Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June 4, 1942: Naval Warfare Evolves as the Tide Turns

Japanese fleet carrier Hiryu is seen shortly before the United States Navy sank it during the Battle of Midway.
Courtesy Kazutoshi Hando, U.S. Navy

1942: Without ever sighting one another, Japanese and American task forces engage near the Midway Atoll, marking the turning point of the Pacific war and ringing down the curtain on the battleship as a dominant offensive naval weapon.

The Battle of Midway began only a month after the inconclusive Battle of the Coral Sea, which was the first time two opposing fleets slugged it out without making visual contact. Airplanes, specifically the dive bomber and the torpedo plane, were the weapons that made this possible and changed the nature of war at sea.

As a result, aircraft carriers now emerged as the most important ships in the fleet, relegating other surface ships to carrier-escort and picket duty, and -- in the case of the battleship and heavy cruiser -- to shore bombardment in support of troop landings.

At Midway, the Japanese committed most of their fleet to the battle they believed would sweep the Americans from the seas, giving them time to consolidate their burgeoning Asian empire and extend their defensive perimeter into the central Pacific. Four fleet carriers -- Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu -- formed two strike forces intended to reduce the American fleet, which would then be destroyed by the battleships.

The American aircraft carriers, which were spared destruction at Pearl Harbor by being at sea that Dec. 7, were the primary targets.

The success of the complex Japanese plan -- devised by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of the Pearl Harbor raid -- rested on deception. Because of this it was bound to failure before a shot was fired, since, unbeknownst to the Japanese, the Americans had broken their naval code and were able to anticipate Yamamoto's every move.

Coupled with this was the fact that Japan's own intelligence proved poor, underestimating the size of the American fleet, and particularly the number of aircraft carriers available to the enemy.

The battle lasted three-and-a-half days. When it was over, all four Japanese carriers had been lost, a number of other surface ships had also been sunk or damaged, and many of the best air crews were dead. The Americans lost the aircraft carrier Yorktown and a number of air crews, but were in far better shape than the Japanese to make good their losses.

The Imperial Japanese Navy was effectively broken at Midway. Although it would remain a formidable force into 1944, it was no longer a dominant one.

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Trolling for Trouble in the Red Light District

One dark and freakishly stormy night several years ago in San Diego, my car stalled at a flooded intersection. As I pushed the car out of the intersection, lightning was going off all around like flash bulbs. I felt lucky to be able to restart the engine and drive safely home.

Recently, the State of California sent me my tax refund, and curiously, some $328 had been deducted from it. After quite a bit of research, I found the missing amount was courtesy of a traffic court in San Diego, which asserted that I had an unpaid ticket from years earlier. I contend I was never notified of it and unaware of committing a violation. But it apparently stemmed from that freak thunderstorm. To condense a longer story: one of those flashes apparently was a camera’s flash — from a red light camera.

Why this came up so much later, I’ll never know. But there was no contesting the issue, even though I was never shown the photographic “proof” upon which the citation was based. So much for due process. And that’s enough of a reason for me to think that red light cameras are a scam.

Call me sour grapes, but I’m know I’m not alone.

In 2001, a San Diego judge threw out 292 red-light tickets in one celebrated case. Judge Ronald Styn found that the city had given too much law enforcement authority to an outside company, Lockheed Martin IMS, which was hired to operate the cameras:

Arthur F. Tait III, part of a legal team that represented 292 drivers, argued that the arrangement, in which the contractor received $70 from each $271 fine, was creating an incentive for the company to ‘’prosecute for profit.'’

‘’The contractor was able to charge innocent people with criminal conduct to raise revenue,'’ Mr. Tait said.

Hugh Burns, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, said that the system in San Diego had been operated according to police instructions.

The San Diego judge also found that the company installing the red light cameras had tinkered with (by shortening) the duration of the yellow lights, to make them impossibly quick, so more people would be caught running the red; more money for the camera operator and the municipality.

But after all that, San Diego quickly reinstated its red light cameras and transferred the contract to run them to Affiliated Computer Services, which, as of 2005, was the
largest red-light camera service provider
in the country.

Recently, The Los Angeles Times reported that red light cameras don’t even work as intended — up to 80 percent of the time. The reason? The cameras tend to catch people instead who are turning right on red:

“I’ve never . . . seen any studies that suggest red light cameras would be a good safety intervention to reduce right-turning accidents,” said Mark Burkey, a researcher at North Carolina A&T State University who has studied photo enforcement collision patterns.

Some cities with photo enforcement opt not to target right turns. Others limit camera use for those citations.

“We’re kind of very leery about right turns. . . . They’re not really unsafe per se,” said Pasadena’s senior traffic engineer, Norman Baculinao. Only one of that city’s seven camera-equipped intersection approaches is set up to monitor right-turn violations, he said.

“This is intended to be a traffic safety program. People who make right turns generally are going at a low speed,” and resulting accidents tend to be a “sideswipe at most,” he said.

Just how many things wrong with it does an idea have to be before it is considered discredited?

Perhaps a better way to reduce red light running lies in improving the design of the intersection. Studies have shown that extending the duration of the yellow light by just two seconds has significantly decreased the number of red light violations. In Dallas, longer yellows and signs warning motorists of red light cameras have helped reduce the violations so dramatically that the cameras are no longer generating the revenue needed to keep them in operation.

Proponents of red light cameras can always cite figures about how red light cameras have reduced fatalities by some percentage or other. In 2005, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 1,000 people are killed each year in red-light violations. But there are also studies that suggest accident rates actually increase at intersections with red-light cameras, especially the rear-end collision variety, as people jam on their brakes to make abrupt stops.

According to Pat Bedard, editor at large for Car and Driver, in his September 2002 column:

In Charlotte, North Carolina, station WBTV had this to say, “Three years, 125,000 tickets, and $6 million in fines later, the number of accidents at intersections in Charlotte has gone down less than one percent. And the number of rear-end accidents, which are much more common, has gone up 15 percent.”

