Monday, April 28, 2008

Breakthrough Scientific Discovery has Far-Reaching Implications

An unlikely international team made up of mathematicians at the Advanced Particle Accelerator in Berne, Switzerland and astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope, joined by the engineering team working on the Cosmic Background Radiation Explorer satellite launched in 2005 in a joint venture by the European Space Agency and NASA, have released the results of a new and far-ranging study which, on its face, is likely to change mankind's understanding of the universe well into the future.

"Some of Einstein's early findings indicate that space and time are curved, and that has led my team to attempt to measure the curve," explained mathematics researcher Hendrichs Straat. Dr. Straat's team has been running analyses on a large supercomputer in New Delhi using precise predictive models made possible by recent discoveries in particle acceleration, and further refined by himself and his students.

Simultaneously, astronomers around the world were noticing what appeared to be a slight but detectable tilt and acceleration of celestial bodies, both near and far. "Astronomers have known for years how galaxies spiral around a central point." stated Dr. Pierre Bidet, the chief of EU team analyzing the Hubble data. "What we've detected are much larger structures, 'galaxies of galaxies' if you will, which also demonstrate a round, spiraling motion, and which appear-- and this is still a puzzle-- to be accelerating."

The final piece of the study was supplied by a paper submitted in August of 2006 which outlined some findings of the tiny Cosmic Background Radiation Explorer (CBRex) satellite. The fact it was able to detect measurable amounts of background infrared radiation-- the leftover sound radiation from the Big Bang-- indicated the existence of the elusive "dark matter" that physicists had been predicting for decades. Dr. Peter Ramrod, the Australian astronomer summed it up. "Given our best estimates of the mass of the universe, it's clear without dark matter, there's not enough gravitational energy in the universe for the primordial vibration to sustain itself. If we can measure the vibration, then that proves the dark matter must be out there. We can't see it, but we have now measured it." More surprising, Ramrod explained, the measurements indicate a high level of "clumpiness" or non-uniformity of this residual "stuff" of the universe. "The dark matter has a more galactic structure than we would ever have predicted."

The rest of this revolutionary scientific discovery is the story of hard work on the part of several teams of graduate students, and a bit of good luck. At about 8:45 am on a Tuesday morning in March, Ms. Cecelia Strompette, doctoral candidate and technical lead of the team of French graduate students digesting all of this new data, walked back into the lab from her morning break muttering, "zut alors," and proceeded to explain to her teammates her "grand unification theory" (GUT). As the importance of her insight sunk in, her increasingly excited colleagues went to work. Calculations were jotted down and quickly double-checked, phone calls were placed to Berne, UCBerkeley, and NASA's headquarters in Houston.

While NASA scientists scratched their heads at the clumps of dark matter and the barely-detected cosmic echo of whatever ejected them, and the team of French physicists were dutifully checking their findings that indicate an inwardly spiraling and slowly accelerating universe, the team measuring Einstein's curve discovered an elongated "bowl-like" shape to the universe that fits most of the mathematical models and also corresponds almost perfectly to the American Standard Ultra Flush Model 4 bathroom fixture.

The final paper was quickly drafted and sent to universities and laboratories around the world for peer review. The evidence was in, and incontrovertible. The full paper will be published this month in the AIIPC (Annals of International Plumbers and Cosmologists). The abstract is available online at http://abstracts.big-flush.org. Online registration required.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More YFZ news, or incestuous, polygamous, child rapers not off the hook yet!

As a follow up to a story a couple of posts ago, according to the New York Times, the big bust at the Mormon Ranch is still in full swing. The Department of Child Protective Services is working very hard to place the children in new, more appropriate homes. We assume these are Baptist, or at least Protestant homes with TV's and ATV's and all of the American paraphernalia, and none of the polygamist and child bride shenanigans that got those people in trouble in the first place.

The DNA testing that's going on, ostensibly to allow the department to identify family bloodlines, is being justified as allowing the siblings to be placed together in new homes. It's also going to take at least a month. Some "teen mothers" are being placed in homes with their babies. There are also some veiled references that indicate incest-- "many common bloodlines" that are going to make sorting out the DNA extremely difficult or impossible. It's all so messed up-- it would be sad if it weren't so horribly current and the result of such on-going institutional exertion. Apparently the Texas Department of Child Protective Services is stretched to the breaking point.

And there's nothing but the most vague reference to the phone hoaxer who started it all off. These YFZ people are freaks, but does our vehement disagreement with their way of life make it OK to abjure due process and basically take their children away without even a trial? From what I read of the hearings that were held, they were a complete circus, with hundreds of frantic parents and at least as many lawyers-- so many they didn't fit into the courthouse and had to be connected via video link to a large room in a building across the street. Even the judge seemed ambivalent about the process. I can only imagine the agony of the parents.

