Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Coming Darkness

Daylight Saving Time - When do we change our clocks?
On August 8, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This Act changed the time change dates for Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. Beginning in 2007, DST will begin on the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November. The Secretary of Energy will report the impact of this change to Congress. Congress retains the right to resume the 2005 Daylight Saving Time schedule once the Department of Energy study is complete.
Hm. So we'll be on so-called Standard Time for only four months of the year. Perhaps it's time to re-designate Daylight Saving Time as Standard Time and the winter months as, oh, I don't know...

Vote early and often.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Something's wrong, but I can't put my finger on it

Last Saturday, Mark Evanier of News From Me linked to a YouTube video of a campaign commercial. It features Michael J. Fox's endorsement of Missouri Senatorial candidate Claire McCaskill, a democrat looking to unseat incumbent Jim Talent.

Fox has also done a similar ad (which I haven't seen) for Maryland Senatorial candidate Rep. Benjamin Cardin. Here's an excerpt from Evanier:
My topic here is the nature of this commercial and how I honestly don't know how I feel about it. ... I've watched it three times and each time, something inside me says, "This is not right." But I can't really explain what I object to...
He goes on to list several good reasons to object to it, none of which are apparently enough:
  • "It reminds me a bit of tasteless charity pitches that roll out crippled children and imply that without your nickels, Little Katie will die within the week."
  • "It's so sad to see Michael J. Fox in the condition he's in."
  • "I've become ... distrustful of emotional appeals in political ads..."
It's events like this that convince me that Right and Left will never get along. Things that are so obviously wrong from one perspective generate a puzzled shrug from the other.

Rush Limbaugh further accused Fox of exaggerating or outright faking his Parkinson's symptoms for these spots, which had the effect of drawing the discussion even further off topic. (As heartless as it may seem to point this out, Fox is, after all, an actor.) He later retracted and apologized for this, although he also said:
I have gotten a plethora of e-mails from people saying Michael J. Fox has admitted in interviews that he goes off his medication for Parkinson's disease when he appears before Congress or other groups as a means of illustrating the ravages of the disease.
I e-mailed Evanier to say I had some thoughts he hasn't mentioned.

A very small part of it is automatic suspicion that a Big-Name Hollywood Actor with no (at least no obvious) ties to Missouri should be offering an endorsement in that race. It may be unfortunate that this is my first reaction, but it's no less real. I also realize that Ms McCaskill is not the first candidate to get support from outside her constituency, nor is either party innocent of this.

I think the largest part of my own reaction is this: This is the kind of appeal I expect from someone who knows the facts are not on his side.

If this were a radio ad; If it were a voiceover behind still photographs of the candidate, or Mr Fox, or activities of the Michael J Fox Foundation, or even slides of numbers and statistics (how many people have been helped so far, how many could potentially be helped, how much money are we talking about); If the cameraman had caught Mr Fox on a better day; If the piece were edited in such a way as to minimize his symptoms; Or if this were an appeal for donations to help fund stem cell research, something that is perfectly legal for private companies to do regardless of Senator Talent's vote...

But it is none of these things. Given the wide range of physical imperfections a good filmed or videotaped image can conceal, the fact that they chose to present Mr Fox in this manner wasn't an accident. Someone, someone not themselves a Parkinson's sufferer, looked at this film and made the decision, "Yes, this is what we want our audience to see," in order to influence a Senatorial election.

That's what creeps me out.

This ad is, in its purest form, Not Fighting Fair. I know, imagine that, a political ad not fighting fair. Thank goodness that's never happened before.

Dixie Chicks offer to buy the Red Cross

Since well-known social scientist Natalie Maines is now claiming that the Red Cross flatly turned down her group's no-strings-attached million-dollar contribution (on NPR's Fresh Air and in the documentary Shut Up and Sing), it might be worth pointing out, as Hoystory did, that there was one big fat string:
The Chicks wanted something from the Red Cross for their $1 million, namely for the Red Cross to attach their name to the Dixie Chicks summer tour.
I always thought sponsors paid you, not the other way around.

(Thanks, Ron.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The next logical step

Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes to wed in Italy? Why?

I guess if the Hollywood press have already over-legitimized their new daughter, the only thing that could justify that is if her parents' wedding were performed by no less than the Pope himself.

Yeah, it's a slow day.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Axis of Weasels

Aww, those poor helpless mink, ruthlessly farmed for their fur.
Planet Ark | Raiders Set Free Minks on Spanish Fur Farms

MADRID - Night-time raiders freed more than 17,000 minks on fur farms in northern Spain, police said on Sunday.

