Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins Has Passed Away

Her voice will be sorely missed. Her sense of humor, coupled with her disgust at the shenanigans of george w. bush, brightened many a day for me. Just yesterday, I finished my umpteenth re-reading of both "Shrub" and "Bushwhacked."

And of course, I'd be willing to bet either the White House will remain completely mum, or smirkmonkey will make some "charming" little "funny-ha-ha."

Rest in Peace, Molly.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Playing Catch Up...

No, not "ketchup", ya bone-heads...

Anyway, miscellaneous news, notes, and comments, gathered from the furthest reaches of the Internets, the "tubes", and the Googles...

I. Return of "The Decider"

george w. bush has apparently opted to reprise his boffo performance as "The Decider". Declaring himself "the decision-maker" on Friday, he challenged doubters of his "practicing escalatio" (as Tom Lehrer put it once) on the Iraqis to come up with their own ideas to win the war. Two small problems with that, though: (1) the war isn't winnable by any reasonably acceptable means (yeah, we could nuke Iraq and declare victory, but that wouldn't go over so well, would it?), and (2) bush would just ignore whatever plans were submitted. Citing the little voices in his head, bush claimed, "I've picked the plan that I think it most likely to succeed." No mention of how this surge is going to work any better than the previous surges, except that he apparently has decided that this one just plain really has to work, because he decided it would.

II. Two Sentenced in Fatal Fire at Seton Hall

Two idiots who started a fire in a Seton Hall University dorm lounge -- a fire that killed three students -- were sentenced to five years each.

"I want you to know I am very, very sorry for your losses," Sean "Biff" Ryan said. "I hope you can move on."

Why do I get the feeling that Biff was thinking to himself, "You'd better move on, cause I sure as hell have"?

Ryan and his playmate Joseph LePore pleaded guilty to arson and witness tampering.

Their lawyers claimed the insanely-reduced sentences were "appropriate" because the school did not have "adequate systems to keep the blaze from spreading."

To summarize:
  • The dormitory, built in 1952, met the fire codes as they existed at the time of construction (sprinklers were not required)
  • Seton hall did not retrofit the building with sprinklers (probably due to the cost, and engineering concerns)
  • LePore and Ryan start a fire in an occupied college dormitory
  • Three people die, NOT because these two assholes played with fire, but because the university couldn't foresee that these two assholes would play with fire.

In other words:

"It's not my fault!"

III. Update From the war on Terra

A leading Olympic security expert believes it is "just a matter of time" before terrorists target a major sports event like the Olympics.

Hello? Munich? 1972?

IV. Crocodile Hunter, meet the Nigerian 419 Scam

There's an email circulating through the tubes that claims to be from Terri Irwin, widow of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin. The message claims a US bank has $11 million in family funds, and that "the bank is planning to use the money for nuclear weapons." For helping her get the money out of the US, "Terri" will give you 40% of the money.

Yeah, right.

Who would be stooo-pid enough to fall for that?


Book Review: Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat

Since it is apparently illegal, or at least immoral and/or fattening, to review a book without awarding it a certain number of stars, I give this one:

five out of five

You may have noticed the link to "Judy Hoffman: Crisis Communications" in the left sidebar. I was first introduced to Judy through a guest column she did for Jonathan Bernstein's Crisis Manager newsletter (which is also linked over there). Judy is a media training consultant, and spent 16 years in the chemical industry as a media relations specialist. She also has a newsletter, Keeping Cool, which should be mandatory reading for everyone.

Judy's book, Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat, should also be required. It covers how, when, and what to communicate to the media during a crisis. In a superbly-written volume, Judy describes how Lee Iacocca and Rudy Giuliani handled crises that might well have had calamitous consequences, had both men not been such gifted communicators. Of course, there are dozens of other examples too, but these are the ones where you'll recognize the players.

As is the case with almost every volume I've ever seen on crisis management, Judy points out that the Chinese character for "crisis" -- wei ji -- is a combination of the characters for "danger" and "opportunity." While some may argue the point, there is no denying that a "crisis" does, indeed, have elements of both danger and opportunity.

Looking at the dictionary definition of "crisis" -- "a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, esp. for better or for worse, is determined; turning point" -- we see that the situation can get better or worse. In the business world, one of the critical factors in deciding which way the crisis will go is how it is communicated to the affected stakeholders.

For examples of how effective communications can reduce the impact of a crisis, Judy cites the 1987 case in which Chrysler was implicated in selling pre-driven vehicles as new cars: Lee Iacocca accepted responsibility, made amends and rectified the situation to the satisfaction of the consumers affected. She also discusses how Rudy Giuliani (1), faced with the incredible carnage of 9-11, used effective communication skills (among other skills, of course) to reassure a shattered city and a shell-shocked nation.

Ineffective communications can vastly increase the impact of a crisis: Judy cites the Firestone/Bridgestone/Ford tire fiasco as a prime example of piss-poor communicating. The poor skills showed by the owners and operators of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant did absolutely nothing to reassure those potentially affected by the TMI disaster. One could also argue that, had the administration been more open in its communications regarding the "war on terror," "signing statements," and the like, the bush administration might not have such abysmal approval ratings.

Judy continually drives home the concept that there must be a crisis communications plan in place before you need it, and it must be practiced.

Judy also presents a concept she calls "The Ten "C's" of Good Crisis Communications." This list, all by itself, is worth the complete purchase price of the book.

"But Mr 618, I don't expect to ever have to communicate with the media in a crisis," I hear you say. Okay, maybe you're not the CEO of your company. Maybe you're not the senior elected official in your community.

But when Little Johnny smacks a line drive through the Widow Jones' plate glass window, do you think that would be a crisis? Especially if the Widow Jones isn't the nicest, coziest, neighborhood granny you wish she were? And while the Widow Jones may not be the New York Times, the points Judy makes in her book can save your bacon there too.

If you think you may ever have to deal with a crisis -- whether at work or at home -- stop by her website, read what she has posted there, and sign up for her free newsletter. I can guarantee you won't regret it.

The book is available through her website, and also through Amazon.

(1) If you haven't done so, you should also read Giuliani's book Leadership.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

BadTux 4 Preznit!

My good friend, the gentlebird from Kah-lee-forn-yah, has announced the formation of an exploratory committee to investigate becoming the preznidential candidate of the Birthday Party.

BadTux originally thought about enlisting Opus as his running mate; I, however, thought that would overload the ticket toward the penguin constituency, and suggested he ask Bill the Cat instead. Yes, I am taking credit for the recommendation, despite what the gentlebird says about his campaign advisors talking him into it.

One of the many things we'd never have to worry about (image swiped from Atrios' "The bestest most funniest blog post ever"):

Would that be this turkey?

I urge you all to welcome...

The Next Preznit of the United States.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

An Open Letter to DTE Energy and An Apology

I apologize for the light posting the last few days. In addition to the problems laid out previously, the spacious yet luxurious Chez 618 -- like many thousands of others -- lost power as a result of the Sunday ice storms. In fact, we lost power at 5:15 AM Monday, while yr obt svt was standing in the shower (helluva place to be with no lights!). "Mr. Preparedness", of course, did not have a flashlight in the bathroom. He does now.

Now, like most other people (virtually everyone I know, in fact), I bitch and moan mightily when I get my monthly power bill, and I tend to begrudge DTE every penny I have to send them.

But, as is always the case when the sh*t hits the fan, DTE (and the other utilities, of course) were right there in the thick of it, replacing lines before the storm abated, working 24 hours a day, calling in out-of-state and private crews, the whole nine yards.

The most common estimate I heard for power restoration was either very late Wednesday, or early Thursday.

Nope, the power was back on Tuesday evening, and had been on for a while: the sump pump had drained the basement and the house was once again warm.

So, to the folks at DTE, ATT/SBC/Ameritech/whatever it is this week, and all the rest of the hard-working utility crews:


The Passing of Another Giant

Political satirist Art Buchwald -- one of the funniest and most gifted writers this country has ever produced -- is dead. Buchwald died yesterday at the age of 81.

