Melinda Beck

Stories by Melinda Beck

  • Small Planes, Big Problems

    JESSICA DUBROFF has joined a sad club. Will Rogers, Buddy Holly, Knute Rockne, Rocky Marciano and at least 10 sitting U.S. congressmen also died in tiny planes. So do more than 700 other Americans annually -- far more than die in major airline crashes, even in the industry's worst years. Flying in small private planes is still safer than driving; nearly as many motorists are killed every year at railroad crossings alone. But each celebrity death raises new concerns about all those little planes jockeying for airspace with big jetliners, hang gliders, ultralights and hot-air balloons, in increasingly crowded skies. ...
  • Death In The Mountains: How A Vip Jet Strayed

    THEY KNEW THE WEATHER was dicey even before takeoff, but dignitaries were waiting in Dubrovnik. So Ron Brown and his entourage gamely took off in the same air force T-43A passenger jet that had ferried First Lady Hillary Clinton around the Balkans the week before. In Tuzla, Capt. Ashley Davis got a report showing light to moderate rain in the region. Whether that was overly rosy or the weather deteriorated quickly still isn't certain. But as the T-43A descended into Dubrovnik 45 minutes later, the city was facing its worst storm in 10 years. The cloud cover had dropped to less than 500 feet, with visibility just 100 yards--far below safety limits for the airfield nestled between the Adriatic and its rugged coast. ...
  • Separate, Not Equal

    You can tell a lot about a culture by the way its inhabitants eat. In the cavernous mess hall of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., first-year cadets sit stiff-backed in their starched gray uniforms, their shoulders scrunched high in the awkward "brace" position, their shaved heads as bald as cue balls. The "knobs" may sit at the dinner table, but their chief task is to keep upperclassmen's water glasses constantly filled-even while the seniors hurl insults at them. Occasionally they get permission to swallow a bite of food, but their chins must stay tucked. Some knobs leave the mess hall as hungry as they went in. ...
  • Patterns Of Abuse

    The stories spill out from behind bedroom walls and onto the front pages. Back in 1983, before talk shows dissolved into daily confessionals, actor David Soul offered up the stunning admission that he'd abused his wife, Patti. Two years later, John Fedders, the chief regulator of the Securities and Exchange Commission, resigned after he acknowledged that he'd broken his wife's eardrum, wrenched her neck and left her with black eyes and bruises. In 1988, the nation sat mesmerized by Hedda Nussbaum and her testimony about being systematically beaten by her companion, a brooding New York lawyer named Joel Steinberg, who also struck the blows that killed their adopted daughter, Lisa. Now America is riveted again, this time by the accumulating evidence of O. J. Simpson's brutality against his wife, Nicole. Yet, for all the horror, there is a measure of futility in these tales: one moment, they ignite mass outrage; then the topic fades from the screen. ...
  • The Infertility Trap

    USUALLY, WHEN MASSACHUSETTS state Rep. Ronald Gauch holds monthly office hours in Shrewsbury, he hears complaints about budget cuts or potholes. But last month constituents had a more startling grievance. They told him that Massachusetts's Medicaid program was paying for welfare mothers to receive fertility drugs. At first, Gauch said, he found it "hard to believe." Then he checked state records and confirmed that Medicaid spent $46,000 last year for two drugs, Clomid and Serophene, that are prescribed only to treat infertility. Of the 260 state Medicaid patients who received the drugs last year, 58 percent were on AFDC-the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program that covers mainly single mothers-and 63 percent already had children. In fact, two of the women already had eight children each. Massachusetts's Republican Gov. William Weld abruptly banned the drugs from the state's list of Medicaid-approved medications. Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy agreed, saying: "Our goal in...
  • 'I Wanted To Be A Hero'

