Is Bill Frist as Phony as a Three-Dollar Bill?

The Republican Party no doubt figured it had gotten rid of a nasty problem when its U.S. Senators elected William Frist of Tennessee as majority leader to replace the disgraced Trent Lott. After all, Senator Frist has been declared, by himself and by friends in the media, as nothing less than the Beltway’s answer to the Good Samaritan. A surgeon before turning his attention to politics, Mr. Frist-er, Dr. Frist-has won praise for his journeys to Africa, where he performed several operations on poor people.

But there’s another side to the good doctor, as was pointed out recently by Frank Rich of The New York Times . While he rarely fails to talk about his good work in Africa, Dr. Frist didn’t flinch when his friend, President George W. Bush, demanded a cut of more than 50 percent in AIDS/H.I.V. funding for that continent. Also, as Mr. Rich noted, while Dr. Frist supports allowing private health plans to get a piece of the Medicare pie, he doesn’t mention that he owes his wealth to a for-profit health-care company that his father and brother founded.

Dr. Frist is a smooth operator, and he tells a compelling story. But there’s less than meets the eye in his earnest, self-promotional tales. For example, those operations he performed in Africa: Does this full-time politician have any business wielding a scalpel on any continent? He stopped performing heart surgery after he was elected to the Senate because such delicate work requires commitment. Apparently, some people think it’s O.K. that this rusty surgeon has done hip replacements and hernia operations in Africa.

It’s an open secret that Dr. Frist is running for President in 2008. In fact, he’s so busy figuring out how he’s going to succeed George W. Bush, it’s impossible for him to do the job he should be doing now as Senate Majority Leader. Meanwhile, he continues, in Mr. Rich’s words, to dispense “bromides and palliatives for every troublesome topic, dishing out the spin so smoothly that you have to question your own grasp on reality.”

Indian Point: Still a Disaster Waiting to Happen

In January, a study of the Indian Point nuclear plant commissioned by Governor George Pataki and conducted by James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, concluded that “emergency plans are inadequate to protect the public from a disastrous leak of radiation at the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County and do not fully take into account the possibility of a terrorist attack.” And now, one month later, FEMA itself-in a 500-page preliminary study-reports that the agency cannot give “reasonable assurance” that the emergency plans in place would work. After Sept. 11, the very least New Yorkers should expect is “reasonable assurance” that a nuclear plant located 35 miles from midtown Manhattan isn’t a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, the evidence mounts that Indian Point and its owners, the $10 billion New Orleans–based Entergy Corporation, represent a daily threat to the lives and health of the 20 million people who live within 50 miles of the plant.

Even prior to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, there was a strong case to be made for closing Indian Point. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission identifies Indian Point as the most dangerous nuclear plant in the United States. Its record is filled with accidents, and its employees have flunked safety tests. The N.R.C. has estimated that a meltdown at Indian Point would kill 46,000 people immediately, injure 141,000 and spread radiation sickness over New York City. The current evacuation plan only concerns itself with those living within 10 miles of the plant, assuming that eight million New York City residents would just sit tight and wait for the clouds of radiation to float over the city. It doesn’t take much to imagine the gridlocked roads, bridges and tunnels that would result if news of a catastrophe at Indian Point flashed across TV screens.

Now add the threat of terrorism. American soldiers found diagrams of U.S. nuclear plants in Afghan caves. Why worry about terrorists smuggling a dirty bomb into New York City when one already exists 35 miles upwind?

Entergy has made millions from Indian Point. Its chief executive, J. Wayne Leonard, and its board of directors are averse to taking the billion-dollar writedown they would have to absorb if they closed the plant. Rather than wait for Entergy to do the right thing, the N.R.C. should heed the warnings of Representatives Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey and Senator Hillary Clinton and use its authority to shut down Indian Point.

But the commission is dawdling. “The N.R.C. is acting like it’s Sept. 10,” Representative Engel recently told The New York Times. Governor Pataki has also failed to confront Entergy and the N.R.C. on an issue which is of vital importance to his constituency. How many more studies are needed before New Yorkers will no longer have to live in the shadow of Indian Point?

The Ivy League: Dumbbells with Great Memories

It turns out you don’t have to be super smart to have a great memory-you just need to know how to use the brain you were given. Researchers from University College London compared competitors from the World Memory Championships with people who didn’t have strong memory skills and found no difference in intelligence or brain structure. As published recently in Nature Neuroscience , the study asked both groups to remember a sequence of three-digit numbers. All of the participants assigned “tags,” such as a color, to different items to help them remember. But the memory champions also used a technique called “method of loci,” in which each item was given a place in an imaginary structure or along a familiar route. By doing so, they were activating the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with spatial memory, and an area which presumably lies dormant in the more forgetful among us.

The research points to a flaw underlying our whole education system, which is, after all, based on students’ ability to remember well-from E.R.B. scores to SAT’s, college boards, MCAT’s and LSAT’s. Having a great memory, the new research shows, simply has no correlation to intellectual ability. Which explains why so many of the country’s top universities, medical schools and law schools are filled with students who frequently just don’t measure up.