Buchwald had refused dialysis treatments for his failing kidneys a year ago and was expected to die within weeks of moving to a hospice on Feb. 7, where he held court as a parade of luminaries and friends came by to say farewell. But he lived to return home and even write a book about his experiences.

One of my favorite Buchwald lines, from an article about a series of prostitution raids in DC, where the brothels were calling themselves "massage parlors":
"Is there anyplace I can get a massage without getting laid?"

Rest well, old friend.

Monday, January 15, 2007



MEMORABLE LINE OF THE DAY: “Butyl acetate is commonly used as a solvent or as a synthetic fruit flavoring.” (From an AP article about a train derailment in Kentucky)


“A burger battle is brewing between a Texas state legislator and the owner of Louis’ Lunch[2], a restaurant established in 1895, where it has been claimed the hamburger was invented.

“However, with the new session of the Texas legislature now under way, Republican State Rep. Betty Brown has proposed a resolution declaring Athens, Texas, is the original home of the hamburger.

[. . .]

“’It’s a well-known and established fact that New Haven is the home of the hamburger. In fact, New Haven’s claim to the hamburger is even supported and documented in the Library of Congress,’ [New Haven mayor John] DeStefano said.

“DeStefano notes that New Haven has been a cradle of creativity, as the birthplace of the cotton gin, the first rubber tires, the corkscrew, the Frisbee, lollipops, Erector Sets and pizza.[3]

“’We are even the birthplace of [george bush], who wants people to think he’s from Texas. So yes, the hamburger is as much a New Haven original as President [bush],’ DeStefano said. ‘Get over it, Texas.’” (AP article on the dispute)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU: Fire Engineering magazine is celebrating its 130th anniversary. Editor Bobby Halton on firefighters:

Firefighters do not regard themselves as heroes because they do what the business requires. They know that walking on the critical boundary of extreme fire behavior is potentially if not predictably fatal, but the rewards are so great that the men and women of the fire service risk it anyway.

Quoting another expert on firefighters:

Firefighters are going to get killed. When they join the department, they face that fact. When a man becomes a firefighter his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. They were not thinking of getting killed when they went where death lurked. They went there to put the fire out, and got killed.
-- FDNY Fire Chief Edward F. Croker, in February, 1908, on the death of a deputy chief and four firefighters

[1] Stolen from one of Allan Sherman’s collection of pieces he didn’t feel like expanding into full-length song parodies.
[2] Located in New Haven, CT. Full disclosure statement: I have had many a fine burger at Louis’, when I lived in New Haven.
[3] New Haven was also the home of the first telephone exchange and the first telephone directory.

Mustang Bobby: Double Play!

Mustang Bobby has consecutive postings that are well worth reading: the first on Bigus Dickus and the Pentagon's "terrorist credit checks", and the second on "Spocko", a blogger who's fighting with MouseCo, ABC (as one wag put it, "Assimilated By Conservatives"), and KSFO, over the "extreme" comments by the station's neocon hosts.

In the Pentagon controversy, Bobby makes this observation:

Perhaps the most outrageous part of this maddening assault on our rights and our intelligence (pun intended) is the last one where the Vice President suggests -- hell, he proclaims -- that the opponents of the president and his divine revelations are playing into the hands of al-Qaida and other evil-doers. The truth is that it is the Bush administration who has lent encouragement to the terrorists with their weak and vacillating approach to fighting them, not to mention accomplishing their putative goal of destroying America from within by letting us do it ourselves with anti-democratic tactics like spying on our own citizens and bellicose bullying by the neocons like Dick Cheney.

Of course, the "bellicose bullying" is going to continue until (a) Cheney, bush, and company are impeached by the House, tried by the Senate, and removed from office, or (b) bush's successor is sworn in.

As for the Spocko saga, Bobby says:

Those of us who have supported Spocko, either with blog support or financial aid, know that this is just the start, and getting the attention of a major media outlet like the Times is a good step forward. Spocko also encourages bloggers to become well-informed about how they can defend themselves against the attacks of the likes of the trolls at KSFO and their minions in the legal profession. Education is the ultimate weapon and a bulging-biceps defense of bloggers' rights under the copyright law's Fair Use doctrine is part of that.

The mouth-breathin', Bible-thumpin', hooker-humpin', sister-marryin', rifle-rack-in-the-pickmup neocon wingnut idjits have gotten away with their shit -- aided and abetted by the bushtards -- for so long, they see absolutely nothing wrong with it. Civility just does not work with these morons:

KSFO’s Lee Rodgers: “Well I haven’t apologized for anything and I am not going to start with you. How the hell do you like that, creep?”

We're supposed to reach out to these oxygen thieves to promote bipartisanship? I call bullshit.

I wish I thought we would reach out to them as they "reached out" to us in 2000 and 2004... with the same vitriol and hatred, the same lack of respect, the same sarcasm and cynicism they showed us.

But we won't, and I know it.

Because WE are better than that.

Trevor Blake: bush and the Rule of Law

Trevor Blake at American Samizdat links to the george bush "60 Minutes" interview... and then makes this comment:

Very few people read American Samizdat [618 comments that more should read AmSam... daily]. But many, many people watch 60 Minutes. In no way is the fact that George Bush considers himself not subject to the Constitution of the United States a difficult to find fact. Why is it that most Americans aren't up in (metaphorical) arms that the rule of law has been suspended in their country? Where's that 'class consciousness' the left speaks of, the correcting mechanism that is activated by oppression and that causes oppressed groups to act in their own best interest, not in the interest of the rulers?

Two very good questions, indeed.

Schneier on the Automated Targeting System

I've cited Bruce Schneier a number of times in the past, but this time around, he really hits the nail on the head.

An article in the current issue of his newsletter CryptoGram -- and also appearing on his blog -- discusses the Automated Targeting System, the "terrorism score" program that was revealed in early December.

Schneier makes two crucial points:

The idea of feeding a limited set of characteristics into a computer, which then somehow divines a person's terrorist leanings, is farcical. Uncovering terrorist plots requires intelligence and investigation, not large-scale processing of everyone.


There is something un-American about a government program that uses secret criteria to collect dossiers on innocent people and shares that information with various agencies, all without any oversight. It's the sort of thing you'd expect from the former Soviet Union or East Germany or China. And it doesn't make us any safer from terrorism.

If you value your freedoms as an American you'll go read the entire article. Hell, read the entire issue. And his archives.

I can guarantee you, it will open your eyes.

On-Line Extortion E-Mail Scam

This is verbatim from the FBI website:

ONLINE EXTORTION E-Mail Scam Includes Hit-Man Threat
The scam e-mail, which first appeared in December, threatens to kill recipients if they do not pay the sender. It's a scam. FBI officials recommend you don't reply.

A new scam cropping up in e-mail boxes across the country is preying not on recipients’ greed or good intentions, but on their fears. The scam e-mail, which first appeared in December, threatens to kill recipients if they do not pay thousands of dollars to the sender, who purports to be a hired assassin.

About 115 complaints have been filed with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) since the scam emerged, according to special agent John Hambrick, who heads IC3. He said the extortion scam does not appear to target anyone specifically and that IC3 has not received any reports of money loss or threats carried out.

“This is a hoax, so do yourself a favor and don’t respond,” Hambrick said.

Replying to the e-mails just sends a signal to senders that they’ve reached a live account. It also escalates the intimidation, Hambrick said.

In one case, a recipient responded that he wanted to be left alone and threatened to call authorities. The scammer, who was demanding an advance payment of $20,000, e-mailed back and reiterated the threat, this time with some personal details about the recipient—his work address, marital status, and daughter’s full name. Then an ultimatum:


Bill Shore, a special agent who supervises the computer crime squad in the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office, said recipients should not be overly spooked when scammers incorporate their intended victims’ personal details in their schemes.

“Personal information is widely available,” he said. “Even if a person does not use the Internet or own a computer, they could still be the victim of a computer crime such as identity theft.”

