Stopping and Smelling the Coffee 
Owing to a closure on the only divided, limited-access, four-lane highway around here, most area traffic was forced to detour on a less traveled, scenic highway. Motorists who stopped at a local coffee shop were divided in their reactions.

"This has been fun," exclaimed Janine Thomson. "I'd have never found this place if I'd stayed on the interstate. Plus, the trees and stuff -- it's way pretty." When asked if she would consider taking this route again, her face lit up. "Of course I'll take it again. Why would I miss this, now that I know it's here?"

Arthur Burgess was less enthusiastic about the experience. "There's nothing here! There's no Bob Evans, no Cracker Barrel ... there's not even a Starbucks. I mean, the coffee here is okay, but it's not as ... I don't know ... intense? ... as what Starbucks brews. I heard what that lady said about the trees and things, but come on -- driving on this little 'highway' has to be add serious time to my drive. Five minutes? Ten minutes, maybe?"

Despite the sudden influx of customers, the staff at the coffee shop remains calm. "This happens every now and then, when things are messed up over on the main highway," stated Chip Brasser, owner of The Chipped Mug. "50 years ago, this was the main highway, even though it's only two lanes. There are still businesses that manage to get by on the travelers who prefer this route. And when the interstate is messed, we get all these new people. Some of them, the grumpy ones, won't be back. Ones like that lady over there, she's really nice," Brasser commented, pointing to Ms. Thomson, "she'll be back."

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Everybody's A Critic 
Konstantin Altunin's controversial painting of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev has divided critics of modern art. "Look at it! The artist cannot decide if he is an impressionist or a social realist," complains Valsily Renko of Pravda. "The way that slip hangs on Putin is all wrong. You have seen photos of Putin with his shirt off -- we all have. I ask you, would a slip -- even a cotton one -- drape off of a chest like Putin's in such a way? Feh!"

Mikhail Kandinsky of Moscow's famed Tretyakov Gallery politely differs, stating, "Renko is a pig -- he couldn't tell art from spilled borscht. Altunin's pairing of Putin and Medvedev is brilliant! The interplay of their postures, the expressions of repressed desire, the shadows that hint at a subtleness of motion ... he has captured a moment and preserved it for the ages."

It is currently unclear as to whether the ages will have the opportunity to appreciate this painting which has sparked so much debate, as the work has not been well received by the Russian President. "Look at that face," exclaimed Putin, "it looks more like Lenin than like me!" Altunin's depiction of Prime Minister Medvedev did not escape Putin's critical eye, drawing the comment, "And look at Dmitry -- his breasts are not at all like that. They are more ... well ... you know."

After showing briefly at St. Petersburg's Museum of Power art gallery, the work is now "off exhibit." No one is certain as to where the painting has been moved, but several people have mentioned, after assurances of anonymity, that no one has been invited to Prime Minister Medvedev's private art gallery recently.

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Dreams and Nightmares 
It was fifty years ago today that Martin Luther King shared a dream with the world. Since the day will be filled with though-provoking observations made by untold numbers of insightful people, let's look at something else that happened fifty years ago today. It the sort of nightmare that may have fueled Dr. King's dreams.

Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie were murdered in their apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In time, George Whitmore, Jr. would come to be charged with the murders, as well as another murder and an assault. NYPD had his torn coat and a button that the assault victim had torn from her attacker's coat. They also had an FBI report that said the two didn't match, but since that information wasn't needed for a conviction, they didn't bother sharing it. They even had a confession from from Whitmore for the Hoffert and Wylie murders, although Whitmore also stated, "Every time I denied I'd done any of those things, they'd punch me in the back or chest. They beat on me whenever I said no."

It should be no surprise that the case against Whitmore eventually fell apart. Especially after a police informant ratted out the person who actually committed the Hoffert and Wylie murders. At the same time, there may be no surprise at the revelation that George Whitmore, Jr. was African-American.

It's worth noting that one of the reasons the case against Whitmore for the Hoffert and Wylie murders fell apart was that multiple witnesses placed him miles away from the killings at the time they took place. Whitmore, it seems, was watching a television broadcast of a speech taking place in Washington, DC.

And the speaker had a dream.

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The Spectacular Red Planet 
Ten years ago today, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years, thrilling back yard astronomers and creating a thus far endless series of annual misunderstandings about what Mars is actually doing.

Apparently, this is not a new problem. As with any astronomical phenomenon, archaeoastronomers spend incredible abouts of time and coffee looking for ancient accounts of famous events. While these accounts often involved much effort being spent on misguided attempts to predict the future based on the movements of stellar object, the process still required incredible amounts of observation, record keeping, and reporting.

