Archive for September, 2007
30 Sep 2007

Tunneling in Paris


Generations of Yale undergraduates have defied authority by seeking adventure exploring the subterranean world of steam tunnels connecting buildings in the main portion of the campus. Who knew that Parisians pursued essentialy the same hobby?

London Times:

By day, Lazar Kunstmann is a typically avant-garde Parisian, an urbane, well-spoken video film editor who hangs out in the fashionable Latin Quarter. By night he inhabits a strange and secret world with its base in the tunnels beneath the French capital – the world of the urban explorers.

Mr Kunstmann belongs to les UX, a clandestine network that is on a mission to discover and exploit the city’s neglected underworld. The urban explorers put on film shows in underground galleries, restore medieval crypts and break into monuments after dark to organise plays and readings. In the eyes of their supporters, they are the white knights of modern culture, renovating forgotten buildings and staging artistic events beyond the reach of a stifling civil service.

The authorities view them differently: as the dark side of the City of Light – irresponsible, paranoid subversives whose actions could serve as a model for terrorists. A police unit has been trained to track les UX through the sewers, catacombs and old quarries that are their pathways under Paris. Prosecutors have been instructed to file charges whenever feasible.

The stand-off is symbolic of French society: a rigorous bureaucracy on the surface with a bizarre subculture below. …

Mr Kunstmann said that les UX had 150 or so members divided into about ten branches.One group, which is all-female, specialises in “infiltration” – getting into museums after hours, finding a way through underground electric or gas networks and shutting down alarms. Another runs an internal message system and a coded, digital radio network accessible only to members.

A third group provides a database, a fourth organises subterranean shows and a fifth takes photographs of them. Mr Kunstmann refused to talk about the other groups.

He did, however, say that Lanso was the leader of a branch called the Untergunther – the name comes from a German record whose music served as an alarm on an early mission – which specialised in restoration. This group, whose members include architects and historians, rebuilt an abandoned 100-year-old French government bunker and renovated a 12th-century crypt, he said. They claim to be motivated by a desire to preserve Paris’s heritage.

Last year the Untergunther spent months hidden in the Panthéon, the Parisian mausoleum that holds France’s greatest citizens, where they repaired a clock that had been left to rust. Slipping in at closing time every evening – French television said that they had their own set of keys – they set up a workshop hidden behind mock wooden crates at the top of the monument. The security guards never found it. The Untergunther used a professional clockmaker, Jean-Baptiste Viot, to mend the 150-year-old mechanism.

When the clock began working again, officials were horrified. The Centre for National Monuments confirmed that the clock had been repaired but said that the authority had begun legal action against the Untergunther. Under official investigation for breaking and entry, its members face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a €15,000 (£10,500) fine.

“We could go down in legal history as the first people ever to be prosecuted for repairing a clock,” said Mr Kunstmann.

Untergunter web-site featuring collected news clipping.


Hat tip to Matthew MacLean.

30 Sep 2007

Labour Plans to Cut Royal Navy in Half

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Britain’s Navy no longer rules the waves. Decades of defense cuts have reduced the once proud fleet which commanded all the world’s seas to a modest NATO auxiliary force specializing in anti-submarine warfare.

Now, the Telegraph reports that Labour intends to reduce the Navy by more than half.

Ministers have drawn up confidential proposals to slash the number of ships in the Royal Navy, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

The Ministry of Defence has produced a plan to decommission five warships from next April, which would reduce the Navy’s capability to the level where it could carry out only “one small-scale operation”.

Separate documentation from inside the department suggests that the total number of ships in the Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary could fall from the present level of 103 to 76 in 2017 and only 50 in 2027 — a reduction of more than half. …

under the plan the Navy, once the pride of the Armed Forces, would be unable to provide anything like the 1982 Falklands task force.

29 Sep 2007

Boston’s City Hall

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The building above used to be Boston’s City Hall, but they replaced it with this.

Sippican Cottage has a few choice comments… and the explanation.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

29 Sep 2007

“The Prime Directive Is Not a Suicide Pact”

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An editorial from a 25th Century edition of National Review has mysteriously made its way to the desk of the editors of the current journal of opinion. It warns about the errors of “Pelosians” and “Picardians” in dealing with the Romulan threat.

The Romulans are arming Cardasia to the gills while we stand idly by watching the Bajorans get slaughtered. The Pelosians, always eager to protect tribbles wherever they happen to sprout up, turn a blind eye to the fate of actual sentient humanoids and allies. Based on the most dubious science, they are willing to place a speed limit on warp drive, but images of actual Bajorans stacked like cordwood move them not a nanometer. We have had our disagreements with Klingons and Ferengi, but we can look on with nothing but admiration as they fulfill their promises and contracts with the Bajorans while we spend our days here on Earth debating whether the entirely defunct Organian Peace Treaty applies to non-signatories of that irrelevant piece of parchment. It’s enough to make one declare “Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no sign of intelligent life here.”

