Archive for January 18th, 2007|Daily archive page

“Achmed and Julia”

This is a public service announcement running in German Television right now. My translation follows.

That’s Julia. She thinks foreigners suck.

That’s Achmen. He thinks Germans suck.

Since Julia thinks Achmed sucks, and Achmed thinks the same about Julia, they decided to meet in person.

And because they immediately killed each other, they’ll never think anything else.

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Candor = Getting Out of Jury Duty

Just a quicky.

David Shuster, at HardBlogger (or MSNBC?)  points out the trials and tribulations of trying to find a jury in Washington.

This is day #2 of jury selection, and it has become another bad day for a few of America’s elite universities.  This morning, a young woman with degrees from Swarthmore and Emory University said she had no opinion about the Bush Administration’s case for war with Iraq.  She also said she never watches the news or reads the paper, and said she would consider Vice President Cheney “a perfect stranger.”  Yesterday, a potential juror with two degrees from Northwestern, including one in journalism, said she thought she knew something about the CIA leak case but “couldn’t recall anything.”  When asked about the types of stories she covered as a graduate school journalist, that woman repeatedly said, “I don’t really remember…just stuff at the court, stuff at the city council.”  Asked what else?  She said, “Other stuff.”  Asked to be more specific, she said “I don’t remember.  It was a bunch of stuff.”  This exchange prompted endless teasing of one of my journalism colleagues covering the trial who is a Northwestern graduate.  “Stuff happens,” noted one of the other reporters here.
[…]
Just a few moments ago, the 12th prospective juror to be questioned on the witness stand noted that she had read a Washington Post article on Monday previewing the Libby trial after the woman learned she would be a possible juror in the case.  Asked by the judge, “You read the specific article?”  The 60ish woman said, “Absolutely.”  When the judge asked the woman if she had “any opinions” about the Bush administration that might affect her ability to focus solely on the evidence and statements made in court, the woman replied:  “I certainly have an opinion that I can’t believe any statement by the Bush administration.”  The judge immediately asked attorneys to approach the bench, flipped on an audio switch so nobody, including the prospective juror, could hear the conversation above the electronic static.  About ten seconds later, the judge flipped his microphone on and said to the woman, “I appreciate your candor, but we will have to excuse you.”

You should really read the whole thing, it’s terrific.

(Hat Tip: Laura Rosen/WarAndPiece)

WWWMD?

You weren’t using that satellite, were you? According to Aviation Week,

U. S. intelligence agencies believe China performed a successful anti-satellite (asat) weapons test at more than 500 mi. altitude Jan. 11 destroying an aging Chinese weather satellite target with a kinetic kill vehicle launched on board a ballistic missile.

The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA and other government organizations have a full court press underway to obtain data on the alleged test, Aviation Week & Space Technology will report in its Jan. 22 issue.

If the test is verified it will signify a major new Chinese military capability.

Jeffrey Lewis, ArmsControlWonk, looks closely at what might have happened and wonks his way right to the heart of the matter.

Looking at the data at Heaven’s Above, NORAD hasn’t updated the orbital elements for FY-1C since Friday—all the other candidate Russian or Chinese satellites have been updated since then.

(Oh, and if you look at the SPACETRACK data, there are lots more reasons to think this is the one. But that is about all I can say on that subject.)

My guess is that when NORAD updates the data again, we are going to seeing LOTS of debris. (Keep checking Heaven’s Above.)

I spoke with a couple of wonky types who tell me that one of the passes on Thursday—before the satellite dramatically changed orbit—would have taken the satellite over central China during what was early evening on the US east coast—about the same time a visible murmur ran through the Forum on Space and Defense in Colorado Springs.

So is this a real problem or just sabre rattling on either the Chinese (look what we can do!) or on the American side (look what they can do!)? According to my favourite defense/technology blog – maybe. Noah Shachtman also points out that the Chinese might have tested an anti-satellite laser back in September.

“China has fired high-power lasers at U.S. spy satellites flying over its territory in… a test of Chinese ability to blind the spacecraft,” Defense News is reporting. And, at least in theory, those lasers might be able temporarily take offline America’s most powerful orbiting spies, like the giant electro-optical Keyhole spacecraft or radar-based satellites like the Lacrosse.

But he goes on to update the story about the laser test and say that “Theresea Hitchens, the Center for Defense Information’s resident spacewar guru, [was] ‘not convinced – nor impressed.'” The ramifications of last week’s test are less than clear. One could hope for diplomacy but Bush is in the White House.