Chinese astronomer Shen Kuo was said to have been frustrated by inaccurate science reporting in the years following the appearance of the "crab nebula" (SN 1054, or M1). "If I have to answer one more question about how a crab can travel through the heavens, I shall shave my head and enter a monastery!" he is recorded as shouting in the days leading up to the 10th anniversary of the supernova that created it. Indeed, Shen's plans to map the orbital paths of the Moon and the planets over the course of five years of daily observations was never completed due to a combination of court intrigue and what he termed "stupid questions about crabs."

Astronomers have calculated that the last time Mars would have been as close to earth as it was ten years ago. They put the date at September 24, 57,617 BCE (a Saturday). Although celestial records of this time are essentially nonexistent, a number of cave paintings estimated to be from the years following that day contain crude depictions of the night sky. In this paintings, it is not uncommon to see two circles that are significantly larger than the surrounding stars -- a light grayish circle and a similarly sized circle of mottled reds.

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On The Field Of Battle 
As all fans of the Napoleonic Wars are aware, today marks the 200th anniversary of a battle at Liegnitz, Prussia (Legnica, Poland today). The Battle of Katzbach, a lesser-known conflict in the War of the Sixth Coalition might have been avoided if not for Jaqcue MacDonald's French troops and Gebhard von Blucher's Russo-Prussian forces accidentally running into each other.

"Apparently, this sort of thing happened from time to time," noted Jean-Sean MacDonald, decendant of the Scots-French military leader.

"Really, it's amazing that it didn't happen more often, with hundres of thousands of troops wandering all over the place," added Hans Blucher, whose ancestor once lead the Sixth Coalition's eastern forces, as he sits next to MacDonald, carrying on the tradition estlished by their forebearers almost two centuries prior.

"After the war had ended," explained MacDonald, "our granddads -- well, great-great-great- ... you understand -- met here to ... well, to ..."

"To apologize to each other for the whole thing," interupted Blucher.

"Oui. Aye. That."

"The whole thing should have never happened," continued Blucher. "Both forces were on their ways to other places and ran into each other quite by accident. Have you looked around this place? There's nothing here -- no reason anyone would try to fight for this location. It's not strategicly important. But they ran to each other and couldn't just pretend they didn't see each other. I mean there were over 100,000 pairs of eyes on each side -- word was bound to get around.

"Next thing you know, they're charging and flanking and out-flanking and running all over the place."

"It was a royal mess," MacDonand pointed out.

"When it was done, there were almost 20,000 casualties", Blucher added. "Jacques and Gebhard, our grandfathers, were apalled. Neither, we are told, spoke about it for months. After the war, Jacques suggested they meet here to talk things over; they camped out, cooked over an open fire, and drank toasts to their slain soldiers."

"Obviously, when so many fallen soldiers, there was a lot of drinking to be done," pointed out MacDonand. "They were at it for the better part of two weeks and still felt they had not done enough to remember their comrades."

"No, indeed. They decided to come back the next year," said Blucher. "And the year after that. Before long, they had a tradition going. When they were too old to make they journey alone, their sons would travel with them. In time, it was the sons who came here every year. And so on, since then."

"Of course, some years had to be missed," admitted MacDonald. "During the Crimean conflict, of course. My grandfather, Pierre-Paul, insists that he and Klaus Blucher met once during the First World War. It was a crazy and dangerous thing to do, but he said they had been doing it before the war and were not about to let hostilities interfere with tradition. Still, he said they only managed it once."

"Likewise," offered Blucher, "our fathers managed to continue the tradition through most of the Second World War. It was, as it had been for their fathers, dangerous and probably stupid, but they were young and full of family pride. It was the Cold War that really messed things up."

"Och, mon Dieu!" exclaimed MacDonand, "what a mess! Our fathers didn't meet for almost 35 years -- it just wasn't possible under the circumstances. Then the wall came down. They wrote to each other that very week and agreed to bring Hans and me to the first Katzbach memorial observation since ... what? ... 1962? 63? Something like that. Both our dads passed away a few years afterwards, but Hans and me, we are still getting together, year after year."

"He brings whiskey," Blucher chuckled, "and I bring beer. We both bring wine. We even buy some of the local vodka and do a few toasts with that. It's made from cabbages, I think, and smells of old socks, but we like to do something for the local economy. Look at this place! If there wasn't several generations of family history, do you think we'd be here?"

One toasts, then the other. Then they repeat the process. They stop briefly to cook a hasty meal of sausages and toasted bread, then continue the drinking into the late hours. Both insist you can hear the fallen warriors whispering in the night. Without sufficient toasting, they insist, they'd never be able to fall asleep.

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