Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dumbing down in a philosophy department?

Columbia University...stupid idea.

"Philosophy dept. scraps thesis requirement"


Michael Zhong

Thursday 30 September 2010 04:15am EST.

Beginning this year, the philosophy department will no longer require a senior thesis in order for students to receive consideration for departmental honors.

In the past, some philosophy students have written senior theses simply because they felt that they should write them, Philosophy Director of Undergraduate Studies Philip Kitcher said.

“The department has had some terrific undergraduates. But we’ve also had undergraduates, whom I’ve felt, felt they must write a thesis, but there was no particular thesis they wanted to write and wrote something they didn’t believe much in,” Kitcher said.

“It [writing a thesis] wasn’t a good experience for them, and it ended up being, shall we say, mediocre,” he added.

Kitcher believes this was particularly a problem last semester, in which the philosophy department accepted just two of 11 thesis proposals.

By removing the senior thesis as a requirement for honors, Kitcher thinks the department will be able to apply a more holistic evaluation of honors candidates. The hope for the department is that a student who otherwise has demonstrated outstanding performance in philosophy will no longer be excluded for honors consideration because of an inadequate thesis, Kitcher said.

Now, honors can be obtained by writing a thesis of sufficient quality, or instead by faculty recommendations and overall performance in major courses. However, one requirement hasn’t changed—students still must have a minimum GPA of 3.6 in major-related courses as a pre-requisite for honors.

At Princeton University, all students irrespective of major are required to write a thesis in order to graduate. The Princeton philosophy department considers the senior thesis, as well as the student’s grade point average and other factors, to determine who receives honors.

“I think every student doing honors should probably do a thesis,” Daniel Garber, chair of Princeton’s philosophy department said, though he added, “I’m not sure the thesis is the best final capping project for every student.”

Kitcher stood by the change.

Honors in philosophy ought to be decided by the quality of the overall work that has been done, and that is something quite separate from writing a thesis,” he said.

All departments in Columbia are bound by a University quota that limits the number of students who can receive honors to ten percent of all undergraduates in the department. Most departments in Columbia also have an honors policy which requires a minimum grade average and some type of senior project.

In the political science department, the conditions for honors consideration traditionally have included a 3.6 GPA in the major and an honors thesis of high quality, which is written as part of a yearlong senior honors seminar.

Recently though, a second track has developed in which undergraduates with faculty support can submit a thesis-type paper outside of the seminar. Over the last three years, of the roughly 16 students who receive honors each year, the number of undergraduates that earned honors through the second track has ranged from two to five.

The English department requires a minimum GPA of 3.65 in major-related courses and a senior essay for honors. The senior essay can be written by anyone with a faculty adviser’s support and does not have to be written in a seminar class.

David Yerkes, the English Director of Undergraduate Studies, supports this independent study-like approach—it offers English majors more course flexibility and provides students with the opportunity to converse individually with an adviser, he said.

However, Yerkes added that many students do not choose to do a senior essay.

In the sciences, the physics department requires at least a 3.6 major-related GPA as well as a research project of distinction. The mathematics department has a minimum GPA threshold of 3.63 in the major and mandates a senior thesis of merit.

Bart Piela, CC ’12 and a philosophy major and editor in chief of the undergraduate philosophy magazine The Gadfly, plans to attempt departmental honors and supports the philosophy department’s policy change.

“I’m very glad I don’t have to think about a thesis just for that reason [receiving honors],” Piela said.

Piela added that high-level seminar classes might be a better use of a senior’s time than pursuing a thesis.

“Truthfully, students do their best work in high-level seminars because as an undergraduate you need structure much more than as a graduate,” he said.

Susan Elmes, director of undergraduate studies of the economics department, said that a senior honors thesis is required to get honors in the subject.

“Graduate schools do value the thesis, as it demonstrates that a student has the ability to conduct an original research project,” Elmes wrote in an email.

Economics major Jose Delgado, CC ’12, agrees.

“The honors program seems like it would be appropriate if I was going to do economics for graduate school,” Delgado said. But, since he does not plan on pursuing economics in graduate school, he said, “I have so many other interests outside of economics that I wouldn’t want to put in the extra time.”

But Piela argued that philosophy departmental honors have minimal impact on graduate school admissions.

“A thesis can’t even be submitted for graduate schools because it’s [completed] too late,” Piela said, referring to the fall deadline for most graduate programs.

Jack Snyder, director of undergraduate studies of the political science department, believes a student should only do a thesis for intellectual purposes.

“They should not be doing honors just to get a resume item,” Snyder said.

Deceased--Robert C. Truax

Robert C. Truax
September 3rd, 1917 to September 17th, 2010

"Robert C. Truax dies at 93; rocket pioneer aided daredevil Evel Knievel's 1974 canyon jump"

The retired Navy captain also played a role in several high-profile military projects and worked on building a suborbital rocket in his backyard.


Keith Thursby

September 30th, 2010

Los Angeles Times

Robert C. Truax, a retired Navy captain and pioneering rocket engineer whose adventurous projects included working with daredevil Evel Knievel and building a rocket in his backyard, has died. He was 93.

Truax died of prostate cancer Sept. 17 at his home in Valley Center, Calif., said his wife, Marisol.

He interacted with such scientific luminaries as Robert Goddard and Wernher von Braun and developed concepts that led to high-profile projects such as the Polaris submarine missile and the military's pre- NASA space programs, but he might be best known for building a steam-powered rocket for Knievel's 1974 attempt to clear the Snake River Canyon in Idaho, then trying to prove space travel could be affordable by building his own rocket in the early 1980s.

"What distinguished him was his visionary sense," Rick Sturdevant, deputy director of history for the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colo., told The Times. "I've had numerous rocket engineers tell me that a lot of Bob's ideas were ignored because they were too far out of the box, but that didn't mean they were naive or unworkable."

Truax had "an absolute passion for rockets," his son Scott said in an interview. "Rockets were in the forefront — everything else was a distant second. You could say it was a healthy obsession."

Robert Collins Truax was born Sept. 3, 1917, in Gary, Ind., the younger son of Alida and Darwin Truax. The family soon moved to Northern California because of his mother's health problems. By the time Truax graduated from Alameda High School in 1933, he already was a "space cadet" who built rockets from tooth-powder cans, he told The Times in 1985.

