not die. Lake Carmel folks are holding what they call an "update" this evening at the Community Center at 7:30PM. Write for more information.

Okay, I'm going to ask this one more time: what has happened with the investigation surrounding Greg Ball and the goat? Has anyone tracked it down? Do we know who owned it? Does anyone have an accurate copy of what the "note" said? Has anyone been apprehended? Have the police simply let the whole thing die like the suspicious fire at Ball's offices just before election day and other incidences like that? Anyone?

Police in Denmark have come up with a plan to get bicyclists to wear helmets without passing another law to protect Danish citizens from themselves, which is what we do in America every day. Police have set up stations around Copenhagen, stop bicyclists without helmets, give them a hug and then fit them with a helmet, free of charge. Remember back in the day when you were walking because you were too drunk to drive and the cops would give you a ride to make sure you got home safely? Now they arrest you. We have a lot to learn from our European friends.

The Yankees have tapped into a segment of the population either not affected by the economy or who would rather attend a ball game than put food in their stomachs. $9 for a beer, $5 for a hot dog and seats in the nosebleed section at $44. Wow! I can remember going to a ball game where general admission, parking, two dogs and a couple of large beers didn't set you back more than $15. And yes, we had electricity and color TV in those days... it wasn't that long ago.

The NYJN wrote an editorial the other day condemning the Town Board in Patterson for apparently meeting illegally. I'm wondering if anyone in Patterson noticed? They wrote in part:
"As staff writer Michael Risinit reported yesterday, four of the board's five members met in private this week to discuss engineering bills. No notice was given. No public invitations were extended. The state's open meetings law requires public notice of any gathering of a quorum of a "public body for the purpose of conducting public business." Let's review the facts: four of five members . . . meeting to consider what was called a "wad of outstanding bills." Somehow, the town concluded that it was OK simply to waive the notice requirement. Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, had another view."
Radio commentator Michael Savage and the right wing group "Freedom Watch" is laying the blame for Swine Flu on the Obama Administration saying that his cutting of Pentagon funding and outreach to Afghanistan and Iran was the 'perfect opening' for terrorists to plant the virus in Mexico and watch it spread to the United States.
Meanwhile, Americans for Legal Immigration PAC are blaming President Obama for not closing the border with Mexico. "The Obama administration's failure to secure our borders against a possible pandemic is putting American lives at risk at a time when days and hours matter," said William Gheen of ALIPAC. I understand their concern but closing the borders is not going to help - Swine Flu is already with us and will spread - or not - on its own. Back in 1918 during the last bad global pandemic, the flu had no trouble circling the world three times without the benefit of fast international transportation.
I do wish these groups would focus on something like tax reform or education or health care. The tin foil hat thing really isn't fashionable anymore.
And now, The News:
  1. What can we learn from the 1918 flu pandemic?
  2. 101 Uses for a Deserted Mall
  3. Open meetings law may be unconstitutional, court rules
  4. Greening the economy: From ruin to revival
  5. Gas Wells Not Exempt from Local Zoning in Pennsylvania
  6. Ancient tsunami 'hit New York'
  7. Buddhist Deity Meditation Temporarily Augments Visuospatial Abilities, Study Suggests

What can we learn from the 1918 flu pandemic?

In 2007, as the world worried about a possible avian flu epidemic, Laurie Garrett, author of "The Coming Plague," gave this powerful talk to a small TED University audience. Her insights from past pandemics are suddenly more relevant than ever.

About Laurie Garrett: Pulitzer winner Laurie Garrett studies global health and disease prevention. Her books include "The Coming Plague" and "Betrayal of Trust," about the crisis in global public health.

If you do not see the video in a box just above, click here.

101 Uses for a Deserted Mall

By The NYT Editors

Updated, Apr. 16, 10:10 a.m. | General Growth Properties, one of the largest mall operators in the country with more than 200 properties in 44 states, filed for bankruptcy early Thursday morning. The company, which is saddled with more than $25 billion in debt, has been severely damaged by the recession as more retail tenants have shuttered.

As the recession deepens, the retail industry continues to take a huge hit. Nowhere is this more visible than in the rising vacancy rate in shopping malls across the country. Mall owners are gambling on various businesses to draw people in, from water parks to educational services. What happens, or should happen, to dying or dead shopping malls?

