Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The EU makes a request

Via the BBC - EU urges Texas to end executions
The European Union has urged the governor of Texas to stop all executions as the state prepares to carry out its 400th death penalty.

[. . .]

The statement from the Portuguese presidency of the 27-nation bloc said: "The European Union strongly urges Governor Rick Perry to exercise all powers vested in his office to halt all upcoming executions and to consider the introduction of a moratorium in the State of Texas."

It continued: "There is no evidence to suggest that the use of the death penalty serves as a deterrent against violent crime and the irreversibility of the punishment means that miscarriages of justice, which are inevitable in all legal systems, cannot be redressed."
And it is a request that I am sure will not be granted, or at least I would be utterly amazed if it were.

I agree that the death penalty is not really a deterrent. According to what I have read on the matter, studies seem to indicate that both the death penalty and murder are evidence of a society's belief that killing someone is the answer to a problem, whether it be the problem of the individual or the problem of the society. Therefore, the two will continue to go hand-in-hand.

I find it interesting how often the US is finding itself on the receiving end of calls for ending inhumane activities. It is, however, nothing new that the EU would like to see an end to the death penalty.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Via the BBC - Rare dead star found near Earth
Astronomers have spotted a space oddity in Earth's neighbourhood - a dead star with some unusual characteristics.

The object, known as a neutron star, was studied using space telescopes and ground-based observatories.

But this one, located in the constellation Ursa Minor, seems to lack some key characteristics found in other neutron stars.

Details of the study, by a team of American and Canadian researchers, will appear in the Astrophysical Journal.

If confirmed, it would be only the eighth known "isolated neutron star" - meaning a neutron star that does not have an associated supernova remnant, binary companion, or radio pulsations.

The object has been nicknamed Calvera, after the villain in the 1960s western film The Magnificent Seven.
It is still cool but not quite as cool as it initially sounds, as the "near Earth" designation is very relative. The neutron star is actually outside the Milky Way Galaxy:
Calvera's location high above the plane of our Milky Way galaxy is also a mystery. The researchers believe the object is the remnant of a star that lived in our galaxy's starry disc before exploding as a supernova.

In order to reach its current position, it had to wander some distance out of the disc.
I guess in terms of the infinite void of space, that is nearby.

Ancient chewing gum?

I noticed this article when I finished reading the story about Leona Helmsley. When you see a headline like this you just have to click on it: Student dig unearths ancient gum
A 5,000-year-old piece of chewing gum has been discovered by an archaeology student from the University of Derby.

Sarah Pickin, 23, found the lump of birch bark tar while on a dig in western Finland.

Neolithic people used the material as an antiseptic to treat gum infections, as well as a glue for repairing pots.
What more is there to say about that, really.

RIP - Leona Helmsley

Via the BBC - US property tycoon Helmsley dies
US property tycoon Leona Helmsley, who was famously quoted as saying "only the little people pay taxes", and was later jailed for tax evasion, has died at 87.

Mrs Helmsley died of heart failure at her summer home in Greenwich, Connecticut, her publicist said.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A bad situation gets worse

Via WaPo - 3 Mine Rescuers Die, 6 Others Hurt
A cave-in Thursday night killed three rescue workers and injured at least six others who were trying to tunnel through rubble to reach six trapped miners, authorities said. Mining officials were considering whether to suspend the rescue effort.

It was a major setback on the 11th day of the effort to find miners who have been confined at least 1,500 feet below ground at the Crandall Canyon mine. It is unknown if the six are alive or dead.
It is such a tragic situation when those who are trying to help rescue others get injured or killed during their efforts.

This whole ordeal seems to underscore the danger that is still very much associated with coal mining. I am reminded of a commercial that ran a year or so ago advertising coal. The commercial featured young, hard-bodied men and women, scantily dressed, and working in a coal mine. The tag line was something like, "Coal (or coal mining, I forget) never looked so good" and the point was to promote clean-burning coal. My husband and I both found it greatly ironic that the song they chose to use in the commercial was "Sixteen Tons".

Now while it may be true that coal burns cleaner now than it once did, mine safety rules have increased and I assume miners no longer have to live in mining camps and "sell their souls to the company store", it seems hard to imagine that coal mining could even come close to the glamor that commercial implied. These recent mine collapses would seem to bolster my position on the subject.

And of course I'm aware that the commercial was never intended to be an accurate representation of coal mining, nor is it likely that it was intended as a miner recruiting tool. It was simply a way to make the consumer feel less guilty about over-consuming fossil fuels. I wonder if recent events will have any affect on the consumer mind-set.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Another damaged heat shield

Via NYT - Inspection Finds Debris Penetrated Shuttle’s Tiles
A close-up laser inspection by astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour revealed on Sunday that a three-and-a-half-inch gouge penetrates all the way through thermal tiles on the shuttle’s belly, and left NASA officials urgently calculating whether a spacewalk for repairs is needed.

