Feds fine nuclear plant operator $65K over guard naps

Federal regulators have proposed a $65,000 fine against the owner of a Pennsylvania nuclear plant where security guards routinely napped on the job. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced the fine against Chicago-based Exelon Nuclear after completing a special investigation of the Peach Bottom plant in south-central Pennsylvania.

Multiple guards were “deliberately inattentive” on more than one occasion in a plant “ready room” that serves as a break room, and the incidents were not reported to plant supervisors, the NRC said.

The NRC announced its investigation in September 2007, after a videotape recorded earlier in the year of sleeping guards surfaced. The NRC issued a “white” finding — a low-to-moderate threat — for the incident in February based on the agency’s color-coded threat analysis.

Exelon plans to pay the fine, and its monitoring of plant security has improved since the incidents became known. Exelon ended its security contract with Wackenhut Corp. at Peach Bottom after the videotape surfaced and later replaced that company with an in-house security force at all 10 of its nuclear power plants.

At a congressional hearing in February, NRC chairman Dale Klein acknowledged that the agency should have done more to investigate a tip about the sleeping guards. “These were the traffic cops on the beat who were also asleep at the switch.”

So, outsourcing security – and the agency in charge of oversight was asleep at the switch, as well. Quite a round-up of failures that have become standard American business practices.

BBC to broadcast Persian-language TV

Nigel Chapman, Pooneh Ghoddoosi and Behrouz Afagh
Daylife/AFP/Getty Images

The BBC said it will start a Persian-language TV channel that can be seen in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and elsewhere, despite Iranian claims that it will be used to recruit spies. BBC Persian TV…will broadcast news and programs on arts and sports available via cable, satellite and Internet providers.

A BBC spokesman, Mike Gardner, said the British Broadcasting Corp.’s only goal was to report on world events in an impartial and editorially independent manner. But he conceded that his company has a complex relationship with the Iranian authorities.

“We request permission to have accreditation for our BBC Persian correspondents. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t. We continue to seek interviews with officials at all levels of government. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t,” Gardner said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

BBC Persian TV will be the broadcaster’s second foreign-language TV channel. It launched BBC Arabic last year.

But the company has run a Persian-language radio service since 1940, and it operates a Persian-language news site online…

In addition to Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, it will be received Britain, Dubai and most other countries in the Persian Gulf through Hotbird and Telstar satellite and cable services.

Hopefully, it will qualify as a bit more “independent” than Voice of America broadcasts. Most of the independent heart of the BBC was cut out by Tony Blair.

Time Warner still paying for AOL deal

Daylife/AP Photo by Paul Sakuma

One year from now, almost to the day, will be the 10th anniversary of the announcement of what could be the worst corporate marriage in history, the union of America Online and Time Warner.

And still the effects are being sifted.

The latest blow came in the form of a $25 billion write-down by Time Warner to reflect the declining value of AOL. That came alongside worse, but just as familiar, news: that the performance of AOL and Time Inc., the company’s other ailing arm, which publishes magazines like Fortune, Time and Sports Illustrated, is weak and will result in worse-than-expected earnings at the company when it reports 2008 numbers Feb. 4.

AOL and Time Inc. have been twin encumbrances for some time; before Wednesday, Time Warner had already taken more than $100 billion in write-downs to reflect the steady erosion of value at AOL. The corporate narrative that is Time Warner recalls the film “Groundhog Day” – an endless loop of the same story, over and over…

For years, the clause that followed the words Time Warner in print was invariably “the nation’s largest media company.” Advertising Age, the trade publication, says it has ranked Time Warner the biggest media company in the United States since 1995. But last week it said that Time Warner would become No. 2 to Comcast after it completed the spinoff of its cable unit.

If Bewkes can find a way to slough off AOL and maybe even the magazine business, it will become smaller.

I can find little to say that’s encouraging or even palliative. I think Time-Warner has done more to destroy journalism in the United States than anyone this side of Ed Gaylord.

It seems Pterosaurs lifted off with four legs – not two

Pterosaurs have long suffered an identity crisis. Pop culture heedlessly — and wrongly — lumps these extinct flying lizards in with dinosaurs. Even paleontologists assumed that because the creatures flew, they were birdlike in many ways, such as using only two legs to take flight.

Now comes what is believed to be first-time evidence that launching some 500 pounds of reptilian heft into flight required pterosaurs to use four limbs: two were ultra-strong wings which, when folded and balanced on a knuckle, served as front “legs” that helped the creature to walk — and leap.

Publishing in Zitteliana, Michael B. Habib, M.S…reports his comparison of bone strength in the limbs of pterosaurs to that of birds and concludes that pterosaurs had much stronger “arms” than legs. The reverse is true of birds.

“We’ve all seen birds take off, so that’s what’s most familiar,” says Habib. “But with pterosaurs, extinct 65 million years and with a fossil history that goes back 250 million years, what’s familiar isn’t relevant.”

A supersized glitch is inherent in the traditional bipedal launch model, Habib notes: “If a creature takes off like a bird, it should only be able to get as big as the biggest bird.”

