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Blogger Seth Godin asks the interesting question “When newspapers are gone, what will you miss?”

His answer: local news, investigative journalism and intelligent coverage of national news. That’s it, Godin writes. Everything else is already being handled online: sports, weather, comics, classifieds – they’re all there.

Godin rightly worries about quality of democracy when a state or local government is able to do what it wants without a competent watchdog to keep tabs on it. (Sorry, but local television news dropped the ball on that count long ago.) But he believes one way or another, an answer will be found, through nonprofits or philanthropists or different business models.

Perhaps, but it’s  difficult to envision such a setup in every community that currently has a daily paper, which is what it would take to replicate the watchdog role newspapers play today.

True, far too many dailies sold out their journalistic credentials years ago to make the bean counters and advertisers happy, but that doesn’t make it right and doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for the in-depth reporting of local and national news.

If daily papers begin going out of business, as some are predicting, expect glaring gaps in coverage to begin appearing with increasingly regularity. And that’s good news for no one.

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Apparently, Jan. 21 is “Squirrel Appreciation Day.” It seems hard to believe that anyone would feel the need to honor these greedy long-toothed rodents, but given the eco-mania that has swept the nation, it’s hardly surprising.

Here’s an explanation of Squirrel Appreciation Day from the website www.holidayinsights.com, followed by appropriate commentary:

“Squirrel Appreciation Day is an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate your tree climbing, nut gathering neighborhood squirrels. It’s held in mid-winter when food sources are scarce for squirrels and other wildlife. Sure, squirrels spent all fall gathering and “squirreling ” away food. But, their supplies may not be enough. And, the variety of food is limited. So, give them an extra special treat today to supplement their winter diets.”

So, essentially, Squirrel Appreciation Day is a squirrel welfare program. Sorry, but if the squirrels haven’t set enough food aside, that’s their own tough luck. It’s not like we all haven’t done enough for them already, anyway. Squirrels are notorious for wrecking gardens and raping bird feeders throughout the spring, summer and fall. Does it really make sense to give these voracious creatures an “extra treat” when they’re already feasting off our labor for most of the year? 

“Not everyone likes squirrels. While they are fun to watch skirting around the yard and trees, they are aggressive at bird feeders. Squirrels tip almost any bird feeder and spill the seeds in search of the particular seeds they want. In the fall, they attack pumpkins on front porches in search of the seeds inside. For gardeners they dig up and steal flower bulbs, and may eat some of the veggies in your garden.”

Sorry, there’s not much fun about watching a bushy-tailed rat ravish home-grown vegetables and taunt pets.  

“When you think about it, mid winter is the best time to appreciate squirrels. In the winter they provide a little entertainment. During other times of the year, you may look at them as a pest in the flower and vegetable gardens.”

If you’re turning to squirrels for winter entertainment, you’ve got problems. And again, why would you want to encourage a pest during the one season when they’re food supply is on the wane? One doesn’t try to revive an influenza virus after taking antibiotics, does one?

“According to Christy Hargrove, the founder, ‘Celebration of the event itself is up to the individual or group – anything from putting out extra food for the squirrels to learning something new about the species.’”

How’s this for a celebration, Christy: We get a group of folks together and devise he most effective way to eradicate these infernal eating machines, then have a big party afterward? Whoever bags the most squirrels gets a cash prize. That’s the kind of “day” gardeners, bird lovers and other normal folks alike can all “appreciate.”

Update: There’s even a blog devoted solely to squirrels. Sounds like someone has too much free time on their hands.

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German troops are headed to France for the first time in more than 60 years, but unlike last time it’s a joint effort.

The German Army hopes to send 500 troops to the city of Colmar to join a French force called the Franco-German brigade, Der Spiegel magazine is reporting.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, are expected to give details of the deployment at a conference on security policy in Munich in February.

Hopefully, this joint endeavor will go more smoothly this time around for the French, who are still wrestling with the legacy of World War II. In that conflict, the Nazis made quick work of their Gallic counterparts, whipping the French in six weeks then occupying the country for four years and setting up the collaborationist Vichy regime.

It’s from that bitter war we get this timeless joke: “Why do the French plant trees along their major roads? So the Germans can march in the shade.”