A chunk of insulating foam ricocheted off a fuel tank and smacked the shuttle during liftoff last week, carving out the gouge.

The unevenly shaped gouge, which straddles two side-by-side heat shield tiles and the corner of a third, is 3.5 inches long and just over 2 inches wide. The inspection on Sunday showed that the damage went through the one-inch-thick thermal tiles, exposing the felt material sandwiched between the tiles and the shuttle’s aluminum frame.

Mission managers expect to decide Monday or Tuesday whether to send astronauts out to patch the gouge.
I know that the mission managers want to avoid another Columbia disaster just as much as the rest of the country does. However, I am left wondering why this is becoming a recurrent problem with the space shuttle. Is it that newer technology is not actually better technology? What is the problem? It would seem that after Columbia they would have done everything in their power to stop the insulation from flying off in the first place. Maybe it is just time for the space shuttle technology to be retired, as I believe I have heard they've considered doing soon.

Tommy Thompson drops out of the race

Via WaPo - Tommy Thompson Leaves Race After Poor Showing in Iowa Poll
Former Wisconsin governor Tommy G. Thompson dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination last night, a day after finishing sixth in the straw poll in Ames, Iowa.

Thompson had pledged to leave the race if he did not finish first or second in Saturday's straw poll. His showing reflected the fact that, though he devoted considerable time to campaigning in Iowa, traveling to all 99 counties, he never generated excitement among Republican activists for his candidacy.
Well, at least that will serve to clarify things if good ol' Fred D. Thompson decides to get off his fanny and actually declare candidacy. Other than that, it seems like something of a non-event, as he seemed to have no chance what so ever of winning the nomination anyway.

Karl Rove, Quitting!?!?

Via WaPo - Karl Rove, Adviser to President Bush, to Resign
Karl Rove, the architect of President Bush's two national campaigns and his most prominent adviser through 6-1/2 tumultuous years in the White House, will resign at month's end and leave politics, a White House spokeswoman said this morning.

Bush plans to make a statement with Rove on the South Lawn this morning before the president departs for his ranch near Crawford, Tex. Rove, who holds the titles of deputy chief of staff and senior adviser, has been talking about finding the right time to depart for a year, colleagues said, and decided he had to either leave now or remain through the end of the presidency.
This seems odd; it is way too hot outside for Hell to have frozen over. I wonder why he would do such a thing? The official line says:
But we know he wouldn't be going if he wasn't sure this was the right time to be giving more to his family, his wife Darby and their son.
However, there is of course speculation that there is much more political reason involved (I mean, what politician or public figure ever really quit work to spend more time with his family?).
Fellow Bush advisers have said they believe the congressional probes have been aimed in part at driving Rove out.
Honestly, I find it hard to imagine that Rove is being "driven out". I can see him leaving a sinking ship, but not being driven out by Democrats. I wonder if this will have any affect on Alberto Gonzales's tenure in the administration.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Why does who hate us?

Via Slate - Why Do They Hate Us? Strange answers lie in al-Qaida's writings.
Why do they hate us?

Americans have been asking this question for nearly six years now, and for six years President Bush and his accomplices have been offering the same tired response: "They hate us for our freedoms." With every passing year, that answer becomes less convincing.

Part of the problem has to do with the question itself. Who exactly are they? Are we referring to al-Qaida and its cohorts? Are we talking about Iran, Syria, and the other nation-states whose interests in the Middle East do not properly align with America's? Or perhaps we mean Hamas, Hezbollah, or the myriad religious nationalist organizations across the Muslim world that share neither the ideology nor the aspirations of global, transnational groups like al-Qaida, but that have nevertheless been dumped into the same category: them.
The whole article is an interesting read and takes an interesting perspective on the issue.

Near the end, the author alludes to a question:
Because, if we are truly locked in an ideological war, as the president keeps reminding us, then our greatest weapons are our words. And thus far, instead of fighting this war on our terms, we have been fighting it on al-Qaida's.
Why are we fighting on their terms? It is a very interesting question indeed.

"unlike fossils -- anthropological theory is seldom fixed in stone"

Via MSN - 2 Human Ancestors Probably Co-Existed
A fragment of upper jaw and a skull found in Africa are helping rewrite the textbook on how mankind came to be millions of years ago.

Gone is the step-wise theory of one ancient species, Homo habilis, dying off as another, Homo erectus, takes over -- to give rise later to modern-day Homo sapiens.

