Guests: Robert Butterworth, Marc Abrahams
ALEX WITT, GUEST HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The New York terror threat, day two. One hoax, but no attack. Homeland Security still dubious of the threat source, but Mayor Bloomberg says...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG ®, NEW YORK CITY: I think we did take appropriate action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Why are local and federal governments still not on the same page?
Harriet Miers should, quote, “step aside.” The harshest language yet from a Miers detractor, conservative commentator William Kristol.
Could there an new nominee for queen of England soon? We‘ll introduce to you Prince William‘s special lady friend.
And baby burping, the Scientology way. The mother may not scream during labor, because it may traumatize the baby. Good luck with that, tomcat.
And how Fido got his groove back. Sure, the International Atomic Energy agency won the Nobel Peace Prize. But they didn‘t invent prosthetic dog testicles. Tonight, your Interesting Noble prize recipients.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
Good evening. I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann tonight.
On a day when a suspicious soda bottle can cause part of Pennsylvania Station in New York City to be sealed off, the question of credibility is still center stage.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the so-called specific threats against New York City subways. Homeland Security officials have said the threat is of, quote, “doubtful credibility,” but other law enforcement officials have described an ominous plot between al Qaeda operatives in Iraq and New York.
More on that in just a moment.
Meanwhile, it was not a vast terrorist conspiracy, but rather a soda bottle that caused a false alarm in Penn Station today. A green liquid was oozing from that bottle. Authorities now say it was probably a dumb prank.
Our correspondent Mike Taibbi has more on the city‘s readiness and its residents‘ reaction. Mike?
MIKE TAIBBI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Alex, for New York City subway riders, it was a mix of defiance and a touch of the jitters as heightened security accompanied what the mayor said was the first terror threat aimed directly at the city‘s subway system.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand clear of the closing doors, please.
TAIBBI (voice-over): As he said he would, New York‘s subway-riding mayor got to work his usual way.
BLOOMBERG: (INAUDIBLE) touch pass run at rush hour, but the train was reasonably full.
TAIBBI: And, as the mayor had announced the day before, there were more random bag searches and more plainclothes and uniformed police. Some, the Hercules team, was carrying automatic weapons visible in every corner of the system, a response the mayor said he‘d order again.
BLOOMBERG: If I‘ve got to make a mistake, it‘s going to be on the side of protecting the people of this city.
TAIBBI: There‘s been no corroboration of the threat‘s ominous details, a dozen or more collaborators prepared to carry bombs into the subway system in briefcases, backpacks, even baby strollers. But police commissioner Ray Kelly said those details, following attacks in London in July and Madrid last year, could not be ignored.
MICHAEL KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Precisely what should have been done in this situation with the information that we had.
TAIBBI: There were a number of reports today about suspicious packages, all false alarms. And while riders didn‘t dismiss the threat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I think it should be taken seriously.
TAIBBI: There was no shortage of New Yorkers who said they were dealing with it, like, well, like New Yorkers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After a point, it‘s to scare us. And I‘m not scared.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it‘s going to happen, it‘s going to happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m taking the (INAUDIBLE). I don‘t scare for nobody.
TAIBBI: While there were no hard statistics available, without question, some of the more than 3 million daily subway riders found other ways to get around town.
This bus driver said his business was booming.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I carried twice as many people as I normally do.
TAIBBI: And Harry and Monica Pincus (ph), whose daughter usually takes the subway home, took their car out of the garage instead.
HARRY PINCUS, NEW YORK CITY RESIDENT: I‘m not as courageous, perhaps, as our mayor. I‘m going to pick up my daughter from school. I really don‘t want her on the subway right now.
TAIBBI (on camera): President Bush weighed in with support for city officials, including the mayor, saying that in going public and in ratcheting up security to the max, they made the decisions they thought were necessary, Alex.
WITT: Mike Taibbi, many thanks.
New York City not the only place on edge today. The Washington Monument was evacuated. And in Philadelphia, the morning rush hour was temporarily disrupted. The Market East train station in downtown Philadelphia was evacuated after police canines reacted to a backpack being carried by an individual there. The regional train lines that run through the station were temporarily halted while police investigated. The city‘s bomb squad was also called in, but the backpack contained only a small propane connector for camping. And it was to be safe. Rail service returned to normal.
It was a bomb threat that cleared out the Washington Monument today, the threat called in to D.C. Metropolitan Police. The monument was closed for nearly two hours, but officials found nothing suspicious, and it was reopened this afternoon. While officials described the credibility of that threat as low, they didn‘t want to take any chances.
The credibility of the terror threat against New York was dubbed as doubtful by Homeland Security officials. But other law enforcement officials have described a plot targeting New York, based on evidence in Iraq. And while the reliability of that information is hard to establish, it left Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a choice that was, for him, a simple one.
And as our correspondent Pete Williams reports, even when there‘s no evidence that an attack is imminent, its details are often too ominous to ignore.
PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Though some U.S. intelligence analysts consider the threat to be of doubtful credibility, Mayor Bloomberg emphasized today, he had a decision to make for a city of 8 million.