He entered the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1939. During World War II, he served on the aircraft carrier Enterprise, then led a team that developed the first liquid-propellant takeoff-assist units for naval aircraft.

Truax earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering at the Naval Academy's postgraduate school in 1952 and a master's in nuclear engineering at Iowa State University in 1953.

In the 1950s, Truax was on loan to the Air Force, for which he worked on the Thor missile project and the first Air Force satellite program. He also served as president of the American Rocket Society, a group started in 1930 to advance the concept of manned spaceflight.

He retired from the military in 1959 and joined Aerojet General in Sacramento, developing the Sea Dragon, a reusable, sea-launched rocket. He also continued work on steam-powered rockets that eventually led him to Knievel. By 1967, Truax was president of his own company.

The motorcycle daredevil's 1974 jump was a media event. Knievel had become a celebrity by courting danger with elaborate motorcycle jumps, but the attempt to get over the 1,700-foot-wide canyon was by far his most dangerous and most lucrative. A headline from a 1974 Times article said Knievel would "make a killing — or kill himself."

He survived the jump but didn't make it over the canyon. News accounts said a parachute opened too early, affecting the flight of Truax's "Skycycle."

"Technically, he made it over the canyon" but was blown back by a 15-mph headwind, said William Sprow, a consultant to Edwards Air Force Base and Johns Hopkins University who started working for Truax in 1959.

Sprow said they knew of the wind issues but that Knievel couldn't delay the launch because of the commitment to televise the event. Knievel died in 2007.

By the 1980s, Truax turned to building a rocket in the backyard at his home in Saratoga, Calif. His plan was for a 25-foot rocket that would send a volunteer into suborbital flight of at least 60 miles up. He believed space travel could be more affordable and that spacecraft could be reusable.

"Ultimately, he saw our future in space, and the only way we're going to get there was to make it affordable," his son Scott said.

Truax had trouble finding enough money to complete the project, but received plenty of media attention, including an appearance on the "Tonight Show."

"You think it's going to work?" host Johnny Carson asked Truax, who didn't hesitate with his answer.

"You bet it's gonna work," he said.

In addition to his wife, Truax is survived by four children from his first marriage to Rosalind Heath Schroeder, which ended in divorce: Ann Fleming of Lincoln, Calif., Gary Truax of Berkeley, Kathleen Truax of Sonoma and Steven Truax of Sacramento; two children from his second marriage to Sally Sabins, who died in 1993: Dean Truax of Vancouver, Wash., and Scott Truax of Willard, Utah; seven grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.

"Robert Truax, a Top Rocket Scientist, Is Dead at 93"


Douglas Martin

September 29th, 2010

The New York Times

When Evel Knievel failed to leap the Snake River Canyon in 1974, he rode a vehicle powered by Robert C. Truax’s rockets. Drag racers could not beat speed records in his rocket-powered cars. NASA never bought his idea of using battleship-size missiles to launch satellites.

Nor did his dream of building bargain-basement spaceships materialize, despite decades of effort. He predicted that 50,000 people would be living in space by 1980, rather than the three that did, residents of the International Space Station.

Mr. Truax was nonetheless regarded as one of the premier rocket scientists of the 20th century. He died at age 93 of prostate cancer on Sept. 17 in Valley Center, Calif., said his wife, Marisol.

Mr. Truax was a career naval officer lent to the Air Force for top-secret projects, and later a corporate aerospace executive and an entrepreneur. His early research for the Navy laid the foundation for the liquid-propelled rockets that are the centerpiece of American space efforts, and he was a leader in developing the Thor, Viking and Polaris missile programs.

When Wernher von Braun and other German rocket experts came to the United States, Mr. Truax led the team that debriefed them. As president of the American Rocket Society, he was an early, vigorous advocate of the American space program.

The Encyclopedia Astronautica called him “one of the great originals of American rocketry.” In an interview, Rick W. Sturdevant, an Air Force historian, called him “an artist when it came to rocketry.”

Mr. Truax was more modest: “I just like to go out and play with rockets.”

His backyard rocket program, which he called Bob’s Space Program, sounds playful indeed, but its purpose was serious. It was an initiative to meld surplus rocket parts, like engines at $25 each (down from $15,000) and send civilians to space. Volunteers — including a tortilla tycoon and a guy who had ridden a roller coaster at Coney Island 5,000 times — were plentiful; money, less so.

Mr. Truax’s began this “Volkrocket” project in the mid-1970s and pursued it until 2004, when he lost a $10 million competition to be the first nongovernment entity to send civilians to space.

Robert Collins Truax was born Sept. 3, 1917, in Gary, Ind. His father became ill working in a steel mill, so the family moved to rural Northern California and built a log cabin. They later moved to Alameda, Calif., outside Oakland, where Mr. Truax completed 12 years of school in nine years and became an Eagle scout.

He also made rockets with gunpowder, shaking the family’s house, yard and tranquillity. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Naval Academy, where he wrote scientific articles on rockets. After serving on ships for two years, he was ordered to form a Navy team to find ways to use rockets to help planes take off in a shorter distance with more bombs.

Robert Goddard, the United States’ most celebrated early rocket scientist, led a civilian team to compete with Mr. Truax’s using a different method. Lieutenant Truax’s was chosen.

For three years after World War II, Lieutenant Commander Truax worked for the Navy’s “rocket desk” in Washington. He then went to the Naval Postgraduate School to earn a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering and to what is now Iowa State University for a nuclear engineering master’s degree.

In 1953, he developed a concept for putting long-range missiles on submarines. Some say the Polaris missile emerged from this work.

He left the Navy after 24 years, partly because he doubted the military’s commitment to missiles. He began his research on steam-powered rockets when a teenager his daughter was dating was experimenting with dangerous amateur rockets. Mr. Truax thought steam would be safer.

It was a steam rocket that Mr. Knievel used in his failed leap. But the daredevil still considered a proposal to use the same vehicle to jump over Mount Fuji. Mr. Truax flew to Japan, though nothing came of it. A steam-powered dragster he built for the champion drag racer Walt Arfons had several mishaps and never succeeded in its goal of exceeding the land speed record.