29 Sep 2007

In Britain, Hospitalized 10-Year-Old May Be Charged With Hate Crime For Name Calling

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Police are considering charging a 10-year-old boy with a race hate crime after he was beaten by a Slovakian woman with an iron bar.

Jake Stedman needed hospital treatment after the attack in Chatham on Friday, when he was allegedly beaten around the head and neck after being chased down an alley, and was left with two black eyes.

But police are now looking into claims from the 35-year-old woman who allegedly attacked him and who is currently on police bail, that he made racist remarks by telling her “to go back to her own country”. …

If charged with racially aggravated assault, Jake, who has only just reached the age of criminal responsibility, would become the youngest person in the country to face a race hate charge.

“It is very early stages but we are investigating whether the boy should face any charges,” said a police source.

”There have been allegations that he used racist language and it is necessary for us to investigate the claims.” …

The incident occurred as Jake and his friends were playing outside a local convenience store when a group of four Slovakian women passed by.

The boys allegedly called out to the women and threw soft fruit at them. …

“Medway Police will continue to monitor the situation and work in partnership with other agencies and we are treating these matters extremely seriously.”

Ch Insp Peter Wedlake, of Medway Police, said: “We won’t tolerate racially motivated offences, whoever they are committed by.”

And they’ll soon have cameras everywhere, so they can catch you hunting with dogs or name calling.

Hat tip to Walter Olson.

28 Sep 2007

Will Hofstra Be Breaking the Law?

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Walter Olson explains that Law School at Hofstra University may be lawyering just a little bit too close to the edge.

    The brochure (PDF) for the Hofstra legal ethics conference announces that “Hofstra Law School is an accredited NYS CLE [Continuing Legal Education] provider. Continuing Legal Education credits and scholarships are available.” Yet in the discussion at Legal Ethics Blog, commenter “V. May” points to the New York regulations governing continuing legal education, which declare in one provision, Part 1500.4b (5), that “Continuing legal education courses or programs to be accredited shall comply with the following guidelines”:

      The course or program shall not be taught by a disbarred attorney, whether the disbarred attorney is the sole presenter or one of several instructors.

    The Hofstra brochure designates Lynne Stewart among “Conference Faculty”, but does not warn registrants of the danger of partial or complete loss of CLE credit. Lawyers are asked to pay $475 to attend the conference.

    Stewart will be a member of the final panel of the conference, another member of which will be none other than Ron Kuby.

    “I want a f****** lawyer, man. I want Bill Kunstler or Ron Kuby.” — Jeffrey Lebowski aka The Dude.

    Earlier posting

    Lynne Stewart

28 Sep 2007

Which House Belongs to an Environmentalist?

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HOUSE # 1:
A 20 -room mansion (not including 8 bathrooms) heated by natural gas. Add on a pool (and a pool house) and a separate guest house all heated by gas. In ONE MONTH ALONE. This mansion consumes more energy than the average American household in an ENTIRE YEAR. The average bill for electricity and natural gas runs over $2,400.00 per month. In natural gas alone (which last time we checked was a fossil fuel), this property consumes more than 20 times the national average for an American home. This house is not located in a northern or Midwestern “snow belt,” either. It’s in the South.

HOUSE # 2:
Designed by an architecture professor at a leading national university, this house incorporates every “green” feature current home construction can provide. The house contains only 4,000 square feet (4 bedrooms) and is nestled on arid high prairie in the American southwest. A central closet in the house holds geothermal heat pumps drawing ground water through pipes sunk 300 feet into the ground. The water (usually 67 degrees F.) heats the house in winter and cools it in summer. The system uses no fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas, and it consumes 25% of the electricity required for a conventional heating/cooling system. Rainwater from the roof is collected and funneled into a 25,000 gallon underground cistern. Wastewater from showers, sinks and toilets goes into underground purifying tanks and then into the cistern. The collected water then irrigates the land surrounding the house. Flowers and shrubs native to the area blend the property into the surrounding rural landscape.


Answered here.


Hat tip to Scott Drum.

28 Sep 2007

Shooting Accident, Close Call

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MadOgre has quite a story about a chap test-firing his .50 BMG rifle.

6-27-07: BOOM HEADSHOT! This is amazing. Willie, the father of Tina, who made the sandbag rests fires a .50BMG, an Armalite AR-50 and it ricochets off of a steel plate that it should have easily penetrated. The bullet comes straight back and hits him in the head. You can see it hit the dirt about 15 feet in front on him before it clobbers him. Luckily he was uninjured. He’s a bit sore today, but otherwise fine. Lucky lucky bastard. He has been advised to buy lottery tickets while he still has so much luck. I don’t know about the timing, but you can hear the hit on the steel plate. Time that till the impact on Willie’s head… how fast is that 750 grain slug traveling? The range is 100 yards. Amazing.