There is that little thing about the changed National Space Policy (NSP) published by the White House back in October. You don’t remember that? That was sort of the idea. The NSP was American sabre rattling par excellence. Basically it claimed “America can use space for whatever they damn well want including for national security. But other countries, um – no.” Tony Snow claimed it was an “old thing…inherited from Uncle Bill.” Who do I believe? *chin rub*

You remember the “Axis of Evil,” Iraq, Iran and North Korea, builders of WMD, the worst of the worst (outside of the innocent puppets being held in Guantanamo)? Well the war-mongers in the White House seem to have left one country out of the equation. China.

To be honest, being one of the “Axis of Evil,” really wasn’t that much of an honor. Iraq wasn’t; Iran is openly working on being evil – playing with that silly enrichment equipment and denying the Holocaust; and the North Koreans were kind enough to send a seismic present to declare their evilness. And you have to be rogue (= small) to be on the axis. Thus China got left out. But are they really that bad?

Perhaps the biggest thing that points against short term political problems with China is the economic factor. Instead of asking what Jesus would do if there was a war with China, one would be forced to ask What Would Wal-Mart Do (WWWMD)? What would happen to the American economy of Wal-Mart’s entire production capacity was on the wrong side of a war?

All this leads me to my philosophical pondering for the day…Jesus = Wal-Mart?

Looking forward to the Super-Bowl?

Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh has good news for you if you think football players play with a deck a few cards short (and let’s face it TheSmokingGun would probably be out of work if it wasn’t for sports-person faux pas).

In, what is likely to become a controversial article in today’s New York Times, Dr. Omalu is sited as showing that the November suicide of ex-NFL player Andre Waters is linked to concussions he got during his career.

The neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh and a leading expert in forensic pathology, determined that Mr. Waters’s brain tissue had degenerated into that of a 85-year-old man with similar characteristics as those of early-stage Alzheimer’s victims. Dr. Omalu said he believed that the damage was either caused or drastically expedited by successive concussions Mr. Waters, 44, had sustained playing football.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Omalu said that brain trauma “is the significant contributory factor” to Mr. Waters’s brain damage, “no matter how you look at it, distort it, bend it. It’s the significant forensic factor given the global scenario.”

He added that although he planned further investigation, the depression that family members recalled Mr. Waters exhibiting in his final years was almost certainly exacerbated, if not caused, by the state of his brain — and that if he had lived, within 10 or 15 years “Andre Waters would have been fully incapacitated.”

This will be bad news for the sports industry because, let’s face it, knowing that you might be basically brain dead at 55 isn’t a real lifetime goal for most people (unless you’re Paula Abdul). This tidbit will line up with all the information about brain damage caused by sports like hockey, boxing, soccer etc. But hey, it’s sport! If you aren’t destroying your joints or obliterating brain cells through hypoxia (oxygen starvation), you’re probably banging your head too much. Since I don’t play sports, my biggest risk is usually listening to George Bush. I often find myself banging my head against something. After six years, I’m probably already hopelessly lost.

The two truly sad things about this story are those effected, cases like Andre Waters; and the fact that the sports lobby will kick into full-speed denial in the next couple of days. I’d keep my eye on Seed’s ScienceBlogs; this right down their alley.

According to the article, Waters was severely depressed before his suicide. He might have seen taking his life as one of the last acts he could manage. I am sure he is not alone; it’s just that other former players simply fade from the limelight.. Mohammed Ali is a pillar of hope despite the damage he sustained at the height of his career. The phrase punch-drunk is no longer often associated with it’s origin, boxing, but the cause is similar to that being discussed here.

The problem isn’t whether some sports cause brain damage, the problem is that too much money is involved to stop playing the dangerous sports. Not only the professional level is important. School sports are designed to encourage team spirit (or break the spirit of the free-willed, depends on the coach I suspect). School sports also generate an amazing amount of income per year; then comes the college stuff, the professional and the semi-professional and amateur stuff.

Band also encourages school spirt. Choir anyone? Chess club? But you’d ban sports because they are unhealthy? It’s not like it’s – um – trans-fats or something!

And let’s face it, how many parents would get fired up to go their kid’s golf match on Friday night? What do you do with the cheerleaders? Would they become golf-clap-leaders and wear baggy clothing? (Highside? No more water-kid; you’d have caddies!) But honestly. I. Don’t. Think. So.

So what will happen? Nothing. Why? Because the danger and the action are too far apart. Humans haven’t evolved to visualise dangers not temporally associated with the cause. (I wanted to use visceral-ise there, but that isn’t a word. It should be!) That’s the problem here (evolution not visceralisation) . It’s the problem with sports. It’s the problem with mass extinction. It’s the problem with global climate change. (It’s either that; or the Land-Lobsters are to blame, but I’m not the NRA.) People don’t have a long term bad feeling. Perhaps a little unease perhaps, but most people won’t get scared enough and therefore won’t care.

They give Super-Bowl parties. For many, the Super-Bowl party today is better than the hangover tomorrow. And football players should worry about reaching fifty? Players be damned.