BLOOMBERG: It is very different being an analyst in Washington looking at data, as opposed to being here in New York, where you have to take responsibility to protect people‘s lives.
WILLIAMS: Law enforcement officials say the subway warning came last weekend from a longtime informant helping the U.S. in Iraq. He said chemists and pharmacists there would travel to New York through Syria, join up with terrorists already in the U.S., and attack the subway in mid-October.
The informant gave specific names, and that led the U.S. to a house south of Baghdad in Musayyib, a town repeatedly terrorized by Sunni insurgents. Wednesday night, two of the men named by the informant were arrested there, one with documents that investigators say made references to New York City. The third was picked up today.
With those specifics, a security expert says, New York‘s response made sense.
DAVID HEYMAN, SECURITY EXPERT: Given that, they decided this was as significant a threat as they had seen in all of the information that‘s—that they‘ve seen, and that‘s why they went and raised the alert.
WILLIAMS: And yet there were also reasons to be skeptical. Officials say the informant had warned of a dozen attack plots in the U.S. in the past, and all turned out to be unfounded. And round-the-clock investigations since last weekend have found no evidence that any of the supposed plotters made it to New York.
(on camera): Tonight, investigators are chasing new leads developed from the arrests in Iraq, but with no confirmation yet that any plan of attack was in the final phases.
Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.
WITT: And then there is President Bush‘s speech yesterday on terrorism. He used that opportunity to return to some of his favorite themes and most faithful enemies. Osama bin Laden was mentioned repeatedly.
But there was also an assertion by the president on just how many terror plots had been thwarted since 9/11. According to the president, that number is 10.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Overall, the United States and her partners have disrupted at least 10 serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September 11, including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States.
We‘ve stopped at least five more al Qaeda efforts to case targets in the United States or infiltrate operatives into our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: The White House later released a list of those plots, including two 9/11-style attacks that it says were disrupted over the past four years. First of all, in 2002, an effort to hijack airplanes to attack West Coast targets. Also in 2002, the Jose Padilla plot, possibly involving a dirty bomb. And in 2003, another airliner plot, this one back on the East Coast. The other terror plots on that list were on foreign soil, but they included London‘s Heathrow Airport.
I‘m joined right now by MSNBC terrorism expert Roger Cressey. Roger, good evening. Nice to see you.
ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC TERRORISM EXPERT: Good to see you too, Alex.
WITT: Want to back up a minute with you. This, first of all, to the threat in New York. We‘ve gotten some mixed messages here over the past 24 hours just on the credibility of that threat. What is your assessment, based on your sources?
CRESSEY: Well, I think anytime NYPD thinks they have credible intelligence, and they‘re going to act on it, you should take them at their word.
Alex, there are four questions you ask when you look at terrorism reporting. Is it specific? Is it credible? Can we corroborate it? And is it imminent? And in the case of this threat, it was both specific and it was imminent.
So when you get yesses to two out of the four, there‘s an obligation by law enforcement and local authorities to act upon it.
WITT: OK, but there were also, Rog, as you know, reports that local officials, they knew of this threat as early as Monday, but they did not take it to the public until yesterday. That‘s Thursday. We‘ve got three days of a lapse there. What‘s the thinking behind that?
CRESSEY: Well, they believed that the threat was imminent in terms of it happening today. That‘s why they had the announcement yesterday. But it was important for them to take several days to do work inside the area, to make sure their intelligence assets were deployed appropriately, to make sure they were gathering any other information they needed.
So often, you‘re not going to make a public announcement until you believe you‘re within that window of a potential attack, regardless of what questions you may have about the credibility of the information.
WITT: Roger, if the intelligence about a plot against New York subways is indeed coming out of Iraq, what does that say about Iraq as a possible staging area for terrorism?
CRESSEY: Well, set the specific plot aside, Alex. But the key unintended consequence of the war in Iraq is terrorism. There is a greater terrorist presence in Iraq now than there was when Saddam was in power. There‘s a new cadre of jihadis. They‘re training today on the battlefields in Iraq in urban warfare. And if they survive that experience, they could then go back home and either create new terror cells or join existing ones.
This is the global Sunni extremist movement that is being energized by the Iraq war. That is the long-term strategic challenge for us, and it is the greatest unintended consequence.
WITT: OK, so does this all work in the president‘s favor?
CRESSEY: Well, that‘s a good question. I‘m not sure how it works in the president‘s favor in the long term. In the short term, as long as there‘s not an attack in the United States, then he can say quite correctly that during his time in office, since 9/11, he has prevented, or his administration has prevented, additional attacks.
And what we‘ll never know the answer to, while he‘s in power, is, how much of effect the Iraq war will have over the long term, Alex. you know, the case, when you have Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and some of the al Qaeda people who were involved in 9/11 bombings, it took them years to prepare, years to get to the point where they could conduct these attacks.
So even after we leave Iraq, but from a military perspective, we will still have a terrorist threat that will face us.
