Buried Treasure

Tomas Alex Tizon (thanks, rlake): Clyde Friend’s life changed the moment his bulldozer hit the first tree on a hot summer afternoon in 2002 as he leveled a hill behind his workshop. Chips flew everywhere, a small explosion of brown and white shards.

He hopped off the dozer to investigate. There, embedded in the hill, was a mostly intact fossilized tree trunk standing upright in solid rock. “Well, that’s different,” he recalls thinking.

A heavy-machine operator for most of his working life, Friend was used to finding bits of petrified wood now and then. He’d never bumped into anything like this.

For the next several days, in the privacy of his remote 10-acre lot, Friend dug up the rest of his find by chipping away the surrounding rock. It turned out to be a petrified hickory tree, 18 feet tall and as big around as a cantaloupe.

Who’s Good?

Help Gangrey.com take the temperature of the future of newspaper journalism.

Who is good out there? Is somebody unknown kicking ass at your paper? Does the rookie in the cubicle beside you have a spark? Does the weekly harbor a talent waiting to bust free? Are you good, and nobody knows it?

Click on Comments. Name names. I’ll do the Nexis work.

In A Village Of 137, It’s Hard To Find A Date

Victoria Burnett: Ramón Sánchez is not a great believer in the powers of Cupid. But when Mr. Sánchez, a wiry 54-year-old bachelor, heard that dozens of women would be coming to this quiet village for a blind date with the local men, he happily signed up.

Mr. Sánchez, who lives 13 miles out of town on a farm with no telephone and with only sheep and cattle for company, said he had come along in the hope of meeting somebody with whom he could spend his old age.

“It would be nice to have a woman to share things with,” he said, his dark skin polished by wind and sun. “Really, what I want is someone to take care of the house. Not so much me. I’ve been doing that all my life.”

At lunchtime on a recent Saturday, Mr. Sánchez stood with a throng of single men and other villagers awaiting a bus that would bring 62 women from Madrid for an evening of dinner, dancing and — all involved hoped — a little romance.

A Trip To The Bronx

Vincent M. Mallozzi: If seeing is believing, Michael Sayre will see today that he has no better friend than Aiden McGuire.

Mr. Sayre, 25, and Mr. McGuire, 26, grew up in Syracuse and still live there. They have been best friends since kindergarten, and through the years they have been inseparable, from the time they were hanging on monkey bars until now, when they hang out at local bars rooting for the Yankees.

Today in the Bronx, they have another play date.

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Golden Rule, Slightly Tarnished

Monica Hesse: Think for a moment about your cellphone.

How many phone numbers does it have?

How many photos?

If it were lost, how long would it take you to reconstruct your life?

If it were found, how much would you pay to get it back?

That’s what the voice on the phone was asking Ashton Giese.

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‘Get to a newspaper’

Pete Hamill called into Fred Dicker’s Albany-area radio talk show this morning to promote his new novel “North River.” Thought all you Gangreeks out there might enjoy what two of the biggest names in Big Apple journalism had to say about blogs, the value of good editing and the future of “the industry.”

Dicker: “Pete, let me ask you about contemporary journalism today. I’ve never before in my career (and I’ve been at it – well, I’d hate to admit it – 35 years or so) run into so many young reporters who are pessimistic about the future of print journalism. Widespread sense that newspapers are dying, backed up by the circulation figures. How do you think it’s going?”

Hamill: “It doesn’t look good. But I always remember, Fred, when I went to work on June 1, 1960, at Dorothy Schiff’s New York Post. At the end of the week, one of the old-timers came over. He said, ‘Are you going to start working here?’ I said, ‘I hope so.’ I was on a tryout. He says, ‘This thing won’t even be here in October.’ Here it is 2007. And it’s still there. I’m rooting for all the papers to survive, particularly in New York, because it gave me my live. I want them to survive so that young people might have as much fun as I had, when I was young. Working in papers in those days, there was always some guy who would get drunk and throw a typewriter out a window and walk down the block and go and work for at the Journal American. There were options. The more options the better, not simply for the people who make newspapers, but for the readers. You don’t want every paper to sound like every other paper. And you don’t want a one-newspaper town.”

Dicker: “Which is what most towns have.”

