Saturday, June 22, 2002

The Perfect Spot For Your Next Doomsday!

The inestimable James Lileks gives the full treatment to the remarkable Thunderbird Motel, conveniently located in Minneapolis, MN, just a few minutes from the Mall of America. Of course, if you came to the Blog Bash By The Bay a couple of months ago and stayed past the witching hour, you already knew how desperately remarkable the T-Bird is, because you got to see my pics from that august establishment, where I was an unwilling guest on September 11 and the days following. Go have a look at Lileks' pictures and ask yourself, "Is this comfortably-appointed motel and convention center where I'd want to sit out the Apocalypse?"

One of these days I'll post my tale of September 11... I was on final approach into Minneapolis/St.Paul when the first plane hit the WTC. Needless to say, it was a bad day to be changing planes far away from home.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Worse Than Senseless Things



Twisted Oliver is a busy boy these days. Two of his currents projects: a documentary about Yasser Arafat, and a theatrical feature about Fidel Castro. No word yet on whether he's planning a biopic on Saddam Hussein or a buddy comedy with Kim Jung Il, nor if he's chosen a title for the Arafat documentary. Naturally, Happy Fun Pundit has some suggestions:

"Natural Born Terrorist Dirtbag"
"Old Yasser"
"Big Arafat Liar"
"Lies My Palestinian Authority Told Me"
"Ramallah-Lama Ding Dong"
"Oliver Stone Is a Lying Sack of Crap"
"Palestine Joey"
"Brokedown Palestine"

The best line in the Variety article:

"If (the) documentary on Yasser Arafat is as close to reality as were his movies on John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Israel has real reason for concern."

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Lessons in TV Balkanization

A quick Quiz: What do VodkaPundit, InstaPundit, and Happy Fun Pundit all have in common?

Fooled you, didn't I? The correct answer: We all have WAY more viewers than many of Canada's new digital TV channels.

In the past, 'specialty' TV channels in Canada have been bundled in basic cable packages, or in special 'tiered' packages of channels that force consumers to buy them all together. That means a package that has The Biography Channel might also contain MooseTV (all Moose, all the time!). Regulations ensured that these marginal, Canadian-content channels received a share of the profits, along with the right to pretend that someone was actually watching the crap they were delivering.

Recently, the Canadian regulatory body allowed many of the newer channels to be unbundled and sold individually. The price? A couple of bucks a month per channel. And as expected, this new ruling has lifted a curtain of fog away from the viewership habits of Canadians. This has caused many of these channels great consternation, as they discovered that their prime time audiences measured not in the hundreds of thousands, but in the hundreds. Or dozens. Or one guy named Old Joe who watches 'CanoeTV' religiously for the portaging tips.

(Lesson to bloggers: Don't worry about low hit counts. Imagine how you'd feel if you went to the trouble of setting up a TV network and wound up with 14 viewers for your touble.)

Undaunted, CHUMTV (that's right - they gave a network the same name we give to the rotting fish carcasses we throw to sharks) is pushing forward with their intention to create the first all-gay channel, QueerTelevision. Why do gays need their own television channel? From the article:

Gays and Lesbians have reached a critical mass in Canada and around the world. The Canadian lesbian and gay population is currently estimated at 1.65 million, with a net worth of over $51 billion.

Okay... So there are lots of gay people. But consider this: Almost 30 million Canadians wear shirts. Is this a good reason to create ShirtTV? I can hardly wait for the next episode of "VestMan!", a superhero defined by his excellent fashion sense and lack of sleeves.

I've got no problem with QueerTelevision, as long as it's not deemed 'too important' by the CRTC to have to stand on its own and becomes a free rider on basic digital cable packages. If the material is really compelling to gays and lesbians, the channel will survive on its own. But if gay people would rather watch "Law and Order" instead of yet another boring, low production-value crappy show that just happens to feature gay characters, then it will fail miserably.

All of this silliness is the end result of the control of Canada's media by an elite bunch of doo-gooders who think they know what Canada's culture should look like, and have the laws and guns to force it on us. Canadian content laws promote mediocre garbage by giving it a captive audience. Laws forcing cable companies to package channels together in certain ways allow channels with no viewers to get a free ride on the backs of others.