WITT: OK, Roger, I want to get to these preventative attacks you‘ve been talking about. There‘s 10 major terror plots that the president says have indeed been foiled since 9/11. What are the most significant elements of that disclosure?
CRESSEY: Well, there‘s a key theme throughout, which is, Al Qaeda and its affiliates still look at airliners as a preferred attack vehicle.
When I was still in government, we were very worried about the foreign flag carrier threat. That is, a aircraft hijacked overseas and then brought into the United States. Or worse yet, the pilots being the actual hijackers, coming from overseas locations. And I think there was some serious worry about that in the 2002, 2003 time frame.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we believe, was behind at least one, if not both of those plots before he was apprehended.
So the lesson here, of course, is, they‘re still coming after us inside the United States.
WITT: But Roger, when you think about all the security and all the money we‘ve spent on beefing up the security in the airlines and at the airports, when you beard a plane, do you feel nervous?
CRESSEY: I don‘t feel nervous. But I tell you what, I size up everybody in the cabin in a way I didn‘t do before 9/11. And I think most people do that.
I think what you have to look at from a threat perspective is, making sure we do not spend too much time dealing with the last threat. What are the new threats? How is al Qaeda and the al Qaeda movement evolving? How are they adapting to our defenses and identifying new vulnerabilities and seams that they can exploit?
That‘s the responsibility of the Homeland Security Department, to think proactively and think forward. And that‘s what I hope they‘re doing.
WITT: OK. Roger, when so much of the information remains classified, is it ever easy to verify whether or not the U.S., as well as its allies, have actually disrupted a plot, or if it was just sort of early-stage chatter? And really, how important is that distinction anyway?
CRESSEY: It‘s very tough to prove a negative, unless you wrap up the cell, unless you arrest individuals who are about to conduct these attacks. I mean, one part of deterrence, of course, is, making sure people decide not to conduct an attack. So unless you wrap them up, you may never know.
But the part of a good defense which is very important is projecting to potential adversaries that we are on alert, we have a capability in place, and it‘s not going to be very easy for them to attack us.
WITT: OK, Roger Cressey, MSNBC terror analyst. Always a pleasure to speak with you. Thanks for your time.
CRESSEY: OK, Alex, thank you.
WITT: The conservative pinata that is the Harriet Miers nomination suffered a direct hit today, a call from the right for her to take herself out of the running for the high court.
And later, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are expecting. Aww. But is Katie prepared for childbirth? Whoops, there‘s having a baby, and then there‘s having a baby the Scientology way. Eeeuw.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
WITT: White House counsel and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers has spent this past week charging the Hill in an effort to rally the confidence of conservatives, still very reluctant to back her.
That somewhat surprising and certainly overwhelming backlash against the president‘s latest high court pick by his base is our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.
Today, Ms. Miers‘ nomination was sent to the Senate, thus making her nomination official. Ironically, it‘s the very same day that George W. Bush could no longer avoid reacting to the W word. Asked if he might consider withdrawing Ms. Miers‘ name from consideration, the president responded, quote, “She is going to be on the bench. She‘ll be confirmed.”
That‘s not a view shared, however, by many members of what is now being characterized as the conservative rebellion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM KRISTOL, EDITOR, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”: I just think it is a mistake. And it‘s a mistake that could be rectified by Ms. Miers deciding that it might be for the good of her president if she stepped aside.
This is not a White House staff appointment. This is not a cabinet appointment, where he is owed a huge amount of deference, he can pick his own people. This is the Supreme Court of the United States. He gets two appointments during his presidency, maybe a third. He‘s got to put on people of real distinction, and with a real track record, I think, to change the direction of the court. That‘s something conservatives have worked for for so many years. And to put on an unknown, I just think is wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Well, that reluctance may not be without historical justification. In fact, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions calling it, quote, “the Souter factor,” named for the appointment of Supreme Court Justice David Souter by the first President Bush. He assured his choice would toe the conservative line. Oops. It seems what is true of any new hire applies particularly well to those getting lifetime gigs. There are always surprises.
Here‘s Brian Williams.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC NEWS (voice-over): He was a little-known judge, but president George Herbert Walker Bush had been assured the quiet man from New Hampshire was a conservative thinker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I am satisfied I‘ve found the very best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It turns out that Justice David Souter has turned into one of the most dependable votes on the liberal side of the current Supreme Court. That was a surprise to the Bush family.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: George Bush, the elder, was promised that Souter‘s nomination would be a home run for conservatives. Didn‘t happen that way. But something we also sometimes don‘t think about, Brian, is that people evolve. You know, these are very ambitious people before they get on the court, otherwise they wouldn‘t have gotten to that level.
WILLIAMS: President Eisenhower was once asked, What‘s the biggest mistake you ever made as president? His answer, appointing Earl Warren as chief justice, something he called a damn-fool mistake. Warren turned out to be a liberal lion of the bench. Ike said his second-biggest mistake was appointing Justice William Brennan, who was, in many ways, more liberal than Warren.
It‘s tough to predict how justices will rule, in part because we don‘t know what they‘ll be asked to rule on.