    WHY DID JACK RUBY shoot Lee Harvey Oswald? One theory is that the pugnacious Dallas strip-joint owner was simply overcome by emotion and trying to play hero. Other theories stipulate that he was hired--by the mob, the CIA or other dark forces--to silence Kennedy's assassin so that Oswald couldn't implicate others in a plot. Thirty years later, it is still hard to persuade conspiracists of the simpler explanation, because government investigators left so many critical questions about Ruby unexplored. When one of J. Edgar Hoover's top deputies wrote a memo warning that "a matter of this magnitude cannot be fully investigated in a week's time," the FBI director scrawled a note at the bottom saying: "It seems to me we have the basic facts now." The date was Nov. 26,1963. ...
  • 'Someone Dropped The Ball'

    Why didn't Texas child-welfare workers do something sooner to protect the children of David Koresh's cult? In retrospect, the whole tangled saga is a classic case of serious allegations falling through the cracks between federal, state and local jurisdictions and between state lines. Police in California said that at one point they had enough evidence to arrest Koresh for statutory rape, but they didn't have Koresh; he was in Texas at the time. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms heard charges of child abuse and underage sex but had authority only over weapons violations. Texas child-welfare workers heard allegations, too, but when they investigated they were met with a brick wall of denial from cult members and kids alike. ...
  • The Questions Live On

    Somewhere amid the ashes of Ranch Apocalypse there may be clues to what really happened. Then again, some of the evidence, like some of the bodies, may be burned beyond recognition. Instead, there were only conflicting explanations for the fiasco that killed an estimated 86 people and shattered families from Manchester to Melbourne. Between the lurching spin control from embattled federal officials and the secondhand' accounts from survivors' lawyers, it was hard to know whom and what to believe. Among the most troubling questions: ...
  • The Impact On Gay Political Power

    The "1 percent thing" wasn't mentioned at President Clinton's historic Oval Office meeting with gay and lesbian leaders last week. But the question hung in the air outside: if gays really represent such a tiny fraction of the population, will that stall the political momentum the gay-rights movement has built in recent years? Leaders of anti-gay groups were giddy over the prospect. "Tremendous political impact!" exclaimed the Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, which represents some 27,000 churches. "Thank you, Alan Guttmacher Institute." ...
  • Doctors Under The Knife

    They converged on Washington 1,000 strong last week-pediatricians from Chicago, anesthesiologists from Los Angeles, internists from Utah. They came representing every state in the union and every branch of the medical profession, hoping for the chance to make their voices heard. There were no angry confrontations-the docs even gave Vice President Al Gore a standing ovation when he promised to get government off their backs in exchange for help in controlling costs. But beneath all the cordiality was deep foreboding about what Bill Clinton's health-reform plan, now just one month away, will hold for them-and whether they will bear the brunt of radical change. "This is a black-hat/white-hat issue," lamented American Medical Association vice president Dr. James Todd. "There's a mentality that you have to take a pound of flesh out of the medical profession." ...
  • Thy Kingdom Come

    One of the deadliest days in U.S. law-enforcement history began quietly on the flat plains outside Waco, Texas. About 8:30 Sunday morning, an undercover agent who had infiltrated the bizarre cult known as the Branch Davidians heard the phone ring in the group's sprawling compound. Soon after self-styled Messiah David Koresh was fervently reading Scriptures. The agent apparently thought little of the call at the time. He left and reported an "all clear" to his waiting colleagues from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. ...
  • Mary Poppins Speaks Out

    Nannies: dark-skinned women from Trinidad and El Salvador, watching tow-haired charges play in the sand. Fresh-faced Americans from the heartland, eager for adventure-if only their employers would come home before 10 p.m. and relieve them. Medical students from Poland, farm girls from Ireland, teachers from Grenada, many struggling to send money home to their own kids while minding someone else's amid a sea of American toys. Their voices haven't been heard much in the debate over attorney general or the hardships of American working mothers. Even feminists have largely ignored them, forgetting that as women have moved into traditionally male jobs, they've had to find other women to take their place in the home. "Those women tend to be poor, working-class and usually of color," says sociologist Mary Romero, author of "Maid in the U.S.A." "It reminds me of Sojourner Truth's statement: 'Ain't I a woman?'" ...
  • PLANNING TO BE POOR