In Greensboro, the News & Record reports, “There has not been a drop in the number of accidents caused by red-light violations citywide since the first cameras were installed in February 2001. There were 95 such accidents in Greensboro in 2001, the same number as 2000. And at the 18 intersections with cameras, the number of wrecks cause by red-light running has doubled.”

If safety is really the issue, fix the lights first. But in fixing the yellow lights, nobody makes any money. So, instead, the expensive red light systems are installed — along with a bureaucracy to maintain and prosecute them.

Is the goal to fix the danger of red light running, or merely photograph it?


Your City Needs You to Blow Through Red Lights

Lights, Camera, Traffic Ticket

The Camera That Wears a Badge

With Cameras on the Corner, Your Ticket Is in the Mail

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10 Most Outrageous Cars of 2008

With all the changes in the automotive world, there's never a shortage of crazy ideas floating around.

Fortunately for car enthusiasts, many of those wacky ideas actually see the light of day -- and we've got the 10 best for you right here.

Environmental-friendliness and a concern over high gas prices are the driving forces in today's auto trends, according to Wes Siler, road test editor for the popular car Web site

Siler says the hybrid and "green" car revolution is here to stay, but that the supercar market is a niche one and there'll always be someone willing to shell out big bucks for an exotic ride.

With that in mind, here are 10 of the most outrageous, extravagant, or just plain cool autos to look for in the coming year, from green car to supercar and beyond:

Lamborghini Reventon


To start off, here's the car that you absolutely can't own, no matter how much money you're willing to spend. Only 20 of these fighter jet-inspired supercars will be made, and they've already sold at over $1 million a piece. Still, it may be one of the most talked-about exotic cars of the past year, and is certainly worth keeping an eye out for on the roads.

Smart Fortwo

For the wannabe-European in all of us, the Smart Fortwo is the new American counterpart to those classic Euro smartcars. Small enough to fit in half a parking space, these zippy little cars can reach up to 90 miles an hour, all while getting 33 miles to the gallon, according to the company specs.

With a base price of only $11,000, it's the perfect replacement for that road-hogging SUV.

Bugatti Veyron


If the Fortwo is the cheap transportation alternative for the non-car enthusiast, then the Bugatti Veyron is the dream machine of every supercar fan on the planet. Its 1,001 horsepower will pin you to the seat at over 250 miles per hour, but only for a few minutes. At top speed a tank of gas will last just 12 minutes, so fuel economy is not something to think about when buying this beast.

Most of us regular drivers shouldn't even worry about getting our hands on one, because at just over $1.5 million, the Veyron is one of the most expensive (albeit fastest) cars on the planet.

Tesla Roadster

Somewhere between the Veyron and the Fortwo, there's the new Tesla Roadster.

At first glance its Ferrari-like body, $98,000 price tag and sub-four-second zero-to-60 time look like any other high-performance supercar, but there's a catch. The Tesla is actually the world's first fully electric supercar.

Unlike previous electric cars, the Roadster has no backup gas tank whatsoever, just a rechargeable electric engine that the company claims will get you up to 220 miles on a single charge. Production has already started, so expect to see them hit the streets in the next few months.

International CXTenvironment on this whole list, the International Truck and Engine Corporation recently released the largest production pickup truck on the roads. Built on the same platform as a dump truck, it's the everyday pickup on steroids. The perfect six-figure truck for the boy in all of us who still remembers playing with Tonka Toys when they were younger.

Hummer HX


The latest concept truck from Hummer moves even further away from its Army-styled road tanks of the past and into dune buggy territory. Designed as Hummer's competition for the Jeep Wrangler, the HX takes some styling cues from its bigger brothers and adds a few tweaks. What you get is a small, off-road capable, convertible truck that will be a welcome addition for Hummer fans feeling the effects of high gas prices.

Scion Hako

Scion has never been accused of making plain cars, and its latest coupe concept is no different. Resembling an orange box with wraparound windows, the Hako will definitely turn heads and create a love it or hate it opinion similar to every Scion car before it. The younger generation is once again Scion's market, as the Hako includes plenty of interior technology, such as Bluetooth phone capability and video cameras instead of side view mirrors, with the images shown on screens inside the doors.

Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe

Described as less eco-friendly and more ego-friendly, the newest offering from the classically opulent automaker is a two-door sporting car sure to get you noticed. Designed more to be driven and not driven in, in contrast to most previous Rolls models, the Phantom Coupe is sleek, fast and fun. The extravagance continues to the interior, where a "starlight" headliner entertains passengers with flickering lights resembling the night sky.

Jeep Renegade

Jeep's newest concept debuted in auto shows earlier this year and was an immediate topic of conversation. The boldly styled Renegade is an open-air off-road 4x4, but with an electric motor. Jeep uses one of these motors (which get up to 40 miles on a charge) on each axle for true four-wheel drive.

Meanwhile, a backup diesel engine will get you where you need on longer drives. Jeep finishes off the unique design by covering the truck's exterior with rubber accents, hidden storage compartments, and shortened windshield and doors.

The newest model in the ultra-lavish Maybach lines solidifies the company's understanding of the word "luxury." Even though its turbocharged engine can get all 6,200 pounds accelerating at Ferrari-like speeds, if you're the one driving this car then you're doing it wrong.

It's better thought of as a high-powered limo, and the list of amenities for the passenger section in back is endless. A mini-fridge, wine cooler, leather armchairs for seats, automatic window curtains, auto-tinting glass roof, and personal video screens for every passenger are only the more normal options available.

If you want to be driven around in speed and style, grab about $500,000 and give Maybach a call.

Copyrighted, TheStreet.Com. All rights reserved.
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Foreign Travelers Face Closer Scrutiny

With tough, new requirements, even on people from countries where U.S. visas are not required, travel to the United States will be more difficult.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)For foreigners who already endure the long, arduous process of security checks and baggage screenings to travel to the United States, the Visa Waiver Program offered relief to some by allowing them to bypass the tedious process of applying for a U.S. visa.

Soon, however, even people in the program will have to submit personal information for a background check before they can board a flight or ship headed for American soil.

Starting early next year, citizens from countries in the VWP, which allows travelers from certain countries to enter the United States without a visa, will be required to submit their travel plans and personal information before their day of travel, U.S. officials told ABC News, on the condition of anonymity, because the program has not yet been announced.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is expected to make the announcement Tuesday morning.