PROF. CASS SUNSTEIN, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO LAW SCHOOL: We might have new issues involving information technologies, for example, or new questions arising out of the war on terror, or new issues arising out of natural disasters that can‘t be anticipated.
WILLIAMS (on camera): How powerful is having a seat on the Supreme Court in American society?
BESCHLOSS: This is a person who can change the life of all of us, really, in the snap of a finger, by writing one word. And it‘s something that Americans are not as aware of, because we don‘t hear that much about these people, we don‘t see them interact...
WILLIAMS (voice-over): President Kennedy‘s pick for the court, Justice Byron White, turned into a surprise. President Ford, a Republican, appointed John Paul Stevens, who, right now, heads up the liberal wing of the court.
Justices will always change, right to left and left to right. Some theorize that knowing they have their jobs for life has a way of freeing up their thinking.
LINDA GREENHOUSE, SUPREME COURT HISTORIAN: The framers of the Constitution had a very novel idea. Most constitutional courts in the world don‘t have life tenure. It‘s not the norm. But we do. And as Ruth Ginsburg said when President Clinton nominated her, you don‘t necessarily have to please the home crowd. And that‘s true. It can be rather liberating.
WITT: And that was Brian Williams reporting.
The legal wrangling and partisan sniping continues in the wake of the indictments against Representative Tom DeLay, the return volley today from the former House majority leader‘s attorney, an official court filing accusing Travis County, Texas, district attorney Ronnie Earle of prosecutorial misconduct.
The motion asks that both the conspiracy and money-laundering indictments against DeLay be set aside, saying Earle, quote, “attempted to browbeat and coerce a grand jury, which refused to indict the congressman on the money-laundering charges, before eventually going to another, which did,” Mr. Earle‘s office releasing a statement saying the claims have no merit, and the investigation into Representative DeLay‘s actions continues.
From national leaders to world leaders, ahead on COUNTDOWN, like the world‘s best Frisbee thrower. Oddball‘s ahead.
And the world‘s sexiest woman, Angelina Jolie, was so last year‘s pick. We‘ll tell you who got the nod this year.
WITT: I‘m Alex Witt, holding down the fort for Keith Olbermann tonight.
And we‘ve reached that point where we pause the COUNTDOWN of the day‘s important stories to check in on the breaking weird news front.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Israel, where dozens of professional Frisbee throwers have gathered on this beach to celebrate actually being paid to throw Frisbees. They also had a competition to see who could throw a flying disk through this 17-inch tire from the furthest distance. Well, the winner, American Jeff Landesman (ph), who set a new Guinness World Record of 20 meters. Dude!
The 44-year-old pro wins $35 and gets to keep the tire. Eh, congratulations, buddy.
To Jaipur, India, home of Hanuman Mahuwar (ph). They call him the Music Man, because he‘s amassed an amazing collection of over 100 different rare musical instruments. (INAUDIBLE) count all those salad bowls as one instrument. The Music Man spends all day, every day, tending to his music makers. He‘s got bowls, a weird accordion kind of thing, a sweet sitar, and a vintage 1970 Fender Stratocaster signed by all those guys in Blue Oyster Cult.
And finally, it is pizza Friday around here, so we head to Dallas, Texas, home of the Pizza Hut Corporation. The pizza giant is celebrating 25 years of pan pizzas by cooking up a 1,600-pounder for all the little kiddies. How did they get this thing in the oven, Mommy? Shut up and eat your kid—eat your pizza, kid. (INAUDIBLE) shut up. Maybe I should.
But anyway, I‘m sure you‘ve heard the big news. Tomcat is expecting. But do you know anything about what it is like to give birth to a Scientology baby? We‘re going to shock you with the details.
And has Prince William found the girl of his dream? And more importantly, is she the girl of the queen‘s dreams too? The commoner who could be queen. That‘s all ahead.
But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, al Qaeda. According to an Arabic newspaper, the terrorist organization has put a couple of help-wanted ads on the Internet for video and Web page editors. The ad claims al Qaeda has a number of, quote, “vacant positions” available. Yes, more and more every day.
Number two, actor and Republican activist Ron Silver. Most famous for paying the bad guy in the movie “Time Cop” and for his ardent support of the war in Iraq, he was today, according to a White House press release, nominated by the president to be a director of the United States Institute of Peace, a federal institution created by Congress to promote the prevention and peaceful resolution of international conflicts.
Wow! Just wow!
And number one, Nickolai Sinchock of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Police say he was due for an 11:00 a.m. hearing on previous drug charges. At 10:45 a.m., he went into the courthouse men‘s room, entered a stall, and sparked up a pipe full of marijuana. There was a sheriff‘s deputy, you know, sitting in the next stall down. Mr. Sinchock was arrested and had two drug hearings that day.
And that, my friends, is why they call it dope.
WITT: Welcome back to the COUNTDOWN. I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann.
