Daily Flog 8/5/08: Death of a smart Alek, crime by kids, mad scientists, veep intrigue, close shaves, kosher giraffes

Running down the press:

Daily News: 'Crime by kids soars - blame the iPhone'

Don't ever trust crime stats touted at NYPD press conferences, especially by a pinch-faced commissioner hungering to be mayor someday, but . . .:

Muggers are getting younger — and the iPhone is to blame.

Kids ages 11 to 19 make up a growing proportion of the crooks arrested this year for theft, fueled in part by a lust for the snazzy new phones, police said.

"The explosive popularity of these devices has also made them inviting targets for thefts. Teens are commonly the culprits as well as the victims," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

Juveniles accounted for 29% of the 7,340 robbery arrests and 27% of the 4,566 grand larceny busts this year, an 8% jump in each category compared to this time last year, police said.

Electronics - mostly iPhones, iPods and Sidekicks - were the stolen booty in 20% of the robbery arrests and 12% of the grand larceny arrests.


Love the angle, and the Post and everyone else has posthumously convicted him, so what the hell:

The mad scientist suspected of orchestrating the deadly 2001 anthrax-letter spree was obsessed with a prestigious sorority that keeps an office just 300 feet from a Princeton, NJ, mailbox where the poisonous missives were dropped.

Bruce Ivins' creepy fixation on Kappa Kappa Gamma may explain why he chose that spot - some 200 miles from his Frederick, Md., home and workplace - to mail the seven anthrax- laced letters that killed five people, sickened 17 and petrified a nation still reeling from the 9/11 terror attacks.

Ivins was obsessed with KKG going back to his college days at the University of Cincinnati, when he apparently was spurned by a woman in the Columbus-based sorority, US officials told The Associated Press - and the fixation never waned in the decades after he left with a Ph.D. in microbiology.

If you can't go Greek, go geek.

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Daily News: 'Goats penetrate fence at heavily guarded base of Verrazano Bridge'

Obvious but fun:

Watch out for these weapons of grass destruction.

New Yorker: 'Deep In the Woods'

The best seven-year-old story today — and the best high ground amid the flood of lame stories about Russia "saying farewell" to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — is this reprise of editor David Remnick's August 2001 Letter from Moscow. This isn't from the lede, because the New Yorker doesn't deal in traditional nut grafs, but it does indicate that many people said their farewells to the gulag-bred polemicist years ago:

When [Boris] Yeltsin left office, on the eve of 2000, Solzhenitsyn was furious that the new President, Vladimir Putin, had granted his predecessor immunity from prosecution. Solzhenitsyn declared that Yeltsin "along with another one or two hundred people must be brought to book."

By now, Solzhenitsyn had managed to alienate almost everyone. The Communists despised him, of course, and the hard-line Russian nationalists, who had once hoped he would be their standard-bearer, found him too liberal. The liberals, who looked west for their models, could not take seriously Solzhenitsyn's derisory view of the West as a trove of useless materialism and a wasteland of spiritual emptiness. Nor could they abide conservative positions such as his support for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

When Solzhenitsyn first arrived in Moscow, his name was invoked as a possible successor to Yeltsin. This was always a fantasy, but it did indicate his enormous prestige. And yet with time, and with Solzhenitsyn's weekly exposure on television, the majority of the public soured on him or grew indifferent. His television appearances were cancelled. He fell in the political ratings and then disappeared from them. He began to appear less and less in public. But still he continued to write. I was able to obtain, through his sons Ignat, a concert pianist and conductor in Philadelphia, and Stephan, an urban-planning and environmental consultant in Boston, an advance copy of the first volume of "Two Hundred Years Together" and made plans to pay him a visit on the outer edge of the capital.

As it happened, I arrived in Moscow just after George W. Bush had met with Putin in Slovenia. . . .

You probably can't tell from the above excerpt, but nobody (including Hunter Thompson) wrote better first-person journalism since A.J. Liebling's The Earl of Louisiana (1961) than Remnick's Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire (1993). Even if that turns out to be Remnick's high-water mark (and it probably will, because now he's an editor), what a high. Just about anything Remnick has written about Russia — not boxing, but Russia — is worth reading today. Even if, like this piece, it's seven years old.

