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One Man's Opinion: Some Inconvenient Truths
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One Man's Opinion: Some Inconvenient Truths

One Man's Opinion: Some Inconvenient Truths

One Man's Opinion: Some Inconvenient Truths

"Welcome to Arlington National Cemetery, Our Nation's Most Sacred Shrine. Please Remember: These Are Hallowed Grounds," greeting inscribed at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.

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One Man's Opinion: Some Inconvenient Truths

The American Civil War ended 154 years ago this week as Appomattox treaty meetings got underway on April 8, 1865. This ended five years of conflict, resulting in more than 1,000,000 U.S. casualties and 655,000+ deaths (Union troops - 364,000+, Confederate troops - 290,000+). The war gave America its greatest loss of life in the history of our nation, and the Confederacy lost what was then just under 25 percent of its white male population.

For more than a century since, the majority of southern states commemorated or celebrated Confederate Memorial Day on April 26th, the anniversary of the final completion of treaties and Confederate surrender. Georgia still has a state holiday on April 26th, but it no longer has a name or official cause for celebration. Governor Nathan Deal made that change, which was both practical and healing in its intentions. However, calls for erasing all recognition of the valor and sacrifice of more than 900,000 Confederate troops are another issue entirely. 

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One Man's Opinion: Some Inconvenient Truths

Perhaps the most sacred cemetery in our nation is Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington was originally the 1,100 acre working plantation and home of General Robert E. Lee, and his wife and children. General Lee married Mary Custis Lee, who inherited Arlington from her father George Washington Park Custis in 1857. Custis was the grandson of Martha Washington and had been adopted by General George Washington. Custis built his showplace mansion atop a hillside looking across the Potomac at our nation's capitol in 1802. Running the plantation required the efforts of nearly 200 slaves, which also became the property of General Lee and his family in 1857. Prior to that time, Lee, a military career man with long tours away from home and out of the country in Mexico, had not previously been a slave owner. By coincidence or happenstance, it is interesting to note here that later Union Forces Commanding General, U.S. Grant, was himself a slave-owner until 1859. 

Not long after Confederate troops fired on Union forces at Fort Sumter, South Carolina in April of 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called up 75,000 Union troops to surround and protect our nation's capitol, so devastated by the British during the War of 1812. Virginia seceded the Union in late April of that year, and Robert E. Lee resigned his Union officer commission and declined (twice) an offer by Lincoln to lead Union forces. Arlington and its hillsides overlooking Washington, D.C. would be the perfect place for Confederate cannons to shell the Capitol. A month after Lee accepted his Confederate commission, Union troops moved to confiscate Arlington.

Warned by a Union officer with ties to the Lee family, Mary Custis learned of the impending seizure of Arlington by the Union. She gathered family mementos, silver and the personal papers of President George Washington (then still under family control) and General Lee, and fled to Richmond. The Lee family would never again own or control Arlington. Though the Arlington Plantation home still stands and is offered as part of tours of the cemetery, little is said or explained about how our nation's most sacred shrine came to be. 

In 1877, Lee's oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, sued the U.S. government, seeking to recover his family estate. Though in the midst of Reconstruction, the case eventually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the Lee family claim to the land. The decision in essence said that our government can't confiscate someone's land, simply because he had led an army in rebellion against it. The Lee family was no longer eager to return to a graveyard, and they sold their claim to the government for $150,000 (roughly $3 million in today's dollars). General Lee never returned to Arlington, he is buried, along with his beloved horse Traveler, next to the Lee Chapel on the grounds of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Mrs. Lee returned only once, but never left her carriage, after seeing the thousands of graves just outside the back door of the home in which she was married. Her former rose garden is now home to a mass grave of the bones of more than 2,000 unidentified Union soldiers. Today there are more than 400,000 U.S. veterans honorably buried on the lands of Arlington. 

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One Man's Opinion: Some Inconvenient Truths

And for more than 150 years since, widows, descendants and survivors of veterans on both sides of the Civil War have met, prayed and honored their long dead at Arlington. If it can happen there...it should be possible most anywhere. This simply requires the will of reconciliation and the spirit to make our nation stronger, and not destroy itself with more self-inflicted wounds and endless self-criticism. As we pass over Confederate Memorial Day this year, and recognize and celebrate Memorial Day in May...we should all try and remember that.