    Society is full of mixed messages these days. You're supposed to save for your old age and build a nest egg that will see you through an attractive funeral. But increasingly you hear you're a sucker if you do-when you're old and infirm the costs will be so staggering that you can't possibly shoulder them yourself. If you end up in a nursing home, your savings may be wiped out faster than you can get an attendant to answer your call button. The average bed costs $32,000 a year, and some run as high as $80,000. When your own money is gone, you'll end up on Medicaid, the nation's health insurer to the poor, which, unlike Medicare, will pay for nursing home bills. So what's the point of saving, only to have your money go to Shady Acres? Why not plan ahead to be poor? ...
  • Painful Remedies

    No issue facing American voters this fall strikes closer to home than health care, and none is more ponderous to explain. All three presidential candidates are guilty of promising too much, specifying too little and ignoring the enormous obstacles to serious change. But then, you try discussing "managed care," "fee for service" and "single-payer systems" in a 30-second sound bite. It's no wonder the candidates prefer to trash each other's ideas and keep their own prescriptions vague. ...
  • The Flames Of A Crusader

    All Sue Harang ever wanted, she says, was to ensure decent care for nursing-home patients. For her troubles, she suspects, someone crept up to the bunkhouse on her rural property near New Orleans last May and set it ablaze. Her 17-year-old daughter Laurie and a girlfriend were sleeping inside. They narrowly escaped. Lost in the flames were the case records, court documents and computer files that have helped make Harang a formidable crusader against abuse and neglect in nursing homes across the nation. ...
  • Menopause

    ARCHIE: Edith, if you're gonna have a change of life, you gotta do it right now. I'm gonna give you just 30 seconds. Now come on, CHANGE! EDITH: Can I finish my soup first?--"All in the Family," 1972For generations of women of a certain age, Edith Bunker's rejoinder said it all. Husbands might joke or misunderstand, but menopause was something women themselves didn't want to discuss-not with their mothers, their daughters, their doctors or their closest friends. It was like shaving your legs--something you did in private. Even women who wanted to know more about what was happening to their bodies were squeamish about asking questions. After all, it had to do with plumbing, and worse, it carried the unspoken stigma: you're getting old.Now, The Change itself is undergoing a transition. Suddenly this spring, menopause is the subject of briskly selling books, the buzz of TV talk shows and fodder for support groups, newsletters and posh luncheon gatherings of women who find it intruding...
  • He Hits, She Runs, He Scores

    It was Ladies' Night a few weeks back at Sip's, a popular bar in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and, as usual, several of the New York Mets were on hand. In the ladies' room, one temptress moaned, "My moles are smearing." On the dance floor, a male stripper in a gold thong gyrated in front of another woman, who licked champagne from his navel. "Wiggle it-just a little bit" boomed over the sound system--drowning out the muted television as it broadcast news of the latest Mets sex scandal. ...
  • The Divine Detective Strikes Again

    Sam Spade he's not. And unlike G. K. Chesterton's. Father Brown or television's Murphy, James McClosky has never been or but the seminarian detective has earned startling reputation freeing falsely convicted prisoners he has just signed a movie deal for his life story. Now McCloakey is seeking new testimony to save 'Roger Keith Coleman from Virginia's electric chair and, last week, he scored another victory. Thanks largely to McCloskey's efforts, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the County Superior Clarence Chance and Benny Powell free after serving 17 years in prison on a bogus murder charge. She also apologized: "Nothing can return to you the years irretrievably lost" ...
  • Hand-Me-Down Genes

    Whenever doctors asked Dan Maier, 29, if cancer ran in his family, he always said no. That was before he brought a tape recorder to brunch with his 92-year-old grandmother and asked her to help him construct a family history. In the process, Maier learned that his grandfather, who died in a car accident, also suffered from leukemia. He later discovered that his mother's father had skin cancer-and he plans to be more careful in the sun from now on. In fact, Maier, a spokesman for the American Medical Association, was so struck by what he learned that he included an innovative idea in the AMA's 1992 list of "New Year's Resolutions for a Healthier America": write a family health history. ...
  • A Dumping Ground For Granny