The extortion scam is a less subtle variation of some other e-mail scams designed to trick recipients into turning over money or personal information. Nigerian Letter schemes, in which recipients are offered the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars if they would first front some of their own money, are among the most prolific, along with phishing scams where recipients are asked in unsolicited e-mails to “update” their personal information.

The new extortion e-mails vary in style and content and generally contain misspellings and some broken English. But the underlying message appears to be the same: pay the sender or risk the alternative. A scam e-mail in December said as much:

“I have followed you closely for one week and three days now … Do not contact the police or F.B.I. or try to send a copy of this to them, because if you do I will know, and might be pushed to do what I have being (sic) paid to do.”

IC3 recently noted a new twist in the scam. Now e-mails are surfacing that claim to be from the FBI in London and inform recipients that an arrest was made in the case. The e-mail says the recipient’s information was found on the suspect and that they should reply to help further the investigation. This, too, is a scam.

The scams, agent Shore said, “are an opportunity to raise awareness about Internet fraud.” The best defense is to protect your personal information as best you can and to delete—unopened—unsolicited SPAM e-mail.

For more information on scams, visit our Common Fraud Schemes page. IC3 also has information on Internet crime schemes and prevention tips.

To report Internet crime, contact IC3 or your local FBI field office.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Response: Pet Blogging Update

Hello! Mrs. 618 here. I do feel at times like the gate keeper for the animals. Am I starting my own cat colony? Not intentionally. If the farmer up the road believed in spaying and neutering, things would be a lot better. And you will not see us on 'Animal Cops Detroit," although if 618 had his way, we would be the humane society. While I love animals, I feel it very important to stress that, like children, each house has its limit. I love Emily & Joey, and we are still working with Mr. Bailey, to see if he will integrate into our little family, but both he and Joey need to be nutted as 618 refers to it.

Ms. Sadie is always a welcome guest; if she can't sneak in she has learned to tap on the window then go to the door to be let in.

I wish I had had my camera the other day as we had an awesome Kodak moment: Emily the lab was stretched out on her side on the bed, then Joey snuggled into her belly on his side and Ms. Sadie nicely spooned into his tummy. How blessed we are to have this odd little family, but it works. Mama always said I should live on a farm, lots of kids and lots of pets to love. We're set with the pets... and the kids... well, that’s up to a higher power.

Homeland (In)Security

Cross-posted from Watching Those We Chose

We've probably all heard by now of the administration's claim of "authority" to open US Mail addressed to American citizens, without a warrant, based on the "exigent circumstances" associated with the Global War on Terra. And of course we all remember The Great NSA Wiretap Brouhaha from last year.

We now know also that both the CIA and the Defense Department are accessing our personal credit and financial files, again as part of the GWOT.

And we all know that "enemy non-combatants" can be imprisoned, virtually indefinitely, without benefit of any Constitutional rights, and can be tortured by Americans, even if the "enemy" is himself American or one of our few remaining allies.

Now comes news, via the NY Times, that the Defense Dept has also changed their internal regulations on wiretapping Americans, from certification from the Attorney General "issued under the authority of" FISA (Foreign Intelligance Surveillance Act), to "upon attorney general authorization."

This may not seem like much of a difference, but the ten deleted words now leave the DoD free to wiretap Americans without any judicial oversight whatsoever... not even the meagre oversight "provided" by the FISA court (which is, in effect, a Court of Star Chamber for the administration).

Based on the news recently, it appears the administration is concentrating its "homeland security" efforts on building power for the "unitary executive", rather than on the common good.

No one will argue the necessity of properly securing our nation, protecting our citizens and critical infrastructure, and preventing terrorist acts (and, ideally, eliminating the terrorists themselves). I've been in law enforcement and security for the past thirty years; you'll get no argument from me (or any other security professional) that we have to tighten things up, for our own protection.

BUT -- and this is a big "but" -- we cannot do so at the cost of those freedoms which made America, America.

Now that Democrats once again have a say in the workings of government, it is critical that we rein in the abuses of freedom inflicted under the guise of "homeland security." The institutionalized fascism that is the current administration must be brought to heel.

In addition to all the other goals for the 110th Congress, we must urge our Representatives (and Senators) to increase the actual security of our nation -- by hardening or removing targets, by protecting water and food supplies, by strengthening inspections of cargo containers entering our ports -- and at the same time reduce the suppression of honest dissent and the oppression of the American people under spurious claims of "executive privilege", "national security", "homeland security" and "the war on terror."

I hope to be able to present information on "the state of homeland security" -- both as it is and as it should be -- along with how our elected officials plan to balance homeland security and personal freedoms.

Pet Blogging Update

Yeah, I know, it's been months since we've done any pet-blogging here at 618Rants...

First and foremost, our condolences go out to Kevin Drum, formerly of CalPundit and now of Washington Monthly's Political Animal, on the loss of his cat, Jasmine, who died on January 4th. From what I've seen around the tubes, Jasmine pretty much started the whole cat-blogging genre.

On the local scene, I woke up the other day and looked down the bed at the Labrador and both cats. It wasn't until I was in the shower that a thought struck me: we only have one cat. Got out of the shower, dried off, went into the bedroom and counted the cats again: one, two. Woke up the lovely yet talented Mrs 618 and asked her how many cats we had.

"One, you jerk, you know that. Go away and let me sleep."

I asked her to count, and she came up with... two.

Turns out the second cat was Sadie, who (allegedly) lives next door. We figure she snuck in underneath Emily before we went to bed. Sadie, who certainly knows a sucker for a fuzzy face, is wildly enamored of the lovely yet talented Mrs 618 (much as I am, too, of course) and sneaks in whenever she can for a quick cuddle.

I attempted to pick Sadie up to put her back outside, but she utilized a cat's mystical ability to increase her weight from her normal 10 pounds, to slightly more than that of a fully-loaded Boeing 747.

I decided to let her sleep.

When I got home that evening, I got yet another surprise. Our cat Joey, and Sadie were both on the porch. Along with Mr. Bailey, a feral who's trying to "de-feralize" himself by moving in with us, Sadie's brother, and two other short-hair Maine coons.

Six cats. All similar in appearance. All trying to get into the house.

I expect to see myself on "Animal Cops Detroit" one of these days.

Flame: bush Shows No Empathy, Compassion, Understanding

Flame has an excellent post up at Blondesense, lambasting BlunderBoy preznit, and coming up with one of the best descriptions yet of LordGodKing Dick-n-george's approach to reality:

He has show no empathy towards the sacrifice of our sons and daughters in the armed services, he has no compassion or understanding towards the families and lives that they left behind. He gives wounded soldiers that oh so vacant stare and arrogant smirk, he doesn't even bother to remember the names of the family members of the fallen (and its not like he agrees to meet with a whole lot of them, really, how hard is it to remember the woman's name? Don't call her 'Mom' - she's not your mother, her child is dead thanks to your effing stupidity).

Of course bush has shown no empathy, compassion, or understanding. He has no concept of what they are. The "oh so vacant stare and arrogant smirk" are his entire existence.

He is simply being what he has ALWAYS been. That snotty, spoiled rich kid frat boy who always had Daddy and Daddy's money to bail him out.

Yup, that is george w bush, The Decider, to a "T".

And you wondered why I keep hitting BlondeSense? It's because of pieces like this.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

This Date in Fire History - Jan 11, 12, 13

Jan. 11: The second devastating fire in 24 years ripped through Savannah, GA, destroying 463 houses in about 8 hours (the first fire, in 1796, destroyed 2/3 of the city). The city virtually ceased to exist, according to The fire started in a livery stable and spread quickly, due to a months-long drought, the explosion of stored gunpowder, and the wooden structures prevalent in the city. From the Savannah-online article:

The bright orange flames, set against the black night, would have been a beautiful sight if not for the misery and destruction they created.

The fire and a subsequent yellow fever outbreak had claimed 695 lives by the end of the year.

