Friday, December 29, 2006

Arctic Ice Shelf Collapses, Breaks Free

Hard on the heels of a recent prediction about the end of arctic ice comes news that a giant section of the Ayles Ice Shelf has broken loose.

Ice Mass Snaps Free From Canada's Arctic
Ice Shelf the Size of 11,000 Football Fields Snaps Free From Canada's Arctic, Scientists Say

TORONTO - A giant ice shelf has snapped free from an island south of the North Pole, scientists said Thursday, citing climate change as a "major" reason for the event.

The Ayles Ice Shelf all 41 square miles of it broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 500 miles south of the North Pole in the Canadian Arctic.

Warwick Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, traveled to the newly formed ice island and couldn't believe what he saw.

"This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years," Vincent said. "We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead."

The ice shelf was one of six major shelves remaining in Canada's Arctic. They are packed with ancient ice that is more than 3,000 years old. They float on the sea but are connected to land.

Some scientists say it is the largest event of its kind in Canada in 30 years and that climate change was a major element.

"It is consistent with climate change," Vincent said, adding that the remaining ice shelves are 90 percent smaller than when they were first discovered in 1906. "We aren't able to connect all of the dots ... but unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role."

. . .

[Luke Copland, head of the new global ice lab at the University of Ottawa]said the speed with which climate change has effected the ice shelves has surprised scientists.

"Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly," he said.

Derek Mueller, a polar researcher with Vincent's team, said the ice shelves get weaker and weaker as temperatures rise. He visited Ellesmere Island in 2002 and noticed that another ice shelf had cracked in half.

"We're losing our ice shelves and this a feature of the landscape that is in danger of disappearing altogether from Canada," Mueller said.

Earlier this week, President Bush's administration moved to recognize polar bears as endangered due to the extreme reduction in available ice floes where they fish.

Does anyone hear the alarm going off? It's time to wake up.


Another Botched SWAT Raid in Rotterdam

A couple of weeks ago the Rotterdam SWAT team was in the news as the subject of an excessive force lawsuit arising from a SWAT raid carried out in July 2005.

The SWAT team is back in the news this week, this time for setting fire to the suspect's home using a "flash-bang" grenade carrying out their raid.

Device usage under review
Rotterdam police, in wake of fire, may take precautionary steps
First published: Friday, December 29, 2006

ROTTERDAM -- The town police department may require having fire extinguishers close to the scene after officers used a "flash bang" device that sparked a fire when they arrested a fugitive at his home on Wednesday.

On Thursday, one expert on the devices said they can on rare ignite a blaze, so it makes sense to have extinguishers and standby fire crews as a precaution.

Fire is "always a possibility, and it's recommended that you have something to put out a fire, in case you have one," said Larry Beresnoy, executive director of the New York Tactical Officers Association who is certified in instruction for the devices that emit a loud noise and blinding burst of light. Beresnoy said they heat up to 2,700 but start to cool down in less than a second.

Rotterdam Lt. Michael Brown said the department is "evaluating our level of preparedness to bring this equipment to prevent fires in the future." Three fire extinguishers were in a van parked outside 1836 Wagner St. where the raid took place, Brown said.

So the department is reviewing whether to require having fire extinguishers "close to the scene" in the wake of an incident in which having three fire extinguishers in a van parked outside the house does not appear to have been adequate to prevent a fire. That doesn't make any sense. How much closer to the scene can you get?

After the team kicked down the front door, Higgins appeared as one of the officers was preparing to lob the device, Brown said. At that point, he said, the officer made a split-second decision to aim it into the living room to avoid a direct hit on Higgins. As a result, a couch caught fire.

Brown said another option would have been for the officer to toss it outside, but that would have put the police in peril.

"Peril"? Why? The devices are not supposed to be lethal.

"He really didn't have the opportunity to abort," said Brown. "We use this device to give ourselves an advantage, and to abort, we would have lost that advantage."

Well, except that Higgins had already 'appeared,' and no one seems to be saying that he was armed or threatening in any way. Perhaps it is not a real SWAT raid unless you get to use a flash-bang grenade. I mean, they brought it after all, so they may as well use it.

Firefighters were called and put out the blaze. Neither Higgins nor the other two people in the home were hurt.

