December 26th, 2010
December 24, 2010
December 25, 2010
December 25, 2010
December 25, 2010
December 24, 2010
December 26th, 2010
RICHMOND, Va. — A glass vial stopped with a cork during the Civil War has been opened, revealing a coded message to the desperate Confederate commander in Vicksburg on the day the Mississippi city fell to Union forces 147 years ago.
The dispatch offered no hope to doomed Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton: Reinforcements are not on the way.
The encrypted, 6-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton's surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Siege of Vicksburg in what historians say was a turning point midway into the Civil War.
The message is from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River across from Pemberton.
"He's saying, 'I can't help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there,' " Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright said of the author of the dispiriting message. "It was just another punctuation mark to just how desperate and dire everything was."
The bottle, less than 2 inches in length, had sat undisturbed at the museum since 1896. It was a gift from Capt. William A. Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege.
It was Wright who decided to investigate the contents of the strange little bottle containing a tightly wrapped note, a .38-caliber bullet and a white thread.
"Just sort of a curiosity thing," said Wright. "This notion of, do we have any idea what his message says?"
The answer was no.
Wright asked a local art conservator, Scott Nolley, to examine the clear vial before she attempted to open it. He looked at the bottle under an electron microscope and discovered that salt had bonded the cork tightly to the bottle's mouth. He put the bottle on a hotplate to expand the glass, used a scalpel to loosen the cork, then gently plucked it out with tweezers.
The sewing thread was looped around the 6 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch paper, which was folded to fit into the bottle. The rolled message was removed and taken to a paper conservator, who successfully unfurled the message.
But the coded message, which appears to be a random collection of letters, did not reveal itself immediately.
Eager to learn the meaning of the code, Wright took the message home for the weekend to decipher. She had no success.
A retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, was contacted, and he cracked the code in several weeks.
A Navy cryptologist independently confirmed Gaddy's interpretation. Cmdr. John B. Hunter, an information warfare officer, said he deciphered the code over two weeks while on deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. A computer could have unscrambled the words in a fraction of the time.
"To me, it was not that difficult," he said. "I had fun with this and it took me longer than I should have."
The code is called the "Vigenere cipher," a centuries-old encryption in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a set number of places so an "a" would become a "d" – essentially, creating words with different letter combinations.
The code was widely used by Southern forces during the Civil War, according to Civil War Times Illustrated.
The source of the message was likely Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle.
The full text of the message to Pemberton reads:
You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Gen'l Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy's lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps (explosive devices). I subjoin a despatch from General Johnston."
The last line, Wright said, seems to suggest a separate delivery to Pemberton would be the code to break the message.
"The date of this message clearly indicates that this person has no idea that the city is about to be surrendered," she said.
The Johnston mention in the dispatch is Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, whose 32,000 troops were encamped south of Vicksburg and prevented from assisting Pemberton by Grant's 35,000 Union troops. Pemberton had held out hope that Johnston would eventually come to his aid.
The message was dispatched during an especially terrible time in Vicksburg. Grant was unsuccessful in defeating Pemberton's troops on two occasions, so the Union commander instead decided to encircle the city and block the flow of supplies or support.
Many in the city resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather. Soup was made from wallpaper paste.
After a six-week siege, Pemberton relented. Vicksburg, so scarred by the experience, refused to celebrate July 4 for the next 80 years.
So what about the bullet in the bottom of the bottle?
Wright suspects the messenger was instructed to toss the bottle into the river if Union troops intercepted his passage. The weight of the bullet would have carried the corked bottle to the bottom, she said.
For Pemberton, the bottle is symbolic of his lost cause: the bad news never made it to him.
The Confederate messenger probably arrived to the river's edge and saw a U.S. flag flying over the city.
"He figured out what was going on and said, 'Well, this is pointless,' and turned back," Wright said.
More Stuff From Huff
Museum of the Confederacy: http://www.moc.org
December 26th, 2010
By ROBERT PEAR
Published: December 25, 2010
WASHINGTON — When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.
Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.
Congressional supporters of the new policy, though pleased, have kept quiet. They fear provoking another furor like the one in 2009 when Republicans seized on the idea of end-of-life counseling to argue that the Democrats’ bill would allow the government to cut off care for the critically ill.