A contrarian theory of Mr. Truax’s that still captivates rocket experts was his idea that the cost of a rocket had little to with how big a rocket was. He did calculations showing that complexity, not size, drove costs. Hence, his proposed “space truck,” two football fields long but relatively simple in design.

Mr. Truax’s first marriage, to the former Rosalind Heath Schroeder, ended in divorce. His second wife, Sally Sabins, died in 1993. He is survived by his current wife, Marisol Guzman, 4 children from his first marriage, 2 sons from his second; 7 grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.

Tyler Clementi...a victim of technology?

Tyler Clementi, left, is thought to have committed suicide, days after he was secretly filmed and broadcast on the Internet. Mr. Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, center, and another classmate, Molly Wei, have been charged in the case.

Super sensitivity or a cruel byproduct of technology and mischievous peers?

"Private Moment Made Public, Then a Fatal Jump"


Lisa W. Foderaro

September 29th, 2010

The New York Times

It started with a Twitter message on Sept. 19: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

That night, the authorities say, the Rutgers University student who sent the message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate encounter live on the Internet.

And three days later, the roommate who had been surreptitiously broadcast — Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violinist — jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide.

The Sept. 22 death, details of which the authorities disclosed on Wednesday, was the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful material. The news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year, campuswide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to the use and abuse of new technology.

Those who knew Mr. Clementi — on the Rutgers campus in Piscataway, N.J., at his North Jersey high school and in a community orchestra — were anguished by the circumstances surrounding his death, describing him as an intensely devoted musician who was sweet and shy.

“It’s really awful, especially in New York and in the 21st century,” said Arkady Leytush, artistic director of the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra, where Mr. Clementi played since his freshman year in high school. “It’s so painful. He was very friendly and had very good potential.”

The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office said Mr. Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, of Plainsboro, N.J., and another classmate, Molly Wei, 18, of Princeton Junction, N.J., had each been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for using “the camera to view and transmit a live image” of Mr. Clementi. The most serious charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.

Mr. Ravi was charged with two additional counts of invasion of privacy for trying a similar live feed on the Internet on Sept. 21, the day before the suicide. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, James O’Neill, said the investigation was continuing, but he declined to “speculate on additional charges.”

Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, said Wednesday that he considered the death a hate crime. “We are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport,” he said in a statement.

At the end of the inaugural event for the university’s “Project Civility” campaign on Wednesday, nearly 100 demonstrators gathered outside the student center, where the president spoke. They chanted, “Civility without safety — over our queer bodies!”

It is unclear what Mr. Clementi’s sexual orientation was; classmates say he mostly kept to himself. Danielle Birnbohm, a freshman who lived across the hall from him in Davidson Hall, said that when a counselor asked how many students had known Mr. Clementi, only 3 students out of 50 raised their hands.

But Mr. Clementi displayed a favorite quotation on his Facebook page, from the song “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”: “What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia.”

And his roommate’s Twitter message makes plain that Mr. Ravi believed that Mr. Clementi was gay.

A later message from Mr. Ravi appeared to make reference to the second attempt to broadcast Mr. Clementi. “Anyone with iChat,” he wrote on Sept. 21, “I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it’s happening again.”

Ms. Birnbohm said Mr. Ravi had said the initial broadcast was an accident — that he viewed the encounter after dialing his own computer from another room in the dorm. It was not immediately known how or when Mr. Clementi learned what his roommate had done. But Ms. Birnbohm said the episode quickly became the subject of gossip in the dormitory.

Mr. Clementi’s family issued a statement on Wednesday confirming the suicide and pledging cooperation with the criminal investigation. “Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician,” the statement read. “The family is heartbroken beyond words.”

The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that Mr. Clementi posted a note on his Facebook page the day of his death: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” Friends and strangers have turned the page into a memorial.

Witnesses told the police they saw a man jump off the bridge just before 9 p.m. on Sept. 22, said Paul J. Browne, the New York Police Department’s chief spokesman. Officers discovered a wallet there with Mr. Clementi’s identification, Mr. Browne said.

The police said Wednesday night that they had found the body of a young man in the Hudson north of the bridge and were trying to identify it.

Officials at Ridgewood High School, where Mr. Clementi graduated in June, last week alerted parents of current students that his family had reported him missing and encouraged students to take advantage of counseling at the school.

The timing of the news was almost uncanny, coinciding with the start of “Project Civility” at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. Long in the planning, the campaign will involve panel discussions, lectures, workshops and other events to raise awareness about the importance of respect, compassion and courtesy in everyday interactions.

Events scheduled for this fall include a workshop for students and administrators on residential life on campus and a panel discussion titled “Uncivil Gadgets? Changing Technologies and Civil Behavior.”

Rutgers officials would not say whether the two suspects had been suspended. But in a statement late Wednesday, the university’s president, Richard L. McCormick, said, “If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university’s standards of decency and humanity.” At the kickoff event for the civility campaign, Mr. McCormick made an oblique reference to the case, saying, “It is more clear than ever that we need strongly to reassert our call for civility and responsibility for each other.”

Mr. Ravi was freed on $25,000 bail, and Ms. Wei was released on her own recognizance. The lawyer for Mr. Ravi, Steven D. Altman, declined to comment on the accusations. A phone message left at the offices of Ms. Wei’s lawyer was not returned.

Some students on the Busch campus in Piscataway seemed dazed by the turn of events, remembering their last glimpse of Mr. Clementi. Thomas Jung, 19, shared a music stand with Mr. Clementi in the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra.

On Wednesday afternoon, hours before Mr. Clementi’s death, the two rehearsed works by Berlioz and Beethoven. “He loved music,” Mr. Jung said. “He was very dedicated. I couldn’t tell if anything was wrong.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

White House recruits University of British Columbia physics professor

"UBC physics prof Carl Weiman takes science job in White House"


Stephen Thomson

September 23rd, 2010

Carl Weiman, a Nobel Prize-winning University of B.C. physics professor, is taking a job in the White House.

Weiman will become Associate Director for Science, Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. President Barack Obama announced today (September 23).

In 2007, Wieman joined UBC’s science faculty as a professor and director of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI), an internationally recognized program to improve how undergraduate students receive science education.