It's a good thing that the Canadian culture fascists never latched on to the Internet, or everyone who surfs from Canada would have to spend 30% of their time reading Canadian web sites. And there's only so many Mark Steyns to go around, you know? The rest of the time Canadians would have to read "Home Page Challenge", in which a panel of has-been Canadian 'celebrities' and journalists would try to guess the identity of another Canadian 'celebrity' based on nothing more than his IP address. Whoo hoo.

Or, they could read Happy Fun Pundit. Now that I think about it, that's not a bad idea. Time to catch that government gravy train!

But to qualify as Canadian Content under our laws, I'd probably have to kill Steve. He'll understand.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Nuclear Scaremongering From The New York Times? Who'd Have Thought?

I'm having a fun week. First, I got to rip a new hole into The New York Post for a ridiculous article which invented a number of 'facts' about a new Toyota airplane, and now this anti-nuke Op-Ed from the New York Times goes begging for the same treatment. Let's begin:

With the arrest of Jose Padilla, our worst fears were confirmed: Al Qaeda was planning to build and detonate a dirty bomb containing nuclear material in an American city. A danger previously relegated to Hollywood screenplays is now a reality.

Actually, our worst fears are nuclear fission bombs, closely followed by biological attacks, and of course, being forced to watch Madeline Albright and Janet Reno in a nude mud wrestling match.

'Dirty' nuclear bombs are primarily economic weapons. They don't kill a lot of people (compared to an actual fission bomb or bio warfare), but they can create an expensive cleanup job. But the threat is by no means as dire as an actual nuclear detonation, by a few orders of magnitude. Let's not exaggerate, Jim.

At the same time, the Senate is in the process of making the most important transportation decision of the new century — whether or not to move 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste from power plants nationwide to Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Okay, it's perspective time. It's a good thing that he said, "The most important transportation decision of the new century", because that same decision was already made in the last one, 35 years before it ended. Since then, more than 3,000 shipments of used fuel, covering 1.7 million highway and rail miles, have been safely completed in the United States. Over 10 times that amount has been shipped by various methods in other countries. There has NEVER been a nuclear fuel leak.

The implication in the Op-Ed that nuclear waste shipments are a new threat is misleading at best, and intentionally dishonest at worst. The net effect of opening Yucca Mountain will be to add 200 to 400 shipments per year to the large number of shipments already taking place.

For more than 20 years, debate on the Yucca Mountain project has centered on only half of the issue. The Department of Energy has spent more than $7 billion and 24 years studying the geology of potential repository sites, but only four percent of that has been spent on transportation issues.

That's because huge money has ALREADY been spent on transportation issues. Nuclear material shipment has been studied by many other agencies, including the U.S. military (how do you think nuclear material gets to all those subs, carriers, and warheads?), the NRC, DOE, DOT, EPA, and probably the XFL, PGA, and the NHL.

Again, the implication in this paragraph is that the issue of transporting waste has been dangerously neglected. In fact, it's one of the most well-understood and engineered parts of the whole process.

Government officials believe Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have sought to purchase uranium and the other necessary tools to make a dirty bomb.

Yep. They sure have. I wonder, though, if they've purchased the materials required to steal a 40-ton nuclear waste cask? Wasn't that Achmed I saw carrying around that 80-ton flatbed crane? Oh, and are they prepared to mount a military operation against a nuclear convoy surrounded by armed guards? And if they manage to kill all the guards and leave the truck in driving condition, how far are they going to get?

And you can't just open the cask and take out the nuclear materials. These casks are sealed, and it takes professionals with the right tools something like seven hours to open one of them. So forget the scenarios involving terrorists digging their hands into a broken cask at an accident site and running around like deranged fairies sprinkling nuclear dust on everyone - it isn't going to happen.

Nuclear fuel convoys are hard targets. Terrorists don't like hard targets. They like killing women, children, and other people who don't shoot back. And if they tried to attack a convoy, the likely result would be a vehicle accident, some gunfire, a bunch of dead terrorists, and an intact cask being airlifted away from the scene by the U.S. military. As terrorist threats go, nuclear waste shipments are pretty far down on the list.