Officials say the change in the program is needed to protect against individuals who pose a threat to the United States, even though they come from a country that is friendly to America.

"History has shown that it is naïve to assume a traveler from a VWP country automatically constitutes a lesser threat than a visa applicant who has undergone greater scrutiny prior to travel," a U.S. official said, citing as examples British citizen Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up a U.S.-bound flight with a bomb in his shoe, and Zacharias Moussaoui, a French citizen who was the only person convicted for a role in the 9/11 attacks.

Sources say the program is being implemented to comply with a new law, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, which was passed by Congress last year.

The 9/11 Commission, which explored the United States' vulnerabilities following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, recommended that passengers be screened against terror watch lists.

"Improved use of 'no-fly' and 'automatic selectee' lists should not be delayed," the commission's report said. "This screening function should be performed by the TSA, and it should utilize the larger set of watchlists maintained by the federal government. Air carriers should be required to supply the information needed to test and implement this new system."

The new program, called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), will launch on Aug. 1 on a voluntary basis, but will become mandatory for travelers from the visa waiver countries on or around Jan. 12, 2009.

Travelers will be required to log onto a Web site to enter their personal and travel information, which will be used to check the traveler's name against terror watch lists. The site will launch in English on Aug. 1 and in other languages on or around Oct. 15.

Travelers who are approved will be able to enter the United States for two years or until their passport expires, whichever comes first.

Travelers are recommended to register on the Web site no less than 72 hours before departure, officials said. Travelers who fail to register could be denied entry to the United States, or at least have their admission delayed..

Several European countries, which make up the bulk of the 27 countries enrolled in the Visa Waiver Program, have complained about the additional measures over fears of what will happen to the data and how long the U.S. government will hold on to it, U.S. officials told ABC News.

The European Union threatened months ago to enact reciprocal requirements, a State Department official said.

Last year, 15 million visitors came to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program. In recent months, eight additional countries have signed agreements to eventually join the program.

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America's Top 5 Cleanest Cities

From air to water to trash, Reader's Digest ran the numbers and the results will surprise you.

What Is a Clean City?

What's the cleanest big city in America? How about the dirtiest? And what about the place where you live -- did it make the list?

Reader's Digest compared data on our 50 most populous metropolitan areas to come up with a ranking of America's cleanest cities. You might be able to guess some of the winners -- and losers. But get ready for plenty of surprises.

First, though, what is a clean city? Ideally, it's a place where the air quality is good, the water is safe to drink, and factories aren't dumping harmful chemical waste into the environment. It's also a place where you look up and down streets that are free of garbage, and stroll through parks without wading through litter. To gauge these things, we used several databases as yardsticks for measuring cleanliness. That data pertained not just to the cities themselves, but to their Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), which include the surrounding suburbs and counties.

We also wanted to dig beneath the data to find out just what our highest-scoring cities were doing right. So we talked with policymakers, economists, activists and government workers in the top five cities. As you'll see, these places have earned their rankings -- and their success holds some lessons for the rest of us.

#5 San Francisco
(Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties)

Background: Once a prominent shipping and manufacturing center, San Francisco now has booming financial and business sectors. Since 1980, the city's population has increased by more than a third and its per capita income ranks among the nation's highest. Few places have a citizenry that is more environmentally conscious.

Problems: Like nearly every traffic-clogged urban California area, San Francisco has struggled with high emissions of greenhouse gases and carbon monoxide. Its Hunter's Point area is home to two polluting power plants and a highly contaminated Naval Shipyard, now defunct. In 2002, a national report found that while San Francisco's source water was safe, its tap water contained high levels of a cancer-causing contaminant known as total trihalomethanes, or TTHM, a byproduct of chlorinating water.

Solutions: San Francisco has benefited from the state of California's bold and controversial air-quality regulations. The city's Environment Department -- something many municipalities lack -- is seeking to close the power plants at Hunter's Point, and the federal EPA is overseeing a massive cleanup of the shipyard there. Meanwhile, San Francisco is in the forefront of efforts to promote the use of clean-air vehicles, with its public transit leading the way. The city's bus fleet includes over 700 electric-drive vehicles, with plans to convert all the buses to this clean-air technology by 2020. As for concerns about its drinking water, San Francisco responded by modifying its water treatment process, which brought the TTHM levels back down into the safe zone. Finally, the local government is finding ways to push energy savings, including a program that encourages residents to exchange their old strings of holiday lights for a free set of more efficient LED bulbs, courtesy of the city and Pacific Gas and Electric.

#4 Columbus, Ohio
(Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Licking, Madison, Morrow, Pickaway and Union counties) Background: Ohio's capital, according to the latest census, was the only major city in the state to grow in population. And Columbus's geographical expansion continues. Its economy is light on industry -- less than 12% of its job force works in the manufacturing sector. The big growth has been in financial and insurance businesses, as well as retail. Meanwhile, per capita income here is slightly below our 50-city average.

Problems: Columbus's steady development has made it tough to keep the city's watersheds clean. Also, an aging storm water and sewage system has caused overflows and backups in recent years. Litter has been a manageable problem, although Columbus has a recycling rate of just 4%, which Mayor Michael Coleman calls "pitiful." And finally, the late 1990s were marked by a sudden increase in ugly graffiti on both public and private property.

Solutions: Mayor Coleman supports a moratorium on development of sensitive watershed land, but has also pushed for redevelopment of brownfields (contaminated land kept vacant until sites can be cleaned up). The mayor recently unveiled a new initiative, "Get Green Columbus," which established an Office of Environmental Stewardship. Also underway is a program to update the sewage and storm water systems. To spruce up unsightly areas, Columbus has committed to removing graffiti within two days of its appearance. Through the city's Neighborhood Pride program, a handful of communities each year get a solid week of concentrated cleanup, including tree trimming, hydrant painting, graffiti abatement, bulk trash pickup and litter removal.