The final version of the health care legislation, signed into law by President Obama in March, authorized Medicare coverage of yearly physical examinations, or wellness visits. The new rule says Medicare will cover “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of the annual visit.
Under the rule, doctors can provide information to patients on how to prepare an “advance directive,” stating how aggressively they wish to be treated if they are so sick that they cannot make health care decisions for themselves.
While the new law does not mention advance care planning, the Obama administration has been able to achieve its policy goal through the regulation-writing process, a strategy that could become more prevalent in the next two years as the president deals with a strengthened Republican opposition in Congress.
In this case, the administration said research had shown the value of end-of-life planning.
“Advance care planning improves end-of-life care and patient and family satisfaction and reduces stress, anxiety and depression in surviving relatives,” the administration said in the preamble to the Medicare regulation, quoting research published this year in the British Medical Journal.
The administration also cited research by Dr. Stacy M. Fischer, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who found that “end-of-life discussions between doctor and patient help ensure that one gets the care one wants.” In this sense, Dr. Fischer said, such consultations “protect patient autonomy.”
Opponents said the Obama administration was bringing back a procedure that could be used to justify the premature withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from people with severe illnesses and disabilities.
Section 1233 of the bill passed by the House in November 2009 — but not included in the final legislation — allowed Medicare to pay for consultations about advance care planning every five years. In contrast, the new rule allows annual discussions as part of the wellness visit.
Elizabeth D. Wickham, executive director of LifeTree, which describes itself as “a pro-life Christian educational ministry,” said she was concerned that end-of-life counseling would encourage patients to forgo or curtail care, thus hastening death.
“The infamous Section 1233 is still alive and kicking,” Ms. Wickham said. “Patients will lose the ability to control treatments at the end of life.”
Several Democratic members of Congress, led by Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, had urged the administration to cover end-of-life planning as a service offered under the Medicare wellness benefit. A national organization of hospice care providers made the same recommendation.
Mr. Blumenauer, the author of the original end-of-life proposal, praised the rule as “a step in the right direction.”
“It will give people more control over the care they receive,” Mr. Blumenauer said in an interview. “It means that doctors and patients can have these conversations in the normal course of business, as part of our health care routine, not as something put off until we are forced to do it.”
After learning of the administration’s decision, Mr. Blumenauer’s office celebrated “a quiet victory,” but urged supporters not to crow about it.
“While we are very happy with the result, we won’t be shouting it from the rooftops because we aren’t out of the woods yet,” Mr. Blumenauer’s office said in an e-mail in early November to people working with him on the issue. “This regulation could be modified or reversed, especially if Republican leaders try to use this small provision to perpetuate the ‘death panel’ myth.” Moreover, the e-mail said: “We would ask that you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your lists, even if they are ‘supporters’ — e-mails can too easily be forwarded.”
The e-mail continued: “Thus far, it seems that no press or blogs have discovered it, but we will be keeping a close watch and may be calling on you if we need a rapid, targeted response. The longer this goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it.”
In the interview, Mr. Blumenauer said, “Lies can go viral if people use them for political purposes.”
The proposal for Medicare coverage of advance care planning was omitted from the final health care bill because of the uproar over unsubstantiated claims that it would encourage euthanasia.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, and Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, led the criticism in the summer of 2009. Ms. Palin said “Obama’s death panel” would decide who was worthy of health care. Mr. Boehner, who is in line to become speaker, said, “This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.” Forced onto the defensive, Mr. Obama said that nothing in the bill would “pull the plug on grandma.”
A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that the idea of death panels persists. In the September poll, 30 percent of Americans 65 and older said the new health care law allowed a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare. The law has no such provision.
The rule was issued by Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a longtime advocate for better end-of-life care.
“Using unwanted procedures in terminal illness is a form of assault,” Dr. Berwick has said. “In economic terms, it is waste. Several techniques, including advance directives and involvement of patients and families in decision-making, have been shown to reduce inappropriate care at the end of life, leading to both lower cost and more humane care.”
Ellen B. Griffith, a spokeswoman for the Medicare agency, said, “The final health care reform law has no provision for voluntary advance care planning.” But Ms. Griffith added, under the new rule, such planning “may be included as an element in both the first and subsequent annual wellness visits, providing an opportunity to periodically review and update the beneficiary’s wishes and preferences for his or her medical care.”