In 2001, he shared a Noble Prize in physics for producing a type of matter known as Bose-Einstein condensate.

Obama announced that Weiman and three others have been nominated to join the administration.

“I am grateful that these exceptional individuals have chosen to dedicate their talents to serving the American people,” Obama said in a news release. “I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”

Weiman will take an unpaid leave of absence from UBC, according to a news release from the university.

“The CWSEI has made an indelible impact on thousands of UBC students and we have no doubt Carl will affect wider change in science education in American schools through his new role,” UBC president Stephen Toope said in a news release. “We wish him the best in Washington and look forward to him rejoining us.”

Carl Weiman [Wikipedia]

Justice fell off the track...again

Who is at fault...the judicial system and/or lawyers?

"Not guilty, but stuck with big bills, damaged career"


Kevin McCoy and Brad Heath

September 28th, 2010


A judge had a warning for the Justice Department lawyers who accused Army Lt. Col. Robert Morris of conspiring to steal military supplies: The case could be "ill-advised." A nearly two-year Army probe had cleared him. And another U.S. attorney's office had declined to prosecute.

The cost of fighting federal charges could "take the guy's life savings away," the judge added.

Prosecutors went ahead, anyway. The judge's prediction was right — a jury needed only 45 minutes to find Morris not guilty. By then, though, his career had derailed. His parents had mortgaged their home to help with $250,000 in legal bills. He had drained his own savings.

The government he had served in uniform for decades could have compensated Morris for some of the losses. A 1997 law requires the Justice Department to repay the legal bills of defendants who win their cases and prove that federal prosecutors committed misconduct or other transgressions.

But Morris didn't get anything from Washington. It took a gift from a Texas billionaire to help the Morris family pay off part of the debts.

The law, known as the Hyde Amendment, was intended to deter misconduct and compensate people who are harmed when federal prosecutors cross the line. A USA TODAY investigation found the law has left innocent people like Morris coping not only with ruined careers and reputations but with heavy legal costs. And it hasn't stopped federal prosecutors from committing misconduct or pursuing legally questionable cases.

USA TODAY documented 201 cases in the years since the law's passage in which federal judges found that Justice Department prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules. Although those represent a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of federal criminal cases filed each year, the problems were so grave that judges dismissed indictments, reversed convictions or rebuked prosecutors for misconduct. Yet USA TODAY found only 13 cases in which the government paid anything toward defendants' legal bills. Most people never seek compensation. Most who do end up emptyhanded.

The Hyde Amendment did nothing for Morris, whose claim was dismissed by a judge who nonetheless criticized prosecutors and said they had "lost sight of the objective — justice."

It did nothing for Daniel Chapman, a lawyer who lost his job and had to sell his house to pay $275,000 in legal bills fighting a securities fraud case a judge threw out for "flagrant" prosecutorial misconduct.

And it did nothing for Michael Zomber, an antiques dealer who spent two years in prison and paid more than $1 million in attorney fees before his fraud conviction was thrown out.

The Justice Department, which fought the Hyde Amendment from the day it was proposed, nearly always resists efforts to win compensation, no matter how egregious a prosecutor's conduct might have been. Defense lawyers contend that the scarcity of compensation wins, amid a rise in misconduct charges, shows the law's not working.

"The Hyde Amendment is practically a useless tool for dealing with prosecutorial misconduct," said Jon May, a Miami lawyer who co-chairs the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' white-collar crime committee. For a defendant to win, "the standard is so high that a prosecutor practically has to know" in advance "that his case is so meritless that it is unlikely to get a conviction."

USA TODAY found the government is seldom forced to pay because:

• Many defendants don't apply. The wealthy and those so poor they had court-appointed lawyers don't qualify. Others hold back because they'd have to spend time and money in court and pursue a new civil action against the government after winning their criminal cases. The investigation identified just 92 Hyde Amendment compensation cases since the law's enactment.

• Some defendants are pressured by federal prosecutors to give up their right to seek repayment in exchange for lenient plea bargains or getting their cases thrown out.

• Even those who seek compensation face what an appeals court called the "daunting obstacle" of proving, sometimes in another trial, that prosecutors wronged them. Congress deliberately set a high legal standard to qualify for payment: To win, a defendant must prove a prosecution had been "vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith." But the House and the Senate never held committee hearings that could have defined that standard.

An anonymous tip

The case against Morris began in 1999 with an anonymous tip to a Department of Defense hot line. The caller said the infantry officer had diverted $7 million of surplus medical equipment from a Marine Corps base in Albany, Ga., just south of his own post at Fort Benning.

Morris, now 54, was a decorated combat veteran and logistics expert. Superiors often had praised his ability to work his way through complex military supply rules and get the job done. He played a role, for example, in ex-Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega's 1990 surrender to U.S. troops. When commanders decided to use deafening music to force Noriega out of the Vatican Embassy in Panama City, Morris quickly found and set up a sound system.

Morris' defense team said the medical supplies were intended to help a charity he had founded open health clinics in Rwanda. The non-profit, Partners International Foundation, had been approved by Army brass and had never paid Morris.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Division and the Defense Logistics Agency probed the charges and gave a report to Army Maj. Gen. John Le Moyne, the Fort Benning commander. Le Moyne issued a February 2001 decision that cleared Morris, finding that he didn't violate military law, hadn't lied and didn't misappropriate government property. "There was no theft," the decision stated.

Dissatisfied, the Defense Logistics Agency took its findings to the U.S. attorney's office in Columbus, Ga., which declined to prosecute. The agency then turned to the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas. In March 2001, a grand jury there indicted Morris on a theft conspiracy charge.

U.S. District Court Judge Joe Kendall in Dallas voiced doubts about the case. He said it looked as if investigators had shopped it to prosecutors in several jurisdictions. Getting a guilty verdict from a Texas jury could be hard, he warned, and prosecuting Morris could be a mistake. The prosecutors went forward, and Kendall granted a defense motion to transfer the case to Georgia for trial.

Le Moyne also tried to head off the August 2002 trial. He reminded prosecutors the Army had exhaustively investigated Morris. In a letter to an Army officer panel, Le Moyne said he had met with the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Candina Heath, and told her "she would lose … and be embarrassed in the process." In a separate memo sent to prosecutors before trial, Le Moyne wrote that Morris had made an "error in judgment" that "did not rise to the level of a criminal offense." It concluded: "Bob Morris is not a crook!"