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News

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  • Do you feel you’re better focused on the job with a little light background jazz or coffee shop chatter compared to pin-drop silence? Scientists might know why. >> Read more trending news According to Onno van der Groen, a researcher with Australia’s Edith Cowan University school of medical and health sciences, some background noise can actually be beneficial for our senses. This phenomenon is called “stochastic resonance.” First studied in animals, stochastic resonance experiments suggest “sensory signals can be enhanced by noise and improve behaviour in various animals,” van der Groen wrote for The Conversation last week. “For example, crayfish were shown to be better at avoiding predators when a small amount of random electrical currents were added to their tail fins. Paddlefish caught more plankton when small currents were added to the water.” In human experiments, where noise levels were manipulated by getting participants to listen to noisy sounds or feel random vibrations on the skin, people were better able to see, hear and feel at “a certain optimum noise level.” If it were too loud, however, performance dropped. Van der Groen pointed out that stochastic resonance has several real life applications for humans, too. “Adding noise to the feet of people with vibrating insoles can improve balance performance in elderly adults,” he wrote. For patients with diabetes or those recovering from stroke, this can also be used to augment muscle function. His own research has found that when brain currents are applied to participants’ brains with random noise stimulation, “it improved how well they could see a low-quality image.” When he and other researchers applied the same technique to other groups, they noticed “decisions were more accurate and faster when brain cell noise levels are tuned up.” Transcranial random noise stimulation also influenced what participants saw during a visual illusion, suggesting noise could help people approach a situation from multiple perspectives. But the thing about stochastic resonance is it differs from person to person.  The optimal amount of noise for top-notch cognitive function depends on a variety of factors, such as brain variability. Excessive brain variability, van der Groen wrote, is common in those with autism, dyslexia, ADHD and schizophrenia. Elderly folks also tend to have more brain noise (or brain variability) than younger individuals. However, because brain noise can be altered with random noise stimulation, van der Groen believes there are opportunities to explore “interventions or devices to manipulate noise levels, which could improve cognitive functioning in health and disease.”  For example, a study of children with ADHD found white noise delivered specifically through Etymotic earphones at 77 decibels improved memory and concentration. Plenty of downloadable ambient, white and “pink” noise apps have also popped up in recent years. There’s Coffitivity, which plays an infinite loop of coffee-shop sounds — and Noisli, which suggests different sounds for different goals. If you want to improve productivity, you might mix raindrops and train tracks. For those who want to relax, listen to crashing waves. Generally, ambient noise is ideal for creativity, white noise is sound for concentration and pink noise might be most helpful in improving sleep quality. But remember, finding stochastic resonance isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Play around and see which background noises and volumes work best for you. This guide from Techlicious is a good place to start.
  • An act of kindness extended by three young men has gotten a lot of attention on social media since then.  >> Read more trending news Sean Wetzonis says it all started when he, Pedro and two other friends from Malden planned to attend the game.  But one friend backed out, leaving Pedro with an extra ticket.  'And Pedro's father had suggested, he was like, 'find a girl. Find a girl to take to the game,'' Sean Wetzonis told Boston 25 News. But he said Pedro had another idea.  'He said, 'you know, I'll give it to a homeless person. If I could find a homeless person,' Wetzonis said. Finding a homeless person in Boston is not difficult. Enter John, who was sitting on a stoop near Fenway Park. 'When Pedro asked him if he wanted to go to a Red Sox game, at first I wasn't sure if he was going to get up, but then he said sure and he got up and he seemed pretty excited about it,' Wetzonis said.  He admits he was skeptical about taking a homeless guy to the game. 'I was kind of shocked. Everyone was like, 'dude. You got another ticket. You could try and sell it to make some money back.,' Wetzonis said.  But then he saw something you don't see enough of these days at professional sporting events: a fan actually watching the game.  'Everyone's there sitting on their phones, texting and looking around. He was really immersed in the game. He was there to enjoy the game,' Wetzonis said.  The Red Sox lost Tuesday night. But for three young men from Malden, it was, perhaps, the winningest night at Fenway ever.