At one time, Saskatoon had a pretty incredible public transit.
At one time, Saskatoon had a pretty incredible public transit.
It’s been a long summer but one of the highlights was spending some time with the 2014 Ford Escape. I reviewed in 2013 and the SUV is essentially the same. Instead of just driving it around Saskatoon (done that before), I decided to take it on the road. This is after all where a crossover is supposed to come in useful isn’t it (that and as a hockey kid taxi). So the four of us got up really early one Sunday and took a long one day drive from Saskatoon to Drumheller and back. It’s around 1000km in a day if you are keeping track. At the end of the trip we were going to either love or hate the 2014 Ford Escape.
We packed relatively light. Even though it was a brand new vehicle we tossed our emergency kit in the back, three camera bags, a cooler, and some extra jackets in case the weather forecast was horribly wrong. That took up about 5% of the rear cargo space.
We got into Drumheller at about noon where the Ford Escape met this guy. I know I signed something that stopped people from smoking in the Ford Escape, I couldn’t remember if I was covered by stampeding dinosaurs. So I sent Mark and Oliver up to deal with the T-Rex.
After an epic struggle, they subdued the beat and saved the Escape.
I have driven from Saskatoon to Calgary many times and each time (generally at Hanna), I would get out and feel the pain in my back after four long hours of driving. This time it was completely different and here is why With the Escape, there was none of that. The air conditioner kept the kids cool while the heated seats kept Wendy and I feeling a lot more comfortable. If only they had a back massage feature.
After lunch we checked the GPS for directions to the Atlas Coal Mine. It couldn’t find it. It found every other little attraction in Drumheller but missed this one. Obviously Ford downloads these attractions from a database but I was surprised a National Historic Site was not on it. Ironically enough Siri with it’s much despised Apple Maps found us a way and we arrived after our failed conversation with Ford Sync. Apple 1 – Ford Sync 0.
Once at the Atlas Coal Mine, I discovered the true value of the Ford Escape. We explored an abandoned wooden bridge (which was home to rattlesnakes) and was almost completely rotten.
Explored the mine site
Wendy stumbled onto a model shoot
We took a mine tour
Climbed the “walk from hell” (this is important)
Where I tore my right quad and put myself in incredible pain (not all Ford reviews have happy endings). After heading back down the “walk from hell” (it’s what the miners called it), I limped back to the waiting Ford Escape while the family kept exploring (thanks guys!)
The pain was incredible, my leg was almost useless and I limped back to the vehicle in incredible pain. I got in and actually had to lift my leg inside, turned on the Escape, turned on the a/c and turned on the heated seat. It didn’t take away the pain but facing a five hour trip back to Saskatoon and realizing how much better it made my leg feel, it was amazing. (and made me add a tensor bandage and A535 to my emergency kit) when I got back into Drumheller.
I felt good enough to limp out and explore the Star Mine Suspension Bridge in Rosedale. While I never recommend walking on a moving suspension bridge with a torn quad, the heat kept it from getting really bad.
18 hours after, one rattlesnake sighting, two provinces, one radar dome, one torn quad, 1000 kms, three McDonald’s and one A&W run later, we rolled back into Saskatoon. Instead of whining and complaining despite being well past their bedtimes, the boys hopped out the car and Oliver said that was fun. He then hugged the Ford Escape goodnight. Yeah you read that right, after an 18 hour day, my six year old hugged the Escape.
It was then I realized why you want a 2014 Ford Escape. It is a lot of fun to drive in the city and the highway. It’s safe and like I wrote about the 2013 Ford Escape, it saved my families life when a guy lost control on icy roads. It looks great. Sirius XM radio is a lot of fun.
All of that is amazing but you buy one because the Escape facilitates fun times together with others. Whether that is an epic road trip with family or a weekend getaway with friends, it made a great trip better. It made a long day seem shorter. It made an improbable one day trip possible. It is small enough to be fun to drive but large enough that you can bring people along. It is everything a SUV should be. Since the first time I drove the Ford Escape, I fell in love with it and said that it was my favourite vehicle to drive. Since then it has become my families favourite vehicle as well. It facilitates fun.