0:41 video

I don’t think anybody could have predicted that ricochet. Things happen.

Some years back, I was test-firing a newly acquired 7.63 mm Broomhandle Mauser in my Connecticut basement.

I used to fire from one room through a doorway into another room, using a few pieces of 2×4 lumber, backed by a 5×5 hunk of post, backed by some plywood, backed by another 5×5 post.

Well, the old Mauser belched fire from the barrel and the breech, and that 7.63 mm fully-jacketed bullet sped off at over 1400 fps and proceeded to penetrate all the boards. It then bounced off several concrete walls and finally went right out one of two small basement windows in that room.

I could imagine only too well what my wife would have said if I had managed to shoot myself with my own ricochet, firing pistols in the basement.

28 Sep 2007

Our Tax Dollars at Work


CNN reports a tragic story of a human being crushed by the state which could have been written by Gogol or de Maupassant.

I always wonder if George W. Bush doesn’t read the news, when I come across this kind of thing.

For 11 years, Pedro Zapeta, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, lived his version of the American dream in Stuart, Florida: washing dishes and living frugally to bring money back to his home country.

Pedro Zapeta, an illegal immigrant, managed to save $59,000 while working as a dishwasher for 11 years.

Two years ago, Zapeta was ready to return to Guatemala, so he carried a duffel bag filled with $59,000 — all the cash he had scrimped and saved over the years — to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

But when Zapeta tried to go through airport security, an officer spotted the money in the bag and called U.S. customs officials.

“They asked me how much money I had,” Zapeta recalled, speaking to CNN in Spanish.

He told the customs officials $59,000. At that point, U.S. customs seized his money, setting off a two-year struggle for Zapeta to get it back.

Zapeta, who speaks no English, said he didn’t know he was running afoul of U.S. law by failing to declare he was carrying more than $10,000 with him. Anyone entering or leaving the country with more than $10,000 has to fill out a one-page form declaring the money to U.S. customs.

Officials initially accused Zapeta of being a courier for the drug trade, but they dropped the allegation once he produced pay stubs from restaurants where he had worked. Zapeta earned $5.50 an hour at most of the places where he washed dishes. When he learned to do more, he got a 25-cent raise.

After customs officials seized the money, they turned Zapeta over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS released him but began deportation proceedings. …

On Wednesday, Zapeta went to immigration court and got more bad news. The judge gave the dishwasher until the end of January to leave the country on his own. He’s unlikely to see a penny of his money.

“I am desperate,” Zapeta said. “I no longer feel good about this country.”

Zapeta said his goal in coming to the United States was to make enough money to buy land in his mountain village and build a home for his mother and sisters. He sent no money back to Guatemala over the years, he said, and planned to bring it all home at once.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Zapeta was given official status in the United States — voluntary departure — and a signed order from a judge. For the first time, he can work legally in the U.S.

By the end of January, Zapeta may be able to earn enough money to pay for a one-way ticket home so the U.S. government, which seized his $59,000, doesn’t have to do so.

28 Sep 2007

Liberals Fantasize of Violence

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Kyle Smith in the Wall Street Journal discusses the recent Jodie Foster remake of Death Wish (1974).

What has come over liberals? Suddenly they’ve turned bloodthirsty. And they’re not just lobbing “Daily Show” coffee mugs or brandishing the rusty business end of their DEAN 2004 campaign pins. Liberals are locked, loaded and licensed to kill–at the movies.

The new Jodie Foster film, “The Brave One,” is the latest in a string of left-wing Bush-era movies about violence. These films–which range from popcorn flicks (the “X-Men” series, “The Hills Have Eyes 2”) to more ambitious works and Oscar nominees (“A History of Violence,” “V for Vendetta,” “Munich,” “Blood Diamond”)–so deeply entangle killing with liberal idealism, though, that at times their scripts are as muddled as EEOC directives or U.N. rules of engagement. For all of the critical acclaim that attended most of these films, few are as effective as “Dirty Harry” or “Death Wish.”

In “The Brave One,” for instance, possibly the first vigilante movie to feature a Sarah McLachlan soundtrack, a New York radio personality (Jodie Foster) specializes in monologues about the sounds of the city. She speaks with a maximum of NPR narcoleptic condescension, chewing each syllable of her airy drivel (“Are we going to have to construct an imaginary city to house our memories?”) as if reading to a toddler out of “My First Book of Cultural Anthropology.” Strangely, however, she is not the bad guy.

After her fiancé (apparently a Briton of Indian descent) gets killed when both of them are jumped by vicious white youths, Ms. Foster’s character spends weeks in a coma. One of her first remarks when she wakes up is directed at some white cops: “You’re the good guys. How come it doesn’t feel like that?” Shattered, she helps regain her poise with the aid of a black cop (Terrence Howard) and a saintly black woman friend. Meanwhile, in addition to the murderous gang of white kids, another villain emerges: a white businessman who owns parking garages.

