Thursday, September 30, 2004

New York Times to Ken Starr: "Come back! All is forgiven!!"

"As the New York Times gears up for what it argues is a First Amendment fight to stop federal prosecutors from learning the identities of two reporters' confidential sources, the paper is enlisting a surprising ally.

"The Times ... has retained Kenneth Starr, the former special prosecutor who, in years past, was a darling of the right and felt the sting of the paper's editorials ... to block a federal prosecutor at Chicago from obtaining phone records of reporters Philip Shenon and Judith Miller. The two reporters covered national-security issues following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"Prosecutors want the records for an investigation into alleged leaks - leaks that, they said, compromised investigations into financing of terrorism.

"The lawsuit ... marks a highly public union of strange bedfellows. In the past, Times editorial writers have taken barbed shots at the paper's current defender.

"As Mr. Starr prepared a final report on the Whitewater investigation, an editorial urged him to 'partly repair his reputation for bad judgment by getting this report right.'... Later it said he had 'diminished a reputation damaged for the most part by his own legal and public-relations decisions.'"...

NY Sun

Nothing improves a lawyer's judgment and reputation faster than your needing him.

Martha will be wintering in Alderson, West Virginia.

Her photo added to the album of celebrity mug shots, it's off to "bucolic" Camp Cupcake, where ..."Inmates take donated yarn and knit sweaters, hats, scarves and mittens for the Family Refuge Center in Lewisburg", reports Fox. Sounds almost like something she'd have shown how to do on her old TV show.

Democrats find religion.

Saint Bill.

Saint Paul in the manger, and grown with tenure.

I'm taking Paul as merely a saint here, in spite of the manger business.

Kerry's topping Bush at something... "Boo!"

"If Halloween costumes are supposed to be scary, then a lot of people must find Senator Kerry terrifying, because stores online and on the street are sold out of Kerry masks.

"The company that makes the mask, a French manufacturer called Cesar ... has been unable to keep up with demand for the rubbery likenesses of the Democratic nominee.

"A few are available through Internet proprietors that planned far enough ahead and made a big early order, but even they're running out: sold its last five Kerry masks over the weekend, and the company isn't sure it'll be able to get anymore in time for the annual scare fest.

"The owner of the largest costume store in the city, Paul Blum of Abracadabra Superstore, sold his last Kerry mask for $300, a 600% markup on the $24.95 product. He had a second offer for the same amount, but couldn't lay his hands on a mask.

"There was no such shortage of Al Gore or President Bush masks in 2000..."

NY Sun

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Great weapons that could've been, Part I:

The Atomic 'Flying Crowbar’ of Death

Imagine, if you will, a nuclear cruise missile. Not a conventional cruise missile such as we’ve all seen on TV, armed with a nuclear warhead -- but one the size of a railroad locomotive, powered by a nuclear ramjet engine, with a bomb bay holding dozens of nuclear weapons. Imagine it flying just above treetop level at 3.5 times the speed of sound, invulnerable to all defenses, tossing out nuclear bombs on its way along its 100,000 mile operating range.

That was the nifty idea of the US weapon designers in the 1950s who conceived Project Pluto. Their objective: to find a better way to deliver nuclear warheads upon targets in the Soviet Union, when the main means of doing so was by manned bombers that were costly to maintain, operated from vulnerable bases, and could be shot down.

It was the dawn of the Atomic Age. Nuclear power would soon make electricity too cheap to meter and was already powering submarines under the arctic, while Project Orion was developing plans to launch atomic powered space ships -- real ships, 16 stories high, weighing 10,000 tons, crew of 150 -- to Mars and Saturn. So why not an atomic powered Supersonic Low Altitude Missile (SLAM)?

The atomic SLAM would fly from a safe base in the US, below radar and far faster than any aircraft that might try to intercept it, with the destructive power of a dozen bombers. Just the power of the shock wave coming from Mach 3.5 flight at treetop level, together with the radiation spewed from the unshielded reactor (not a flaw, a feature!) would let it destroy pretty much everything in a target country merely by flying back and forth over it, without even using its bombs.