You can read all about the technical specs here but in the end, they add up to one thing; great times spent together.
At the height of the Cold War, the Air Force feared that the Soviet Union could launch a surprise attack on the United States and destroy all of our air bases, and we’d have no way to retaliate against the Soviets. So the Air Force came up with this idea of having about a dozen B-52 bombers airborne 24 hours a day, with nuclear weapons on board. That way, if we were attacked, those dozen planes might escape the destruction on the ground, head to the Soviet Union, and blast the Soviets with hydrogen bombs.
The planes were sort of an insurance policy. They were meant to deter the Soviets from trying a surprise attack. But this Air Force program, called the “airborne alert,” also posed some serious risks for the United States. The B-52 was designed in the late 1940s–and it wasn’t designed to be flying 24 hours a day. So the airborne alerts put enormous stress on these aircraft. It really wore out the planes and made them more likely to crash.
Nobody realized, at the time, that some design flaws in our nuclear weapons made them vulnerable to detonating in an accident. There was an illusion of safety. In the book, I explore the safety problems with our nuclear arsenal. We were putting planes that were at risk of crashing into the air over the United States with nuclear weapons that were at risk of accidentally detonating. The airborne alert was finally ended in 1968, after a B-52 crashed in Greenland with four hydrogen bombs and contaminated a stretch of the Arctic Ice with plutonium.
How close was this to detonating?
Well, for most of the Cold War, there was no code or anything that you needed to enter. All you needed to do was turn a switch or two in the cockpit to arm the bomb, and then release it. There were mechanisms on the weapon to prevent it from detonating prematurely and destroying our own planes. There were barometric switches that would operate when they sensed a change in altitude. There were timers that delayed the explosion until our planes had enough time to get away. The Goldsboro bomb that almost detonated was known as Weapon No. 1. As the plane was spinning and breaking apart, the centrifugal forces pulled a lanyard in the cockpit–and that lanyard was what a crew member would manually pull during wartime to release the bomb. This hydrogen bomb was a machine, a dumb object. It had no idea whether the lanyard was being pulled by a person or by a centrifugal force. Once the lanyard was pulled, the weapon just behaved like it was designed to.
The bomb went through all of its arming steps except for one, and a single switch prevented a full-scale nuclear detonation. That type of switch was later found to be defective. It had failed in dozens of other cases, allowing weapons to be inadvertently armed. And that safety switch could have very easily been circumvented by stray electricity in the B-52 as it was breaking apart. As Secretary of Defense McNamara said, “By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted.” That’s literally correct, a short circuit could’ve fully armed the bomb.
I interviewed McNamara before he passed away. The Goldsboro accident occurred just a few days after he took office. He wasn’t an expert in nuclear weapons; he’d been head of the Ford Motor Company. And this accident scared the hell out of him. It would have spread lethal radioactive fallout up the Eastern Seaboard–and put a real damper on all the optimism of the Kennedy administration’s New Frontier. And this wasn’t the only really serious nuclear weapons accident that the United States had. There were others that were dangerous and yet kept from view.
So yeah, try not to think about this thought by Schlosser before you go to bed.
Any country that wants nuclear weapons has to keep in mind that these weapons may pose a greater threat to yourself than to your enemies. These weapons are complicated things to possess and maintain, especially if you keep them fully assembled and ready to use. If you’re only going to put them together when you’re about to go to war, then there’s a higher level of safety. But if you keep them fully assembled, and mated to a weapons system, and ready to go, then there are limitless ways that something could go wrong.
Many consider the destruction of New York’s original Pennsylvania Station in 1963 to have been the architectural crime of the twentieth century. But few know how close we came to also losing its counterpart, Grand Central Terminal, a hub every bit as irreplaceable. Grand Central’s salvation has generally been told as a tale of aroused civic virtue, which it was. Yet it was, as well, an affirming episode for those of us convinced that our political culture has become an endless clown-car act with the same fools always leaping out.