This is a f**k up of historical proportions. This is fundamentalist religious persecution. This is wrong, wrong, wrong!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rev. Wright

Hey folks... Rev. Wright is more right than wrong. Think about it. I don't believe it should be an issue in presidential politics, but come on people-- the good old US of A has not been great for educated southern liberal religious persons of color in the last 20 years. If a man such as Mr. Wright chooses to speak the truth, even using a bit of angry hyperbole, to the members of his congregation then we should honor his candor and not eviscerate anyone who has ever associated with him. He appears to be an honorable man, and his sentiments are shared by more of the electorate than will admit it.

More people of color are poor, in jail, and on death row than their population would predict. The progress of the sixties has turned around in the decades since then. When the economy is good, they're the last to reap the benefits, and when the economy turns down, they're the first to feel it. The mortgage default crisis is affecting people of color much more than white people, who are much less likely to hold sub-prime paper.

The United States is a great place to live, but for an educated and socially responsible black man, that may not be so true. And in these days since 9/11, it takes true courage to criticize our government and social systems, even though they're so often wrong. Applaud an honest man's voice.

Blogging Tool

Do you blog? Do you have a blog and find yourself trying to manage getting your thoughts organized and written down and remembering how to do things in HTML, and remembering where you put that link to some incredibly compelling web page, or worse, which web page you were reading when you had that sudden, profound insight, but now you can't remember either the website or the insight? Welcome to WWW overload. People who do research online can have this experience as well.

Well, I assume this isn't an uncommon case, and I have found a really useful tool to help with it. It's smart, quick, unobtrusive, and always available. The product is Google Notebook, which you can find (along with many other Google products you may not have known existed) right here. Go to the Google Notebook link and click on it. It will ask you for your username and password (if you don't already have a Google account, go ahead and sign up), and presto, you have a sort-of web page that's available anytime you're online, and you can use it to save links, jot down notes, and come back to them later. Even better, if you use the Firefox browser (it probably works in others as well), it puts a little icon right in the bottom right of the browser, so it's always just a click away.

Click the "pop-out" command button, and you'll have a little window to drag links onto, copy and paste text, and write notes directly from your browser. You can organize the links and attached notes any way you want to-- or not, it's up to you, and very flexible-- and then access it all later. There's no need to worry about saving your work. If it shows on the screen, it's saved. When you don't need it anymore, just highlight and click delete. It's a notebook that understands the web. Think of it as bookmarks that are always available when you're connected to the internet, and that you can organize and annotate any way you want. When it's time to write your blog entry (or paper, or book report, or study), just copy and paste out of the notebook right into your editor. It's amazingly useful-- simple, fast, and effective.

Of course, using it means you're giving up one more small piece of your mind to the workings of Google, who will eventually know everything about every one of us. For some (even me, when I'm feeling cynical) this can cause paranoia. But this little tool is so simple and useful, I can't help but recommend it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gullible Texas lawmen re-enact Salem Trials

Texas lawmen duped by serial sex-abuse hoaxer, clusterf**k ensues

This is a disgusting story! This means the unprecedented Texas state seizure of over 400 children at the Yearning For Zion ranch in Texas was all the result of a hoax. And for weeks, the awesome power of the state to tear children away from the custody of their parents has been exercised on the word of an anonymous prank caller to an over-zealous and obviously over-gullible good-old-boy Texas sheriff. It's time for the state of Texas to scurry, as fast as they can, to try and undo the damage they've caused to these young families, and some uniformed law-enforcement officials to step up, apologize profusely, and I hope personally, one-on-one to the terrified and abused parents, and resign.

What's worse, this has been known for a couple of days, and no one has stepped up to the plate. UGLY! This is UGLY! I do believe it's time to reconsider the power of the state to take forceful custody of children. I believe the law was made in good faith, but as always, it's administered by fallible humans. I frankly do not know what I would do in the circumstances-- imagine uniformed personnel walking into your home at gunpoint and taking members of your family away. They took away their kids! More than half were under 10 years old! Those Mormon polygamist people are freaks-- they don't dress like us, or act like us, or want what most of us want, but I believe their rights to the custody of their children is pretty damned sacrosanct. The results of their DNA tests should be tossed out, and the kids returned to their families now, immediately! Perhaps with some boxes of food and maybe some gift cards to the Gap. And please, someone have the decency of mailing them the badge of the idiot who instigated the whole invasion in the first place.

The Salem witch trials were instigated by a hysterical girl accusing people who weren't like her of crimes they didn't commit-- she made them up. This is exactly like that episode, except the state has much more power than they did in the 1600's. The press seems to have completely folded on this-- the story of forced underage rape is much more compelling than the tedious work of unraveling the the truth of paranoid, religiously bigoted, and out-of-control state power, as well as that one, sad and pathetic young woman who keeps making prank calls.