Would it have worked? Sure thing! The engines were tested and the design was so solid and robust – “about as durable as a bucket of rocks” – that it was dubbed the “the flying crowbar”. The technology was great and its creators were proud of it.

So why has nobody ever seen this wonder weapon fly? Well, while the technology of the SLAM was solid there were certain practical problems in implementing it.

To reach its target it was expected to have to fly over friendly countries, flattening and irradiating them in a way they might not appreciate. Should the thing go astray a thousand miles into its flight, there was no absolutely sure way to correct its course or turn it “off” – and you really want to have a sure way to turn a thing like this off before it goes 99,000 miles in the wrong direction. Even the military was getting the idea that it isn't a good thing to go around spewing radiation into the open world. And the Defense and State Departments came to deem the project “too provocative”, fearing that if the U.S. deployed such a weapon the Soviets would feel forced to develop the same nasty unstoppable thing – and did we really want that?

But the capper was that the designers couldn’t figure out a way to test it. The original intention was to have test flights over the Nevada nuclear testing grounds – but suppose a flight decided on its own to head for Las Vegas, or Los Angeles, or Chicago? Or perhaps Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chicago? The designers never found a satisfactory answer.

By the early 1960s ballistic missiles had progressed far more than previously anticipated, giving the military other options, and the nuclear test ban treaty was signed to ban open air releases of radiation. Projects Pluto and Orion were both ended, and the SLAM was relegated to remain forever on the drawing board, next to the 1970 Mars Mission of Project Orion.

But it’s fun to remember what wonders the Atomic Age once promised.

References: Air & Space Magazine, Department of Energy (pdf),, Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Do we really want these guys as allies in a war against terrorists?


Prison guards in Belgium have made a plea for security to remain lax despite a spate of breakouts.

Union representatives fear prisoners will turn to violence to get away if they can no longer escape by conventional means. They argue that allowing crooks to escape using non violent methods will stop dangerous situations from developing.

Union Leader Filip Dudal said in a radio interview this week that prisoners would still try to escape "even if we build underground bunkers".

In a recent incident, one man was helped from outside over an eight-metre wall and another walked out of the prison wearing a visitor's clothes.

"We could build prisons that nobody could get out of, but they would be unbearable," says the union.

via Ananova

Monday, September 27, 2004

You had a complaint about our nationalized health care?


A critic of declining standards in the National Health Service died after being given a large overdose of iron by a hospital doctor who did not read the instructions on the drug's label properly.

Carys Pugh, 63, a former president of a patients' association in Wales, was taken to casualty at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital after the blunder turned her skin brown and "saturated" her liver with iron....

When her daughter, Hawys Pugh, complained to the hospital authorities about what had gone wrong she was told that the doctor who had carried out the routine infusion for suspected anaemia had found the instructions difficult to decipher and that he had only read half of them.

"They told me that because the text was in two columns instead of one, the doctor just read the section on how much to give, but didn't bother reading the rest which said over what duration it should be given"...

Minutes taken of a meeting between Miss Pugh and executives from the Pontypridd and Rhondda NHS Trust while her mother was alive confirm that the officials blamed the tragedy on the leaflet accompanying the drug...

The officials dismissed Miss Pugh's concerns ... and refused to name the doctor concerned, insisting that the trust had a "no blame" culture...

Daily Telegraph
~ end quote ~

Well, they were willing enough to blame that leaflet....

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Another week, another choice of scandals in the NYC public schools.

I. Sex is the scandal of choice for the tabloids. The Daily News introduces the past week's tale...
A Manhattan school teacher sends sexually explicit e-mails to a 16-year-old girl, asks her to sleep with him and phones her repeatedly at home. So, what happens? He spends five years doing nothing but fighting the city's efforts to fire him -- while happily collecting a $70,000 annual salary. That's $350,000 for sitting on his rump.

Which speaks volumes about the hidebound disciplinary system in which the city's teachers are cosseted. But the story gets much worse. Officials had the goods on Cary Hershkowitz, a chemistry teacher at Health Professions and Human Services High School on the lower East Side. This was no "he said, she said." For the stellar Hershkowitz confessed in writing to acting out his sexual fixation for the underage girl.