This week, Katie Holmes fired her publicist of eight years, and, in her place, acquired the services of one Lee Anne DeVette, AKA, Tom Cruise‘s sister, she responsible for this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)
TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: Matt, you don‘t even—you‘re glib. You don‘t even know what Ritalin is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: And, lest we forget, this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “OPRAH”)
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: Have you ever felt this way before?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Whether or not this, too, is Ms. DeVette‘s handy work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) and give her to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Really, anyone‘s guess at this point.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, what to expect when you‘re expecting, the Scientology edition. Someone best make sure the fetus gets a copy of the press release, because this is to be a silent birth. As practicing Scientologists, both Cruise and Holmes believe that silence during childbirth is necessary to preserve the sanity of both mother and child. The father is clearly of no import whatsoever.
The method has been used by fellow Scientologist John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, Travolta calling the birth daughter Ella—quote—
“a beautiful, still experience.” Preston, however, saying, after 13 hours of labor, it got hard-core and she screamed for an epidural. No, no, no, no epidurals, no drugs of any kind, that, too, somewhat incongruously, part of the whole silent birth thing.
But how realistic is this? And does it really have any impact on the health and well-being of the baby?
Let‘s call in the expertise of child psychologist Dr. Robert Butterworth.
Doctor, good evening. Pleasure to have you tonight.
DR. ROBERT BUTTERWORTH, CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST: Good evening, Alex.
WITT: All right, Scientology and Tom Cruise. And all his nuttiness aside, could there be something to this? Could a woman screaming in pain and cursing her husband‘s mere existence really impact the baby in some way?
BUTTERWORTH: Well, you know, this is all based on the fact that they think that, when the baby come out, they need to have no stimulus at all. It has to be very quiet.
What they forget—what they forget about is, while the baby is in the womb, the baby is hearing things from outside. They‘re hearing the heartbeat. And the poor little baby is cut from the umbilical cord, thrown out in the real world, and what happens? Nobody says anything. Nobody interacts with the little baby.
And the little baby is probably thinking to themselves, my God, why did I come out?
BUTTERWORTH: This is really kind of weird. But it is also kind of scary, because they also say, if the child needs a blood test, you don‘t do it.
And, you know, in the first few days, it is really important to check the child‘s blood, so, no touching, nothing. You know, we tried this with monkeys years ago and we came out with some really weird monkeys. And I don‘t think we need to experiment on humans.
WITT: You know, Scientology takes this whole silence thing even a step further. I mean, it is not just a silent birth. In fact, the whole following week, total quiet.
Wouldn‘t you want your baby to get used to some sounds, so that, eventually, it would be quiet for maybe the parents?
BUTTERWORTH: You know, but human are social animals. We need nurturing. We need holding. And, as I said before, that bond between the mother and the baby is really established in the first week or two.
And to take a child and just place them somewhere—what, do they just put them in a drawer and if they—they just feed them and not interact with the child? As a psychologist, I‘m really scared that these kids are going to be sensory deprived. They are not going to have interactions and they‘re going to start having developmental problem.
WITT: Well, in fact, L. Ron Hubbard is the one who founded Scientology and this whole silent birth thing is his idea.
Tom Cruise and John Travolta, both fans. None of these three were equipped with the tools necessary to give birth. I mean, should they be the ones to just shut the hell up on this?
BUTTERWORTH: Oh, yes. Don‘t you know it? Those are all guys saying what a woman is supposed to scream with her mouth closed? I mean, you have got another guy saying, you know, just shut up and bear it. This is voodoo science. It is not based on science at all.
And, really, not only it puts the mother in an incredibly painful situation, but it doesn‘t do anything for the baby. It just creates a situation where both baby and mothers are really—they do a disservice and it is really frightening. If it wasn‘t so funny, it is frightening.
WITT: Well, in fact, it is serious, because a woman has got to let out the frustration, the pain and all that. I mean, keeping it inside, you hear about people getting ulcers and the like from keeping things inside.
So, seriously, don‘t you think there would be a medical reasoning for letting it all hang out?
I mean, not only is there a medical reason, because the woman is expressing how she feels, is they‘re saying, the woman screaming is affecting the child. Hey, when the child is coming out, the child is screaming. I don‘t think the child is hearing the mother. The child is involved in their own screaming.
And, when the child comes out, and there‘s no noise, and the child is limp, that‘s when you worry. If the child is making noise and rustling around and screaming, that‘s a good sign. So, and the bottom line is, hey, we have been giving birth for centuries. And nothing has happened. Don‘t change things now.
WITT: What do you think? Do you think there‘s a danger in a couple that‘s so high-profile that advocates this sort of thing?
I mean, it‘s similar to Tom Cruise saying, psychiatry is just a junk scientist—science, rather. Do you think people are going to write it off as just weird celebrity behavior? Or is there a problem here with this mentality?
BUTTERWORTH: Wasn‘t it weird that he was talking about, don‘t use drugs for hyperactivity because it really doesn‘t work, and he was bouncing up and down on a couch while he was saying it?
Wait a minute now.
BUTTERWORTH: I think he needed to take his meds.