#3 Buffalo, New York
(Erie and Niagara counties)

Background: Long known as a Rust Belt city where steel was king, Buffalo was hit hard when that industry went into steep decline more than two decades ago. As steel plants shut down, Buffalo was forced to rebuild its economy from the ground up. But by leveraging its assets, including a low cost of living and cheap, clean hydroelectric energy generated by nearby Niagara Falls, Buffalo has begun luring new, nonmanufacturing businesses to the area.

Problems: After the shuttering of its steel plants and oil refineries, the region was left with the residue of its industrial past: A heavily polluted Buffalo River and acres of brownfields and Superfund sites, including the notorious Love Canal. By the 1990s, Buffalo's dwindling population, shrinking tax base and fiscal problems meant drastic cuts in city services -- including sanitation. As a result, huge trash piles often accumulated in front of homes, sometimes going uncollected for days on end. At the same time, Buffalo was struggling with a sizable rat infestation.

Solutions: With the help of environmental quality bonds and Superfund dollars, Buffalo has made great strides in containing and cleaning up brownfields and contaminated sites. Meanwhile, plans are underway to turn part of the former Bethlehem Steel site -- an 1,100-acre brownfield on the shores of Lake Erie -- into a wind farm that will generate clean power for businesses and residents. The state is also overseeing a Buffalo River cleanup, already successful enough to draw boaters and fishermen back to the waterway. As for the trash problems, Buffalo undertook an award-winning restructuring of its garbage collection system. A fleet of 13 high-tech street sweepers, deployed 24 hours a day during non-winter months, now helps keep the streets clear of debris. And the city has dramatically curbed the rat problem by distributing large, securely covered garbage bins to every residence in the city.

#2 San Jose, California

(San Benito and Santa Clara counties)

Background: This area's booming high-tech business during the 1980s and 1990s earned it the name Silicon Valley. Numerous semiconductor and computer chip manufacturers brought in huge numbers of highly educated workers, driving up house values and living costs. Then the dot-com bust hit, and San Jose suddenly lost 200,000 jobs. Now the city is seeking to reinvent itself as a center for innovation and research in such diverse fields as pharmaceuticals and automotives.

Problems: In the early 1980s, a leaking underground storage tank filled with trichloroethane, a solvent suspected of causing reproductive and developmental problems, was found to be contaminating the drinking water of 65,000 people near a semiconductor plant. Over the next few years Silicon Valley became dotted with Superfund sites; at one time, Santa Clara County had more such sites than any other county in the country. Besides the high-tech contamination, the Valley's rapid growth resulted in extensive sprawl, which means traffic, and air pollution -- trapped by surrounding mountains.

Solutions: The widespread pollution gave rise to a strong grass-roots environmental movement that pressured industry to clean up its mess. Industry responded by going the extra mile, setting higher standards for itself than required. The EPA, meanwhile, is overseeing the containment and cleanup of the Superfund sites. Because so much groundwater had been contaminated, the Santa Clara Valley Water District became a national leader in testing and protecting drinking water. As for its traffic woes, San Jose can thank the state of California for stricter regulations that have helped reduce the carbon monoxide and diesel particulates in the air. The bottom line for San Jose: It's a city now known nationwide for its clean streets, fresh air, and healthy lifestyle.

#1 Portland, Oregon
(Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties, Oregon; Clark and Skamania counties, Washington)

Background: Portland, long an important port and shipbuilding center, now also has a burgeoning high-tech sector, and a robust manufacturing base in paper, metal products and sportswear. Nonetheless, the per capita income is below the average for the 50 cities in our analysis.

Problems: A six-to-nine-mile stretch of the Willamette River's Portland Harbor was declared a Superfund site in 2000. The sewer system is ancient and poorly designed, combining storm water runoff with sewage in the same piping system. Industries in Multnomah County, Portland's home, continue to spew an estimated 1.85 million pounds of toxics into the air, water and land.

Solutions: Portland belongs to the country's only elected regional government, which means the city coordinates its planning and growth decisions with its neighbors. This arrangement has allowed Portland to make far-ranging decisions, such as the establishment of a growth boundary around its urban center. Land inside this invisible circle is fair game for development; outside the circle there's only open space and farmland. The result is not only a well-preserved agricultural region just outside the city, but also a vibrant, livable urban area where public transportation rules. To attract even more riders, the bus and light rail system has turned a section of downtown into a fare-free zone. The city did another smart thing when it was looking into a green building ordinance: It met with 200 developers to find out exactly what regulatory or financial hurdles were preventing them from using "sustainable" principles, and then laid out a plan. To resolve the sewage problem, Portland has invested over a billion dollars in the "Big Pipe Project," which will lay massive pipes alongside the Willamette to carry waste to a treatment plant. In 1974, the city removed an entire freeway running alongside the Willamette's banks and converted the space into parkland.
From Reader's Digest
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America's Most Unhealthy Drinks Exposed

Whether you are on a hardcore diet trying to lose major pounds or just someone trying to stay in good shape, you should be aware that there are a lot of so-called "healthy" drinks out there that will do you more harm than good. To help you steer clear of these devilish drinks, Men's Health has compiled a small list of 5 of some of the most unhealthy drinks. The drinks, inside...

5. Worst "Healthy" Drink
Glaceau VitaminWater (any flavor 20oz bottle)

130 calories, 33 grams of sugar.
Vitamins and water might seem like a good idea but what they don't advertise is that this water contains nearly as much calories and sugar as a can of soda. It should be no surprise that this stuff is made by The Coca-Cola Company.

4. Worst Juice Imposter
Arizona Kiwi Strawberry (23.5 oz can)

360 calories, 84 grams of sugar.
These bottles which are just 5 percent juice cost 99 cents which makes them one of the cheapest source of empty calories in the country.

3. Worst Smoothie
Jamba Juice Peanut Butter Moo'd Power Smoothie (30 oz)

169 grams of sugar, 30 grams of fat
Whether you call it a smoothie or a milk shake, it has more sugar than a bag of chocolate chips.

2. Worst Summer Cocktail
Pina Colada

625 calories, 75 grams of sugar
Because of the super sweet pineapple juice and fatty coconut milk, the only wise thing to consume here may be the garnish. Try a lime daiquiri or mojito instead and save 400 calories.