Did the police know there were two other people in the home? If so, did they know their whereabouts at the precise moment of the raid? How did the officer lobbing the grenade not know that one of the two other people was sleeping on the couch where the grenade landed? The priority of protection at this scene appears to have been: police first, suspect second, innocent bystander/homeowners last. What's wrong with this picture?

Beresnoy said officers would not use flash bangs inside a residence if elderly people, young children or explosives the device might interact with were present.

Of course, there's no way to really know what's on the other side of the door, is there? Even criminal suspects are known to have friends and family visit, including elderly and small kids.

Higgins became a fugitive when he failed to report to his parole officer in January, said Stacy Smith of the Connecticut Department of Correction. His parole would have ended in June on a three-year sentence for felony conspiracy in 2003.

Higgins, who is being held at the Schenectady County Jail on the parole violation, will likely face additional charges for giving police a fake name on Christmas Eve when they went to the Wagner Street residence on a disturbance call, Brown said. Police also said Higgins altered an assault rifle and had vowed he wouldn't go back to jail even if it meant shooting a cop.

One of Higgins' neighbors, Dimitri Koutsopoulos, said they and his mother, Connie, met Higgins over the summer. Koutsopoulos said Higgins offered to show him a 9 mm, an AK-47 assault rifle, and sword and knife collections.

This is as close as it comes to justifying a SWAT raid on parole-jumper. On the other hand, apprehending a suspect in his home is probably the most likely scenario in which he would get to use his AK-47, swords or knives.

It is troubling to me that pretty much any crime above routine traffic violations now appears to warrant SWAT interdiction. This is only justifiable if you assume that everyone charged or arrested for a crime is guilty; otherwise, you have to somehow get comfortable with the fact that innocent people and their families will be subject to military-style raids with a very high potential to result in injury and/or death.

Obviously, we do not want to subject police to undue risk. But when police sign up to be police, they do so knowing that the job they are taking is one which involves the possibility of harm or death. In fact, police are quite proud of their sacrifice in this regard. But even the best police work will occasionally result in errors, and in the case of SWAT raids, errors can lead to grave bodily harm or death for innocent bystanders. That is an awfully high burden to ask to justify an "advantage."

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Resident Physicians Still Grinding It Out

This is encouraging:

Since 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has limited residents' hours to 80 a week and no more than 30 consecutive hours per shift.

Though ACGME claims that its rules are being obeyed by teaching hospitals and that only 2% of residents reported working more than 80 hours a week last year, others strongly disagree. In the first year since the rules took effect, 67% of interns (first-year residents) reported working more than 30-hour shifts, and 43% said they worked more than 80 hours a week, a September JAMA study found.

In other parts of the world they call this "hazing," but since this involves older physicians harshing on younger physicians it's called "training."


Friday, December 15, 2006

Family's Home Destroyed 11 Days Before Christmas

A family in Glenmont, New York lost their home and everything in it eleven days before Christmas.
Tragedy struck on Tuesday afternoon, when fire destroyed the family's home in Glenmont. Not only did they lose their possessions and Christmas presents but the family's pets were killed in the fire too.

Obviously the single mom and her four kids are grateful to all still have each other, but this fire comes after an extremely difficult year.

Packed in a small Delmar apartment with a makeshift Christmas tree and furniture donated by some friends, Elizabeth Leonardo and her four children still haven't come to grips with what happened on Tuesday afternoon.

Leonardo said, “Disbelief, total shock. You don't even begin to realize you have to move, you no longer have a home.”

I can't really imagine dealing with something like this at any time of the year, let alone the middle of winter and just a few days before Christmas.

If you would like to help out Elizabeth Leonardo and her four children, her boss has set up some ways to help: Monetary contributions can be made at any Bank of America branch c/o FOUR CHILDREN'S HOPE FUND. Account # 483004074594 . Items of any kind may be sent to: 4 Avis Drive, Latham, NY, 12110-2650.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

TSA to Peep at Airline Passengers

The Transportation Security Administration is deploying a new scanner that uses "backscatter" x-ray technology to peer through clothing. Naturally this has caused an uproar because, well, truthfully I don't know why.

Frankly, I could care less.

Search for "backscatter" images using Google or Yahoo and you will likely find the one at left.

You'll have to hunt a while for it, too. At least I did when I looked for it.

Those opposing the scanners seem to be chiefly worried about pervy TSA workers getting off on the images they see with the scanner. I guess seeing something that vaguely resembles a naked person might give you a rise. But if I were a TSA worker, looking at 4,000 images like this over a shift would make me downright nauseated. And the woman pictured here actually rates pretty well compared to most of the passengers I see when flying.