Mr. Blumenauer and Mr. Rockefeller said that advance directives would help doctors and nurses provide care in keeping with patients’ wishes.
“Early advance care planning is important because a person’s ability to make decisions may diminish over time, and he or she may suddenly lose the capability to participate in health care decisions,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Dr. Berwick in August.
In a recent study of 3,700 people near the end of life, Dr. Maria J. Silveira of the University of Michigan found that many had “treatable, life-threatening conditions” but lacked decision-making capacity in their final days. With the new Medicare coverage, doctors can learn a patient’s wishes before a crisis occurs.
For example, Dr. Silveira said, she might ask a person with heart disease, “If you have another heart attack and your heart stops beating, would you want us to try to restart it?” A patient dying of emphysema might be asked, “Do you want to go on a breathing machine for the rest of your life?” And, she said, a patient with incurable cancer might be asked, “When the time comes, do you want us to use technology to try and delay your death?”
.More From NY Times
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
President Obama’s idea of balancing the two is to separate them, or at least as much as any president can.
By MARC LACEY
Bristol Palin bought a five-bedroom house in a community south of Phoenix, setting off a flurry of speculation.
By GINGER THOMPSON and SCOTT SHANE
Diplomatic cables show American drug agents balancing diplomacy and law enforcement in places where politicians can be as devious as traffickers.
December 26th, 2010
December 26th, 2010
iReport: Are you there? Send images, video
iReport: Are you there? Send images, video
(CNN) -- A powerful storm system that prompted blizzard warnings in New York City and Boston is set to cause major travel headaches at the end of the holiday weekend.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the New York metropolitan area effective 6 a.m. Sunday to 6 p.m. Monday. The area includes Newark, New Jersey; New York; and the Long Island and Connecticut coasts.
Forecasters predict between 11 to 16 inches of snow in much of that region, bringing visibility to near zero at times. Sustained winds as strong as 30 mph could hit Sunday night, with gusts up to 55 mph in parts of central
and eastern Long Island.
And starting at noon Sunday and extending through 6 p.m. Monday, another blizzard warning will be in effect for all of Rhode Island and most of eastern Massachusetts. Parts of that region could see as much as 20 inches of snow, with strong winds contributing to "extremely dangerous" travel conditions, the National Weather Service said.
"Widespread power outages are expected during the height of the storm Sunday night from both the strong winds knocking down power lines and the weight of the heavy snow," the weather agency said. "Shoveling should not be done by anyone with heart conditions."
The weather service also issued a blizzard watch from Sunday evening through Monday afternoon for coastal New Hampshire and Maine, up to the Canadian border.
All this could put a wrench in thousands of travel plans.
Continental Airlines, which is partnered with United Airlines, has canceled about 250 domestic mainline and regional departures for Sunday, spokesman Andrew J. Ferraro said.
American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Sanderson said that the airline expected minimal delays through Sunday morning, but that it plans to cancel flights in and out of several key East Coast airports starting in the afternoon.
Delta Air Lines had canceled approximately 500 Christmas Day flights -- including roughly 300 in and out of Atlanta -- in an attempt to get ahead of the storm, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said.
The carrier expects to have a better handle of how many cancellations will be needed on Sunday morning, "once we've worked through the schedule," spokesman Kent Landers said.
Delta, Continental, United, American and AirTran Airways are among the carriers waiving penalties for travelers who have to reschedule their trips over the weekend.
While specific information varies by carrier, most are offering penalty waivers for passengers traveling on December 26 and 27 at airports from North Carolina to Boston and beyond. Affected customers are being urged to contact the relevant airline either by phone or online.
Forecasters warned of icy driving conditions across much of the East. Much of the precipitation will fall along the Interstate 95 corridor and near the Atlantic coast.
On Saturday night, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced the city was preparing for a significant snow storm with an expected accumulation of eight to 12 inches and winds of 20 to 40 mph, according to a statement from his office.
"We are anticipating the declaration of a snow emergency by early afternoon" Sunday, the statement said. The mayor urged residents to make any necessary travel early in the day.
CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider said the system is a Nor'easter, which gets its name from the continuously strong northeasterly winds blowing in from the ocean ahead of the storm and over the coastal areas.
CNN's Nick Valencia and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.