Perhaps for the first time, I look forward to seeing the entire Sheriff's department and family protective services apparatus of the state of Texas having their asses sued off by the school of piranha lawyers that are circling around this case. Maybe that ranch will be better off with 200 new pickup trucks. And Gap gift cards-- then they can buy some new clothes!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Another recipe

I made another recipe last night which I want to remember, so I'm posting it here (sorry, I didn't take photos). I stopped at Harbor Fish Market on the way home from work and bought a pound of beautiful jumbo Maine scallops.

The recipe: Rinse the scallops in cold water, drain, and pour into a bowl. Add to a pound of scallops:
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (more to taste-- be brave!)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed through a garlic press
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • enough good white wine cover the scallops with the mixture
Stir the scallops gently in the bowl so the marinade is mixed evenly. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so.

When it's almost time to eat (cook everything else beforehand), quickly heat about a quarter cup of olive oil in a heavy frying pan until it's almost smoking-- you'll be able to smell the olive oil. Drop in the scallops--carefully, because the oil will spatter. Turn the heat down slightly, and after 2 minutes, turn them with tongs and cook for another 2 minutes, then serve. This will yield beautiful scallops, cooked medium (hot and tender in the center). If you like them cooked more, add 30 seconds to the cooking time on each side. You might try sprinkling them with some finely chopped raw scallions or chives after they've been served on the plate. Delicious!

Lies, damned lies, and excellence

A couple of months ago I called my bank to try and figure out who had processed a $25.00 transaction against my account. I believed at the time someone might have gotten hold of my debit card number and stole the money. I soon found out from the person who answered that it was, indeed, the bank who had stolen the money (a story perhaps for another post), but something interesting happened when she transferred my call up the ladder. A bright and cheery-voiced woman answered and asked, "How may I give you excellent service today?" How very odd, I thought, that they attempt to define the terms of the exchange before the exchange even starts! The service wasn't "excellent" and I basically forgot the whole thing until yesterday.

Yesterday I was scanning the headlines in Google News, and apparently there's been a new report released by the RAND corporation which says at least 20% of our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan need psychological help for PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, and at least half of those are not getting help. The reactions in the news outlets is indignance and shock. Anyone who is in any way involved is being asked for their reaction. And one of those reacting is an organization called the U.S. Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. "Center of Excellence"? This is feel-good corporatese! And it's done this time by a government agency. If they'd been actually true to their name, the problem with the un-cared-for psycho vets wouldn't exist!

At some time, and I believe it's recent, people started trying to define the outcome before the job started. We seem to have incorporated a whole system of lies and hypocrisy into our everyday speech-- even into naming our public organizations.

But it's worse than these two examples of the misuse of the word "excellence." If you watch commercials on TV, notice how they say one thing to mean another. Ads for beer and credit cards are particularly egregious, but almost all advertising does it. And any offer that includes the word "free." They lie to us. They use one word to imply another, and they use an obviously over the top offer (like free) to imply the rest of the offer is over the top as well. I wish I had some concrete examples, but I haven't been watching that much TV. I shall return with some as soon as I've documented them. I believe this is serious, and new, and should be challenged. I also believe it's a result of out-of-control aw shucks capitalism. And excellence.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Recipe time

pork chops marinating
OK, I have been avoiding this, but I have to post a recipe here, because I want to remember it. This one is for tequila lime pork chops, and it's damned good. Start with good pork chops. I use two (that's how big my family is), but four is better. Now, make a marinade. This is the approximate recipe:
  • 3 tbsp good olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp horseradish
  • 1 scant shot of tequila (don't waste it)
  • zest from 1/2 lime
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste (at least 1/4 tsp)
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and then pour over pork chops. Cover, and let them sit for around an hour. Pan fry the marinated pork chops on medium high heat. As they cook, slide them around in the pan to deglaze and pick up the brown color. They cook in about 15-20 minutes, depending on thickness. Turn them halfway through. Serve with salad and buttered mashed potatoes. Mmmmm...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Smoking tax is regressive and evil

The Maine legislature is floating another proposal to raise the cigarette tax in Maine. It's been proposed that a new tax of $1.00/pack be imposed on the nasty, wheezing reprobates who persist in partaking of the ugly and noxious habit of smoking. So there, tax 'em some more. Maybe a few more of them will stop.

As someone who still remembers when smokers ruled-- when all leading men and women in movies and on TV smoked, when it was considered terribly gauche to ask someone to put out their cigarette, when it was not considered the proper place of government to hector its citizens to adhere to some perceived code of social behavior-- I would like to inject just a bit of reason into this debate.