Hamill: “Which is what most towns have. The second paper is usually The Times national edition or USA Today or the Wall Street Journal. The more the merrier, obviously. You want a variety of opinions. You want different ways of seeing, stories with different viewpoints on various issues. So, I hope they survive. I think the problem now is, if they dumb them down, the reader will say, ‘this is not much more than I can get on TV. Why do I have to pay money, more money, actually, than ever before? What do I need that for?’”

Dicker: “Or I can read its Web site and not have to buy it or I can look at these blogs. You can take a look at these newspapers blogs. The bloggers seem to me, Pete, to be basically opinionated stenographers, writing basically for shut-ins. I can’t imagine who would spend their time reading these things except a very rarified, small group of people.”

Hamill: “I don’t read them because life is too short. But I advise the young journalist, don’t waste your talent on blogs. Get to a newspaper, no matter how small, where there’s an editor who will look at you copy and say this will be better if you do this. Go somewhere where you learn the craft. Most blogs are therapy. But they’re not journalism. People who write them, except for the professional propaganda blogs, are there for therapy. They’re there so people can feel better about having thrown a rock through a window. But they’re not useful for information most of the time. They’re certainly not good for young writers to fall into the bad habits of an unedited blog. They might professionalize over the next few years, but, so far, that hasn’t happened. And I’m too old to even worry about it.”

Greeley Stampede

It’s an ancient newspaper quagmire: An event comes to town once a year, and everyone expects the paper to cover it, but how do you give people something they’d want to read. Doyle Murphy covered the Greeley Stampede last year in an interesting way, looking for documentable moments in the lives of people around the Stampede. Meghan Murphy’s on it this year. Here she is with the first two installments: Watching over the Watermelon Feed and Leading the way to the Stampede: Norma Trujillo fumbles through her purse, locating her wallet and carefully feeling for $2 in bus fare. She takes a deep breath, sighs and clutches her bag.

“I saw her on the bus yesterday, she was really nervous,” her friend, Vicki Baker, says.

Norma, 27, hasn’t been to the Greeley Independence Stampede in eight years. Since her grandmother passed away in 2000, the blind woman hasn’t had a trusted friend to take her. Then she met Vicki.

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Court Reporting

A sentencing comes alive: The end brought no mercy for Paul Siminovsky.

It came more than four years after he was arrested in cinematic fashion: pulled over in his car, driven to a secluded room at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn and seated before a half-dozen investigators to face the evidence of his crimes.

It came after he had confessed to bribery, participated in a sting, lost his license to work as a divorce lawyer and testified in court for nearly 13 days at two trials. It came after he had helped prosecutors win convictions or guilty pleas from nine people, among them a sitting matrimonial judge and the leader of the Kings County Democratic Party.

It came in a half-empty courtroom yesterday afternoon in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, where the once-powerful men he had helped expose had been sentenced to prison.

It came despite pleas for leniency from a defense lawyer and a prosecutor alike — from all but Mr. Siminovsky himself, who pronounced his crimes beyond forgiveness.

And it came with reproach.

Eddie Houston’s Bad Day

Sometimes you just want to read about a dude gone nuts. Here’s John Doherty: There are two parts of Eddie Houston’s story police think they believe.

Number one: Police think Houston’s telling the truth when he says he set the fire at 222 Broadway that left 11 people homeless Sunday night.

And two: They believe he smoked a good deal of crack before lighting the fire and jumping out a third-story window — just like Houston says he did.

All the other stuff Houston claims — that he was being held prisoner, that a mysterious device on his phone intercepted his calls to 911, and that someone was shooting at him — well, not so much.

Police found Houston, 42, standing in a doorway wearing a bloody T-shirt a few doors down from the fire at his apartment building Sunday around 9 p.m.

He had a story to tell.

Angler

Barton Gellman and Jo Becker: Shortly after the first accused terrorists reached the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 11, 2002, a delegation from CIA headquarters arrived in the Situation Room. The agency presented a delicate problem to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, a man with next to no experience on the subject. Vice President Cheney’s lawyer, who had a great deal of experience, sat nearby.

The meeting marked “the first time that the issue of interrogations comes up” among top-ranking White House officials, recalled John C. Yoo, who represented the Justice Department. “The CIA guys said, ‘We’re going to have some real difficulties getting actionable intelligence from detainees'” if interrogators confined themselves to treatment allowed by the Geneva Conventions.

From that moment, well before previous accounts have suggested, Cheney turned his attention to the practical business of crushing a captive’s will to resist. The vice president’s office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion of prisoners in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration has since portrayed as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials.

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