During a nearly two-week trial, the prosecution called 38 witnesses. The defense called none. The jury acquitted Morris in 45 minutes, a "lightning fast" verdict that U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land tied to the government's "woefully inadequate presentation."

The Dallas U.S. attorney's office and Heath declined to comment.

Legal bills from Morris' criminal case totaled $250,000.He said he faced at least $40,000 more in related expenses — and had exhausted his savings and life insurance benefits during the earlier Army investigation. So Morris' parents took two new mortgages on their Connecticut home, and also cashed life insurance policies, to help pay the lawyers.

Morris filed a Hyde Amendment application. Despite Judge Land's criticism of the prosecution, he dismissed the case in 2003. The decision to prosecute hadn't been totally baseless, he ruled, because Morris' logistics skill and signs that he'd skirted military rules provided "sufficient circumstantial evidence" to infer "criminal intent."

The judge did not rule that the prosecutors committed misconduct. For that reason, USA TODAY did not include the Morris case among 201 misconduct cases the newspaper found in an extensive search of federal court records since 1997.

The prosecutors, Land wrote, "will likely lick their wounds and fully recover. Because of the strict requirements for recovering fees and expenses, Lt. Col. Morris, an innocent (and now financially poorer) man, may not."

The case put a three-year hold on Morris' previously approved promotion to colonel. He got the promotion after the trial, but his military career plateaued and he ultimately retired Aug. 31. The case didn't leave him destitute, but there seemed little hope of repaying his parents anytime soon.

Then Texas billionaire and former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot and his charitable foundation stepped in. Grants totaling $210,000 to Morris and his father arrived in 2003 after the court denied Morris' compensation claim, the foundation's tax filings show. The organization, which often requires beneficiaries to sign confidentiality pacts, declined to comment.

Morris said the money helped his parents pay off their mortgages. It did not, though, cover thousands in other debts related to the investigations and trial. His widowed mother, Lillian, 86, is his dependent; he took over paying most of her bills.

Said Jack Zimmerman, a Houston lawyer who represented Morris: "If Congress really intended to compensate innocent people who were put upon by the government, they've got to revisit the Hyde Amendment standard. … Any court is loath to penalize the government … if it's a judgment call."

A compromise in Congress

Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde spoke bluntly when he rose on the House floor and introduced the law that bears his name. "This simply says to Uncle Sam, 'Look, if you are going to sue somebody … and the verdict is not guilty, then the prosecution pays something toward the attorney's fees of the victim,' " Hyde said on Sept. 24, 1997.

As proposed, the legislation would have required the Justice Department to pay legal fees to vindicated defendants unless the government proved the prosecution had been "substantially justified." That provoked a veto threat from the Clinton White House.

Then-deputy attorney general Eric Holder, the Justice Department's leader, said defendants such as John Gotti, the mobster who beat the rap at his first trials, might get "big taxpayer checks."

Asa Hutchinson, a former House member from Arkansas who led the opposition, said critics feared the law could have a "chilling effect," making prosecutors shy away from worthwhile but difficult cases.

Hyde compromised. He agreed to require defendants to prove they had been wrongly charged. And to win, they would have to show not just that they were innocent, but that prosecutors had acted vexatiously, frivolously or in bad faith.

Congress approved the measure, which Hyde had attached to an appropriations bill, without defining those terms. As a result, federal trial and appeals courts in different parts of the country have issued conflicting and often confusing rules about when the Justice Department must pay.

A U.S. district court in Virginia in 1999 ruled the standard for vexatiousness should be whether a "reasonable prosecutor should have concluded" that evidence was "insufficient to prove the defendants' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco explicitly rejected the standard used in Virginia. It adopted a two-step rule: To win, a defendant must prove that the case was "deficient or without merit" and the prosecutor "acted maliciously or with an intent to harass."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta used different language. It said defendants must show a prosecutor's "state of mind (was) affirmatively operating with furtive design or ill will."

The U.S. Supreme Court, which often resolves conflicting lower-court rulings, has not yet accepted any Hyde Amendment cases.

The legal threshold is so high that Joseph McKay, a Montana lawyer who won nearly $17,000 in a 1999 Hyde Amendment repayment, says the legal standard has become "un-meetable" since his win.

Law not a deterrent

Hyde Amendment awards are so infrequent and so small that the law "hasn't been a major remedy for bad prosecutions," said Bennett Gershman, a Pace Law School professor who examined the misconduct cases USA TODAY identified. "It's a very minuscule deterrent" to prosecutors.

Even courts that have ruled that prosecutors violated defendants' constitutional rights find their hands tied. That's what happened when the government brought securities fraud charges against Las Vegas lawyer Daniel Chapman. The case collapsed in 2006 because prosecutors failed to turn over more than 650 pages of records his lawyers could have used to discredit prosecution witnesses.

A series of judges berated prosecutors for violating Chapman's rights. U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who presided over the trial, said it was "not some slight oversight, but it strikes at the very heart of the government's obligation." He said prosecutors had offered no proof that Chapman broke the law and then dismissed the case.

An appeals court was even tougher, ruling that prosecutors had committed "misconduct in its highest form" and "conduct in flagrant disregard of the United States Constitution."

Chapman, now 57, has spent four years seeking repayment of his legal bills. That effort has so far failed, because the Hyde Amendment only allows payment to a "prevailing party." Courts ruled the dismissal Chapman won didn't qualify because it didn't decide his innocence or guilt.

He's now pursuing another long-shot appeal. Chapman said his continued battle is about vindication and discouraging government misconduct as much as a desire for repayment. Without a strong deterrent, Chapman said, federal prosecutors will "do this over and over again."

Defendants who win Hyde cases also say they doubt that repayment awards have any impact on the Justice Department.

Ali Shaygan, a Miami doctor, was charged in 2008 with 141 counts of illegally administering prescription drugs. Acquitted in 2009, he sought Hyde Amendment payment because the government had engaged in what the trial judge called "win-at-all-costs" conduct. Shaygan won compensation of $601,795; the government is appealing.