    The sad scenario goes something like this: an elderly man is brought to a hospital emergency room by family members who say he is confused, not eating or wandering away from home. Tests find nothing specifically wrong with him, but when doctors try to contact the family, the phone number they left has been disconnected and the address proves fictitious. Or nursing-home staffers transport a resident complaining of chest pains to an emergency room. When physicians stabilize her and attempt to return her, the nursing home says her bed has been filled-usually by someone better able to pay the fees. Sometimes there is no accompanying paperwork on the patient, so doctors can't determine if the ailment is a chronic condition or something new, and they have to order a battery of expensive tests. Either way, the hospital is left caring for the patient sometimes for days or weeks on end, and sometimes with no one to bill expenses to....
  • School Day For Seniors

    Even before he retired from his job as a securities broker in 1984, Mac Gibbons knew he wanted to learn more history. "I had traveled all my adult life, and everywhere I went, I was amazed by how little I knew," he says. Gibbons knew he wouldn't have the discipline to read history books on his own, so when he heard about a Yale program allowing alumni to attend classes, he headed back to his alma mater. At 67, Gibbons is now in his fifth fall term of his second Yale career, auditing art-history classes and taking history courses for credit. He has studied Tudor England, the Age of Augustus and Periclean Athens, driving to New Haven once a week from his home in Greenwich. "I take notes like mad. I work my tail off. And I've made more friends than in any period in my life, all of them about 20 years old," he says. This time around, he has earned straight A's. ...
  • State Of Emergency

    He was stabbed during a racial melee in Brooklyn--but his problems didn't end there. Yankel Rosenbaum was taken to the emergency room of Kings County Hospital, where residents treated one stab wound but allegedly failed to notice another for 45 minutes. Later that night, the 29-year-old student died in surgery, having lost more than a quart of blood As the Brooklyn district attorney's office began a criminal investigation into the ER's conduct, one weary hospital official told a tabloid reporter: "It was just a very, very busy night." ...
  • Biosphere Ii: Science Or Showmanship?

    It's a good bet that when God created Biosphere I (Earth, that is), there were no sombreros full of raw vegetables or giant vats of guacamole to feed the assembled onlookers. Nor were Timothy Leary, Steve Guttenberg or "Cheers" stars John Ratzenberger and Woody Harrelson present to lend celebrity cachet. But all those and more--a fire juggler, an Indian chanter and costumed dancers on stilts--were on hand last week to fete the opening, or rather the closing, of Biosphere II, a gigantic terrarium rising Jules Verne-like from the Arizona desert. It was a fitting extravaganza for an audacious project that aims to recreate Earth itself, complete with a desert, rain forest, savanna, ocean and farm, all within 2.75 steel-and-glass enclosed acres. The next morning, as the door was sealed, locking in four men, four women and 3,800 species of plants, animals and insects for two years of isolation, Texas billionaire Ed Bass, the project's chief financier, exhorted the crew to "fly your...
  • Bonfire In Crown Heights

    As an uneasy truce prevailed in New York City's Crown Heights neighborhood last week, it was tempting to see the conflagration as the latest chapter in the tangled history of black-Jewish relations. Or as the inevitable end of a jobless summer in which scores of black youths had nothing better to do than throw rocks. Or as Tom Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities" come to life. The ingredients were all there: a fatal car accident in a troubled neighborhood, fiery preachers, angry black mobs and ineffectual city officials. But more than anything else, the rioting in Crown Heights was the clash of two disparate worlds sharing the same streets, each viewing itself as victims. Resentment had long simmered between the Orthodox Lubavitcher Hasidic sect and the neighborhood's black majority. Each responded with the rhetoric of age-old oppression. "We in Crown Heights have seen a pogrom with our own eyes," said Rabbi Shmuel Butman, speaking for the Jewish community. Countered black activist...