One of the major changes to come from the fire was the establishment of new fire companies and the purchase of firefighting equipment. Two of the companies – the Union Ax and Fire Co and the Franklin Fire Engine and Hose Co – were formed by 75 “free men of color,” making them probably among the earliest black fire brigades. The first primarily white fire companies weren’t formed until 1845.

After a reorganization in 1826, the firefighters were paid a stipend of “121 cents per hour,” an unheard-of amount for blacks in those days.

Jan. 12: A little more than four years after the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago killed 602, another fire claimed 170 at the Rhodes Opera House in Boyertown, PA.

Because of Boyertown’s size, this fire had a much greater impact on its community than the Cocoanut Grove or Iroquois fires had on their respective cities.

According to an analysis by Arup Fire for the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, some of the factors contributing to the death toll were locked exits, flammable interior finishes, and “crowd crush” or panic… some of the same factors that contributed to the deaths in the 2003 fire at The Station Night Club. In the ten largest loss-of-live fires in theatres, stretching from 1811 to 2003, all of them – every one of them – involved flammable interior finishes. Other sobering findings:

  • Eight of the ten involved blocked or hidden fire exits
  • Five had locked exits
  • Seven had insufficient exit capacity
  • Seven involved panicked crowds
  • Three – including the Station – had exits doors opening into the building – against the flow of exiting persons.

Jan. 13: A coal mine fire in Wilburton, OK, killed 91 in 1926. According to one account, one cemetery had at least 50 open graves one Saturday, awaiting those to be interred. One survivor, “Sam”, a mule, was finally rescued after 168 hours in the shaft.

Zero Tolerance: Essay by Randy Cassingham

I have mentioned Randy Cassingham and his publications (This Is True, which deals with news of the bizarre, and The True Stella Awards, which deals with frivolous/wacky/stupid/insane lawsuits) a couple of times in the past, once with his reaction to PETA's having dumped euthanized animals in private dumpsters, and once (in passing) in commenting on two lawsuits involving McDonalds.

The current issue of This Is True (dated 7 January, 2007) returns Cassingham to one of his pet peeves, "zero-tolerance" polices, primarily in schools.

Zero-tolerance (or ZT, for short) policies are absolute, iron-clad, no-excuses-accepted rules adopted -- theoretically -- to provide safe, non-discriminatory educational opportunities for our children. Sounds like a good idea, right?


The problem is that there is no room for judgment, discretion, or even common sense. Sometimes, there isn't even room for well-settled legal precedents.

Cassingham discusses four separate and distinct "zero-tolerance" cases, and has an essay at the end, explaining his take on the matter.

Mr. Cassingham has graciously allowed me to reprint the cases and his essay. In his email granting me permission, he mentioned he usually does not grant reprint permission for such a large portion of his newletter; I am hoping he did in this case because of the serious nature of ZT policies, and their implications for the future.

My commentary follows Cassingham's material. Any formatting errors are mine.

The following material is copyright 2007 by Randy Cassingham, reprinted with permission.

DOG GONE IT: John Cave, 14, is deaf, but it doesn't keep him from going to public school. He even has a new specially trained assistance dog to help him. But that's the trouble: the W. Tresper Clarke High School in Westbury, Long Island, N.Y., says the boy "doesn't need the dog" at school and, when the boy brought the dog anyway, school officials called the police. Responding officers refused to arrest the boy after confirming state law says public facilities cannot bar disabled people from having service dogs. Still, principal Timothy Voels refuses to let Cave bring the dog on school grounds if he has the dog with him, closing the door when he arrives. "All I wanted to do was give my son one more step toward independence," says John's mother, Nancy. (New York Newsday) ...There's your mistake, Nancy: Zero Tolerance- subscribing school officials don't want kids to be independent, since that would give them an advantage.

ZT TOO: Ryan Morgan, 13, heard a rumor that there was a gun in the boys' restroom at Troy Middle School in Joliet, Ill. He looked and found a pellet gun in the trash can; he pulled it out and took it to the vice principal. The school's reaction to his heroic act? It suspended him. When his parents complained, the school board cut the boy a deal -- instead of expelling him, they ordering that he be home schooled. "I think the decision wasn't the best decision," Ryan said, adding he thought he did "the right thing." (Joliet Herald News) ...Zero tolerance isn't about the right thing, it's about not having to think.

[Unrelated advertisement removed]

ZT III: The La Vega Independent School District in Bellmead, Texas, suspended a student for "inappropriate physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment." Sounds serious, but what did the student do? He hugged a teacher's aide, and during the hug his face was pressed into her breasts. The student was 4 years old at the time. The boy's father, DaMarcus Blackwell, went to the media, getting worldwide press coverage. In response, the school dropped the sexual contact references from the unnamed boy's file, amending the complaint to "inappropriate physical contact." The pre-kindergarten boy, now 5, has been moved to a different classroom at his parents' request, and the parents have filed a "level 2" complaint with the district to clear the boy's record completely. (Waco Tribune-Herald) ..."Zero" tolerance plus enough media attention equals "some" tolerance.

ZT FOR PEE PEE: After a confrontation with a 12-year-old at Danville (Penn.) Middle School, teachers summoned the principal. The principal "frightened" the girl, her parents said -- and she wet her pants. The unnamed girl is a retarded special education student. Her parents say she has never become violent, and has wet herself before when confronted by the principal. Still, this time principal Kevin Duckworth called the police and insisted they charge her with disorderly conduct. Embarrassed officers told her parents they could "probably" avoid a fine by having the girl perform community service. (AP) ...Her parents have already performed a community service -- by taking the story to newspapers.

[Unrelated headline removed]

THINK THE LEAD STORY IS an outrage? (Well, yeah, I know: they're ALL an outrage!) But here the school seems to think they're above clear-cut law, too. Sure enough, the school is NOT backing down. You'd think the principal's superior would step in and overrule, but district superintendent Robert Dillon actually backs the principal! He says the district "has taken the appropriate steps to evaluate this issue and has determined that the student does not need the service dog to access the district's programs" -- no matter what state and federal law says. The dog presents a "safety" issue, he claims, because of "allergy considerations" and "problems in navigating class and staff flow in the hallways and stairwells". So what's next? According to an update in Newsday, the New York State Division of Human Rights has started an investigation -- the first time in over a decade that the agency has instigated its own investigation without receiving a complaint first. A spokeswoman explained that just from the press coverage, it seemed obvious there was a violation of the law going on. Well, yeah. Certainly this isn't the first ZT case where officious officials don't just bluster, but even knowingly violated clear-cut law. I mean really: obvious discrimination against a retarded child?! And they think that this is OK, after years of VERY clear precedent in criminal and civil law that it's not? Clearly not, but we need to ensure they hear about it, loud and clear.

So what will happen? First, ZT will continue to get worse until schools get the message loudly and clearly that we won't let them get away with it. How does that happen? "By being fired" would be a great start, but as we see above, even their supervisors think ZT is a great thing. So then what? I'm finally starting to see a real backlash with not only lawsuits being filed (with a couple of examples reported on in this week's Premium edition), but WON by students. Sometimes it's just principle involved: demands by students to be reinstated to school. Other times the schools are paying *significant* monetary damages. It absolutely SUCKS that taxpayers have to pay out for the OBVIOUS mistakes of school officials, but if that's what it takes to get the message across, then that's what it takes.

But that's only schools. The Premium edition had a couple of non-school ZT stories. It's to be expected: when kids raised in a ZT environment grow up and go out in the world, they do what's so deeply ingrained in them at school: there is no gray, there's only black and white -- and boy, is it easy to get to the "black" side! When a photograph of a gun is thought to be the SAME THING as a gun, and punished accordingly, it can only lead to trouble. (Same thing? May as well bring a real gun, then!)

So yes, the problem will continue to get worse until there's a backlash not only against schools, but other institutions that think ZT is a good idea. Lawsuits against schools have started, and it's about time. Lawsuits against other institutions will surely follow.