New York Observer: 'VP Speculation Is Much Ado About Something'

A wonkish and pretty thorough history lesson from Steve Kornacki, including this:

A VP candidate whose selection captures the country's interest (in a positive way) and who performs skillfully in the fall debate can dramatically improve the public's instinctive, knee-jerk impression of the presidential candidate with whom he or she is running – making it much more likely that voters will view that presidential candidate favorably when they consider "the issues."

A terrific example of this is 2000. On the Republican side, [Dick] Cheney brought Bush a week's worth of favorable press about the wisdom he, an inexperienced and untested governor, had displayed in tapping such a wise and seasoned foreign policy master and his "gravitas." Cheney followed that up with a surprisingly strong and humorous showing in his VP debate with [Joe] Lieberman. It's impossible to quantify the effect Cheney had, and you certainly can't pinpoint it to one state or region. But his presence, and the press he received, almost certainly made many voters more receptive to Bush and his message.

Times: 'An Olympic Stadium Worth Remembering'

The Times promo'ed this review of Beijing's National Stadium with classic Gray-Lady-with-pince-nez phrasing:

The National Stadium reaffirms architecture's civilizing role in a nation that is struggling to forge a new identity out of a maelstrom of inner conflict.

Would you click to read more? Too bad, because Nicolai Ouroussoff's piece is considerably less pretentious (what isn't?) and starts out pretty damned well:

Given the astounding expectations piled upon the National Stadium, I'm surprised it hasn't collapsed under the strain.

More than 90,000 spectators will stream through its gates on Friday for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games; billions are expected to watch the fireworks on television. At the center of it all is this dazzling stadium, which is said to embody everything from China's muscle-flexing nationalism to a newfound cultural sophistication.

Times: 'Aux Barricades! France and the Jews'

Roger Cohen's op-ed piece adds a schmear of smut — the phrase "shaved Jewess" — to the Times. For the full flavor of a story practically ignored by the isolationist U.S. press, here are the first several grafs:

It's not quite the Dreyfus Affair, at least not yet. But France is divided again over power and the Jews.

While the United States has been debating the New Yorker's caricature of Barack Obama as a Muslim, France has gone off the deep end over a brief item in the country's leading satirical magazine portraying the relationship between President Nicolas Sarkozy's fast-rising son, Jean, and his Jewish fiancée.

The offending piece in Charlie Hebdo, a pillar of the left-libertarian media establishment, was penned last month by a 79-year-old columnist-cartoonist who goes by the name of Bob Siné. He described the plans — since denied — of Jean Sarkozy, 21, to convert to Judaism before marrying Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, an heiress to the fortune of the Darty electrical goods retailing chain.

"He'll go far in life, this little fellow!" Siné wrote of Sarkozy Jr.

He added, in a separate item on whether Muslims should abandon their traditions, that: "Honestly, between a Muslim in a chador and a shaved Jewess, my choice is made!"

Nobody paid attention for a week: Siné is a notorious provocateur whose strong pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist views have in the past crossed the line into anti-Semitism. I'd say he's far from alone in that among a certain French left.

But this is the summer, news is slow, and since a journalist at the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur denounced the article as "anti-Semitic" on July 8, France has worked itself into a fit of high intellectual dudgeon.

Forward: 'Ad Hoc Outreach Effort May Hinder McCain's Bid for Communal Vote'

From just about the only paper that covers establishment Jews' financial and political clout, some fascinating nuggets about not only McCain's campaign strategies but also Obama's and Bush Jr.'s. And unlike the blather from the mainstream press, these nuggets aren't first mined from the eager mouths of each campaign's flacks and "advisers." Anthony Weiss's July 31 lede:

In a year when polls suggest that Senator John McCain is positioned to garner more Jewish votes than any Republican candidate in the past two decades, his campaign is attempting to woo Jewish voters with a small, decentralized operation that critics are charging has no single address.

In contrast to the corporate discipline of George W. Bush in 2004 and the well-staffed ground operation of Democratic opponent Senator Barack Obama, McCain is counting on an ad hoc, almost informal approach to reaching Jewish voters. To date, the McCain campaign's Jewish outreach has been conducted through a combination of political donors and campaign surrogates that campaign insiders defend as reflecting sensitivity to needs on the ground.