Let's look at the demographics. People who smoke are not rich, nor are they educated. Smoking is a class phenomenon. The rich, the educated, the gainfully employed have all given up the habit (or never started in the first place). The people who smoke tend to be older, and poor. This tax is the most regressive tax that our legislators could have devised. Smoking is nasty, but so is picking the pockets of the poor and legislatively powerless in the name of attacking a habit that offends some legislators more than picking the noise or scratching the crotch in public.

Anyone who thinks levying ever more oppressive taxes is going to help reduce smoking-- and thereby improve society-- is living in a cloud of rose perfume. This tax is just going to promote and spread more misery among the most miserable people in our society. Cigarettes aren't an optional item in the budgets of the poor and addicted-- they're a necessity. They're paid for before healthy food, or fuel oil or credit card payments, or mortgage payments, or health care. Adding from $5.00 to $10.00 per week of tax to that household's budget isn't going to improve society, it's just going to breed more misery. And every dollar paid into government is a total waste.

But what's most offensive is the sanctimonious and scolding legislators will likely win, and they'll all be standing around clinking their drinks together and congratulating themselves for making the state smell better. It's disgusting.

Microsoft causing the end of civilization

I believe we should hold Microsoft responsible for the end of civilization as we know it. How, you might ask, has civilization ended, and how has Microsoft caused this? Is it because of their buggy, insecure operating system? Their blithe, corporate-oriented, vehemently capitalist outlook which malignantly infects everything they or their software touches? Is it their hostile takeover bid for Yahoo?

No. None of the above. The reason Microsoft has caused the downfall of civilization is because Microsoft Word automatically fixes typos as you type them. If you type the word "adn" it will automatically, and silently, replace this with "and" and the document looks great and we're saved the embarrassment and opprobrium incumbent on having a typographical error in our letter or email or memo, and all the world seems good. My dyslexic boss doesn't have to work quite as hard to write a good email. The administrative assistants are able to turn out better letters with fewer errors. The world looks better thanks to this clever little programming trick.

And so we must ask-- How can this be bad? Because this little feature isn't perfect. It will leave some typos in place (and, I have to be fair, it often underlines them in red if the spelling seems bad, or in green if the grammar seems bad). But it's worse than that, because it takes away the motivation to fix how we type and the awareness of having typed imperfectly in the first place.

For me, who types a lot, typing the word "and" isn't about typing the individual letters, a, then n, then d and a spacebar. No, the word "and" is actually a series of exquisitely quick and nearly unconscious muscle movements in my hands-- a muscle spasm, if you will-- which cause my hands to move very slightly, and the fingers to find and hit the tops of each of the letters and press them down in order. My hands spell the words, and the very fast little muscle wiggles and flexes make the words come out onto the screen. These muscle movements are tiny and require very fine motor control. And they (the hands and muscle movements) change. Over time the hands get slightly more or less stiff, keyboards change, different formatting-- requiring new keys-- is introduced. The hands and fingers need to practice. Microsoft has taken away the control over this process, because they silently fix the easy mistakes. Unless you're very observant, you don't even know you've typed a mistake because it's already fixed. The finger muscles don't get better at spelling, and instead the fine motor control atrophies. People become lazy, inexact, incapable of typing and spelling on their own. Typos are allowed (and then tolerated) in newspapers, magazines, and books. No one can spell. Civilization slowly slides down the slope into barbarism.

I'm saying this with tongue in cheek a bit, but I believe it's true. We're probably doomed. I think I'll have to find out how to turn that feature off. That's the solution-- turn off the feature! Whew, I've saved civilization! And it's not even 7:00 am.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Books

Books are where they kept internet before we all had broadband, right?

Americans of working age die from being uninsured

More Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 die each year (perhaps twice as many) from lack of health insurance than from homicide. This is scandalous. I propose from now on that we leave the term "insurance" completely out of the discussion. Let's say that 220,000 Americans of working age die from lack of access to health care. Now, by leaving insurance out of the discussion, we've changed it from an actuarial problem, or a finger-pointing match to place blame on insurance companies, employers, Medicare, hospitals, HMO's, or whatever, and stated the problem more plainly. If we let the word insurance creep into the discussion, it invariably gets overly complicated and ideological.

What would have kept the people alive is access to health care, and they didn't get it. Mostly (though this isn't proven) they couldn't get care for financial reasons. Most hospitals and clinics won't talk to you if you don't have health coverage. A simple capitalist rule is-- you can't have what you can't afford. For these people it's life.

Our health care system is broken. One of the things that keeps it broken is-- there's no affordable entry-point. Nationally more than 30% of people are uninsured, and are hence functionally locked out of the health care system. Some fraction of them will have routine, treatable conditions which, left untreated, will kill them. And the industry that has been created expressly to take care of them, consuming in the process nearly 20% of our gross national product, has no way to reach them, and vice versa. This is revolting, people!