1. The Unhealthiest Drink In America
Baskin Robbin's Large Heath Bar Shake (32. oz)

2,310 calories, 266 grams of sugar, 108 grams of fat
73 ingredients go into this milk shake.
66 teaspoons of sugar.
11 Heath bars equal the calories in this shake
8-12 minutes to consume this drink.
240 minutes on a treadmill running at a moderate pace to burn it off.

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3 Years Later, Knees Made for Dancing

The question most often asked by longtime readers and acquaintances I haven’t seen for a while is, “How are your knees?”

They recall the columns I wrote in February 2005, three months after having both knees replaced, in which I described the unexpected, prolonged and poorly treated postoperative pain and the surprising length of time before I could resume normal activities.

Some readers may also recall the “one-year later” column relating my return to long walks and ice skating, and the ability to stand for hours without pain. I’m happy to report further improvements.

I’m dancing again, and in March 2007, I hiked in Tasmania and walked all over Sydney, up and down hundreds of steps, for many hours each day with no knee or leg pain. This past March, I toured Vietnam by bicycle, riding as much as 35 miles a day over hot, dusty roads without pain.

But the truth is that artificial knees, while certainly an improvement over severely arthritic ones like mine, are not like normal, healthy knees. There are limitations inherent in the devices and surgical techniques that most surgeons use. Although a vast majority of patients ultimately fare really well, in some cases the device fails or there are lasting injuries to internal tissues.

Studies of many hundreds of patients with total knee replacements show potential problems surgeons may fail to mention in advance. “What we as health professionals tell patients preoperatively isn’t always what they need to know,” Ann F. Jacobson of the Kent State University College of Nursing said in an interview.

Managing Expectations

Dr. Jacobson and her colleagues studied the preoperative and short-term postoperative experiences of 27 patients undergoing total knee replacements. Writing in the May issue of The American Journal of Nursing, they concluded, “Patients need to be better educated and supported before and after total knee replacement surgery.”

The researchers found that many people delayed the surgery for months, even years, “despite increasing pain and limitation” and difficulty maintaining their independence. Postoperatively, the main issues for patients were pain, difficulty with the activities of daily living, and the time it took to recover their independence.

“Patients really struggled with having to be a bother to others,” Dr. Jacobson said. “They need help beforehand in learning to let go temporarily of their independence and accept the fact that they’ll need help after the surgery.”

Perhaps the study’s most important finding is that patients are often told that they will be at a certain level of recovery in a certain length of time, which often leads to unrealistic expectations, Dr. Jacobson said, adding, “Everyone heals differently, and there’s no one prediction that can apply to all patients.”

For example, I had been told that I would be driving in four weeks when I still wasn’t ready to drive in eight. And I needed potent pain medication for four months to fulfill the demands of my professional and personal life.

What about the long-term results, years after the surgery? These are some facts that patients might like to know:

¶Kneeling is problematic. It can hurt to put weight on metal knees, even on a cushion, making activities like gardening a challenge.

¶Falling on an artificial knee, even banging it on furniture or a briefcase, can hurt a lot more and longer than you might expect.

¶Going down steep steps can be difficult and may require a sideways, one-foot approach. A normal knee bends at an angle of about 145 degrees, but replaced knees often achieve only 120 degrees, if that. Sitting on the floor cross-legged may be impossible.

¶Despite the passage of time and many months of physical therapy, there can be residual discomfort. I “feel” my knees on every rotation of the bike pedals, though the sensation is not what I would call pain and not enough to stop me from riding.

¶Most artificial knees are metal and set off the security alarm at airports, requiring a personal scan with a wand. This may be moot when new body scanners are in all airports.

¶Some patients require a surgical revision within two years of a replacement because of technical problems like instability or poor alignment of the new joint.

As one surgeon reported in 2005, 52 percent of knee replacement patients experienced functional limits, versus 22 percent among other people their age. Those limits included problems in kneeling, squatting, moving laterally, turning and cutting, carrying loads, stretching, leg strengthening, sex, playing tennis, dancing and gardening.

In a British study of 4,677 total replacements 10 years after surgery, 80 percent of the replacements had met patients’ expectations. Still, 30 percent of patients had a problem, 12 percent needed a revision within the decade, 22 percent had constant or regular pain, and 13 percent had severe pain.

In a study in the United States more than six months after surgery, just 35 percent of patients were able to do all they wanted to and only 13 percent had no restrictions on activities. In another American study, a third of patients were dissatisfied with their operation 6 to 12 months later. As one surgeon, Dr. Pieter H.J. Bullens, put it, “It appears that surgeons are more satisfied than patients after total knee replacement.”

New Designs

Some orthopedic surgeons are using new equipment and techniques that can improve the success of knee replacements and minimize the risk of complications.

One new design, the Triathlon knee, results in quicker recovery and return to function, according to surgeons who have used it.

Other surgeons use computers to help them properly place and align the artificial joint. Still others, like Dr. Peter M. Bonutti, who runs an orthopedic clinic in Effingham, Ill., and is an associate clinical professor at the University of Arkansas, have adopted a less invasive technique. It uses smaller surgical instruments and creates a smaller incision, reduces trauma to soft tissues and avoids moving the patella, or kneecap, during the operation.

Among 24 patients who had both knees replaced using the new technique, Dr. Bonutti reported that there was an early advantage of less pain, much less need for narcotics and quicker return to function, even for patients who were seriously overweight or out of shape. One older man said he went dancing the day he was discharged from the hospital and has been dancing ever since.

In a follow-up study two or more years later of 166 patients ages 41 to 94, including 25 with double knee replacements, 97 percent were functionally excellent, Dr. Bonutti reported in 2005. Six knees needed minor manipulations under anesthesia, and five patients required reoperations, which he said occurred “early in our learning curve.”

My own bottom line? My new knees are a significant improvement over what I had before. I’m not at all sorry I had the surgery, and I’m glad I did not wait until I could not walk unassisted.

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Heavy marijuana use shrinks brain parts: study

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Long-term heavy use of marijuana may cause two important brain structures to shrink, Australian researchers said on Monday.

