A hero for the 21st Century
Senator Larry Craig
OK, I try not to come to conclusions about people before I know all the facts (perhaps I should say "as many as possibly can be known" since no one can know all the facts). If you've ever been involved in an event that was covered by the media, you know how difficult it is to know much that's accurate from them (not to be overly critical�to a large degree it's inherent in the nature of things). So I start by looking at a source document: the police report filed by Sgt. Karsnia, the arresting officer. Here are some excerpts:
At this point, according to Sgt. Karsnia, they go to the Police Operations Center although Craig is reluctant and even resistant (nothing indicates that he resisted arrest).
I've omitted what seem to me to be less important details�in the interest of brevity�and a statement of Sgt. Karsina's experience as to behavior commonly exhibited by persons engaged in "lewd conduct"�not to say that this not relevant, but I myself would probably have remained totally clueless about any such behavior for the rest of my life, but for this story (so I can easily believe there are many people who were, till now, similarly clueless, including Sen. Craig).
There are additional documents available at the link above. The only other one I want to excerpt is the Petition to Enter Plea of Guilty�Misdemeanor:
Is this behavior and the behavior reported all over the news media, such as not informing anyone in his life about these events, consistent with the denials that Sen. Craig is making? It's hard to believe. I understand him wanting to make it go away quickly and quietly. Easily. But putting myself in his shoes, if it had happened the way he describes, I have a hard time imagining myself accepting this plea agreement without even talking to an attorney (who, by the way, is ethically bound to confidentiality) or anyone else.
Rioters in business suits
I came across a picture of lawyers in Lahore protesting the firing of Pakistan's chief justice by Gen Musharraf. It looked more like a riot than a protest to me, though I suppose riots are a subset of protests. What struck me was that the participants were wearing business suits. I don't think I've ever seen such a thing. Not particularly newsworthy almost six months later, but interesting. The picture to the left is related to a 12 March 2007 article on the BBC website. Clicking on the image will take you to the BBC story in pictures.
Lying about Gonzales's resignation
There will comment a-plenty on this resignation. But I found something that won't get much attention but interests me. It's in today's New York Times story, (at the end of course):
There had been rumblings over the weekend that Mr. Gonzales�s departure was imminent, although the White House sought to quell the rumors....
In other words, during the 1� days between Mr Gonzales submitting his resignation and Mr Bush accepting it, it seems that reporters who asked if the rumor was true was lied to or at the very least intentionlly misled. Not necessarily by the various spokespersons, but certainly by everyone who was giving them information. Mr Gonzales himself for one. And if not Mr Bush for another, he does an appallingly poor job of managing his staff.
Is it any wonder nobody trusts government or the media these days?
Billion light-year void in the universe
It appears to be 6-10 billion light-years distant and is described is this paper, which has reportedly been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. If I've made the right assumptions and done the calculations right, this void is about twice as big as the biggest known void. From today's Astronomy Picture of the Day:
The void is not a hole in space like a black hole, but rather a vast region of the universe that appears to be mostly devoid of normal matter and even dark matter. The void is still thought to contain dark energy, though, and is clearly traversable by light. The void's existence is being postulated following scientific curiosity about how unusually cold spots came to appear on WMAP's map of cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation. One possibility was that this CMB region was not actually very cold but light from the spot somehow became less cosmologically redshifted than normal along the way. Other voids in the universe are known to exist, but this void appears to have an unusually large gravitational effect, and so might possibly be the largest in our entire visible universe.
This eclipse (there's a minor error on the page that means you'll have to scroll up a little to see everything) will occur in less than 24 hours. Some aspect this event will be visible pretty much everywhere except most of Antarctica, Alaska, Hawaii, New South Wales and Queensland. Totality will be visible only from the Arctic, Africa, Europe, Greenland and Western Asia. Maximum eclipse will occur at 10:37:22 UT (6:37 AM here on the East Cost of the U.S.). Totality begins 0:45:00 earlier and ends 0:45:02 later, while the Moon enters Earth's umbra 1:46:06 earlier and leaves 1:46:08 later.
I wonder, "Why the 2-second difference? And the even bigger difference between times when the Moon enters and leaves Earth's penumbra? Also, why won't the Moon be full until 2 minutes after maximum totality?"
If you miss it, or the weather is bad, don't worry; the next one is in less than six months.
Somebody to Love
Queen star Brian May has gained his doctorate in Astronomy�36 years after starting his thesis. The rock guitarist... abandoned his studies to pursue a career in music...
Count me a fan of many Queen songs. One I like is Somebody to Love. To celebrate Dr May's new status, have a listen to this fantastic cover (.mp3) by Jim Boggia (pronounced BOH-zha). It's the first of several podcasts he's put up.