And yet an arbitrator, the even more stellar Robert Simmelkjaer, ruled that grossly putting the moves on a student is not an automatic firing offense...
The Post explains why...
The ruling, five years in the making, was made on the grounds that Hershkowitz was not offered union representation when investigators questioned him -- a claim the city Department of Education denies... Simmelkjaer first threw out the case against Hershkowitz altogether in 2000 .... A state Supreme Court judge overturned that decision [leading to Hershkowitz drawing four years' pay while "doing nothing" waiting for Simmelkjaer's follow-up decision.]

School officials learned of the illicit relationship from the girl's mother, who complained that Hershkowitz had called her house. He admitted to making the calls, saying he wanted "to be reminded of [the girl's] voice" and save time on computer messaging with her.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said ... "This is yet another glaring example of how dsyfunctional the current process for terminating employees is. Is there anyone in the city who would want this teacher back in the schools with children?"...
How can a public school system reach such a decision? And take five years to do so?

It's explained in telling detail by former NYC public school teacher Emily Sachar in her Pulitzer-nominated book Shut Up and Let the Lady Teach. An extract from the section on "accountability for performance" within the school system...

I spoke for several hours with representatives of the Board of Ed and the UFT (teachers union) [about accountability of teachers and principals for job performance] ... The statistics were eye-opening. During the most recent school year, of 62,000 NYC teachers, only 606 -- less than 1% -- were rated Unsatisfactory (U) by their principals.

"In a school system where more than 99% of teachers are rated satisfactory, there is no accountability and no need for a rating system," said James Stein, Director of the Office of Appeals and Reviews for the NYC Board of Education, whose office is responsible for helping principals get rid of bad teachers. "Nowhere in the world, in any workforce of which I am aware, does the percentage of satisfactory ratings come close to what we have at the Board of Ed. So we must conclude that the current system is meaningless." Randy Weingarten, counsel to United Federation of Teachers president Sandra Feldman, agreed...

But principals were even less likely to receive unfavorable reviews. Of the more than 1,000 principals in the NYC school system, only one had received a U rating the prior year... "Is that because everyone's doing such a fine job?", I asked Stein.

"No," he said. "It's because supervision and accountability are nonexistent in the NYC schools ... We will not solve our problems until we resolve whether we are a keeper of the public trust or merely an employment agency".

The greatest impediment to giving U ratings to teachers is that after giving one to a teacher, the principal can not transfer the teacher out of the school for three years.... [read more].

After reading that one begins to understand how it's been possible for the NYC school system to increase real per-student spending by over 50% in recent years -- to more than $11,000 -- with zero increase in student performance.

Ms. Sachar's book is more than ten years old now -- but, alas, as contracts get rolled over five years at a time, things stay ever the same.

II. The NY Times is above reporting tawdry sex scandals, so instead presents the governance story of the arrest of Joan E. Mahon-Powell, Chief of Staff of the previous Chancellor Harold O. Levy, who had also served as superintendent of the special city-wide district for low-performing schools -- now "accused of forging her credentials all along the way. Investigators say she was never even certified as a teacher."...
"She was successful for a long time, and really, it was a fluke that she got caught," said Richard J. Condon, the special commissioner of investigation for the city schools, whose office conducted the inquiry.... "This was old Joan," he said. "Joan had been there for 20 years"...
And was making $152,000 a year. But the Daily News gave the accused her say:
"I feel I'm being treated unfairly," Joan Mahon-Powell told the Daily News. "I don't know the reasons why this is happening."

Asked directly whether she had lied about her background, Mahon-Powell said: "I did not."

The denials came just a day after Mahon-Powell, 48, admitted to fraud Tuesday in Manhattan Criminal Court. Schools investigators claimed she stole her best friend's credentials and wrote her name on them so she would qualify for high-paying jobs ...
So there we have the NYC public schools, from classroom teacher to the Chancellor's Chief of Staff.