Police suspect the raiders were animal rights activists or rival breeders. In carefully planned raids, they simultaneously broke into farms in three regions of Galicia, northwest Spain, which is a centre of mink production for the fur trade.
This article is a Reuters story: emphasis is mine. The assertion that police think "rival breeders" might be responsible is not confirmed in the more widely available AP story (see Boston Herald). Reuters also refers to "night-time raiders", whereas the AP article calls 'em what they are, "vandals". I guess even Reuters couldn't use the phrase "freedom-fighters" with a straight face when they're talking about mink. I mean, have you actually seen a living mink? Only two species of this animal carry the glamourous name "mink": The other dozen or so are known variously as stoats, ferrets, polecats, or most commonly, weasels. They're not known for their winning personalities.

Now, it is true that an estimated 17,000 weasels -- I mean, mink -- were released from their cages, but it's also estimated that just under half of them actually managed to escape from the compound. That's still 7,000 mink, a lot of free-range fur. What's going to happen to them?
[The farm's owner Charo] Carrillo said that most of those that got away will probably starve to death in a matter of days because they were raised in captivity and do not know how to hunt or fish.

Jose Benito Reza, a conservation official with the Galician regional government...said the people who freed the latest batch “did them no favor whatsoever” because they cannot survive in the wild and that the mink are ornery carnivores who might attack other animals and birds.

That is, those that aren't shot as the pests they are, or killed by larger animals, or run over by passing motorists. But at least they'll die free. (Even the Free Republic, a bastion of extreme-leftist "thinking", has no sympathy for people who'd turn loose thousands of critters that can't feed themselves.)

Maybe the "raiders" should have crated 'em up, sent them to Australia, and turned 'em loose on the out-of-control rabbit population. Coast to coast bunny / ferret madness.

Ron saw how this story was presented in the local paper (AJC), and replied:
A photo caption in the 10-16 AJC says: “A mink makes its escape Sunday after a group, believed to be environmental activists, broke into three mink farms in northwestern Spain and freed more than 15,000 mink.” The photo is a ground-level, extreme closeup of a mink with farm buildings behind it. I have a few questions:

1. Did an Associated Press photographer accompany the ‘environmental activist’ criminals in the commission of their crime, or --

2. Does AP distribute photographs provided by anonymous criminal sources, or --

3. Are we supposed to believe that a mink paused long enough in ‘making its escape’ for an AP photographer to be summoned, make the trip to the mink farm, and take its picture?

4. Or was this particular mink too stupid to make it up the boards and over the fence? (Possibly a good thing he didn’t escape, if he’s that dumb.)
As with so many newspaper websites, AJC's is an afterthought that imperfectly mirrors the print edition. The photo that accompanied the AP story isn't there, so I haven't seen it. It could, I suppose, be a staged file image of a mink still in captivity, despite the caption that asserts that it is a photo of a crime in progress. It appears that the AP are either complicit in the crime or simply lying about the photo's origin, neither of which reflects well on them.

But it's not like it's real news, like any of the dozen other images the news services have misrepresented or outright faked lately.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Does a yo-yo work in zero g?

Weightless teachers carry thrills home to students
The moment he became weightless, Mike Hickey of South High School in Cleveland, Ohio, completely forgot about the science experiment he was to conduct.

"After the first bounce, I said nuts to the experiments," an exhilarated Hickey said after returning from his 90-minute flight aboard G-Force One, an aircraft specially designed to simulate the zero gravity of space by making controlled free-fall descents.

Hickey and 38 other teachers took part over the weekend in the last of five "Weightless Flights of Discovery" sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corp. and Zero Gravity Corporation of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Now, this is inarguably cool, and I'm not saying I wouldn't do the same thing. But I'm wondering how Professor Hickey (who doubtless gets enough snickering in class as it is) will respond when his kids blow off their experiments because they were interested in something else.

I'm being too much of a grinch, surely. But what about this:
Hickey was mystified by one experience.

"I had a water bottle with this much water in it, that I was going to drink," he said, indicating a small amount.

"At zero gravity there was nothing in there that you could see. But when gravity came back, it was in there. It had just vaporized or something."
Now, the article doesn't say what Hickey teaches. Possibly it's not science, but if so, why was he even on this flight? Does he really think that water vaporizes in zero gravity? (I mean, more so than normal.)

I'm just a middle-aged liberal arts major, so let's see if I can get it right. We're told that there isn't very much water in the bottle. I'm going to assume that magic doesn't happen and that, since the water "reappeared" in the bottle, that it never actually left. Theory: Under simulated zero g surface tension causes the water to spread out and coat the inside of the bottle fairly uniformly, making it difficult to distinguish from the sides of the bottle. A simple experiment -- swinging the bottle around to generate a little centrifugal force -- would cause the water to pool at one end, if that is the case.

Do either of my readers know enough science to tell me if I'm right?

If the point of this trip was to inspire a little scientific curiosity, looks like it failed, both with Mr Hickey and with Reuters, who thought they were cleverly reporting the lack of same in one teacher, but who failed to provide any answer to the question themselves.