Brain scans showed the hippocampus and amygdala were smaller in men who were heavy marijuana users compared to nonusers, the researchers said. The men had smoked at least five marijuana cigarettes daily for on average 20 years.

The hippocampus regulates memory and emotion, while the amygdala plays a critical role in fear and aggression.

The study, published in the American Medical Association's journal Archives of General Psychiatry, also found the heavy cannabis users earned lower scores than the nonusers in a verbal learning task -- trying to recall a list of 15 words.

The marijuana users were more likely to exhibit mild signs of psychotic disorders, but not enough to be formally diagnosed with any such disorder, the researchers said.

"These findings challenge the widespread perception of cannabis as having limited or no harmful effects on (the) brain and behavior," said Murat Yucel of ORYGEN Research Centre and the University of Melbourne, who led the study.

"Like with most things, some people will experience greater problems associated with cannabis use than others," Yucel said in an e-mail. "Our findings suggest that everyone is vulnerable to potential changes in the brain, some memory problems and psychiatric symptoms if they use heavily enough and for long enough."

Among the 15 heavy marijuana users in the study, the hippocampus volume was 12 percent less and the amygdala volume was 7 percent less than in 16 men who were not marijuana users, the researchers said.

The researchers acknowledged that the study did not prove it was the marijuana and not some other factor that triggered these brain differences. But Yucel said the findings certainly suggested marijuana was the cause.


While about half of the marijuana users reported experiencing some form of paranoia and social withdrawal, only one of the nonusers reported such symptoms, Yucel said.

The heavy marijuana users, average age 40, said they had used other illicit drugs less than 10 times, the researchers said.

A U.S. group supporting legal sales and regulation of marijuana took issue with the findings, particularly because they were based on men who were such heavy, long-term users.

"These were people who were essentially stoned all day every day for 20 years," Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Bruce Mirken said by e-mail. "This study says nothing about moderate or occasional users, who are the vast majority -- and the (study) even acknowledges this."

"The documented damage caused by comparably heavy use of alcohol or tobacco is just off-the-charts more serious, and you don't need high-tech scans to find it," Mirken added.

Yucel said the researchers have begun new research on the effects of both short-term and long-term and moderate and heavy use of marijuana.

(Editing by Maggie Fox)

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After livers, cash to UCLA

Four Japanese gang figures got liver transplants at UCLA
Japanese Police
Tadamasa Goto received a life-saving liver transplant at UCLA Medical Center. Goto is one of Japan's most powerful gang bosses, which experts describe as vindictive and at times brutal.

A Japanese mob boss and another man said to have gang ties each donated $100,000 after their transplants. The university said the gifts had absolutely no bearing on the surgeries.

A powerful Japanese gang boss who received a liver transplant at UCLA Medical Center donated $100,000 to the Westwood hospital shortly after the surgery, The Times has learned.

A plaque dated November 2001 at the entryway to a seventh-floor surgery office reads, "In grateful recognition of the Goto Research Fund established through the generosity of Mr. Tadamasa Goto."
UCLA confirmed the amount of the donation Friday. Law enforcement sources say Goto, 65, is the leader of the ruthless Goto-gumi gang. He received a transplant at UCLA in July 2001, The Times reported Thursday. He made his donation less than three months later.

UCLA also acknowledged that it received a separate $100,000 donation from another man who figured in Thursday's story. He donated in 2002, the year of his transplant.

The man was identified by a law enforcement official as one of four Japanese men now barred from entering the United States because of their suspected gang affiliations, criminal records, or both. All four received new livers at UCLA between 2000 and 2004, The Times reported.

The Times is not naming the second donor because it has not been able to reach him or his lawyer about the law enforcement assertion. Japanese police do not generally make public information about gang affiliations.

UCLA spokeswoman Dale Tate said the university had "no reason to question" the source of the money given by Goto or the other donor. Both donations were deposited into the Department of Surgery's Discretionary Fund, she said. When asked if the money had any bearing on the men's transplants, Tate said: "Absolutely not."

In a written statement, Tate said the surgery discretionary fund was used to support research and education for the liver transplant program.

UCLA's actions drew attention Friday from a leading U.S. senator and mixed reaction from doctors and transplant professionals.

The surgeries took place at a time of persistent shortages of donor livers. In the year of Goto's transplant, 186 patients on the list for livers died while waiting for the operation in the greater Los Angeles region.

U.S. transplant rules allow hospitals to provide organs to patients with criminal histories and to a limited number of foreign patients, but both topics have been controversial. News that UCLA had provided livers to foreigners barred from the country generated considerable comment Friday.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who has considerable influence on federal health policy and an interest in transplant oversight going back several years, said he was "worried about the credibility of the transplant system" and would demand additional information from the university.

If the transplant system "doesn't have credibility, we're not going to have people donate organs," said Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees federal hospital funds. "I think I have to get to the bottom of things."

Some said they worried the surgeries would discourage people from donating organs; others said that there are so few transplants going to either foreigners or criminals that it should have no effect.

All four of the transplants were performed by Dr. Ronald W. Busuttil, executive chairman of UCLA's surgery department, according to a person familiar with the cases. Goto's lawyer, Yoshiyuki Maki, previously confirmed that his client received a transplant at UCLA and that Busuttil subsequently examined Goto in Japan. Neither Maki nor Goto could be reached for further comment Friday.

Goto had been prohibited from entering this country before his transplant, but the FBI agreed to help him get a visa in exchange for information on potentially illegal activities in the United States by Japanese gangs, commonly known as yakuza, a former FBI official said. Goto provided little information of use, he said.

There is no evidence that UCLA or Busuttil knew at the time of the surgeries that any of the patients had a criminal record or ties to the yakuza. Both said in statements earlier this week that they do not make moral judgments about patients and treat them based on their medical need.

Busuttil, a world-renowned surgeon and co-editor of a leading text on liver transplantation, said in his statement that he considers it "part of my responsibility and obligation as a physician" to ensure that his patients receive proper care whether in the U.S. or abroad.