Even if he wins again on appeal, Shaygan said the money would amount to "a drop in the bucket" that wouldn't change prosecutors' "habits."

Payments in all the winning Hyde Amendment cases ranged from $8,722 to nearly $1.5 million, USA TODAY found, less than some of the defendants' total legal costs. The 13-year payout total was just under $5.3 million.

A bargaining chip

Michael Zomber already had served his two-year sentence when prosecutors agreed to throw out his conviction stemming from a 2003 conspiracy indictment. There was just one catch: He had to give up give up his right to seek government repayment of his $1 million legal bills.

Before agreeing to a dismissal, federal prosecutors used Zomber's right to seek government repayment as a bargaining chip.

A federal jury in Pennsylvania had convicted Zomber of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud for the sale of four antique Colt pistols to businessman Joseph Murphy. Prosecutors said the weapons were worth half of what Murphy paid for them, and that Zomber lied to increase the price.

Zomber, now 60, spent almost two years in a federal prison camp before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit threw out his conviction. It found that the prosecutor, Robert Goldman, had failed to give Zomber's defense the letters Murphy wrote to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates offering to resell the pistols "at cost" — the same price Murphy paid.

Goldman said he did nothing wrong and warned USA TODAY that he would have any article about Zomber's case "reviewed by counsel for potential litigation." He said he regrets only that Zomber's conviction was overturned because of "an insignificant document." But the Appeals Court ruled the letters could have given jurors "reasonable doubt" about whether Zomber overcharged Murphy.

The court's decision meant Zomber faced the prospect of another costly trial. He was unlikely to go back to prison. But he could have been ordered to pay $1 million or more in restitution.

Instead, defense lawyer Gerald Lefcourt reached a deal in which prosecutors ended the case.

"They weren't going to consider dismissing" it "unless we agreed not to pursue a Hyde Amendment application," he said. Lefcourt, Hutchinson and other lawyers say prosecutors now automatically include such waivers in many plea agreements.

Zomber said he had little choice but to go along with the agreement, because prosecutors are "always going to make you sign a Hyde Amendment" waiver. Battling for repayment, he said, was "just not worth it."

All in the name of "National Security" of course...Internet Wiretaps

"U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet"


Charlie Savage

September 27th, 2010

The New York Times

Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.

James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design.

“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

But law enforcement officials contend that imposing such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the erosion of their investigative powers.

“We’re talking about lawfully authorized intercepts,” said Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”

Investigators have been concerned for years that changing communications technology could damage their ability to conduct surveillance. In recent months, officials from the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the National Security Agency, the White House and other agencies have been meeting to develop a proposed solution.

There is not yet agreement on important elements, like how to word statutory language defining who counts as a communications service provider, according to several officials familiar with the deliberations.

But they want it to apply broadly, including to companies that operate from servers abroad, like Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of BlackBerry devices. In recent months, that company has come into conflict with the governments of Dubai and India over their inability to conduct surveillance of messages sent via its encrypted service.

In the United States, phone and broadband networks are already required to have interception capabilities, under a 1994 law called the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act. It aimed to ensure that government surveillance abilities would remain intact during the evolution from a copper-wire phone system to digital networks and cellphones.

Often, investigators can intercept communications at a switch operated by the network company. But sometimes — like when the target uses a service that encrypts messages between his computer and its servers — they must instead serve the order on a service provider to get unscrambled versions.

Like phone companies, communication service providers are subject to wiretap orders. But the 1994 law does not apply to them. While some maintain interception capacities, others wait until they are served with orders to try to develop them.

The F.B.I.’s operational technologies division spent $9.75 million last year helping communication companies — including some subject to the 1994 law that had difficulties — do so. And its 2010 budget included $9 million for a “Going Dark Program” to bolster its electronic surveillance capabilities.

Beyond such costs, Ms. Caproni said, F.B.I. efforts to help retrofit services have a major shortcoming: the process can delay their ability to wiretap a suspect for months.

Moreover, some services encrypt messages between users, so that even the provider cannot unscramble them.

There is no public data about how often court-approved surveillance is frustrated because of a service’s technical design.

But as an example, one official said, an investigation into a drug cartel earlier this year was stymied because smugglers used peer-to-peer software, which is difficult to intercept because it is not routed through a central hub. Agents eventually installed surveillance equipment in a suspect’s office, but that tactic was “risky,” the official said, and the delay “prevented the interception of pertinent communications.”

Moreover, according to several other officials, after the failed Times Square bombing in May, investigators discovered that the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, had been communicating with a service that lacked prebuilt interception capacity. If he had aroused suspicion beforehand, there would have been a delay before he could have been wiretapped.

To counter such problems, officials are coalescing around several of the proposal’s likely requirements:

¶ Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.

¶ Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.

¶ Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

Providers that failed to comply would face fines or some other penalty. But the proposal is likely to direct companies to come up with their own way to meet the mandates. Writing any statute in “technologically neutral” terms would also help prevent it from becoming obsolete, officials said.

Even with such a law, some gaps could remain. It is not clear how it could compel compliance by overseas services that do no domestic business, or from a “freeware” application developed by volunteers.

In their battle with Research in Motion, countries like Dubai have sought leverage by threatening to block BlackBerry data from their networks. But Ms. Caproni said the F.B.I. did not support filtering the Internet in the United States.

Still, even a proposal that consists only of a legal mandate is likely to be controversial, said Michael A. Sussmann, a former Justice Department lawyer who advises communications providers.

“It would be an enormous change for newly covered companies,” he said.

“Implementation would be a huge technology and security headache, and the investigative burden and costs will shift to providers.”

Several privacy and technology advocates argued that requiring interception capabilities would create holes that would inevitably be exploited by hackers.

Steven M. Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor, pointed to an episode in Greece: In 2005, it was discovered that hackers had taken advantage of a legally mandated wiretap function to spy on top officials’ phones, including the prime minister’s.

“I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “If they start building in all these back doors, they will be exploited.”

Susan Landau, a Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study fellow and former Sun Microsystems engineer, argued that the proposal would raise costly impediments to innovation by small startups.

“Every engineer who is developing the wiretap system is an engineer who is not building in greater security, more features, or getting the product out faster,” she said.

