- Associated Press - Friday, December 30, 2016

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:

The (Norwalk) Hour (Conn.), Dec. 27, 2016

They called it “The War to End All Wars,” but history proved them very wrong. Still, for a few hours near the end of 1914, on the freezing landscape of Western Europe, the spirit of Christmas was able to, if not end World War I, at least stop it for a while.

The story of the Christmas Truce has been told so many times that it has become legend, making it hard to sift fact from fiction. But it did happen.

On Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day, British and German soldiers forgot about the uniforms their adversaries were wearing and saw the people beneath.

The battle lines in Ypres, Belgium, were close, at some points only 30 yards apart, and soldiers shivering in the freezing mud that winter would often call out to each other.

Then, German soldiers on Christmas Eve erected small, candle-lit Christmas trees, and what happened next, at different points along miles of fortifications, can only be described as miraculous.

Shouts became songs. At one spot, Brits singing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” or “Silent Night,” depending on the telling, were joined by Germans across the way who sang in the original tongue. The first brave souls stood up, and gradually, men from each side climbed out of their trenches and walked across No Man’s Land to greet each other.

“Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!” Lt. Sir Edward Hulse, who fought for Britain, is quoted as saying in the book “Christmas Truce,” by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton.

There are accounts of Brits and Germans sharing food, cognac and cigarettes; helping each other bury their dead and praying together over graves, even playing soccer.

“I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence,” Alfred Anderson, the last living witness to the truce, who died on Nov. 21, 2005, told the London Observer the previous year.

“All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machine gun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted, ‘Merry Christmas,’ even though nobody felt merry.”

Of course, the new friendships did not last long; this same land would be host to some of the most horrific scenes of the war.

“The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war,” Anderson told the British paper.

This Christmas, as with so many before it, we have young men and women overseas fighting in our name. We pray today, and every day, for the safe return of all our servicemen and women. And for an end to the suffering of so many around the globe caught in the horror of war.

There is suffering in this country as well, a fact hammered home in so many different ways.

We pray for, among other things, an end to violence in our communities and hope in the coming year our elected leaders might find the courage to lay down their arms and engage with the other side for the benefit of all of us.

And if we expect better from others, then we must expect better from ourselves, must find greater depths of forgiveness and compassion.

On this Christmas, let’s try to start a period of good will that lasts longer than the miraculous truce that marked this day 102 years ago.




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), Dec. 28, 2016

Today’s nationwide epidemic of opiate addiction was spawned in part by doctors who, with the best of intentions, wanted to help patients in pain, and by drug companies that said they had just the remedy - long-lasting, effective painkillers with none of the addictive qualities of their predecessors.

Hundreds of millions of prescriptions later, we know all three of those company claims to be false. Medications such as OxyContin have proved ineffective in treating the kind of chronic pain for which they are most often prescribed, and they have been widely successful at fostering addiction, setting the stage for the cheap and potent heroin that has devastated communities in every corner of the country.

Still, the companies that own these pain medications continue to push the old narrative, and still, they are finding friendly doctors to help them advance it.

And while it’s not surprising that companies are repeating what has worked when it comes to selling their products, it’s troubling that some doctors are so willing to go along.

Federal data analyzed by the Maine Sunday Telegram show that while policymakers and health and law enforcement officials were contending with an escalating opioid crisis, drug companies selling opioids were increasing payments and visits to Maine doctors. Between August 2013 and December 2015, the bulk of all payments by prescription opioid manufacturers to doctors in Maine went to one physician, Doug Jorgensen of Manchester, who received $42,522. Another doctor received more than $13,000, while others received a few hundred dollars each.

These sorts of payments are legal, but they are discouraged by the Maine Medical Association and criticized by medical ethicists as a clear conflict of interest. Even small payments, they say, can affect - subconsciously even - what a doctor ultimately prescribes, a decision that should be guided by medical knowledge and patient needs, not whether a pharmaceutical company bought a doctor dinner.

The report follows a Los Angeles Times investigation showing how Purdue Pharma, the company behind OxyContin, is reacting to a 40 percent drop in prescriptions for that drug since 2010. It should sound familiar.