Busuttil declined to comment Friday through his attorney, citing federal patient-privacy laws.

It is not uncommon for transplant recipients or other grateful patients to donate money to hospitals after receiving life-saving medical care. Businessman Robert A. Day and his wife Kelly, for instance, donated $30 million last year to the UCLA Department of Surgery to express their gratitude for his liver transplant two years earlier.
Even so, Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said hospitals have a responsibility to inquire about the source of their gifts.

"It starts to defy credulity that you're not going to be curious about who these people are, if only to ask them for more money down the road," he said. "Any development officer who didn't follow up a $100,000 gift with a check of who this guy is and who his friends are would be an ex-development officer."
Wealthy foreigners, he added, are attractive to transplant programs because not only do they pay the full cost for their procedures, but they often make gifts of gratitude later.

Dr. Joseph Tector, chief of transplant at the Clarian Transplant Institute at Indiana University, defended UCLA's actions. The occupations of his patients are not relevant, he said.

"As doctors, you are not a member of the clergy to ascertain someone's worthiness," he said. "You don't want to discriminate. These calls don't come so much into questions with other procedures. But with livers, the water is muddied because not everyone can get transplants. There aren't enough livers. "

But Dr. David Mulligan, a liver transplant surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, took issue with UCLA's statement that it does not make moral decisions when it adds patients to its transplant waiting list. He said transplant professionals make such decisions every day.

"By saying that we don't impose any kind of a moral judgment on people is not entirely complete," he said, "because I think that every transplant center has members of the [selection] committee who are social workers and financial aid advisors and psychiatrists who are intensely involved in the estimation of every potential recipient and their ability to progress with a full and long-standing recovery."

"I don't think that transplant centers can turn a blind eye to patients' social histories and their backgrounds," he said, adding that his center has run criminal background checks on some American patients about whom it has questions.

Transplant rules give hospitals and doctors the final say on which patients get added to their waiting lists, and they have the discretion to refuse patients with unhealthy lifestyles that could compromise the transplant's success. Patients may be refused on other grounds as well, including an inability to pay.

One L.A. doctor said he believes that UCLA's reputation as a first-class transplant center will suffer from the news of the four transplants.

"It's going to have a real negative effect," said Dr. David Boska, an internist in Brentwood who says he has referred 10 patients to UCLA over the last decade. "Their interest is to make sure people know they have a first-rate program. This isn't going to help."

Boska, who said he is a friend of Busuttil, added: "I have lost faith in the system, not the program," he said.

"You have a brother who dies because he doesn't have $500,000 to spend on a liver. That's a terrible thing to think about. Then you learn that we have foreign criminals who come in and get livers. That's not good.

"But it's terrible thing that we don't have any guidelines. We should have them. We have all these people dying in Los Angeles."

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Fast Food Goes Organic

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Seattle chain Organic to Go is buying High Noon, which has four locations in the D.C. area, and plans to expand the chain locally.
Seattle chain Organic to Go is buying High Noon, which has four locations in the D.C. area, and plans to expand the chain locally. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

The 10 Oldest Bars in the United States

After spending any amount of time in a European pub, it is easy to feel like such a newbie on the planet as a U.S. citizen. I remember one instance from a pub in Ireland that had been built in the 1600s, when I realized how long ago those stones had been set, I vowed to never drink a lame drink at a restaurant chain again, but to set out for some places with real character. Still, there's no reason to be ashamed about our pubs’ relative youth. Here are the ten oldest bars in the United States to help you go back in time to when your ancestors met and accidentally spawned future generations.

10. P.J. Clarke's

Established in 1868.

915 Third Avenue New York, NY 10022. (212) 317-1616

Red, checkered table cloths and bartenders in shirt and tie are indicative of the style of this New York staple. The bar has been around as long as the building, roughly 125 years, though the exact building date is still disputed. The bar menu features the best burger in town, served with a pickle and a slice of raw onion. Classic. It was recently renovated, but close attention to detail was paid, returning all the signature features (the “out of order” payphone, the chalkboard, jukebox and the broken cigarette machine) to their proper places. To show that they are as loyal to their patrons as their patrons are to them, the ash remains of an old regular are still behind the bar for safekeeping.

9. White Horse Tavern

Established in 1880.

567 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. (212) 989-3956.

Originally a hangout for longshoremen, it became popular in the bohemian scene of the 50’s and 60’s. The likes of Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison have grabbed a drink at this spot and it was also known to be frequented by a number of famous writers during that period, including Dylan Thomas, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac. The words “JACK GO HOME!” are still written on the bathroom wall for his tendency to be bounced from the bar.

8. Ear Inn

Established in 1874.

326 Spring Street, New York, NY 10013. (212) 226-9060.

Built in 1817 as a home for James Brown, an aide to George Washington during the time of the Revolution, Ear Inn has gone through many transformations to become what it is today. It was used as a brewery, bar and restaurant beginning sometime in the mid 19th century and went on to become a speakeasy during Prohibition. The apartment upstairs has been used as a boarding house, smuggler’s den and brothel over the years and is rumored to be home to “Mickey” the ghost of a sailor still waiting for his clipper ship. The name “EAR” was informally given to the bar as a reference to the musical Ear Magazine that was published upstairs. Part of the “BAR” sign was strategically painted over to avoid the hassle of seeking city approval for new signage.

7. The Little Shamrock

Established in 1863.

807 Lincoln Way, San Francisco, CA 94122. (415) 661-0060.

Belly up to the bar solo in this place and you are guaranteed to leave with some new friends. Or you can settle into the dirty old décor for a game night with friends. “The Sham” has board games on site and beer cheap enough to make them into drinking games. The spacious and friendly atmosphere makes this a great place to hang out for hours and feel like you are right at home.

6. The Saloon

Established in 1861.

1232 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133. (415) 989-7666.

San Fran’s oldest watering hole boasts live blues bands playing nightly along with the cheapest and stiffest drinks in town. One of the only establishments to survive the earthquake and fire of 1906, it is rumored that the firemen who were loyal patrons diverted water from other sources to hose this place down. Be sure to bring cash though…this bar made it through the Depression, I wouldn’t expect them to take kindly to the practice of buying on the margin.