Moreover, providers of services featuring user-to-user encryption are likely to object to watering it down. Similarly, in the late 1990s, encryption makers fought off a proposal to require them to include a back door enabling wiretapping, arguing it would cripple their products in the global market.

But law enforcement officials rejected such arguments. They said including an interception capability from the start was less likely to inadvertently create security holes than retrofitting it after receiving a wiretap order.

They also noted that critics predicted that the 1994 law would impede cellphone innovation, but that technology continued to improve. And their envisioned decryption mandate is modest, they contended, because service providers — not the government — would hold the key.

“No one should be promising their customers that they will thumb their nose at a U.S. court order,” Ms. Caproni said. “They can promise strong encryption. They just need to figure out how they can provide us plain text.”

Deceased--Alvin Lawson

Alvin Lawson, seen with a telescope in the early 1970s, became convinced over the years that alleged UFO abductees actually were using memories of birth trauma to describe their encounters with extraterrestrials.

Alvin Lawson
October 11th, 1929 to September 8th, 2010

"...little green men are inside abducting people?"

"Alvin Lawson dies at 80; UFO researcher questioned beliefs of alleged abductees"

Over the years, the Cal State Long Beach professor became convinced that people actually were using memories of birth trauma to describe encounters with extraterrestrials.


Keith Thursby

September 27th, 2010

Los Angeles Times

Alvin Lawson, an English professor at Cal State Long Beach who spent decades studying unidentified flying objects and questioning the beliefs of people who said they had been abducted, has died. He was 80.

Lawson died Sept. 8 at Western Medical Center in Anaheim from complications of pneumonia, said his daughter, Leslie Dirgo.

Over the years, he developed "a personal kind of fascination" with UFOs, his daughter said.

Lawson taught a class on the subject at Cal State Long Beach, started a telephone hotline about UFOs and became convinced that people who said they had been abducted actually were using memories of their birth to describe encounters with extraterrestrials.

"Do I think there are unidentified flying objects, things that people can't explain what they are or why they're there? Yes," he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1996. "Do I think little green men are inside abducting people? No."

Alvin Houston Lawson was born Oct. 11, 1929, in Fort Bragg, Calif. His father, Roscoe, was a school principal who became a district superintendent, and his mother, Katherine, was a teacher.

Lawson graduated with a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley in 1952 and a master's in 1958 and a doctorate in 1967, both in English, from Stanford University. He served in the Army during the Korean War.

In 1953, Lawson married Barbara Slade. They met as students and fellow musicians at San Francisco State, which Lawson attended as an undergraduate before transferring to Berkeley. She played the clarinet and he played the trumpet in the school band, Lawson's daughter said.

Lawson joined the Cal State Long Beach faculty in 1962 and stayed through the mid-1990s, becoming an emeritus professor in 1990. He was "quite a hard-working instructor," especially when teaching his primary interests of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, short stories and children's literature, said Charles Pomeroy, a retired English professor who shared a campus office with Lawson for about 20 years.

Lawson's work at Long Beach also included a UFO literature course that examined how people "used language to describe the phenomenon," Pomeroy said.

Not everyone on the faculty understood how Emily Dickinson and "E.T." could interest the same professor.

"University life is very tolerant, but a lot of people had the sense it was a very unusual interest for him to have," Pomeroy said.

Lawson once told a Times reporter that his interest in UFOs began in the late 1940s when he first read of reported sightings. In the 1970s, he started the UFO Report Center of Orange County, which according to a 1992 Times article received about 400 calls in its first year.

With an Anaheim doctor, William C. McCall, Lawson used hypnosis on people who said they had been abducted. Lawson started becoming more skeptical of the accounts, and he and McCall decided to hypnotize people who made no claims about space aliens. They were asked to imagine being abducted so the accounts could be compared to reported abductions. Lawson was struck by the similarities.

"We had expected the people imagining the abductions would be giving us real predictable, stultified, cardboard encounters. But they made up incredible stuff," he told The Times. "It was just as rich, variable and interesting as the supposedly real abductions."

Lawson believed people could remember the trauma of their birth and the subjects kept using similar imagery and details.

"The research means that people who have reported being captured by the UFOs have had experiences as least as valid as dreams, deathbed visions and psychosis," he told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper in 1985. "That is, they aren't lying but their experiences aren't real or anything like we've seen in the movies."

Lawson's views made him "a rebel" among people interested in UFOs, his daughter said.

"There is an underlying assumption in his work … to presume that anyone who sees or has seen an alien had a 'birth trauma,' " Robert D. Morningstar, editor of the newsletter and website UFO Digest, said in an e-mail to The Times. "He could say that all he wanted to, but how does he prove it?"

Lawson said of his critics in 1996: "True believers are mad at me. My ideas represent a threat to their belief systems. To them I'm like an atheist that shows up to a party given by Jerry Falwell."

In addition to his wife and daughter, Lawson is survived by a brother, Wilbur, of Fort Bragg; a sister, Beverly, of Rocklin, Calif.; and four grandchildren.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Platonic case you didn't know

"What's Plato Got To Do With It?"

The origins of the term platonic friendship.


Juliet Lapidos

September 27th, 2010


There's a "strictly platonic" category on Craigslist filled with personal ads that belong under a racier section heading ("I'm very willing and needy in my sexuality"). Fewer postings request the nonsexual companionship that most people associate with the term platonic friendship (These are less fun to read: "anyone up for a movie?"). I've been using the modifier platonic a lot lately—ever since I started researching a series on male-female friendship—always in the nonsexual sense. And I assume that most people know exactly what I mean. But how did Plato, a classical philosopher, come to be associated with nonphysical attachment?

The Florentine scholar Marsilio Ficino coined the term amor platonicus (Latin for "platonic love") in the 15th century. He had in mind Plato's Symposium, in which Socrates describes a possible ascent from base desire to high-minded contemplation—a "ladder" with love for a beautiful person at the bottom, and love of Beauty itself at the top. (Step by step: Love of a beautiful body, love for all beautiful bodies, love for the beauty of laws, love for the beauty of knowledge, and the love of Beauty itself.) Ficino Christianized the concept, interpreting the final Beauty as a reference to God. He further asserted that true lovers are drawn to each other's divine souls: "[T]he passion of a lover is not quenched by the mere touch or sight of a body," he wrote, "for it does not desire this or that body, but desires the splendor of the divine light shining through bodies, and is amazed and awed by it."