“In New York then, I learn to appreciate the Italian Renaissance,” said Le Corbusier of Grand Central. “It is so well done that you could believe it to be genuine. It even has a strange, new firmness which is not Italian, but American.” It was not seen as such by its owner, New York Central Railroad, which viewed it mostly as a cash cow. As early as 1954, the Central proposed replacing the terminal with something called The Hyberboloid — an I. M. Pei monstrosity that, at 108 stories and 1,600 feet, would have become the world’s tallest building at the time. There was enough public outcry that a scaled-down Hyberboloid was built instead just north of Grand Central, where it was retitled the Pan Am (later the Met Life) Building. Even at a lesser height, it proved every bit as grotesque as promised.
Still unsatisfied, New York Central proposed in 1961 to build a three-level bowling alley over Grand Central’s Main Concourse, which would have required lowering the ceiling from sixty feet to fifteen and cutting off from view its glorious blue mural of the zodiac. This, too, was stopped. Foiled again, New York Central resorted to plastering the terminal with ads and bombarding travelers with canned Muzak, complete with commercials, over the public address system.
Meanwhile, in the angry atmosphere that followed the demolition of Penn Station, New York City finally got a Landmarks Preservation Commission, which designated Grand Central a landmark in 1967. But the terminal still wasn’t safe. Now hemorrhaging money as Americans turned away from trains and the passenger rail system began to collapse, the New York Central merged with its old rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad. The chairman and CEO of the new “Penn Central” was one Stuart Saunders, former CEO of the Pennsy, and the man who had torn down Penn Station to build the latest Madison Square Garden.
Bear with us here, as we trace how the troubled new railroad nearly succeeded in tearing down Grand Central — for it says much about how we conduct business and politics in America today.
At the time, my then colleague (and current business partner) Mark Fabiani and I were working at the White House as lawyers in the counsel’s office and began to receive calls from mainstream media outlets asking us to respond to various bizarre items related to the late Vince Foster, a fellow White House lawyer who had tragically taken his own life in the summer of 1993. At first, we ignored the calls, as there was nothing to the story beyond the terrible loss of one of the president and first lady’s friends. However, as the calls continued without letup, and the nature of the questions became even more bizarre—to the point where we were asked to comment on alleged eyewitness sightings of Foster—we knew we had to get to the heart of the matter and began asking the reporters the basis for their questions.
All roads led to a mysterious source—the newly exploding Internet.
One Saturday morning in the midst of an oppressively hot D.C. summer weekend, Mark and I found ourselves squirreled away in a stuffy room on the fourth floor of the Old Executive Office Building, where there was a bank of computers from which you could access the “World Wide Web.” Remember—this was the pre-Blackberry, pre-Google, dial-up world of 1995, when only around 10 percent of the public had Internet access and the White House had just barely launched its own web page.
Eight hours later, we emerged from our warren of cubicles having seemingly been transported to a parallel universe. Online we found early versions of chat rooms, postings and other information showing there was an entire cottage industry devoted to discussing conspiracy theories relating to Foster’s death, including numerous online reports of people claiming to have seen him. Those reports would be picked up by so-called news sources that most Americans at the time had never heard of—conservative outlets such as Eagle Publishing’s Human Events or Richard Mellon Scaife’s the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. From there, the story would migrate to right-leaning outlets we were familiar with, such as the New York Post, the Washington Times and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal—all before eventually ending up in the mainstream press.
What we learned in those eight hours became the basis for our 332-page report, written so that those of us in Clinton White House responsible for fielding questions about these bizarre rumors could apprise mainstream reporters of what we called the “media food chain”—basically, so that we could show them how such a wacky conspiracy theory like the supposed murder of Vince Foster had even become a news “story” at all. We would simply hand the memo to the reporter asking questions, tell him to review it and to come back to us with any remaining questions. Few did.
But we also realized that this was just the beginning. Like the scene in Bugsy where Warren Beatty, playing the mobster Bugsy Siegel, arrives in the Nevada desert and the sees the future of gambling (modern Las Vegas), those eight hours in the White House computer room were our eureka moment about the future of media and politics. We saw the transition from an electorate that passively consumed the information put before it (a joke at the time was that a political rally was a family watching a political commercial on television) to an electorate that could use technology to actively engage in the creation, distribution and self-selection of information.
(Of course, had we been just a little more business-savvy, we would have immediately relocated to Silicon Valley instead of writing that report.)