I mean, you know, I understand a lot of people follow him. He is a good actor. But he isn‘t a doctor. And he doesn‘t even play one on TV. So, he really needs to zip it when it comes to this.
WITT: Well, you‘re a doctor. And we‘re glad you‘re here with us on TV. Psychologist Robert Butterworth, thanks for your time tonight. Appreciate it.
BUTTERWORTH: Take care, Alex.
WITT: A swanky section of California is trying to pull the welcome mat out for a big group of problem sea lions.
And the sexiest woman in the world, it is time now for Angelina Jolie to turn over the title. We are going to tell you who gets the honors now. That‘s all ahead.
But, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say, ah.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ah.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. Randall Turner (ph) looks inside people‘s mouths for a living. But when he opens wide...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got Superman on my mouth.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Turner is one of hundreds of Americans wearing the work of Ron Grant. The Watkinsville, Georgia, artist is the self-title Monet of molars, from animals to logos to just about anything.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: We‘re learning more and more about Harriet Miers. For example, she was—did you realize this? She was briefly married to Kenny Chesney?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)
KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST: I‘m not really too excited about this. But...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, but you‘ll do fine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we go. Hold it. Take another film for left side. Hold still. Thank you. Continue on down.
COURIC: You could have at least brought me dinner, Eva (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You want to noodge on this, because you want to know as much as you can.
COURIC: Absolutely. And, next week, I will have a Pap smear. Just kidding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Sea Lions use to be endangered, but now they are endangering the way of life in one pricey area of Southern California. Boy George under arrest in New York City. And has Prince William found his queen.
See? A lot still ahead for you tonight on COUNTDOWN.
WITT: We turn now to a story making some noise in wealthy Newport Beach, California. Once home to John Wayne and Bette Davis, it is now being overtaken by dozens of loud, stinky, messy visitors, no, not the college-age kind.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, sea lions are wreaking havoc on this exclusive seaside town. With breeding season over, they are vacationing on the neighborhood yachts, they are bullying the residents and stealing fish right off the hooks.
NBC‘s Mark Mullen spent some time with the smelly new squatters.
MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In tony Newport Beach, California, residents don‘t like the new neighbors.
LOSWELL OSWALD, BOATER: They‘re awful.
MULLEN (on camera): Why is that?
OSWALD: They‘re noisy and they‘re messy.
MULLEN (voice-over): California sea lions have moved into this harbor, squatting on people‘s boats, making a mess, and a lot of noise. Most are male.
MONICA DEANGELIS, NOAA: These are going to be animals that weren‘t out there breeding or weren‘t pregnant females. So, the testosterone might have kicked in of some sort.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have been trying to come up with my own solution to the problem.
MULLEN: Some boaters have tied plastic bags to their boats in hopes of scaring them off. Others have erected barriers, but they don‘t always work.
Recently, more than a dozen sea lions, which can each weigh as much as 800 pounds, took over this (INAUDIBLE) sailboat and sank it.
SGT. JOHN WHITMAN, HARBOR PATROL: They also can be dangerous as well.
There have been attacks up and down the coastline with surfers.
MULLEN: So, why not run them off? The California sea lion is legally untouchable because it was once hunted almost to extinction. But that was then.
(on camera): There are now as many as 400,000 California sea lions protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Act, which makes it illegal to kill, injure or harass the creatures.
(voice-over): It is why sea lions have happily live at San Francisco‘s Pier 39 and taken over this area off the central coast of Monterey. Now with sea lions settling here in Southern California, residents are urging officials to use water hoses, dart guns, anything to evict the noisy bulls.
DEANGELIS: We‘re actively looking at nonlethal deterrent measures to exclude these animals from habitats like marinas and things like that.
MULLEN: Meantime, residents are learning all too well that sea lions from a distance may be cute and charming, but living with them is a much different story.
Mark Mullen, NBC News, Newport Beach, California.
WITT: And with that, we turn to the slightly more attractive stars of stage, screen and castle and the entertainment stories of “Keeping Tabs.”
And we begin with breaking tabloid news tonight. Boy George has been arrested for cocaine possession in New York. Say it ain‘t so, Boy. Say it ain‘t so. Police say the former lead singer of Culture Club actually called the cops to report a burglary. But when they showed up at his apartment, they found the door open and the star staggering around his apartment in a—quote—“drugged stupor.”
A small amount of cocaine was found next to his computer. It is unclear yet how serious the charges will be. But don‘t you worry. A guy like Boy George can certainly take care of himself in prison.
It appears we have a new favorite in the Prince William sweepstakes. That is, if you pay attention to “People” magazine. And, frankly, who doesn‘t? The cover this week featuring Prince William and Ms. Kate Middleton, asking, is she the one? Late betting puts the girl next door as the odds-on favorite to be Mrs. William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor.
NBC‘s Pat Dawson has the lowdown on the young woman who could one day be queen of England.
PAT DAWSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine a simple, carefree girl from the country with everything going her way, pretty, charming, freshly minted degree.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katherine (ph) Middleton.
DAWSON: Even, it seems, a romance with an almost too handsome boyfriend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: William Wales.