I'm giving away my cover of Queen's 'Somebody to Love' that I recorded to honor WXPN's Helen Leicht on her 30th year in radio.
If you live in Philadelphia and listen to WXPN (88.5 FM) like I do, or if you listen to their webcast, you are probably familiar with it. As Mr Boggia says, "you have seemingly not been able to escape from [hearing it]." He has an interesting post about the production of this unreleased number on his blog. Apparently he performed all 48 tracks by himself.
If I were one of those people who add music that automatically starts playing to their blogs or websites, this is probably the song I'd put up. But those sites annoy me terribly. So I won't impose my musical taste on you.
Hole punch clouds
It's a day for weather I guess. I saw a picture of a cloud formation in September's issues of National Geographic. I've neither seen nor heard of this kind of formation before. Aussie School House has a whole collection of pictures of 'em. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has an explanation, but National Geographic says,
I substituted the National Geographic's actual words for my paraphrase.
PoP (Probability of Precipitation)Speaking of the weather, I've invested a fair amount of time over the years trying to understand exactly what this means. Based largely on my own sense of who and what are reliable, I've concluded that this definition from the National Weather Service is a good one, despite the obvious bit of awkwardness:
12-hour Probability of Precipitation (PoP12)It would read so much better if it ended "during the indicated 12 hours." There's a much longer but useful explanation consistent with the definiton at this University of Texas page (attributed to the NWS but unavailable anywhere else, at least that Google knows about anyway).
Weather Forecast AccuracyWho gives the best weather forecasts? ForecastAdvisor offers a free service that compares Accuweather, MyForecast, the National Weather Service (whose forecasts the Weather Underground repackages), the Weather Channel and others (Intellicast in SE PA). According to them, the Weather Channel was most accurate last month, being �% more accurate than Intellicast (and 1�% more accurate last year). Other services trail by 2% or more.
Customer service livesA while ago I bought a General Electric USB 2.0 4-port hub. For the last couple of months my webcam and printer have only been working intermittently. I finally figured out the problem is with this hub, through which I was connecting both to my computer. My first clue was that the hub overheated almost to the point of being too hot to handle, literally.
I spent a while trying to locate a way to contact G.E. about this problem over the Internet. When I finally found a web page that seemed suitable, I got numerous errors saying I had filled in the form with French characters, which, for some mysterious reason, was unacceptable. It also wasn't true. I finally got around that problem by eliminating all non-alphanumeric characters from what I was entering (i.e. no periods, commas, dashes, etc.). Then I started getting 404 (page not found) errors.
Next I attempted to contact the webmaster via a similar fill-in form. It worked! Several days later I got a response, telling me to call a toll-free number. I did and got someone who was obviously overseas. He kept giving me information then retracting it. Finally he said, "Oh, you have to call a different toll-free number for that part" and gave me the number. Which he then retracted. And gave me yet another. Without much hope of success I dialed it and got a recorded message saying they were closed.
Today I called again. None of the automated options seemed to fit my case, so I hit '0' to speak with an operator. She said, "Oh, you want the service department" and transferred me. Skeptical, when the service rep picked up (which was immediately), I started to explain apologetically exactly how I had come to be calling. She interrupted pleasantly and said, "What part number?" I gave her the part number and the next thing I knew she was taking my shipping address so she could mail me a new hub. No hassle! No more being put on hold! No more retractions!
Now all I have to do is wait for my replacement hub to show up. If I have problems, she told me to call her back. I would too, if I had bothered to note her name. What a surprisingly pleasant experience it was once I reached this company that I had never heard of. Who is it? Jasco Products, apparently a great company to do business with.
Whose September report on Iraq?
Here are a couple of questions and answers from a White House press briefing on 1 Aug 2007 [full transcript]:
Q I'm asking how he [General Petraeus] can give an objective assessment of his own work.
Now, according to a report on NPR, "the White House has indicated that it will write the report which Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker deliver to Congress..."
Needless to say, the difference between these two possibilities is huge.
Electronic voting machines decertified in CA
I must have missed this item in the news.
Ouch! There is a page of links to many more resources concerning this on the Secretary of State's website. Matt Blaze, one of the member of the review team, posted a blog entry describing events leading up to this decertification/recertification, as well as his personal observations. He concludes
I fear for the deserved lack of public confidence that seems to be creeping into the electoral process in the U.?. We had problems in 2000 (did you know that "[a]lmost two million ballots were disqualified in the 2000 election because [electronic voting machines] registered multiple votes or none when run through vote-counting machines"?), in 2004 (more "lost votes, [votes] subtracted... instead of adding them, and doubled votes"), and now this?