Obviously, the system's 50% high school graduation rate and other notorious problems result from, you know, lack of money.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

French police storm kindergarten.

"... the raid was a total disaster and ended with several police officers being injured, including two who were bitten, and 4-year-old Charlotte Washington [target of the raid] missing again..."

NY Post

Do you want to get really rich? Open a discount retail store.

Those impressed by the fortunes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett should look at the five people tied for fourth place on Forbes 400 list. They all have the last name "Walton", and together have more wealth than Bill and Warren combined. Say, "Thank you, Sam."

BTW, Sam lost his first store when he bungled the lease by leaving out a renewal clause and the landlord took it from him. Then his first successful store in a shopping center was destroyed in a storm. He didn't start Wal-Mart until he was 44 years old.

So if you learn from your mistakes, keep on pluggin', and live like it's never too late, you can die and leave your kids wealthy beyond all dreams of avarice too.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Legal dissent of the day.

Riding a horse while intoxicated is not illegal in Pennsylvania, the state's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The majority held that the provisions of the state's drunken driving law that apply to horse riding are too vague and confusing to be enforceable.

However, Justice Michael Eakin dissented (pdf) ... to the tune of Mr. Ed:
A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
but the Vehicle Code does not divorce
its application from, perforce,
a steed, as my colleagues said.

“It’s not vague” I’ll say until I’m hoarse,
and whether a car, a truck or horse
this law applies with equal force,
and I’d reverse instead.

One way to respond to Iraqi kidnappers.

Let them move to Canada....

A Canadian woman held hostage in Iraq for 16 harrowing days managed to escape beheading by miraculously persuading one of the terrorists to let her go in exchange for a promise she would help him emigrate to Canada...

NY Post

It seems they're not all entirely against western values.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

NEA to release tape of Osama endorsing school vouchers.

That's on the schedule for next week. This week the terrorists are homeschoolers...
September 22, 2004, 4:48 PM

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) -- Homeschoolers across the country are protesting a west Michigan county's decision to stage a mock terrorist attack by a fictitious group of homeschooling advocates dubbed "Wackos Against Schools and Education."

Tuesday's disaster drill in Muskegon County ... was a response exercise for emergency, hospital and school personnel. But Chris Klicka, senior counsel of the Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va., called it outlandish for the county to designate the terrorists as homeschoolers... [Detroit Free Press]


Black Gay Republicans split with Log Cabin Republicans to endorse Bush.

The Abe Lincoln Black Republican Caucus (ALBRC), a group of young urban Black gay Republicans, voted today in a special call meeting in Dallas, Texas, to endorse President Bush for re- election. The ALBRC was co-founded by Don Sneed, a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, to address the political issues and needs of young Black gay Republicans, who he says: "Our voices are never heard, yet we exist and are growing in numbers..."
[Yahoo Financial News (financial news?)].
I wouldn't know about their growing numbers, but if Kerry can't even win over these guys maybe he is in trouble.

Honk if you want to get rid of cars.

Hey, it's World Carfree Day. So sling the baby in the backpack, tuck a bag of groceries in each arm and walk to get the feel of what a better world would be like.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Science proves that nice guys finish last, just after the conscientious.

"People who care for their colleagues are unlikely to be promoted, according to a study of white collar workers by Dr. Nikos Bozionelos, a professor in the management school at Great Britain's University of Sheffield....

"Bozionelos and his colleagues found that three personality types were less likely to be successful in their careers: agreeable people, conscientious workers, and the neurotic.

"Employees who had agreeable personalities and were also altruistic, friendly, and sensitive to the needs of others tended to assign lower priority to their careers and related activities .... Conscientious workers miss out on career success most likely because they are concentrating too hard on performing well..."

And knowing that being altruistic, friendly and a conscientious worker will leave you behind is enough to make you neurotic. (More)

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Pushing an idea a wee bit too far...

One Ian Fleming, age 33, (no relation to the creator of 'James Bond') successfully negotiated $1,650 in forged checks at the Commerce Bank on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, NYC, on this past July 6th.