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Open meetings law may be unconstitutional, court rules

In an opinion that could call into question the constitutionality of open meetings laws everywhere, a federal appellate court held Monday that the Texas Open Meetings law must pass a heightened constitutional test under the First Amendment.

In a relatively brief opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (5th Cir.) held that elected officials have First Amendment rights to speak to each other in private. As a result, open meetings laws that prohibit private speech between elected officials have to pass stringent constitutional muster, the court said.

The case centers on two city council members who were prosecuted for violating the law by privately e-mailing each other. Their alleged crime was “acting as a quorum in exchanging private emails discussing whether to call a council meeting to consider a public contract matter,” according to the court.

The district attorney eventually dropped the charges in the case, but the council members argued in federal court that the law violated their First Amendment rights.

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Greening the economy: From ruin to revival

Dean of Yale's School of Forestry suggests cutting back, not buying in to 'green chic'. An MNN interview.
By Robynne BoydThu, Feb 26 2009 at 6:29 AM EST

We sat down (over the phone) with James Gustave Speth, a patriarch of the eco-world and dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, to chat about how the economic crisis could in fact help rescue the environment and to discuss his new book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.
MNN: This book originated from your own concern about the world's environmental situation. Should people be worried?

Speth: I think it's easy to miss how seriously in jeopardy we are. The real situation is that there is now more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than in the last 650,000 years and so we are approaching a tipping point on the climate issue that could be disastrous. We are also extracting half of the world's fresh water from streams and rivers, depleting tropical forests at a rate of an acre per second, and eliminating 6,000 acres of open space per day in the U.S. About 30 percent of our word's species are threatened by extinction and 90 percent of the ocean's predator species are gone. In other words, we are living way beyond our means.

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Gas Wells Not Exempt from Local Zoning in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that a local zoning ordinance requiring a conditional use permit for extraction of minerals that was applied to a application for the drilling of gas wells, was not preempted by the State Oil and Gas Act (58 P.S. §601.602). The company entered into agreements with the owners of two lots, each about 10 acres, in a single-family residential district, and obtained a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection to drill natural gas wells. The zoning ordinance required a conditional use permit (CUP) for extraction of “minerals,” but did not define the term. At the direction of the borough solicitor, the company applied for a CUP. The application was denied, based on determination that gas was not a “mineral” and that its extraction for commercial purposes was, therefore, not permitted in the district. The trial court affirmed. The appeals court reversed, holding that the ordinance was preempted by the Oil and Gas Act, 58 P.S. § 601.602.

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Ancient tsunami 'hit New York'

By Molly Bentley
Science reporter

A huge wave crashed into the New York City region 2,300 years ago, dumping sediment and shells across Long Island and New Jersey and casting wood debris far up the Hudson River.

The scenario, proposed by scientists, is undergoing further examination to verify radiocarbon dates and to rule out other causes of the upheaval.

Sedimentary deposits from more than 20 cores in New York and New Jersey indicate that some sort of violent force swept the Northeast coastal region in 300BC.

It may have been a large storm, but evidence is increasingly pointing to a rare Atlantic Ocean tsunami.

Steven Goodbred, an Earth scientist at Vanderbilt University, said large gravel, marine fossils and other unusual deposits found in sediment cores across the area date to 2,300 years ago.

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Buddhist Deity Meditation Temporarily Augments Visuospatial Abilities, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily (Apr. 28, 2009) — Meditation has been practiced for centuries, as a way to calm the soul and bring about inner peace. According to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, there is now evidence that a specific method of meditation may temporarily boost our visuospatial abilities (for example, the ability to retain an image in visual memory for a long time).

That is, the meditation allows practitioners to access a heightened state of visual-spatial awareness that lasts for a limited period of time.

Normally when we see something, it is kept in our visual short-term memory for only a brief amount of time (images will begin to fade in a matter of seconds). However, there have been reports of Buddhist monks who have exceptional imagery skills and are able to maintain complex images in their visual short-term memory for minutes, and sometimes even hours. Led by psychologist Maria Kozhevnikov of George Mason University, a team of researchers investigated the effects of different styles of Buddhist meditation on visuospatial skills.

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