The Symposium concerns relationships between men, not between men and women—Socrates' "beautiful body" belongs to a young boy. Although Ficino condemned homosexuality as unnatural, he also thought that chaste male companions were best-suited for trips up the heavenly ladder. But as Ficino's description of Platonic love circulated around Europe, women stepped into the role of the beloved who incites spiritual desire. Neoplatonic thought also fused somewhat with an old courtly tradition in which women occupy an elevated position and become objects of male worship. This heterosexual platonic love wasn't "friendship," but a more romantic (though still not corporeal) bond that emphasized the benefits of chastity over erotic passion. The platonic male lover venerates a woman's soul rather than her body.

By the time the phrase Platonic love entered written English in the 1630s, Neoplatonism was a fad among English royals and their circle. In 1634, the writer James Howell noted that "the Court affords little News at present, but that there is a love call'd Platonick Love, which much sways there of late; it is a Love abstracted from all corporeal gross impressions and sensual Appetite, but consists in Contemplations and Ideas of Mind." William Davenant's 1636 play, The Platonick Lovers, satirizes the concept by making it seem pretentious. He contrasts Theander and Eurithea's lofty intellectual connection with Phylomont and Ariola's more ordinary physical attachment. Toward the end of the play, Theander takes medicine that "cures" him of his chastity; he and Eurithea commence a more "natural" relationship.

Eventually, the religious aspects of platonic friendship got watered down, and spiritual came to mean not physical. Certainly by the mid-18th century platonic friendship and platonic love were commonly used to signify an intense but sexless relationship, not a Godly one. In his 1742 novel Joseph Andrews, Henry Fielding wrote of his two main characters, "If they found themselves to be really Brother and Sister, they vowed a perpetual Celibacy, and to live together all their days, and indulge a Platonick Friendship for each other."

In this new phase, a friendship could be described as platonic even in the face of mutual desire. It was the infeasibilty of the romance, for one reason or another, that defined the status. In his 1846 Biographical History of Philosophy, for example, George Henry Lewes wrote, "This is the celebrated Platonic Love, which, from having originally meant a communion of two souls, and that in a rigidly dialectical sense, has been degraded to the expression of maudlin sentiment between the sexes. Platonic love meant ideal sympathy; it now means the love of a sentimental young gentleman for a woman he cannot or will not marry."

It's now common to hear platonic used as a modifier that means no sex and no interest in sex—not something spiritual, not a courtship, and not a frustrated romance. But it's also common to hear Lewes-style dismissiveness attached to the phrase, with the implication that platonic friendship is nothing of the kind. In 2003, the Word Detective blog fielded a question about the origins of the phrase. It turned up in English around 1630 was the answer, "and various people have been claiming to be involved in 'just platonic' relationships ever since. They are, of course, almost always lying."

Deceased--Jimi Heselden

The "green machine" as a death machine.

"Segway boss Jimi Heselden dies in scooter cliff fall"

Yorkshire millionaire Jimi Heselden dies while testing cross-country version of upright, motorised 'green commuter' machine


Martin Wainwright

September 27th, 2010

The flamboyant former miner at the head of the Segway scooter company has died in a freak accident by sliding on one of the miniature two-wheelers off a cliff.

Jimi Heselden, who latched on to an international craze for the upright, motorised "green commuter machines", was testing a cross-country version when he skidded into the river Wharfe which runs beside his Yorkshire estate.

Police confirmed this morning that the 62-year-old's body had been found in the river at Boston Spa, five miles from the Leeds factory where he made his first fortune from Afghanistan defence contracts. Using redundancy money from his pit job, he invented a wire basket crammed with earth and water which proved far more effective than sandbags against mortar and missile attacks.

Heselden, whose personal fortune was ranked at £166m and earned him 395th place in this year's Sunday Times Rich List, died after the accident yesterday morning. West Yorkshire police said the scooter had been found nearby after the body had been reported by a local walker at 11.40am. "Mr Heselden was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. The incident is not believed to be suspicious and the coroner has been informed," said a spokesman for the force.

Heselden lived near the British Library's vast storage depot at Thorp Arch, a village on the other side of the river from the small, sought-after town of Boston Spa. He lost his mining job in the pit closures after the 1984-85 miners' strike, but put his knowledge of geology and soil science to good use. Updating the medieval defence system of gabions - baskets filled with stones and crammed together to create makeshift walls - he patented the Bastion, which proved an immediate bestseller for his Hesco firm. Its Leeds base lends colour to an otherwise drab industrial estate, with a surplus tank beside a wall of Bastions which looks like something out of a conflict zone.

Heselden did not court personal publicity but rewarded loyalty in his workforce. When Hesco won an order for UN forces in Kosovo and fulfilled it well within deadlines, he flew 21 staff out to Benidorm in Spain for a holiday. In five years after first ordering a Bastion in 1998, the Pentagon made orders totalling £53m.

Heselden bought the Segway company in January this year, after commissioning a financial analysis of its success in the US, where it was invented. The scooter has been heavily marketed as a "green commute" but buyers are warned to take a string of safety precautions, including wearing a helmet.

Heselden was born and brought up on Halton Moor, a large council estate in east Leeds made famous by the writer Keith Waterhouse, whose family moved there when he was a schoolboy. Heselden stayed in touch with local people and was a major donor to charities, especially in the Leeds area and others with military links such as Help for Heroes.

A statement from Hesco this morning said: "It is with great sadness that we have to confirm that Jimi Heselden OBE has died in a tragic accident near his home. Jimi is perhaps best known for his charity work with Help for Heroes and the Leeds Community Foundation.

"A £10m gift to the foundation earlier this month saw his lifetime charitable donations top £23m. Our thoughts go out to his family and many friends, who have asked for privacy at this time."

George Bush dramatically illustrated the hazards in 2003 when he was photographed on holiday in Maine, leaping from a Segway after losing control. The then US vice-president Dick Cheney rode one of the scooters around his Washington office complex while suffering from an ankle injury and was widely quoted as recommending them as equipment for US special forces.