Again, as I've explained on -- my still-needs-to-be-updated ZT page -- I'm NOT advocating tolerance for REAL transgressions. Kids who actually sexually harass other students (and you can be sure that does happen) SHOULD get real punishment. But a 4-year-old pressing his head on an aide's boobies during a hug IS NOT sexual harassment, and how does anyone think it's OK to punish such a young child for that? And there are plenty of other outrageous examples on my ZT page -- and in TRUE's archives. This MUST stop; we're destroying our children -- the next generation of teachers, cops, and judges.

Comments? See (Added attraction: the copy posted there includes useful LINKS, including to the two updates in Newsday.)

[End reprinted material]

Andrew618's Commentary:

I second Cassingham's closing comment [emphasis added]:
This MUST stop; we're destroying our children -- the next generation of teachers, cops, and judges.

...and Presidents.

Cassingham has commented on ZT many times over the years, and has devoted a separate web page to ZT policies (link above).

As a former police officer and EMT, I can understand the motivation behind ZT policies in general - you should never drive drunk, you should never kill another human being, etc -- but, like Cassingham, I can also point out the absurdities that generally accompany ZT, especially in schools.

While Cassingham doesn't mention one aspect of the first case, I am sure his readers will: the implied violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the school's philosophy, since a deaf student may not bring a guide dog, neither would a blind student be allowed to bring his guide dog, nor an epileptic a seizure-sensing dog.

In its FAQ page for the ADA, the US Department of Justice has these comments [emphasis added]:

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all programs, activities, and services of public entities. It applies to all State and local governments, their departments and agencies, and any other instrumentalities or special purpose districts of State or local governments. [...]

A state or local government must eliminate any eligibility criteria for participation in programs, activities, and services that screen out or tend to screen out persons with disabilities, unless it can establish that the requirements are necessary for the provision of the service, program, or activity. The State or local government may, however, adopt legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation if they are based on real risks, not on stereotypes or generalizations about individuals with disabilities. Finally, a public entity must reasonably modify its policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination. If the public entity can demonstrate that a particular modification would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program, or activity, it is not required to make that modification.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has this on their web page:

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which took effect July 26, 1992, prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. An individual with a disability is a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.
Granted, the EEOC is concerned with employment issues, not public schools, but the definitions of disabilities are consistent with those listed in virtually ADA reference.

Obviously, depriving a deaf person -- especially a child -- of a highly-trained guide dog would "substantially [limit] one or more major life activities." It could also expose the child to a substantial risk of death or injury in the event the school had to be evacuated.

It's been decided time after time that schools -- especially public schools -- are, in fact, subject to the requirements of the ADA.

The same "zero-tolerance" philosophy was applied to drug laws thirty years ago, with New York State being the most notorious. We've seen how well that works: we now have horrifically overcrowded jails and prisons, with many of the inmates being convicted under zero-tolerance laws of possession of such small amounts as to be ludicrous. We've also had situations where someone holding a relatively small amount of drugs shot at cops to avoid long prison terms for "personal use" quantities. We have people doing life in prison under "three strikes" laws... when the third felony was shoplifting food for the family.

Unfortunately, the real world is not "black and white", as some would have us believe; there are always shades of gray.

Cassingham, in his various publications, does an excellent job, week after week, bringing these cases to light. If you do not read his newsletters, you should. There are free editions and "premium" editions (more stories, no advertisements); if at all possible, you should subscribe to the Premium editions (mea culpa, I have yet to do so myself...). There's something for just about everyone. I hope he doesn't mind my listing his various sites [from his email signature]...
Plus, as mentioned above, he has a blog:

If you decide to subscribe to his newsletters, please enter "" in the "How did you hear of us" box. Not that I get a commission or anything; I'm just hoping all my readers become his readers too!

Again, I would like to thank Mr. Cassingham for allowing me to reprint his material.

A propos of absolutely nothing, Cassingham mentioned a while back that he was in the process of recertifying as a paramedic. He's also a former Search and Rescue Team member, so wish him luck and safety.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Had Better Luck Than Atrios!

When Blue Girl invited me to post at WTWC and I went to sign in, Blogger presented me with an (undeclinable) "opportunity" to transfer my blog to the "new and improved*" Blogger. Since I didn't have a choice, I did it.

To my surprise, Blogger didn't eat my blog. Unlike Atrios, I didn't get Bloggered, I didn't have to start a temporary blog till Blogger regurgitated my "real" one. Nothing.

It went smoothly.

*In an article entitled "Cliches To Avoid Like The Plague", CSO Magazine has this to say about "new and improved":

These words are actually contradictory. Is it new? Or is it old but improved? But you used three words instead of one. Who can argue with that?

Who'dathunk you could find a quote like that at a magazine for Chief Security Officers?

Too Shameful For Words

Via a newsletter from FireRescue1, this shameful display of money-grubbing profiteering at the expense of others:

Health insurers in California refuse to sell individual coverage to people simply because of their occupations or use of certain medicines, according to documents obtained by The Times.

Entire categories of workers — including roofers, pro athletes, dockworkers, migrant workers and firefighters — are turned down for insurance even if they are in good health and can afford coverage, according to the confidential underwriting guidelines of four health plans.

Although Blue Cross of California, the state's top seller of individual policies, does not exclude applicants based on occupation, three others do: Blue Shield of California, PacifiCare Health Systems Inc. and Health Net Inc. Actuarially speaking, they say, certain workers pose too big a risk.

That any insuror, anywhere, could consider refusing coverage to firefighters is an insult to those brave men and women.

Maybe the firefighters should deny coverage to the insurance companies.

I knew insurance companies were uncaring, callous, shallow money-grubbing subhumans, but I didn't think they were this bad.

Blue Shield, PacifiCare and HealthNet should be ashamed of themselves.

Hell, they should be stripped of their licenses. The Governator, who arguably was a "pro athlete" during his body-building days, should open a big ole can of WhupAss on them.

Michigan's Congress-Critters

Cross-posted from "Watching Those We Chose"...

I figured the first thing I should do is compile a list of those whom I will be watching. Surprise!... I wasn't as up on Michigan politicos as I thought. Yes, I knew both Senators -- Stabenow and Levin -- were Democrats, and I knew the Representatives from the more urban areas around Detroit tended to be Democrats, while those outside of the Detroit Metro area tended to be Republicans.

Here are a few of the surprises I got when I checked their official biographies [all emphasis added]:

Peter Hoekstra (2nd district, R): "He then served a key role in the development of the Contract with America, which was instrumental in gaining a Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years." Great, the guy was influential in the Contract ON America. He'll bear watching.

Dave Camp (4th District, R): "Camp managed the successful campaign of Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (IL-16) to become Speaker of the House." Far-friggin'-out... this was one of the guys responsible for Fat-boy. Another one who needs to be kept under surveillance.

Mike Rogers (8th District, R): "Mike’s expertise was sought out during development of the USA PATRIOT Act, which gives law enforcement the tools necessary for tracking terrorists with today’s technology. Mike’s expertise proved invaluable in understanding how wiretaps are obtained and used, the complex checks and balances that prevent abuse of wire taps, and why the rules based on 1970s technology were no longer applicable in the day of cell phones and the Internet." Magnificent... this guy helped george w. bush relegate the entire Bill of Rights to the ashbin of history. Of course, he's a former "Feeb", or FBI agent. There will probably be a lot of confusion between this Mike Rogers, and Rep Mike Rogers, republican of Alabama.

Joe Knollenberg (9th District, R): "Knollenberg has used his position on the Appropriations Committee to champion issues such as [...] reform of the EPA[...]" We all know what that means - he wants to aboloish it. Don't believe me? Here's proof: "As Vice President Dick Cheney noted in August 2002, 'Both Republicans and Democrats respect his diligence, his viability, his good judgment.'" If Bigus Dickus likes him... I don't.

Candice Miller (10th District, R): " [Miller] will make sure the Federal government is fostering economic expansion and opportunism, and not hindering it through burdensome regulation." Burdensome regulations like the Clean Air Act, OSHA, and all those pesky Wage-Hour rules.