Purdue, the Times reports, is trying to open new markets across the globe, using paid-off doctors to pitch the same script it used in the U.S., overselling the benefits and downplaying the risks of opiate medication. Again, they are telling patients to get assessed for chronic pain, and again they are telling doctors that medications like OxyContin have little downside if used properly.

Those countries will find out soon what most Americans know now. There is “insufficient evidence” to show that opiate painkillers work for more than three months, yet up to 24 percent of long-term users become addicted, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of those who become addicted will eventually turn to heroin.

We shouldn’t have to see this story play out again, either in another country or with more patients here at home. But the billions made through pain medications have given pharmaceutical companies enormous clout, and as long as some cynical members of the medical community help peddle their false narrative, we’re in for more addiction - and, ironically, more pain.




The Republican (Mass.), Dec. 29, 2016

Twenty-three days before he’ll be leaving his post, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an hour-long address blandly titled “Remarks on Middle East Peace.”

If only.

Though ostensibly a defense of our decision not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s policy on settlements, Kerry’s address, no matter how one slices it, was a broadside against Israel, our longtime ally.

Early in his speech, delivered Wednesday at the State Department, the former Bay State senator and onetime presidential candidate said:

“Let me emphasize: This is not to say that the settlements are the whole or even the primary cause of this conflict. Of course they are not. Nor can you say that if the settlements were suddenly removed, you’d have peace. Without a broader agreement, you would not.”

Why, then, did Kerry focus so relentlessly on the building and expansion of the settlements? Though he gave occasional lip service to the terrorist acts of Hamas and other anti-Israel groups, those statements were delivered as little more than asides.

And as framed, they seemed at least to imply a sort of equivalence between settlement-building and terrorism, between settlers and those who’d seek to destroy the state of Israel.

Kerry’s overarching claim on Wednesday was that the United States abstained at the Security Council last week in an effort to save the two-state solution. But that he said it doesn’t make it so. Or defensible.

Those who had wondered why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was so angered by our nation’s failure to stand by our longtime friend - the Mideast’s only democracy - would have found a clear answer in Kerry’s Wednesday address.

No matter how Kerry would have it, no matter how the departing secretary would spin it, the United States abandoned Israel.

The saddest part is that President Obama (and his secretary) will be heading offstage on Jan. 20. They hoped for a peaceful solution in the Mideast, and failed to move the needle.

What they should have done was to have admitted, quietly, to themselves, that they couldn’t achieve what they’d wanted. And to have waited to air their grievances with Netanyahu in their upcoming books.

Wednesday’s address, like last week’s abstention in the U.N. Security Council, was both unnecessary and counterproductive.




(Lebanon) Valley News (N.H.), Dec. 28, 2016

Consider this an idea from the Department of Unlikely Tomes: How about a volume about the secret lives of people who forget to return overdue library books?

It could include a recent tale of redemption from the Brooklyn Public Library, where Barbara Roston, 72, returned a faded green copy of Gone With the Wind whose origins had long been forgotten. It was only when she took the novel down from her bookshelf to reread it that she found the library bookplate. Also inside was a warning that if the book were not returned, a nickel-a-day fine would be assessed from Nov. 19, 1959 onward - apparently, in perpetuity.

Roston returned the book forthwith. According to The New York Times - we will trust its math on this - on the day she returned the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler and the fall of the old South, the fine had reached $1,042, give or take a dime.

When Roston entered the Crown Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, she confessed to the first librarian she saw and handed over the copy. Looking at the volume, a children’s librarian said, “Oh, wow, this looks like, from a long time ago. .This is, like, a relic.” A more senior librarian explained to younger colleagues how library books were processed before scanners. “They just looked at me blankly,” she said.

The march of time and technology did work in Roston’s favor. The book had never been entered in the library’s computer system, so no fine was assessed. Roston, free of obligation, made a $50 donation, an honorable act. But the volume isn’t going back on the shelves - it will be put on display as a reminder that it’s important to return books.

A similar tale happened just before Christmas at the Montgomery Public Libraries in Maryland. Librarians received a check out of the blue for $1,552 from a scrupulous son, identified as Jon Kramer of Minnesota. His parents had borrowed two books - The New Way of the Wilderness and 365 Meatless Main Dishes - in the early 1970s. They had since moved to Ontario, Canada; their son found the volumes while cleaning out their home. All ended happily: He asked that he be allowed to retain the two books as a keepsake; the library will use the money to purchase many new ones.