Then, you have to consider what's really in the balance here. On one hand, you have some overly prudish people worried that someone else might briefly see their corporeal outline in freakish blue and purple tones, causing at most moment or two of embarassment. On the other hand, you have a very real possibility that someone will sneak weapons on to a plane and use them to hijack the plane or blow it up entirely.

Well, I put my safety above others' embarassment. That's just how it is. And if I were embarassed about my own body, I'd put that below their safety. Alternatively, if I really minded it, I'd take the train.

By the by, this is the ONLY remotely detailed backscatter pic I could find. Try searching for "x-ray beach" images and you will discovery that the pervs aren't working for TSA, they are hanging out at the local beach or YMCA using ordinary videocameras to take voyeuristic photos of unsuspecting teens. At least the airline passengers know when they are being peeped.

This story linked at Outside the Beltway.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The End of Arctic Ice?

The Globe and Mail covers a new study predicting the end of summer ice at the north pole by 2040.
Arctic sea ice is retreating at such a rapid rate that north pole summers could be ice-free by 2040.

New research published in Tuesday's edition of Geophysical Research Letters indicates that the next few decades could produce dramatic changes that will drastically change the ecology of the far north.

Of course no one knows for sure if this is going to happen. Skeptics will readily point out that previous predictions on climate change have been inaccurate.

On the other hand, the skeptics began by saying that global warming was not really happening. Then they agreed that it was happening, but said it wasn't happening as fast as what the proponents of policy change were alleging. Now they agree that it is happening, and they also agree that it is happening as fast, if not faster, than what the proponents previously said, but, they now say, it's not really attributable to human activity. It's all part of a natural warming process that would not be slowed even if we ceased burning all forms of fossil fuel.

For my own part, I don't know if the proponents are right, I don't know if the skeptics are right, and frankly I don't really care. Let's pretend, for example, that you are driving your car down the road at 80 miles an hour. Up ahead you see two reflective dots. Some proponents in your back seat argue that the dots are a moose standing in the road. Some skeptics in the back seat theorize that it couldn't possibly be a moose, and that the most likely explanation is that it's a road sign. At this point you can (a) slow down until you figure out what the dots are; or (b) barrel on. Let's add this too: if you slow down, you will not get to where you are going quite as quickly; and if it's a moose and you don't slow down, you will crash your car and die. Let me think about that for all of .8 seconds: It's time to slow down, people.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, NASA this week announced plans for a permanent base on the Moon. Interesting thing, that. By 2060, I am guessing, it won't matter if you are a kid growing up on the Moon or on Earth, you will still have to put on a spacesuit to go outside to play.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Excessive Force Lawsuit Raises Questions

Today's Albany Times Union reports that a couple has sued the Rotterdam police for excessive force:

Plaintiffs Robert Berard and Gail Hudson contend they were awakened in the middle of the night on July 29, 2005, by police outside the couple's camper, which was parked in the driveway of 2627 Van Dyke Ave.

Officers with a police tactical unit and detectives had just searched the house where Hudson's daughter, Dina Franz, and her husband John reside. Police went to the house that night with a search warrant because, days earlier, an informant bought crack cocaine there, police said. Dina and John Franz were arrested without incident.

But then the police turned their attention to the camper.

Police contend Berard and Hudson failed to comply with their orders and appeared to be drunk and that their dog was out of control. The dog was pepper-sprayed and the couple arrested. The couple say they were roughed up and that trumped up charges were brought against them.

Certainly one can appreciate police efforts to curb drug dealing by targeting those who sell as opposed to those who buy.

There are also a number of unanswered questions that deserve considerable attention. For example:

1. How did the police read a warrant for a dwelling and surrounding grounds to include an occupied camper parked in the driveway? One of two things is in play here: either the police have a very poor fundamental concept of the 4th amendment, or, they just decided that while they were there and all dressed up they should see what else they could find. Either of these conclusions is troubling.

2. What were the circumstances that required a "tactical unit" to execute a raid in the middle of the night in the first place? Is selling crack - - in any amount - - an automatic ticket to a S.W.A.T. visit? The increasingly common use of tactical units to deal with small potatoes drug crimes has been extensively documented.

So what was really going on here? It deserves a deeper look.

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