DAWSON: That would be Wales as in son of the prince of Wales, which is what they use here for a last name when your family doesn‘t really use theirs.
Meet the boyfriend‘s family. So much for the simple, carefree 20-something life.
DICKIE ARBITER, ROYAL EXPERT: They have just graduated from university. They haven‘t had a chance to sample life yet. And yet they are being pursued relentlessly by British media.
DAWSON: That would be the dignified, patient, not-at-all-jumping-the-gun British media, a frenzy of newspaper headlines over how Katherine—actually, Kate—had already met, even had private dinners, with the most important members of the boyfriend‘s family, the queen. Talk about meeting the in-laws.
(on camera): Actually, beyond the aggressive headlines, there‘s nothing to suggest that a walk down the aisle is imminent for Prince William. But, even though so, this time, it seems, a more media-savvy royal family is taking no chances that a princess, even potential princess, will be run over by the high-octane British media.
(voice-over): William has reportedly asked his father‘s media advisers for help, so Kate won‘t suffer the same fate as his mother Diana or Fergie or Camilla.
ARBITER: They learned lessons from the early days of Diana. And if she has had media training, then that‘s good thinking probably on the people behind William and probably good thinking on her part.
DAWSON: Raising the possibility that a modern fairy-tale romance might actually turn out that way.
Pat Dawson, NBC News, London.
WITT: But here, we have our own royal story about Hollywood celebrities. And “Esquire” magazine has chosen from among them to announce the 2005 sexiest woman alive. Do you recognize her? It is 23-year-old actress Jessica Biel.
Now, you may remember her from the TV show “Seventh Heaven,” or not. The magazine calls her—quote—“an underground icon to the generation of men who are coming of age now and about to burst on to the scene,” her, not the boys.
For the older generation, “Esquire” named Chinese actress Gong Li the sexiest woman in her 30s, Sharon Stone, sexiest in her 40s, Rene Russo for 50-somethings, and, in her 60s, Supreme Court Justice nominee Harriet Miers. OK, we made that one up. Sorry.
Well, one thing that is an undeniable fact, “LIVE & DIRECT” will be up next at the top of the hour.
And Rita Cosby is here for a quick preview of the show.
Hi, Rita. What you got?
RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”: Hi, Alex.
Well, Alex, I thought you were going to get picked, first of all, for that list. I‘m a little stunned.
COSBY: But—but we have a lot on tap today. In fact, I just came back a few hours ago. I was riding the subways with former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir. We decided to take the subways, you know, head on just to see what kind of security. We asked New Yorkers how they feel, are they nervous. And we also got to see what kind of security measures are in place.
Additionally, we also have a really interesting story. This is a very sad story. A University of Oklahoma student blows himself up, literally goes to a football game, sits on a park bench, blows himself up. Was there a terror connection? Was there a Muslim connection?
We are going to talk about all that and a whole lot more at the top of the hour on “LIVE & DIRECT.” We will be here.
WITT: OK. Well, we will look forward to that. The hottest news anchor at 9:00, that‘s what I say.
COSBY: Thank you, Alex.
WITT: Rita Cosby with “LIVE & DIRECT.”
Well, COUNTDOWN‘s number one story is still ahead of us. You‘ve no doubt heard of the Nobel Peace Prize. but have you heard of the Ig Nobel Prize, the top award in science that cracks you up and leaves you scratching your head? You will not believe this year‘s winner. And I don‘t believe what I will be forced to say.
WITT: A nuclear watchdog for the United Nations and a scientist who watches locusts watched the movie “Star Wars.” These are the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Ig Nobel Peace Prize, respectively.
Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the head of the agency that keeps the world safe from atomic weapons and the organization that honors inventions like prosthetic dog testicles. Here on the COUNTDOWN, we honor both equally, although, admittedly, we will be spending ever so slightly more time on those mutts, just because it brings up a lot of questions.
But, first, the real deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, are the recipients of this year‘s Nobel Peace Prize. The committee cited the group‘s incalculable importance and called ElBaradei an unafraid advocate in the fight for disarmament.
In the months leading up to the Iraq war, ElBaradei certainly clashed with the Bush administration over its claim that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling nuclear weapons. The agency had said he was watching Norwegian television with his wife last night when he heard his name before getting the official call.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMED ELBARADEI, IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: I‘m out of words. I‘m very humbled and extremely honored by this recognition of the work of the IAEA. I think that the prize recognizes the number one danger we are facing today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: ElBaradei went on to call the $1.3 million accolade a much-needed shot in the arm, as his agency faces nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran.
Now to the crisis facing our neutered pets. The man leading the charge in that effort was awarded this year with an Ig Nobel Prize. While the Nobel Prize is awarded to those who have bettered mankind, the criteria for the Ig Nobels is slightly less, well, noble, because anything that makes you laugh, then makes you think. The winners of this year‘s Ig Nobel Peace Prize, scientists from England who electronically monitored the activity of brain cells in locusts while showing them scenes from the “Star Wars” trilogy.