Of course, most library lost-and-found tales are less eventful. Locally, a quick survey of library websites found that many Upper Valley libraries still charge a nickel or dime daily to tardy borrowers, though the Lebanon Public Libraries have eschewed fines in favor of free-will donations from those with a guilty conscience. We like to think that says something good about the bond of trust between lenders and borrowers of books. It is timeless, though it’s also worth recalling that borrowing privileges are not.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), Dec. 28, 2016

Evidence shows that women are as damaged by drink as men - if not more so, because they are more susceptible to its effects.

Some have begun asking whether the alcohol industry is trying to have it both ways when it comes to women who drink. On the one hand, the industry insists it is not promoting immoderate drinking among women. But its advertising obviously suggests that drinking is fun and grown-up.

The Washington Post has taken note of these trends in a recent in-depth analysis of public health data and alcohol producers’ marketing campaigns (“A mixed message that’s killing women: Heavy drinking has been normalized for women, with deadly consequences,” news, Dec. 24).

Consider the wine marketed under the Mad Housewife label.

Says the text of the company’s ad: “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink.” The company also offered a Mother’s Day promotion: A six-pack of wine called “Mommy’s Little Helper.” The humor cannot hide the message that heavy drinking offers an enjoyable escape from the intense stresses of motherhood.

And Mad Housewife isn’t an outlier. Other brands, from Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey to Trinchero’s Bandit boxed wine, also target women as potential heavy users of their products. Their ads include outrageously oversized glasses, piles of discarded bottle caps and appeals to “adulting.”

In reality, of course, heavy drinking isn’t all that cute. Alcohol is a powerful substance that is at the root of many social problems. Many people are susceptible to an addiction to it. Heavy consumption of alcohol plays a strong role in killing people. It kills not only the drinker, through cancers, liver damage and other malignant effects, but it also kills other people on highways and in apartments and houses, where alcohol can lead to accidents and escalate arguments into deadly disputes.

Women should be the equal of men in the workplace and the legal system. But biology does not always play fair. When it comes to the ill effects of alcohol, women are more vulnerable than men. This is not just because they generally are physically smaller and less able to safely absorb the same volumes of drink, but because women seem more vulnerable to the long-lasting impacts of drinking. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says women appear to be more prone than men to suffer brain shrinkage, liver damage and heart disease from drinking alcohol.

Says the CDC: “Upon drinking equal amounts, women have higher alcohol levels in their blood than men, and the immediate effects of alcohol occur more quickly and last longer in women than men. These differences also make it more likely that drinking will cause long-term health problems in women than men.”

Great Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recently issued new guidance to physicians, calling for liver scans for women who drink three and a half bottles or more of wine each week. “Early diagnosis is vital, as is action to both prevent and halt the damage that drinking too much alcohol can do,” said the institute’s Gillian Leng.

And none of this addresses the special dangers posed by alcohol consumption by pregnant women. Studies have shown that unborn children can suffer dangerous health consequences when their mothers drink.

Advertising campaigns promoting heavy drinking by women, naturally, don’t have anything to say about these aspects of imbibing. It is important for women to recognize their particularly high risks of alcohol consumption. As with much of life, moderation (for those capable of it) seems to be a good idea.




Caledonian Record (Vt.), Dec. 30, 2016

According to a recent story in the Washington Times, George Washington University no longer requires history majors to take any courses in U.S. history.

The school, founded by and named for one of our nation’s leading historical figures, says eliminating the American history pre-requisite “better reflects a globalizing world.”

We didn’t know this, but apparently the move by GW administrators is in keeping with higher education trends. According to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, “fewer than one-third of the nation’s leading universities require history majors to take a single course in U.S. history.”

Indeed, in a survey of U.S. News & World Report’s top 76 universities, only 23 undergraduate history programs require any American history.

We think it’s a dangerous trend. A healthy democracy requires an educated citizenry. Toward that end we think more, not fewer, courses in civics and the Constitution would be a good idea for all college students.




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