One of the Democrats has me a bit suspicious, too, although I have no evidence other than her relationship to a well-known local politician (of course, lack of evidence doesn't bother the administration, so why should it bother me?). I am referring to Carolyn Kilpatrick (13th District, D), whose son is Detroit's mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Mayor Kilpatrick has garnered a lot of press recently, and not much of it has been good: with his city virtually bankrupt -- laying off cops, firemen, and teachers -- he tried to lease a Lincoln Navigator on the city's nickle for his wife. There were also allegations of house parties getting out of hand (hookers, maybe some gunplay, etc).

Overall, we have 9 Republican Representatives and 6 Democrats; both Senators (as I mentioned earlier) are Democrats. [Useless trivia: Senator Carl Levin and Representative Sander Levin are brothers; either one has more common sense in his little toe than all the bush brothers combined].

I can see much more research is called for, and I'll be doing that over the next few days. Hopefully, by the time I'm finished, I'll be able to start listing committee assignments, which haven't been finalized yet.

As an aside, I may also post occasionally on Maine politicians (I used to live there). Maine's Senators (Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins) are both Republicans, with undeserved reputations for "standing up" to george w. bush; they make "talk the talk", but when it's time to "walk the walk," they're reliably Republican, toeing the party line.

The two Representatives, however, are both Democrats, and feisty ones at that. Tom Allen (1st District, D) has this up on his Website: "[...] the rule of King PhRMA will end when the House, at long last, votes on legislation requiring the federal government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices with manufacturers." In the interest of full disclosure, I have met Tom Allen, and I think he is one hell of a man.

Allen's "partner in crime", Mike Michaud, went through a bruising campaign, being mercilessly smeared by his Republican (of course) opponent. He now has the "First 100 hours" clock on his Website.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

This Date in Fire History - Jan 8, 9, 10

Okay, so maybe I've bitten off a little more than I thought with this project. It certainly doesn't help that the sprawling and luxurious "Chez 618" is temporarily restricted to (ulp) dial-up Internet access, nor that I am trying to start a side business. It also doesn't help that for many of the fires shown on the National Fire Protection Association's list of "Key Dates in Fire History", there isn't much information available on line.

As a result, I think I'm going to scale this project back a bit, and not go nuts looking for information that just plain can't be found. On the truly major fires -- the Meridian Plazas, the DuPonts, the MGM Grands -- I'll be able to put up reasonably comprehensive posts.

On the rest of them, it will probably just be a line or two.

This may look like I'm slighting the older or lesser-known fires, but I'm really not. I have neither the time nor resources to delve as deeply into some of these fires as I may want, but keeping them alive in our collective memory is still memorializing those whose lives were affected (or ended) by them.

Jan. 8: M/V Erling Jarl passenger ship fire kills 14, Bodo, Norway, 1958. Not surprisingly, the only information I could find was in Norwegian. Which I don't speak, read, or understand.

Jan. 9: Laurier Palace movie theater fire kills 78, Montreal (QB), 1927. Most of the victims were children, which resulted in minors under the age of 16 being banned from Quebec theatres for years; the prohibition was lifted in 1961. On this one, the info is in French... but here's a photo showing the devastation left behind.

Laurier Palace, 1927

Jan. 10: Pathfinder Hotel fire kills 20, Fremont (NE), 1976. From Wikipedia:

More recently, on January 10, 1976, in downtown Fremont, the Pathfinder Hotel exploded due to a natural gas leak in the basement. At the time the hotel was being used as a nursing home. This explosion shattered windows around the city and the ensuing fire killed 18 people and destroyed most of the city block which the hotel sat on.

Say Hello To: Watching Those We Chose*

Blue Girl has had yet another great idea: she recently launched a second blog, called "Watching Those We Chose." The basic idea -- as I understand it -- is to make sure the democrats don't falter, slack, or otherwise fail to represent us fully, properly, and competently.

She very graciously asked me to participate, with my emphasis being on Homeland Security issues and the Michigan Congressional delegation.

WTWC is an excellent idea, and I urge everyone to stop by and check it out.

*Yes, that is another of Skippy's coinages, as far as I know...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hannity, bush, and Blue Girl

Blue Girl, Red State has a piece up about Hannity's new "feature", designating someone as "an enemy of the state". She has this to say:

You don't go around branding your fellow Americans as guilty of treason. This is the kind of thing that emboldens the Eric Rudolph's and the Tim McVeigh's and the zealots who gun down doctors for providing abortions. It incites the unstable to commit terrorism against their fellow Americans.

Much as I hate to say this, she's wrong. "[B]randing your fellow Americans as guilty of treason" is exactly what the Rethuglicans do, and it's what they do best. For the last six years, we've been treated to countless reiterations of "george w bush knows what's best, and if y'all don't worship him, y'all are supportin' the terrists", and variations on the theme.

Your average bush supporter meets one or more of the following qualifications:
  • The IQ of a rutabaga
  • More toes than teeth (and he's managed to stick his foot under the mower once or twice)
  • White supremacist neo-Nazi
  • Convicted felon
  • Mouth-breathin', Bible-thumpin', hooker-humpin', sister-marryin', rifle-rack-in-the-pickmup neocon wingnut idiot

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

george w. bush and his supporters are the most disgusting, odious creatures ever to crawl from under a rock.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Billmon Hanging It Up?

Well, I think I found out what happened to Billmon... according to Digby, Billmon seems to have hung it up for good. Like Digby -- and many, many others -- I'm gonna miss him.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

This Date in Fire History - Jan 5, 6, and 7

Sorry for the light posting... still dealing with a multitude of technological challenges at 618Rants World HQ: had to locate a replacement AC adapter for the laptop (thank you, Radio Shack), still trying to figure out enough Linux to get Mrs 618's computer working (hey, I learned in the days of DOS 3.3), and/or trying to get the old Windows box (which runs Win98) fired up.


Jan 5: A fire at a Texaco plant in Erath, LA, caused $51 million in damages (loss adjusted to 2003 dollars by NFPA). Another one where I couldn't find too much info. On the other hand, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out a fire at a facility refining petroleum-based products has the potential to get real bad, real fast. At least no one was killed.

Jan 6: A fire at the Thomas Hotel in San Francisco killed 20 in 1961. While researching this one, I ran across a page that lists many of the significant hotel/motel fires around the world. In my piece on the Dupont Plaza Hotel fire, I listed some tips from a USA Today article on a hotel fire in NYC; Today, I found a memo from the Australian FAA with fire safety tips to flight attendants at Qantas (as an aside, Qantas has long been known as the only major airline that has never had a fatal crash; these folks take safety real seriously)(1). The points made bear repeating:

  • Fire Escape Plan Once you know your room, check all the exists available on the floor.
  • Fire Alarm Installations Ensure you know were the fire alarm installations on your floor are.
  • Fire Extinguisher/Fire Hose Reel Make sure you know the location of that type of equipment, and how to access and operate it.
  • Evacuate immediately and close all doors behind you. Leave the building immediately via the exit staircase.
  • Fire Alarm If you hear the fire alarm, and you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately via the nearest exit staircase.
  • Do not try to take your personal effects with you or attempt to pack your things.
  • Do not use the elevators for evacuation.
  • If you are caught in your room, inform the hotel telephone operator, go to the window and signal people below.
  • Should you encounter thick smoke entering your room, take wet towels or sheets and put them against the door to prevent smoke entering your room.
  • Should you encounter thick smoke whilst trying to leave, get on to the floor and crawl to escape.
  • Do not jump out of the building (higher floors) as rescue might not be far away.

Jan 7: A 1950 fire at the Mercy Hospital in Davenport, IA, killed 41. I couldn't locate too much on this one either (doing research while on dial-up really sucks), but I can make a few guesses, based on other health-care facility fires through the years:
  • Lack of automatic sprinklers: as I have noted before, virtually every fire investigator, fire protection engineer, and safety professional points out that fire sprinklers are the most cost-effective fire protection mechanism there is.
  • Perhaps a delayed response, while hospital staff attempted to extinguish the fire themselves; as noted with the DuPont Plaza, a delay can be -- and often is -- fatal.
  • Involvement of piped oxygen and other medical gases: depending on the cause and origin of the fire -- and again, I was unable to find the info -- medical gases may have played a role. Oxygen is incredibly flammable, which is one reason why smoking hasn't been permitted in patient rooms for years. On a related note...
  • Smoking in a patient room: this has caused numerous health-care facility fires, although usually in nursing homes, where the residents try to sneak a smoke indoors now and then.
(1) For a somewhat light-hearted view of the maintenance issues that Qantas mechanics have dealt with, see here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Whazzup With Billmon?