According to experts, each truck container of spent nuclear fuel (containers used for rail and barge transport would be bigger) headed for Yucca Mountain would carry more radioactive material than was released by the nuclear bombs used in World War II. If one of these containers were breached, in an accident or a terrorist attack, the results would be catastrophic.

Now THAT is an inflammatory paragraph. Sure, each container contains more material by weight than was used in the two WWII fission bombs. But then, so does Ted Kennedy. So what? It's not fissionable material, and the comparison is ridiculous unless the goal is not to provide facts, but to scare people.

If a nuclear container were breached in an accident (and that's a BIG 'if', as you'll see), the result would be radiation poisoning of the people directly involved in the accident, maybe, and a HAZMAT cleanup job. This material isn't an aerosol, and isn't going to pollute the nearest city. It will spill on the ground, and have to be cleaned up.

If terrorists could blow one up, they could disperse material farther. But good luck cracking one of these things open. These casks have walls one-foot thick, and are compartmentalized internally. They can take a direct hit from a shoulder-launched missile without cracking open. Crashing a plane into them won't crack them open.

Vehicles carrying nuclear casks have been involved in 90 accidents since they started transporting waste. Not once has one spilled any material.

Before Congress makes any decision on where to store this country's nuclear waste, it must first determine whether that waste can be safely transported on our highways, waterways and railways.

Something that has already been determined. Not only were extensive studies done on the safety of transporting waste, but we now have almost 40 years of empirical data that shows that transporting waste IS safe. We do it all the time. We'll continue to do it, whether or not Yucca mountain is opened.

The last thing we need is a 'study' on very technical issues carried out by the non-technical yammerheads in Congress. Especially a redundant one.

Congress must require that the Department of Energy conduct a comprehensive risk assessment considering all potential hazards, including terrorist threats. Congress must also demand that the department develop a transportation safety plan that outlines steps to be taken in the event of terrorist acts and accidents. And there must be full-scale testing of the containers to be used for transporting this waste. The transportation plan must be created in an open process that includes input from state and local officials and the public. With our enemy in active pursuit of dirty bombs, our considerations about nuclear waste management have to change.

Unless our previous studies already considered those issues and concluded satisfactorily. Believe it or not, terrorists attacking waste convoys is not a new concept. That scenario has always been part of nuclear waste transportation risk assessment.

As for testing the casks, they are already tested and have been for decades. Specifically, the NRC requires that each cask design pass a certification trial that includes: a 30-foot fall onto a flat, unyielding surface; a 40-inch drop onto a vertical steel rod; exposure to a 1,475° F fire for 30 minutes; and submersion under three feet of water for eight hours.

Transportation casks have been driven into brick walls at 65 mph. They have been slammed with forces designed to simulate an 80mph train wreck. They have been totally immersed in fires for hours. Computer simulations that are very well understood go even further and test casks against multitudes of different accident and terrorist scenarios. They do not break open.

Secretary Abraham has said there is plenty of time to create a transportation plan before Yucca Mountain begins receiving nuclear waste eight years from now. But safety issues will almost certainly get short shrift if they are not addressed before the repository site is approved.

Well, that's a nice tautology. Safety issues will get short shrift unless we study them. And my supper will get short shrift unless I eat it. Good thinking, Jim.

Congress needs to force the Department of Energy to reassess the dangers of transporting high-level nuclear waste and develop a secure plan before proceeding with the Yucca Mountain project.

This whole issue is a red herring, because nuclear waste shipment will continue whether or not Yucca is approved. If the shipments are not safe from terrorist attacks, does it really matter if we have 200 shipments a year instead of 500? All the terrorists need is one. And if they are completely safe, who cares how many there are?

I actually have no problem with re-assessing the specifics of design and transport of nuclear casks given what we know about the new terrorist threat. That seems to me to be a reasonable thing to do.

Such evaluations should be done by engineers and scientists, and the results should be used to improve upon the design of the casks and the system as a whole. But this article's alarmist tone and misleading 'facts' suggest that such a re-assessment should be carried out by politicians who would have to use copious amounts of their soft-money donations to buy a clue about nuclear engineering, and the end result would be a lot of hand waving and the closure of Yucca mountain.