5. McGillin's Olde Ale House

Established in 1860.

1310 Drury Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. (215) 735-5562

Originally opened as the "Bell in Hand" in 1860, McGillin's is the oldest continuously operated bar in the City of Brotherly Love. William McGillin, who lived upstairs with his wife and thirteen children until his death in August of 1901, founded this bar. The bar was then run by his wife, "Ma" who prohibited a long list of area citizens from entering, including her own father), until she passed in 1938. The bar then passed through children's hands until it was eventually sold by daughter Mercedes in 1958 to two brothers who spell their names differently (Henry Spaniak and Joe Shepaniak), who's family still manage the bar to this day. This award winning Irish pub boasts the unique claim of being the only bar in Philly that was established before town hall, and is also perennially listed among America's leading night clubs. If you are in the area, be sure to stop in an order a Cheesesteak and a Yuengling, in order to take in the full experience.

4. Old Ebbitt Grill

Established in 1856.

675 Fifteenth Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20005. (202) 347-4801.

Founded by William E. Ebbitt, the guest list has included Presidents McKinley, Grant, Johnson, Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Harding. The bar fell into hard times leading up to 1970, when it was purchased by Clyde's Restaurant Co. (Clyde’s of Georgetown). Ebbitt's has had many homes throughout the years, moving and expanding over the generations, but it wasn't until 1983 that the bar found its current home. Through the years the bar has amassed a rich history and a wealth of antiques from our Nation's Capital. Still a haunt of the world's most powerful profiles, as well as area tourists, Ebbitt's remains active in many regional events including hosting the World Famous Oyster Riot each year. If you ever visit this bar, you'll find yourself sitting in the same booth that many famous statesmen, military heroes, and lawmakers have used in years past. Chances are, if you drink too much, someone more important than you has done the same in just that very seat. Think of "Frank the Tank" in Old School?

3. McSorley's Old Ale House

Established in 1854.

15 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003. (212) 473-9148.

McSorley's Old Ale House has been a community gathering place as well as the subject of art, literature and even a Supreme Court controversy. Established in 1854, McSorley's can boast of being New York City's oldest continuously operated saloon. Everyone from Abe Lincoln to John Lennon has passed thru Mcsorley's swinging doors. Interestingly, women were finally allowed access in 1970, so if you were looking for a place to pick up chicks, this was not high on the list. Also, don't venture into the bar wanting a girly drink because they only serve two types of beer: light and dark. And you have to order two at a time.

While there are older bars in the US, McSorley's has remained in its original location. It is widely acknowledged that they also served as a speakeasy during Prohibition, and should you request a tour, maybe you'll be lucky enough to visit the back room, which serves as a gallery of sorts. Bring cash, and exact change if you are able because McSorley's has never had a cash register and never plans to.

2. Bell In Hand

Established in 1795.

45 Union Street, Boston, MA 02108. (617) 227-2098.

This bar claims to be America's oldest tavern. What more can you expect from Boston? More specifically, this is the bar in America with the longest continuous operation. The Bell In Hand has only shut its doors once temporarily: Prohibition. This bar was established by Jimmy Wilson, Boston's last known town crier (so it's not just a clever name), who was among the first to report on such Colonial American milestones as the Boston Tea Party. In the Bar's early days it was a favorite among politicians, lawyers and students, with a long list of patrons that included such notables as: Paul Revere, Daniel Webster and William McKinley. Located on Union Street (Boston's oldest operating street), The Bell In Hand now plays a trendy host to the young crowd of 20 and 30-somethings.

1. Jean Lafittes Blacksmith Shop

Established in 1772.

941 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70116. (504) 593-9761.

This tavern is the only known watering hole that pre-dates our nation's independence. Founded originally (as its name suggests) as part the Lafitte brothers' Blacksmith Shop, this bar survived a disastrous fire in 1794 that left most New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter, in ruins. Interestingly, much of the bar's authenticity has been kept in tact, and the bar remains to be mostly lit by candle. Most nights you can still go in and get a well-priced drink and enjoy the old-world charm and the musings of the century-old piano bar. There has also been a jukebox installed in recent years. Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in or around the Chocolate City.

Post your favorite bars, nightlife events, drink specials, photos, local bands, DJs and more here. Share your nightlife and see what others are doing to find something fun to do tonight, or just check out who is going to be at your favorite bar. Also, show your friends what bars, events, and local concerts you are going to with the Sloshspot facebook app.

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Woodland School: Student with Cancer Can't Graduate

Woodland, CA- 18-year-old Leanna Elizalde knows she's behind in her classes. Since December she had two cancer surgeries and faced weeks of radiation therapy that left her with at least one english class she has to finish in order to graduate on Saturday. "I was falling behind in some classes. But I tried my best to catch up," she said.

Leanna's mother Lupe Ramirez said she asked the school to allow her daughter to graduate with her fellow students, even if she has to finish her classes over the summer. "I spoke with the vice principal. I spoke with the principal and even the school district and they're all like, nope, nope, nope, absolutely not," said Ramirez.

Woodland High School Principal Evelia Genera responded to News Ten's questions by saying, "Oh, I have no comment," and later adding, "You're not her parent. I'm not at liberty to discuss students with anyone but the parent."

Ramirez said the school told her it will not make an exception to the rule that students must have enough units at the time of their graduation.

Elizalde's doctor, UC Davis Professor of Clinical Surgery, Robert Canter has written to the school to ask them to reconsider their decision, saying, "I strongly believe that (Leanna) should be allowed to participate in her graduation ceremony, and I think that refusal to do so would be construed as a punitive action unbefitting a pediatric cancer patient."

Leanna's mother works for Yolo County Recorder Freddie Oakley, who has also asked the school to reconsider - or at least allow a statement to be read at graduation honoring her. "And I thought someone might take 60 or 90-seconds and say, 'Tonight we also honor Leanna Alizalde, who's been fighting a courageous battle, a heroic battle against cancer."

Leanna plans to make up any unfinished class work during summer school. But she has her cap and gown, and hopes the school may reconsider before graduation ceremonies this Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

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