Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thursday News In Review

Catastrophe News:

There were some fairly major earthquakes in Samoa, Indonesia and Peru this week. The Indonesian earthquakes have caused over 1,100 deaths so far. When I called my parents that night they told me that there was a tsunami warning in Garden Grove, which I'm not sure communicates the weirdness to everyone. Suffice it to say it's probably the first time in the history of the world that Garden Grove has had a tsunami warning.

I remember when I was growing up in Orange County every once in a while, during slow news times, or other times when the news industry suspected people might not be afraid enough, they would run a special report about "The Big One," which was a long anticipated 8.3 earthquake. They would talk about how utter the destruction would be and how to prepare for it, which usually boiled down to them just saying "you can't." Anyway, the Samoan earthquake apparently was an 8.3. And now New Scientist brings us this story about how the series of major earthquakes elsewhere could trigger The Big One. One more reason why everyone I know should move to Chico.

Also in catastrophe news, the public option in America's health care reform is doomed doomed doomed. Predictably, the health of the poor has become partisan politics prohibitive. Still and always, everything I've said about health care reform stands. Having said that, I'm not sure how closely we're going to follow health care reform in my Thursday News In Review anymore (as thousands cheer) because it'll be hard to write about through the cloud of doom that's enveloping me and millions like me. I don't know about you, but I'm bracing for how hard this is going to suck.

Stepping Down News:

Physicist Stephen Hawking is stepping down from his post as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. He announced his stepping down earlier this week.
The position was previously (much previously) filled by such scientific luminaries as Isaac Newton, Sir James Lighthill, and Charles Babbage. Cambridge claims it's the University's policy for holders of that position to retire at 67, which Hawking turned in January.

James Levine, the conductor of the New York Metropolitan Opera and all around walking awesomeness, is stepping down from conducting after an unanticipated herniated disc surgery. Doctors say he may return as soon as December. Considering the booing of the recent opening of the NY Met's production of Tosca, it might be well timed. Very well timed. Suspiciously well timed even. Edo de Waart will replace Levine for Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.

Publishing News:

Sarah Palin's book "Going Rogue" (not, as my brain keeps reading it, "Going Rouge") is a best seller and it hasn't even been released yet. The best seller status, of course, comes thanks to pre-orders on Amazon and Barnes and Which is fine with me. The unemployed should do what they can to provide for their families and, besides, I think it's good to remind people why Obama is our president.

However, Neil Gaiman's, The Graveyard Book passed a landmark for Neil Gaiman this week. It has been a NY Times best seller for a year this week. I think it's currently #8. I am seriously considering buying a copy for myself this week in casting my small vote toward keeping it on the NY Times best sellers list and would encourage all of you to do likewise. Gaiman is a fantastic writer, such a joy to read.

Censorship News:

This week also marks Banned Books Week. This is not a celebration of the practice of banning books. No, it's actually the opposite, which is why I am calling attention to it. I am wholeheartedly against banning any book in any form. I'm also against buying some books, but mainly those are because they are crap. (I would never never suggest banning Dan Brown. I would highly recommend that no one read him. In fact, I would suggest to anyone thinking about reading Dan Brown that they instead read a classic. Perhaps a banned one.) Like Voltaire, while I may not agree with what you say, you ought to be able to say it. That's key. Working on people's taste in what they read comes second. Here's a terribly depressing list of challenged books in what is supposed to be a free country.

Ig Nobel News:

The results for this year's Ig Nobels are in. You all know, of course, that the Ig Nobels are given out at Harvard by the Annals of Improbable Research for scientific achievement in the field of things that seem like a strange thing to devote a lot of time to. They opened with a keynote by Benoit Mandelbrot who years ago discovered after much study that financial markets fluctuate wildly. In case you haven't caught it by now, yes, they are joke science awards.

The Ig Nobel in economics went to The Banks of Iceland "for experimentally demonstrating that financial market fluctuations can rapidly transform very small banks into very large banks, then rapidly reverse the process, thereby demolishing the national economy." The Public Health prize went to Elena Bodnar who this year patented a duel use brassiere that can be used as a gas mask should the need arise. The Peace Prize went to Stephan Bollinger of the forensic medicine department at the University of Bern in Switzerland who did research to find out if a full bottle of beer or an empty one is more likely to crack someone's skull. He mounted bottles and dropped 1-kilogram steel balls on them, discovering that empty bottles make better skull cracking weapons. Some of us already knew this.
Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga and Victor Castaño of the National Autonomous University of Mexico won the chemistry prize for discovering that tequila can be used to make diamond films, the expensive, hard to make raw material to turn diamonds into semi-conductors.
The Physics Prize went to a study on why pregnant women don't tip over. The Veterinary Medicine Prize went to a study that found that cows who are given names produce more milk than cows who are not given names. And the coveted Medicine Prize went to a man who sought to discover if cracking your knuckles really causes arthritis. He's spent the past 60 years only cracking the knuckles on one hand. He found that cracking knuckles did not give him arthritis.

Foreign Objects of the Week News:

And then there's this story. Pleasant dreams, kids!

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