The last week or so, every time I try to get to the Whiskey Bar, I get this:

Site Temporarily Unavailable

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Please contact the webmaster/ tech support immediately to have them rectify this.

It's not like he got screwed by Blogger moving him to the "new and (un)improved" Blogger.

Great Pic, Great Piece

Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake this morning. Highlight:

Did I miss an announcement for the Great Republican Whine-Off or something? The image of Roy Blunt standing in front of a microphone with a straight face and faking some sort of phony outrage for the cameras about procedures that he, himself, had a hand in putting into writing in the Congress when Newt Gingrich got his oily hands on the power reins? Chutzpah doesn't even come close as a descriptor.

I apologize for swiping her image, but it was waaaaaaay too good to pass up...

More bush "Signing Statement" Bush*t

Via Eschaton, this from the NY Daily News (which is far-enough right for their catch of this to be surprising): [emphasis added]

President [bush] has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. [bush] then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Why am I not surprised that george w. bush is trying once again to expand his preznidential powers into the realm of "President for Life" Papa Doc Duvalier?

Other than leaving Bigus Dickus in charge, someone remind me again why we shouldn't impeach this God-awful rolling after-birth of a Bohemian boil-sucker? (And my apologies to Bohemian boil-suckers, who are probably no more pleased with bush than I am...)

WARNING - Spew Alert

The Dark Wraith, whose work should be read and appreciated by all, posted a new graphic last week.

It is timely, appropriate, and worthy.

Do not -- I repeat, DO NOT -- view it with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or any other material, liquid or solid, in your mouth.

Cause whatever's in your mouth will wind up all over your keyboard and monitor.

You have been warned.

Image courtesy of The Dark Wraith;

used by permission

We should be so lucky.

Public Health, Horses, and Money

When discussing public health, one generally tends to think solely in terms of human health: bird flu, E. coli in spinach, and so on. In a story from last week (yeah, I'm playing catch-up here), ESPN reported about three thoroughbred racetracks near near San Francisco being quarantined for equine herpes virus.

Now, as silly as this may seem, it does have potentially severe implications, not only for the local economy, but even maybe nationally.

Obviously, with two of the tracks being closed (there is apparently racing at one), the track employees are on at least short-term lay-off, with no income. Additionally, there is no wagering taking place, and no racegoers heading out for a cold one after the races, affecting the surrounding communities.

Should the virus manage to spread outside the quarantined area, additional tracks could be forced to close, further extending the economic impact.

To put this in some sort of perspective, in 2005, the State of Ohio brought in $14.3 million in tax revenues, on total wagering of $474 million. And that's just Ohio.

Some other fast figures:

That's some serious buckage potentially at risk.

Luggage in the Dumpster - Follow-Up

Back on December 28, I wrote about lost luggage being found in a Houston dumpster. I didn't see it until today, but on Jan 2, USA Today reported that five employees of a baggage-handling contractor were arrested in the case. According to the article, the five men worked for Menzies Aviation Group. All told, 158 pieces of luggage were stolen: the 68 in the pet store dumpster, and an additional 90 that were recovered at two other locations. Apparently, all the bags had been rifled for valuables. Police were working with the various airlines involved to try to identify the bags' owners and figure out what had been stolen.

This Date in Fire History - Jan 4

The year was 1933, and luxury ocean travel was still popular among the well-to-do (the Great Depression had not yet spread world-wide). The Normandie and the Ile de France were two of the better-known luxury liners. A third was the L'Atlantique, built in the same shipyard as the Ile, and sharing some of the same interior design team as both the Ile and the Normandie.

L'Atlantique was commissioned for the "southern routes", Europe to South America. Her maiden voyage, from Bordeaux, France to Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires, began on September 29, 1930.

"The Classic Liners of Long Ago" has some pictures of the ship and despite the article's claim that "it looked clumsy", that was only on the outside; the interior design looked wonderful.

In January of 1933, the ship was being moved from Bordeaux to Le Havre for refitting, when it caught fire in the English Channel, possibly from the buildup of static electricity in the hull and wiring of the ship, although sabotage was also suspected. There was a crew of 200 aboard, even though there were no passengers.

Crewmembers fought the fire, which consumed a section of first class cabins before abandoning ship. The still-burning hulk was towed to Cherbourg, where the fire was finally extinguished on January 8.

The number of fatalities -- all crew members -- seems to be in dispute: The New York Times, in an article dated January 5, 1933, said, "was feared that a score of the more than 200 men of the crew who were aboard drowned or perished" [via the "Classic Liners" site; no link to the Times article, as it is, of course, behind that blasted firewall]. Wikipedia claims nine crewmen died, while NFPA, in their "key dates" list (which is where I draw the topics for these posts), says 18 perished.

To me, it has always seemed ironic that fire is the most-feared shipboard emergency. My father was in the Merchant Marine during World War II, and he told me of the fire fighting training all sailors went through. It makes sense, however: should a shipboard fire get out of control (and all fires have that potential), there is no place to go, no place to run, no place where you would be safe.

One final irony: the Normandie (renamed the USS Lafayette, after being seized by the United States for conversion into a troopship) also met her demise by fire, in New York Harbor on February 9, 1942. Not surprisingly, the Normandie/Lafayette will be the post for that date.

Coal Mine Safety Back in the News

A few days ago, I wrote about the Lick Branch coal mine disasters that claimed a total of 116 lives. Today, we see, via the Houston Chronicle, that things haven't changed all that much in the year since the Sago mine disaster:
There are still no rescue chambers or wireless tracking and communications equipment in the country's 606 underground coal mines, and it's unlikely there will be until federal requirements kick in more than two years from now. Hundreds of emergency air packs that are to be stored underground — though currently required by law — are on backorder and will take months to deliver.

As long as the bush administration continues sucking up to big business at the expense of the working man, things aren't going to change.

And people will continue to die needlessly.

Homeland Security: Emergency Communications Ineffective*

Update: Edited to add links to the report and other useful information at the end of the piece.

Blue Girl in a Red State brought an article to my attention, one that I had meant to write about yesterday (before I got sidetracked at work). According to an article from Associated Press, only 6 of 75 cities "won the highest grades for their emergency agencies' ability to communicate during a disaster, five years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." Blue Girl has had some personal experiences with lack of interoperability, and some worthwhile suggestions for improvement.

While my experiences don't exactly parallel hers, I have dealt with interoperability issues as well, although with somewhat happier outcomes. One police department I worked for was supposed to work hand-in-hand with two others in the jurisdiction; the only way we could communicate "car-to-car", however, was for each agency to listen to the others on their frequencies (using scanners) and reply on our own. This process, called "cross-channeling" (or at least that's what we called it 30 years ago) was cumbersome, inefficient, and... oh, yeah, illegal, at least according to the FCC.

New York City has progressed significantly since the days of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, by installing radio repeaters in many of the city's skyscrapers, increasing cross-training between NYPD, FDNY, the Port Authority, and other emergency agencies. I think that consolidating the three main police dpeartments in NYC -- NYPD, Transit, and Housing -- also helped, by eliminating separate command-and-control structures.

There's still a lot of room for improvement, though. Some of it is technological in nature, as Blue Girl points out. Some is due to the very nature of emergency services (for instance, the on-going dispute between NYPD and FDNY over who has final incident command authority; in most communities, for example, the fire department is in charge of overall response, while the PD is the lead agency for criminal investigation aspects, a concept known as "unified command"). Some is due to the changing nature of the threats we face today, as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago (although back in the 60's, we did have the Weathermen blowing things up).