And here's the context:

Some Republican Jewish insiders have criticized this approach, arguing that it has led to competing centers of influence and no clear lines of authority or communication. These critics point out that at this point in the 2004 campaign, the Bush campaign had dispatched Jewish outreach teams to several states, organized multiple fundraisers and was well into the planning stage for a Jewish leadership event at the Republican convention.

McCain's defenders respond that the senator is simply running a different campaign, reflecting both the aftermath of a chaotic primary season and McCain's own management style.

The debate comes in a year when a number of observers have suggested that McCain is uniquely well positioned to reach Jewish voters. Recent polls released by Gallup and by the left-leaning lobbying organization J Street both showed McCain running well for a Republican candidate, polling 29% and 32%, respectively. Supporters cite McCain's long record on Israel-related issues and national security, and McCain faces, in Barack Obama, a candidate who has struggled to define a positive image for himself in the Jewish community, particularly on issues related to Israel. Jewish voters could be especially significant in a number of potential swing states, particularly Pennsylvania and Florida.

But McCain's Jewish outreach also must go up against a formidable Obama operation that has had a staff member serving as a Jewish liaison for more than a year and began building a national grass-roots operation during the primary season.

Forward: 'Giraffe Milk Is Kosher'

Stanley Siegelman's Siegelmania column milchs this item for all it's worth. An Israeli rabbi declared that a giraffe "has all signs of a ritually pure animal, and the milk that forms curds strengthened that." Siegelman's resulting doggerel starts: "Imagine milking a giraffe! ..." Or, put another way:

Oysmelkn ken men a zhiraf?
Der moyekh zogt tsu unz: S'iz tough!
Di hoykhenish iz a problem,
Der nopl iz vayt avek (ahem!)

Di milkh iz yetst derklert nit treyf,
Der rebbe zogt der sheid iz safe.
A curd farmogt es — gantz O.K.!
Shray nit "gevald," shray nit "oy whey"!


Stefanie Cohen's hot-blooded take on a typically cold-blooded legal maneuver:

In a heartless legal maneuver, city lawyers say they shouldn't have to shell out too much cash to a man who was paralyzed from the neck down in the Staten Island Ferry crash because he's not going to live that long anyway, according to court papers.

James McMillan Jr., 44, has only 16 more years to live, according to a doctor hired by the city, and the lawyers hope a jury uses that number to determine what his payout should be, the papers show.

McMillan's lawyer, Evan Torgan, says his client, if properly cared for, could live much longer than that.

"The city paralyzed him, and now they're saying that he is going to die young because of the damage they caused," Torgan said. "They're turning a personal-injury case into a wrongful-death case."

An epidemiologist hired by the city, Michael DeVivo, wrote in court filings, "The injury has reduced Mr. McMillan's current life expectancy by 13.8 years or 46 percent."


Apparently it's open season on cult leaders. That's really too bad. It's also too bad that the story interjects predictable reaction quotes too high. Skip from the first graf . . .:

In a stunning verdict, a jury cleared ex-hippie Rebekah Johnson of all charges in the attempted murder of a Staten Island cult leader who was ambushed outside his home and shot six times as he begged for his life.

. . . to these grafs:

The jury rejected prosecutors' claims that an obsessed Johnson targeted Jeff Gross in May 2006 after he repeatedly booted her from the Ganas commune and rebuffed her demands for millions of dollars.

It was unclear whether the jurors cleared Johnson because they didn't think she fired the shots or because they believed she was the victim of cult brainwashing.

They made a hurried departure from the courthouse, declining to speak to reporters.


Good, all-purpose hed for a story on a lamster wannabe:

He thought his port-a-potty scam would leave him flush with cash. Instead, it got him thrown in the can.

An accountant for Tishman Construction will be indisposed in prison for the next seven years after pleading guilty yesterday to embezzling $2.8 million.

He altered checks payable to Mr. John, a company that deals in portable bathrooms, and made them payable to himself - Mr. John Hoeffner. . . .

Prosecutors said the suddenly-wealthy Hoeffner then blew hundreds of thousands of dollars on a girlfriend in Cali, Colombia.

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