This is more a checklist than a plausible plot, particularly when Ms. Foster’s character goes on a “Death Wish”-style rampage that requires the New York of 2007 to be portrayed as a place where you’re liable to witness a shooting every time you walk into a deli for a pack of gum. Nevertheless, she takes action, sometimes in self-defense but also by launching a pre-emptive, non-U.N.-sanctioned war against big-city thuggery. Behind her she leaves a trail of surprised-looking corpses, the audience cheering each one.

How can this be, since liberals renounce violence, even when directed against antlered pests or convicted serial killers, and greeted Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on crime with, at best, sullen silence? The movie lets its heroine off the hook by implying that victim status has left her without control of herself, a notion she articulates with more NPR-speak (“inside you there is a stranger, one that has your arms, your legs, your eyes–a sleepless, restless stranger”).

This paper’s movie critic, Joe Morgenstern, derided that element as “modern-day Jekyll and Hydeism,” but it dovetails with two favorite liberal habits: to follow the psychological chain of causation behind a crime so far back that responsibility disappears in a blurry landscape of greater evil, and to maintain a fig-leaf of deniability for lawless actions.

Read the whole thing.

The film’s star, Jodie Foster, editorializes with the same profundity characteristic of many members of her profession:

Entertainment Weekly: What do you think is the larger social commentary of The Brave One, which in some ways plays as a straight-up Dirty Harry revenge movie?

Here’s my commentary: I don’t believe that any gun should be in the hand of a thinking, feeling, breathing human being. Americans are by nature filled with rage-slash-fear. And guns are a huge part of our culture. I know I’m crazy because I’m only supposed to say that in Europe. But violence corrupts absolutely. By the end of this, her transformation is complete. ”F— all of you, now I’m just going to kill people with my bare hands.”

28 Sep 2007

Bin Laden Nearly Captured Last Month?

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NBC News:

For three days and nights — between Aug. 14 and 16 — U.S. and Afghanistan forces pounded the mountain caves in Tora Bora, the same caves where Osama Bin Laden had hidden out and then fled in late 2001 after U.S. forces drove al Qaeda out of Afghanistan cities. Ultimately, however, U.S. forces failed to find Bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, even though their attacks left dozens of al Qaeda and Taliban dead.

One of the officials interviewed by NBC News, a general officer, admitted Tuesday that it was “possible” Bin Laden was at Tora Bora, saying, in fact, “I still don’t know if he was there.”

Still, some in the special operations and intelligence community are telling NBC News that there was a lack of coordination particularly in the choice of support troops. But with intelligence limited on who was there, no one is willing to say that the lack of key units permitted Bin Laden or Zawahiri to escape.

When the operation began in early August there was no expectation that Bin Laden or Zawahiri would be there, say U.S. military and intelligence officials. Instead, there was intelligence of a pre-Ramadan gathering of al Qaeda including “leadership” in Tora Bora. Senior officials in the U.S. and Pakistan tell NBC News that planning for the attacks intensified around Aug. 10 once analysts suggested that either Bin Laden or Zawahiri may have be drawn to the conference at Tora Bora. (When U.S. forces attacked al Qaeda camps in August 1998, following the East Africa embassy bombings, Bin Laden was attending a pre-Ramadan conference of al Qaeda in the same general area of eastern Afghanistan).

While the intelligence did not provide “positively identification” that Bin Laden or Zawahiri were at the scene, there was enough other intelligence to suggest that one of the two men was there. Bin Laden and Zawahiri are not believed to have traveled together since mid-2003 for security reasons.

Another official said that intelligence analysts believed strongly that there was a high probability that “either HVT-1 or HVT-2 was there,” using U.S. intelligence descriptions — high value targets — for Bin Laden and Zawahiri. He added that while opinion inside the agency was divided, many believed it was Bin Laden rather than Zawahiri who was present. The reason: “They thought they spotted his security detail,” said the official, a large al Qaeda security detail — the kind of protection that would normally surround only Bin Laden, or Zawahiri.

27 Sep 2007

Lynne Stewart (Who Aided Terrorists) to Speak on Legal Ethics at Hofstra

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Walter Olson notes that:

Hofstra Law School, and its Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics, are hosting Lynne Stewart, but their biographical blurb somehow forgets to note that she was convicted of providing material aid to terrorists and then disbarred. Must have been lack of space.

The blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman

Ms. Stewart was merely imprisoned and disbarred for assisting her translator to convey a message to 1993 World Trade Center bombing master-mind Omar Abdel-Rahman in prison from Egyptian terrorist group, and then delivering his response at her press conference.

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