The strange part about this Op-Ed is that the author, Jim Hall, is a member of the National Academy of Engineering's Committee on Combating Terrorism, was chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1994 to 2001. He is undoubtedly familiar with the points I raised here. So what's the deal? Was this article intentional misinformation designed to scare people? Or just sloppy work?

Oh, wait, it's the New York Times Op-Ed page. Therefore, we can assume it's a political screed with a biased viewpoint and an agenda. What was I thinking?
Chain Chain Chain, Chain of Fools

Here's a bit of information I'm dead tired of reading:

...the Al Aqsa group, which is linked to Arafat's Fatah movement.

Linked and linked... what is linked? Linked how? Can you go from Fatah's webpage to Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades Online with a single click of the mouse? Is Arafat the boss of them? Do they tell Arafat what to do? Do they play golf together? Do they both own part of the same timeshare condo in Maui? Are they linked in the same way that Ted Turner's head and ass are linked? Do they share the same answering service: "For the Yasser Arafat's Fatah Movement, press 1. For Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, press 2. If you would like to order Fatah or Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades t-shirts, key fobs, or suicide belts, press 3. To return to this menu at any time, press the key which reminds you most of the flag of Jew apes and criminals who occupy our homeland"? Are their kids in the same class at Splodeydope Academy? (not bloody likely; I'm sure the children of "leaders" are, like the leaders themselves, too important to get blowed up real good). Do they live next door to each other? ("Hey baby? The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are coming over to barbecue on Saturday... pick up a couple extra halal ribeyes, wouldja?") Is there intermarriage between the two movements? Sounds like a smart Fatah girl could make out pretty well marrying martyrs, and, well, dang, there's a whole brigade of them, and they're Al Aqsa, not some off-brand which won't detonate if you get them damp. Are they wacky mismatched roommates, with the neat and proper Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades driven to distraction by the slovenly and unkempt Fatah movement, leading to a half hour of zany Palestinian fun each week? Or is it a Lewinsky-Clinton "you might want to get your head dress dry cleaned when you get home" kinda linkage?

"linked": it's like ibuprofen that makes difficult research about ties between gangs of creeps go away like magic!

Coming up next: just what is a Fatah movement anyway? Do you have to eat a lot of watermelon to have one?

And a tip o' the Happy Fun Hat to Jim Treacher for coining "splodeydope"

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

"So dense that nothing escapes its gravitational pull, not even light"

According to the New York Post, Oprah Winfrey is steadily cutting back the number of shows she does. According to the Post,

Winfrey, who's ending "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2006, will do only 29 weeks of original shows - down from 37 - for each of the next two seasons, according to Broadcasting & Cable magazine. After that, she will cut back her on-air time even more drastically -working only 20 weeks in the '04-'05 season and a measly 15 weeks in the final season ('05-'06).

What could explain this behaviour? According to the University of Kansas' "Mammals of Kansas" list:

[The shrew] has an unusually high rate of metabolism (about 10 cm3 oxygen per gram body weight per hour). As a result of the high energy loss, the need for food is almost constant. In 24 hours it eats 60-100 percent of its weight. The demand for energy is so great that if it is without food on a cold day it will starve in a short time.

I'm just sayin' somebody might want to start counting Oprah's production assistants, that's all.
Ted Turner Latest Confirmed Case of Fonda's Disease

In an interview with the Guardian, wealthy idiot Ted Turner confirmed that he is the latest celebrity to fall prey to Fonda's Disease, an emerging pathology especially prevalent among American celebrities since 9/11. Although Turner did not mention the disease, he displayed its chief symptom: spouting off stupid nonsensical opinions despite the demonstrable fact that nobody cares what he thinks. The diagnosis surprised absolutely no one, given that Turner and Jane Fonda (the "index case" for whom the disease is named) were married and presumably had some kind of intimate contact where their nasty leathery bodies touched in a manner that doesn't bear thinking about.

Turner's remarks, as reported in The Gooberian, a noted bulwark of objectivity and moral clarity, had something to do with the Israelis being terrorists and root causes or some crap like that. Representatives of Israel's government strongly condemned the remarks, saying, "What? Isn't that guy dead or fired from his job or something? Why is he still talking?" Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was more positive in his response, asking if Turner could introduce him to Bridget Fonda before condemning the CNN founder as an Israeli spy and accusing him of planting weapons aboard the Karine-A in an effort to discredit the Palestinian cause. The EU response was also more measured; the Belgian ambassador summed the matter up well in his statement: "Babe, where's the remote? That annoying guy is being interviewed by the Guardian again."