In its place are two fossils uncovered in Kenya that appear to show habilis and erectus lived together in close proximity for more than half a million years, about 1.5 million years ago.

The findings, from a paleontology team led by Meave Leakey, wife of renowned paleontologist Richard Leakey, were published Wednesday in the Aug. 9 issue of the journal Nature.

"If they are correct, that simple kind of tree -- where you went from habilis and erectus takes over -- clearly is no longer the case," said Jeffrey Laitman, director of the Center for Anatomy and Functional Morphology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City.
It's not surprising to me that such a find would come along and paleontologist would have to change their ideas. I studied anthropology and human evolution as my major area of study (within a social science degree program) as an undergraduate. Certainly this doesn't make me an expert, but did reveal to me all the guesswork that goes into creating theories about creatures that lived and things that happened millions of years ago. There is such limited information out there, or at least a very limited amount that has been unearthed and studied in a scientifically non-biased way. Human beings have a need to know, and researchers have a need to act like they know or have found indisputable proof of something.

As the article goes on to point out:
Still, Laitman cautioned that -- unlike fossils -- anthropological theory is seldom fixed in stone.

"These fossils don't come with name tags on them, and this is tough stuff to try and pinpoint," he said.
But the truth is, we will probably never know. For all we know, we are really the descendants of Golgafrinchan hairdressers.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ask and ye shall receive

Yesterday, over at Poliblog, Steven Taylor noted an article that mentioned the fact that many of America's bridges received the same rating (structurally deficient) as the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota. In a comment to the post I wondered which bridges they were. Well, today my sister emailed me an answer. Via MSNBC - State by State: 'Deficient' or 'Obsolete' Bridges. The linked page features an interactive map of the US with each state color coded by the percentage of bridges rated 'deficient' or 'obsolete'. If you click on a state you are then directed to a list of the major bridges in that state that received either of those ratings. It is very interesting.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Quote of the day

Via the Quotations Page - A quote from Will Rogers
The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that's out always looks the best.
Will Rogers, Illiterate Digest (1924), "Breaking into the Writing Game"
US humorist & showman (1879 - 1935)
Yep, I can't argue with that too much. . .

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Could Hillary be over-confident?

Via Real Clear Politics - Clinton's Campaign Commits Big-Time Goof
When Hillary sharply disagreed with Obama's pledge, in the South Carolina Democratic debate, that he would meet with the leaders of rogue nations like North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, she was undoubtedly shooting from the hip. But when she and her campaign spent an entire week attacking and ridiculing Obama -- and now are well into their second week of criticism -- they appear to have lost their marbles.

Put very simply, Hillary is on the wrong side of this particular issue for the Democratic primary electorate. Scott Rasmussen's daily tracking poll shows that Democrats agree with Obama that the president should meet with these foreign leaders without preconditions by 55 percent to 22.

[. . .]

Even as Hillary was calling Obama "naive" and "irresponsible" for his position, her adviser, Mark Penn, was going even further. He told the New York Daily News that Hillary's answer on meeting with rogue-state leaders was "a presidential moment" and that it "was an essential moment that showed she knows what it means to be president."
First of all, it would seem that referring to a position as "'naive' and 'irresponsible'" during the primary process, when that position is held by a majority of your party's constituency, is not wise. It seems to me that it would come across to the voters as an insult to their intelligence.

In addition, I can understand the fact that sometimes presidents have to be "presidential" and make the hard decisions that need to be made, even if it goes against the popular will, at least from time to time. However, considering the current state of public opinion toward the current administration, and its over-use of that prerogative, I don't think I'd be as quick to place myself in that same spotlight as Hillary is doing. In fact, the article goes on to note:
Do they not know that the issue is bad for them -- or, with Hillary staking out an intransigent and stubborn position, do they not care?


Meanwhile, Obama, correctly reading the mood of the Democratic electorate (or correctly reading his polls), mocked Hillary's position as "Bush Cheney-lite," emphasizing Hillary's insider way of thinking.
In fact, my sister already considers Hillary to be simply "more of the same" in terms of stubbornness and unwillingness to admit mistakes.

What I see in Hillary is a sense of entitlement. She sees herself as the obvious choice for the nomination (almost heir to the office) and believes that the rest of the Democratic electorate sees her in that same way. As I've said many times before, I hope that she doesn't get the nomination. Hopefully her stubbornness and sense of entitlement will begin to resonate with the people who are looking for a change from "business as usual". I don't believe that we will ever actually achieve that change or that such a change is ever truly achievable.

Hopefully as the campaign progresses the Democrats will wake up to who Hillary really is and stop being mesmerized by the name "Clinton." My grandmother thinks she will be something of a Lurleen Wallace, but I know she won't. I don't know how many people out there are under her same misconception.