Some aspects of interoperability are easy to change: many counties -- and even some states -- have established county- or state-wide radio frequencies for emergency use. Some, like Connecticut's "state hotline", are base-to-base, while others have the frequency available for car-to-car use (Connecticut was phasing in a state-wide car-to-car channel when I left civil service).

One recurring problem, however, is that often these frequencies are restricted, either to just the cops, or, at best, PD, FD, and EMS, with little or no thought for other agencies that have to respond in an emergency.

Consider a hypothetical emergency, say, a Category 5 hurricane in New Orleans. What agencies would respond? Obviously, the local and parish (county) police and fire departments, and Emergency Medical Services. Here are some others who would likely be called upon:

  • Public Works (debris removal)
  • Utilities (gas, water, and power are critical)
  • Transportation (making sure highways are clear for evacuation)
  • State Military Dept (otherwise known as National Guard, if there are any left locally)
  • Humane Society/ASPCA (animal rescue)
  • Red Cross, Salvation Army, other volunteer disaster-relief agencies and NGO's (non-governmental organizations)
  • Local, county, and state Health Departments (infection and disease control)
  • Amateur ("ham") radio operators (communications)
  • Transit Authority (buses for mass evacuation)
  • Construction contractors (heavy equipment)
  • Hotel/Motel operators (emergency housing)
  • Civil Air Patrol (airborne search operations)
  • Coast Guard Auxiliary/Power Squadron (marine search and rescue)
  • ... and probably dozens (or hundreds) of others

You think maybe it would be a really good idea if they could all communicate?

I don't have all the answers, of course. No one has all the answers. But if DHS and the emergency services community are serious about increasing interoperability, they all have to work together. They have to reach out to all agencies who could reasonably be expected to respond, to listen to those agencies, to accept their expertise in their own fields (which might well be the hardest part), and to work out acceptable compromises in order to develop a functional system.

* Yes, I swiped Blue Girl's headline.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ivan Hill Found Guilty

I've been getting a huge number of hits today, many from searches for information of Ivan Hill, the "60 Freeway Slayer" I wrote about a while back. I figured something had to be up, so I paid a fast visit to the Los Angeles Times, where I learned the illustrious gentleman had been found guilty and sentenced to death for killing six women in ten weeks in the greater LA area in late 1993 and early 1994.

Generally, I am not a great fan of the death penalty; it seems to serve no rational purpose other than revenge. Once in a while, though, I feel it is warranted: Tookie Williams (who founded the Crips street gang), bin Laden (if convicted by a court outside the US), Cheney, Rumsfeld and bush... and now Hill.

As I wrote in November, Hill had already been convicted of at least one murder prior to the Freeway slayings and had been convicted of numerous felonies in addition. In fact, Hill was still in prison when he was arrested and charged with the Freeway killings (he was about a month shy of relsease, to boot).

The brutality of his killings and his obvious inability to change his behavior lead me to believe that he is completely unredeemable. His public defender was quoted as saying, "[Hill] has shown himself to be a model prisoner. He can be safely imprisoned for the rest of his life."

Yeah, well of course he can be "safely imprisoned". There are no young, defenseless African-American women in the maximum-security wing that he can brutalize and kill. But eventually, some bunch of naive folks on a parole board might decide "he's cured" and release him ('He hasn't killed because he hasn't wanted to kill, not because there's no one for him to kill'). On the basis of past performance, within a week or two he would be killing again.

Why should we provide him with "three hots and a cot" and run the risk of more African-American women -- totally innnocent women -- falling prey to him?

The guy's bad news, and we'll all be better off without him.

Light Posting Coming Up

There will probably light posting for the next few days, as the AC adapter on my laptop bought the farm last night, I still haven't ordered a copy of XP to install on the lovely yet talents Mrs 618's machine (when I bought it, it had Linux loaded), and my old Windows box is as dead as Jeb Bush's preznidential hopes.

I saw on the news last night that when Gerald Ford's body arrived in Grand Rapids, the first people allowed in for viewing were Boy Scouts, in honor of Ford's having been an Eagle Scout. I thought that was a nice touch. Being an Eagle Scout is a very hard goal to achieve, and to have their effort rewarded this way, in honor of one of their fallen brothers, probably means a lot to these kids. george w. bush, when he dies, will probably have coke dealers, drunks, and oil execs as his first viewers.

I know everybody made fun of Ford for his stumbles, but an awful lot of them were due to trying to walk two Labradors on leashes by himself. That would topple anyone.

This Date in Fire History - Jan 3

Updated 01-03-06, to add a link to Sandford's website. If you don't read his books, you should!

1940: the world was at war yet again, and again against the Germans (the United States, still under the influence of isolationists, had not yet entered the fray). France was awaiting the shipment of 3000 Studebaker trucks to help their faltering efforts. LIFE magazine had Queen Elizabeth on the cover.

January in Minneapolis is no great joy from what I've heard. Novelist John Sandford, in his "Prey" series (which are excellent books, BTW), paints a rather bleak picture of frigid cold, howling winds, and comments -- disparingly -- about Minnesota weather compared to Russian weather.

On January 3, a fire at the Marlborough Hotel in Minneapolis killed 19.

This is another of those fires where there wasn't much info available on line, but once again, I'd be willing to bet on the factors leading to the deaths: insufficient fire exits, lack of staff training, flammable interior decorations, perhaps an open stairwell, and probably a delay in reporting the fire to the fire department.

The Minneapolis Red Cross reports that, between this fire and another at Spruce Villa Apartments, they helped 132 families. Yes, the Red Cross may have had some fumbles recently, but they are still the ones who help families displaced by fires and other disasters (along with other groups like the Salvation Army, of course).

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

This Date in Fire History - Jan 2

110 years after Cincinnati tested the first practical fire engine in 1853, a good chunk of the Terre Haute FD -- and their much more modern fire engines -- were put to the test when a fire ripped through the Home Meat Packing Company plant in Terre Haute, killing 16.

I was unable to find any info on the fire, which isn't all that surprising, but I can hazard a guess as to what caused the deaths: locked or blocked exits, and/or flammable chemicals used in the processing. This is based on my knowledge of other foord-processing plant fires, including several in the 70's and 80's that still managed to kill workers.

In many companies, there is the belief that "it can't happen here", despite the fact that food plants have a discouraging history of fatal fires.

Anhydrous ammonia, which is quite toxic, is used in commercial refrigeration units like those used in food processing plants (it's also used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, but that's for another post). In addition, the hydraulic fluids used in much of the equipment is highly flammable.

Monday, January 01, 2007

This Date in Fire History - Jan 1

Note: This got posted kinda late, as we went to visit relatives last night, and got home around 3:00. I didn't wake up till after 4:00 PM. hey, I take advantage of my days off!

January 1, 1853, Cincinnati, Ohio, must have been quite a day. The locals were treated (I presume) to the demonstration of what the NFPA described as "the world's first practical fire engine." I was unable to find a picture of the engine, but I assume (with the usual caveat) that it was horse-drawn and probably hand-operated, with the long bar on each side being pumped up and down to create pressure for the hose lines.

Obviously, there have been tremendous advances since that cold day in 1853. I doubt the firemen in those days -- pretty much all the men in town, working together to try to keep fires from spreading -- would recognize or even comprehend some of today's equipment. Crash-Fire-Rescue trucks at our airports, HazMat response vehicles, heavy rescue units, brush trucks, rescue boats, all can trace their ancestry back to that one simple engine.

Training too has seen tremendous progress, what with today's dive teams, trench rescuse teams, high-rise attack protocols, EMS, all sorts of stuff.

It's no longer a matter of simply "putting the wet stuff on the red stuff." Today's firefighters are trained in a multitude of skills that the forebears could not have dreamed of, and their equipment has had to keep up.

So while we're all watching football and nursing hangovers, say a little "thank you" to the firefighters, cops, EMS crews, the truck drivers and cabbies, the pilots and waitresses out there working their butts off for us.