Turner's recent film appearance in the 2001 production "Fidel" with Muhammed Ali caused significant controversy at the Academy Awards, since it is contrary to Academy policy to have two nominees for "Stupidest, Most Inarticulate Dumbass" from the same film.

Monday, June 17, 2002

A Trip Into Bad Technology Reporting

As a pilot, I've grown accustomed to the incredibly bad reporting that usually surrounds aviation issues. Most of the time, details such as airplane models and engine types are wrong, and often, bystanders to accidents are written up as aviation experts despite howlers like confusing an engine 'stalling' with the wings 'stalling'.

But it's not often you get to read a fairy tale written up as a real news story. But the New York Post gives it the old college try with this humdinger: NEW TOYOTA PLANE PREPARING FOR TAKEOFF. This is an article about a new aircraft Toyota is developing. This is one of those articles that deserves a line-by-line dissection, so bear with me while I do just that:

Toyota thinks cars of tomorrow will be airborne machines - and has already designed one in a top-secret project.

No, it doesn't. No one with any understanding of aviation thinks that aircraft will be the cars of tomorrow.

The new Toyota flying machine will cost about the same amount as the carmaker's vaunted Lexus luxury car - around $50,000 - and will be as simple to fly as driving a car.

No it won't, and no it won't. In fact, this is what Toyota Spokesman Mike Michels had to say about the aircraft: ""We hold no illusions of sort of Tom Swift kinds of visions of flying cars. "We think there is a market, but in terms of pricing, we would be competitive with similar types of aircraft."

Translation - this is a new aircraft that will sell for somewhere between $150,000 and $300,000. It will have four seats, and be flown like other aircraft in its class. But you can see where the Post writer got the impression that it was... Actually, no you can't. The technical phrase for this kind of mistake is, "Not having a clue."

But the true test of Toyota's future craft may be found in the skies above the road-rage wracked Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Why? Are the road-raged drivers planning on installing anti-aircraft guns on their cars?

Besides triggering an air traffic nightmare, the Toyota machine could spell the end of hamburger drive-ins and lovers' lane interludes, and forever change the American lifestyle built around motoring.

Now this is just getting silly. Change the American lifestyle built around motoring? "Hey Honey, what say we fire up the airplane and fly twelve blocks over to the Quickie-Mart for a Squishy?". Did this writer even think about what he was saying?

Experts said the Toyota aircraft would be registered as an airplane, and drivers would have to earn flying licenses to operate them.

Those crazy experts, always going out on a limb. I suppose the writer at the 'Post' didn't realize the contradiction of saying that an airplane that was about to replace the car would require $6,000 worth of training just to keep people from digging big Toyota-shaped holes in the ground.

Where the Toyota craft would be parked or gassed up before a trip with the kids is uncertain because small private airports are disappearing rapidly from the countryside.

What, he thought this car was going to replace the automobile, but be parked at small private airports? Youv'e gotta be more creative than that when inventing a story. He should have just stuck with the fantasy he started and said that the Toyota plane would levitate on a cushion of love and good will.

Toyota in the U.S. had no comment on the closely guarded project. Toyota's car designers and engineers from its Los Angeles office worked with the legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan to come up with the Toyota model, according to industry reports.

Rutan called the airborne Toyota "the aeronautical equivalent of the Lexus LS400."

And here's the quote that I'm willing to bet got this writer in trouble. When Rutan said that the car will be the "aeronautical equivalent of the Lexus LS400", our factually-challenged writer no doubt took this and ran with it - creating all the loony 'facts' in the article. Why, it will be the price of a Lexus! It will replace cars on the freeway! It'll cost about the same as a Corvette, but won't get you laid nearly as often!

There's a limit to how far you can draw an analogy. Rutan is a genius, and his comparison to the Lexus was meant to suggest that the Toyota airplane would be more luxurious and sophisticated than other aircraft in its market segment.

But hey, how many copies of the New York Post can you sell with a story like that?