Birds use legs to launch, wings to flap. They don’t get launch power from wings or flight power from legs. In fact, when a bird is aloft, its legs become payload, or cargo. The muscle on the two back limbs that provides the power to launch must be carried and therefore limits size. Released of that handicap by employing all four legs to launch, giant pterosaurs could fly despite the fact that they were roughly the same size and shape as modern-day giraffes.

Habib’s study is a delight – worth reading in depth – if I could find it in English. Now, we just need to straighten out all the science fiction movies for the next 80 years or so.

Messy divorce gets even messier!

Doctor Batista ponders

A Long Island surgeon embroiled in a nearly four-year divorce proceeding wants his estranged wife to return the kidney he donated to her – although he says he’ll settle for $1.5 million.

Dr. Richard Batista, a surgeon at Nassau University Medical Center, said he decided to go public with his demand for kidney compensation because he has grown frustrated with the negotiations.

Batista said he gave his kidney to Dawnell Batista, now 44, in 2001. She filed for divorce in 2005, although he claims she began having an extramarital affair 18 months to two years after receiving his kidney, his lawyer said. Her lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Maybe they should divide the kidney?

Did UFO attack British wind farm?

UFO enthusiasts are claiming damage to a Lincolnshire wind farm turbine was caused by a mystery aircraft.

The turbine at Conisholme lost one 66ft (20m) blade and another was badly damaged in the early hours of Sunday.

County councillor for the area Robert Palmer said he had seen a “round, white light that seemed to be hovering”. Ecotricity, which owns the site, said while investigations continued they were not ruling anything out – but the extent of damage was “unique”…

Mr Palmer said: “I actually saw a white light – a round, white light that seemed to be hovering…

The Ministry of Defence said it was not looking into the incident.

Ecotricity said it would have taken an impact with something at least as heavy as a cow to break off the blade.

Meanwhile, in an exclusive, the Guardian has solved the origin of the mysterious moving lights.

The Guardian News & Media director of digital content, Emily Bell, would like to make it clear that her family had no part in damaging any of those 65ft multimillion-pound turbine blades – but she can help explain those “massive balls of light with tentacles going right down to the ground”, as one onlooker described them to the Sun.

Those mysterious lights were actually fireworks Emily’s brother Tim had bought at the local garden centre for the 80th birthday party of dad Peter Bell. “It was a medium-sized fireworks display with absolutely no ballistics, and the fireworks were mostly dropping over my parents’ house. But we were laughing that we could have broken the wind turbine,” jested Emily.


Red Cross says Israel ignores wounded civilians

Survivors of the Srebrenica Massacre protest before the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

The Red Cross has accused Israel of failing to fulfil its obligation to help wounded civilians in Gaza.

The first of what is promised to be a daily ceasefire – on Wednesday – allowed aid agencies into the territory for the first time in days.

The International Committee of the Red Cross accused Israel of failing in its international obligations after its staff were met with “shocking” scenes.

One medical team found 12 bodies in a shelled house, and alongside them four very young children, too weak to stand, waiting by their dead mothers, the ICRC said. Aid workers had been denied access to the site for days, it added.

The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded.”

Meanwhile Amnesty International accused both sides of using civilians as human shields. “Israeli soldiers have entered and taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families to stay in a ground floor room while they use the rest of their house as a military base and sniper position”.

The only shock is that the Red Cross spoke out. They work so hard at maintaining access to disaster scenes, their policy is to continue in silence as long as possible. There had to be flagrant departure from accepted standards to prompt this criticism.

The whole world is watching.

Army has to apologize for ‘John Doe’ letters to kinfolk of war dead

The U.S. Army is apologizing to thousands of Army families who received letters beginning “Dear John Doe” after losing a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Some 7,000 letters were sent in late December to notify families of services or gifts surviving family members can receive from nonprofit organizations that help families of fallen soldiers. The letters also had improper address information at the top of the correspondence. Instead of the receiving family’s name and home address, the letters said “Army Long Term Case Management.”

The letters were printed by a contracting company and sent by the U.S. Army Human Resources Command’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Center in Alexandria, Virginia. The center has issued a formal apology.

Ain’t outsourcing grand?

Nigeria biker-cabbies imitate Pumpkinhead

No, those are not pumpkins. But, you get the idea…

Motorcyclists in Nigeria have been wearing dried pumpkin shells on their heads to dodge a new law forcing them to wear helmets, authorities say.

Officials in the northern city of Kano said they had stopped several riders with “improvised helmets”, following this month’s introduction of the law. Road safety officials said calabash-wearers would be prosecuted.

Calabashes are dried pumpkin shells more commonly used to carry liquid.

Kano Federal Road Safety Commission commander Yusuf Garba told the BBC they were taking a hard line with people found using the improvised helmets. “We are impounding their bikes and want to take them to court so they can explain why they think wearing a calabash is good enough for their safety,” he said.

RTFA. Some of the crap people believe – everywhere in the world – is simply amazing. The tales surrounding these motorbike cabbies are a trip!

Pic of the day

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Kite-flying enthusiasts try to control 50 feet in diameter “Windsock” kite during their practice session ahead of the 19th International Kite festival in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad January 7. 2009. More than 163 kite-flying enthusiasts from 36 countries will compete in the five-day long festival which starts January 10.

Wow! That looks like serious fun.