Maybe this will be the impetus for those scientists to move out of their mothers‘ basements, huh?
And in the field of medicine, our personal favorite, Greg Miller of Missouri, who invented Neuticles. Yes, indeed. These are artificial replacement testicles for neutered dogs. What‘s more shocking than that?
Well, anyway, he sold over 150,000 of them.
Joining me right now, the founder of the Ig Nobels and editor of “The Annals of Improbable Research,” Marc Abrahams.
Mr. Abrahams, thanks so much for your time tonight.
MARC ABRAHAMS, FOUNDER, IG NOBEL PRIZES: Thanks for inviting me on.
WITT: Did this year‘s recipients live up to the Ig Nobel precedent?
Are Neuticles a prime example of what you‘re looking for?
ABRAHAMS: Yes. I‘m not sure whether up is the right direction you‘re asking about or not. But, certainly, they fulfill the criteria.
There are 10 winners this year. Seven of them traveled here, some from literally halfway around the world. Neuticles, really, you just need to describe them and that‘s sufficient to give anybody as much information they need.
WITT: They make you laugh. They make you think.
ABRAHAMS: Perhaps you would describe them, or would you like me to?
WITT: oh, no, no. I do—I want to harp on this just a wee bit.
ABRAHAMS: I had a feeling you would.
WITT: You know the inventor.
Can you give us any light here on why 150,000 people would buy fake nuts for their dogs?
ABRAHAMS: All I can think of is the old phrase, out with the old, in with the new.
WITT: Ah, OK. All I have to say is, I‘m still getting paid no matter what I say. And I told a friend I was going say that. And I just did it.
Let‘s move on to the locust experiment. So, here‘s the question.
Why? And what were the results of that?
ABRAHAMS: Yes, that is the question.
WITT: Why? I mean, why do this, the locust research?
ABRAHAMS: Well, they were—they were looking at the question of how is it that locusts are able to supply through a swarm of locusts without colliding all that much. So they...
WITT: So, what does “Star Wars” have to do...
ABRAHAMS: So, they figured that, if you saw “Star Wars,” it was just like—part of it was just like being in a swarm of locusts. So, they measured, what‘s going on electrically inside one brain cell.
What they discovered was, there‘s a lot of electrical activity inside of one brain cell of a locust while the locust watches “Star Wars.”
WITT: Huh. That‘s all I can say to that.
OK, I see there is actually a category called fluid dynamics. What took the cake for that one? What‘s that about?
ABRAHAMS: That was—we had a hard time coming up with a category for this one. This is two scientists in Europe who calculated the pressure that builds up inside a penguin when the penguin defecates.
And most penguins, or at least some types of penguin, when they let loose, project a stream, a long stream. And these scientists looked at it, realized it takes a lot of pressure to do that. They applied some basic physics. And there you are.
WITT: OK. I‘m sensing a theme here.
ABRAHAMS: You seem to be harping on certain types of questions here.
WITT: Well, there‘s a theme here of torturing animals. I mean, come on.
ABRAHAMS: ... would lead one to believe that this is all we deal with.
WITT: No. It‘s this biology category. The researchers, what did they do? They felt frogs were feeling stressed? What is up with that?
Yes. Well, they were much more careful than that. This was 131 different species of frogs. And they sniffed them while the frogs were feeling stressed. And it turns out frogs give off—different kinds of frogs give off very different smells.
Some smelled like perfume. Some smelled like popcorn. Some smelled like cigars. Some smelled like lemons.
WITT: Oh, OK. I‘m going to take your word for that, yes.
ABRAHAMS: And one of them, one of those scientists just took a new job, moved from Australia, where he lived, to Switzerland. He now works for a perfume company.
WITT: Oh, well that‘s encouraging. I‘m going to go shopping.
Let‘s move on to more practical prizes, or not, as the case may be, the economics prize and that inventor.
ABRAHAMS: I want to see how you define practical. Yes. Pardon me?
WITT: Yes, OK.
The guy that designed the lazy man‘s alarm clock, tell us about that one.
ABRAHAMS: It‘s not a guy. That‘s Gauri Nanda.
She‘s a graduate student at MIT. And she designed an alarm clock that runs away and hides repeatedly until you find it and shut it off. She won the economics prize this year, because, theoretically, this would add many hours to the productive work day.
WITT: I tell you, I just love this interview.
Mark Abrahams, the Ig Nobel Prize‘s author, thank you so much. It‘s been very illuminating. Pleasure talking with you.
ABRAHAMS: It‘s been a pleasure.
WITT: Have a good one.
ABRAHAMS: Good night.
WITT: And that‘s COUNTDOWN. I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann. I‘m going to see you back here on MSNBC tomorrow morning, 8:00 Eastern time. So, join me for that.
Meantime, all of you have a great weekend.
Are you ready for this? Let‘s see. No, that‘s not going to do it.
Anyway, time to turn it over to “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT.”
Good evening, Rita.
COSBY: You‘re having too much fun there, Alex. Thanks so much, throwing these things at me. And good night, everybody.
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