That having worked, believing he was onto a good thing, he returned to the same bank with forged checks totalling $11 billion.

"The red flags went up pretty quickly," said bank spokesman David Flaherty. "Certainly large checks like that we're going to look at closely.

"These people get good at what they're doing but banks are spending more time training staff to detect it", Flaherty told the New York Post.

Yes, it is reassuring to know that if anyone forges a check of mine for more than a billion dollars bank staff today are trained to give it a good hard look.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Ominous rise in sightings of Flying Black Triangles.

It's not the X-Files any more -- from the Geometry Files:

"Huge, silent-running 'Flying Triangles' have been seen by ground observers creeping through the sky low and slow near cities and quietly cruising over highways", reports

For detailed sighting maps and more than most people will really want to know, enthusiasts can check out the report from the National Institute of Discovery Science, where Mulder may be working now.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Times' sophisticated ladies on sex, politics and arithmetic.

Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd join in an on-line discussion, Women, the Presidency and the Election.


"The bitter truth is that there are very, very few men practicing the art of politics on a national level who cause women to fantasize about heavy petting."


"The latest CBS News poll shows that among George W. Bush supporters, 51 percent are men and 48 percent are women -- and of John Kerry supporters, 41 percent are men and 43 percent are women..."

OK... But if Mo wasn't distracted by secret thoughts of Arnold or Ted, then what was with her idea that 16% of Kerry's supporters are neither men nor women?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Greenpeace criminally charged in enviromental law violation.

The Wall Street Journal gloats:

"a Greenpeace boat, the Arctic Sunrise, entered Alaskan water without the required oil spill prevention plan and proof of financial responsibility should a spill occur. The vessel, which can carry 128,000 gallons of fuel and lubricants (Exxon Valdez, anyone?), was sailing near Ketchikan to protest logging activities.

"The state charges that when the environmental group was notified of the violations on July 14, the ship's agent agreed to remain anchored until the situation was fixed. Instead, the Arctic Sunrise left port that very morning and went joyriding in 'environmentally sensitive areas during peak salmon runs, without care or consideration for the catastrophic impacts that would occur from failure to have the necessary resources to initiate a response.' The case goes to trial in October."

Greenpeace gets its say in the more environmentally friendly Associated Press:

"... spokeswoman Carol Gregory said Thursday she did not know charges had been filed... 'It was a clerical error about paperwork and not about environmental protection,' Gregory said. 'We’re Greenpeace.' "

Monday, September 13, 2004

Inspirational collegiate athletic quote of the week.

Marquis Weeks of Virginia on his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown:

"That was just instinct. Kind of like running from the cops."

Via WaPo, photo John Mcdonnell

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Isn't it time we passed the amendment so this guy can be King?

Arnold Schwarzenegger says the word "balls" on NYC's over-the-air TV 5 o'clock news -- not guest hosting the sports report, but telling firemen "I want to tell you how much I respect the courage that you have and the balls that you have to do what you do" -- and it doesn't get bleeped.

Who wants a string of girlie-man future presidents? (And maybe even a girlie-girl like Hillary?)

Who wants a president at all when we can have Conan as King?

Dumbass crime of the week.

"Joseph Williams' mom threw him out of their second-floor Crown Heights apartment Sunday evening, so the 16-year-old just went up to the fourth floor to stay with his aunt. Sometime before dawn, however, Williams, who clearly hadn't been paying attention in science class, snuck back downstairs, doused his mom's front door with lighter fluid, set it ablaze — then went back upstairs.

"In the end, Williams and four of his relatives were hospitalized with serious smoke inhalation..."

Dumbass "we take bomb threats seriously since 9/11" crime of the week.

"New Jersey resident Ronald Kinzer, 52, went to Queens on Wednesday afternoon, called 911 from a payphone, and told the operator he had a bomb.

"Unfortunately for Kinzer, two bored cops were sitting across the street. When the call about the bomb threat came over the radio — including the exact location of the payphone — they ambled across the street and arrested him. He's now being charged with not paying attention to his surroundings."

Above items via the NY Press