America the fearful
"All we have to fear, is fear itself" enjoined President Roosevelt in the face of truly fearsome circumstances. Ever since politicians have worked hard at building a deep reservoir of fear upon which they can prey to gain even more power. But Americans are not wusses, we have shown admirable bravery in the face of extreme danger, so why is this tactic so successful in politics?
I didn't get the political kind of answer to this question that I was hoping for, but perhaps the answer given is the only one that will really be effective in the long run, namely, for each of us to look at and deal with the fear within ourselves. That's certainly consistent with my overall view of reality.
Dark matter imaged?
Here's something I never thought I'd see: an image that shows dark matter in and around a cloud of hot gas (normal matter). Of course, it's from the good folks at the Astronomy Picture of the Day and, no, it's not a real image, only a simulated image, inferred from the way light from more distant galaxies is gravitationally distorted. Still, I'm amazed that anyone could come up with any kind of image that might bear a close relation to reality (whatever that it is). Click on the picture to go to the source and read a fuller explanation.
When will they ever learn?
Earlier this month Congress enacted legislation, requested by the administration, that supposedly brought the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) up to date. But according to a New York Times article, now that Congress and everyone else has had time to study what the legislation actually says, "Democratic Congressional officials and other experts" say that this law "could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include—without court approval—certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans' business records."
The Times article continues, "Administration officials acknowledged that they had heard such concerns... [b]ut they said the Democrats were simply raising theoretical questions based on a harsh interpretation of the legislation." In fact the White House says, "This Act Is A Temporary, Narrowly Focused Statute To Deal With The Most Immediate Needs Of The Intelligence Community To Protect The Country" [bold and capitals from original]. Are You Surprised That I'm Extremely Skeptical?
Given government's history of abuse of powers—and I don't mean merely by the Bush administration, or by administrations of the U.S. government, but by governments everywhere, throughout history—we the people ought to be afraid, very afraid, of just how harshly government officials will interpret this law when they see a need for it.
What will it take for Congress to learn to start reading and understanding legislation they pass before voting for it, rather than waiting till after it's already signed into law?
News photos from 2005
A friend e-mailed me a slideshow of 2005 news photos from MSNBC. Some were quite spectacular. I Googled for and found the original and larger slideshow on the MSNBC website. For your viewing pleasure, here are thumbnails to what I thought, in order, were the fifteen best (I'm sure if I went through them again, I'd pick a few different ones and put them in different order). Click on the thumbnail to see a larger (16-103K) version.
All images © their respective owners
Double spaceship flybys
The ISS by itself is quite a sight, and unmistakable. If skies are clear, do have a look.
19 Aug 2007 12:36 Eastern time UPDATE:
Due to the threat posed by Hurricane Dean, NASA has moved Endeavour's undocking up by one day to today. Unfortunately, forecasts call for several days of cloudy weather here in Southeast PA, so I'll probably miss it.
The Jose Padilla conviction
Jose Padilla became something of a poster child for the Bush administration's abuse of civil rights in fighting terrorism. Now that he's been convicted&mdashnot of the original charge of plotting to set off a dirty bomb, but on the charge of conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country—some will be tempted to see in it justification for the means the administration used. But it is not.
The crimes committed against due process of law by the U.S. government are of far more concern to me as a citizen than that committed by Jose Padilla.
The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq
I hear a lot of really good interviews on the Charley Rose show on PBS. Particularly concerning Iraq. Last night, Dr. Anthony Cordesman was Charlie's guest and opined extremely well, I thought. I highly recommend watching the segment (by the way, he sounds uncannily like former President Gerald Ford).
Among the exchanges between them is the following:
CR: What is our moral responsibility in this circumstance? Because so many people, Iraqis and others, have depended on the United States?
Dr. Cordesman has just returned from Iraq and published a trip report titled The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq, which further outlines his case.
The power of sensory illusion
Are square A and B the same color? They are. Are too. To verify this, click on the above image to see them connected. The above illusion, called the same color illusion, illustrates that purely human observations in science may be ambiguous or inaccurate. Even such a seemingly direct perception as relative color.
Now that it's becoming overwhelmingly obvious that we'll be starting to get out of Iraq before Bush's 2nd term ends,I'm glad to see that even the Democrats are becoming wary about the consequences, according to the New York Times:
I've opposed both wars on Iraq from the start, but I've also consistently opposed a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq War II for the reasons these politicians are beginning to cite. Too bad about Bill Richardson's position; I think he's an otherwise very good candidate.
Despite the fact that this war was a bad idea from the very beginning, despite the fact that there was completely inadequate planning for how it would end, the United States still bears responsibility for instigating the whole horrid sequence of events that leaves us in the impossibly difficult situation in which we find ourselves today. There's a lot of blood on our hands, and it's imperative that we minimize the amount of blood still to come, including that shed by any government that replaces the one we toppled.